Jessy Lanza, the Hamilton, Ontario, native who makes stunning, forward-thinking pop equally indebted to R&B and classic club music, recently released her entry in the beloved DJ-Kicks mix series. For years, DJ-Kicks has been offering electronic musicians a platform to compile typically dance-oriented tracks, which are then often blended into each other to create a continuous mix. Lanza’s finds her weaving her own vocals through a multivalent sampling of 26 tracks from jacking house to vintage Euro pop. The release features four new Lanza cuts, including two with collaborator Taraval that are among the most banging in Lanza’s catalog. Lanza, an especially thoughtful producer, said she selected her tracks to pay tribute to her Canadian youth and the time she spent in Detroit and Chicago as a kid. The cover art, directed by her frequent collaborator Winston H. Case, is a riff on wellness culture. The complete product is as idiosyncratic as we’ve come to expect from Lanza, who recently talked to Jezebel about the making of her mix. A condensed and edited transcript of that conversation is below.
JEZEBEL: You released your third album, All the Time, during quarantine 2020. How did that go for you? Do you think the album got to live a proper life?
JESSY LANZA: I mean, it definitely wasn’t ideal, but it seemed like people really liked it. I’m just happy that it got any air at all. In spite of what was going on, people still listened. It sucked not being able to play shows. I’ve [since] played one or two shows, and seeing people singing the words and stuff, I was so touched.
You have four new tracks on the DJ-Kicks. Were they recorded specifically for this mix?
“Seven 55” is a song that’s been floating around for a while, but I only finished it once I sent it to Loraine [James]. She brought that song back from the dead. The techno tracks I made in the summer when my friend Ryan Smith, who goes by the name Taraval. Those are newer and I did those special [for the mix].
How did the formulation of the actual mix go?
I think I had in the back of my head what deejaying meant to me as an adolescent. My dad had a P.A. rental company and I have a cousin who is quite older than me that always treated me like a narc or like I was just an annoying 12-year-old that he didn’t want around. I just always kind of felt like I was this dorky person that nobody wanted there, and I’ve kind of never stopped feeling that way, to be quite honest, with DJ culture in general.
I think I ended up looking back subconsciously. I put on a lot of tracks that made me think of Hamilton and where Hamilton is situated outside Toronto, kind of close to Detroit. I thought of Chicago, how much music has come out of Chicago that inspires me. You know, going on a band trip to Chicago when I was playing the clarinet when I was 14. There’s the Dee Jay Nehpets track, there’s a track from Secret Werewolf, who’s this guy Ollie from Hamilton, who was putting on those raves in Hamilton when I was a kid. I thought a lot about connections, for sure, even though they may sound abstract when I’m describing them to you now. But looking back on it, there is this kind of sentimental quality to a lot of the tracks I picked.
A DJ mix doesn’t necessarily demand a concept, and yet here we are. You also evoke the concept of wellness in the cover art. Why did you go there?
I think it was just me not being able to stop watching Forensic Files. I have been watching a lot of cable TV, and hydration and yogurt seem to really be the key to being a woman who takes care of herself, you know? (Laughing) And then in the shadow of “WAP,” I had all these things in my head, like, that it would be funny to play with this idea of washing your face being the most exciting part of your day. And it was Winston really who art directed it.
I, however unfortunately, have bought into a lot of these ideas. Hydration and yogurt are key features in my life at the moment.
It’s not even a criticism! I am a participant. I drink shit tons of water, I put oregano oil in things. It’s just how it is. It definitely comes from a positive place. And I think it’s interesting looking at it from a gender perspective, too, because it means different things for different people. There’s a lot going on this. The subtext can be interpreted any way that you want. I was interpreting it in the way of like, you know, thinking about becoming like a dried-up old piece of fruit that nobody wants. (Laughs)
Are there other sentimental tracks on the mix that are particularly special to you?
Definitely “Raining Heart.” The CN song, “Anubis,” too. It’s such a special, weird song. It’s so unique and strange. It’s really fast. It’s a bizarre song. It’s like it deserves to have as much air as possible.
Like Masarima’s “Freak Like U,” that one feels like it could have come from virtually any time in the past 30 or so years.
I think the idea of timelessness popped out. I felt a lot of pressure for the DJ-Kicks, that it would be this time capsule. I’m like, “What am I going to put on this and how do I approach this?” And I just thought the best way to go about it would be things that had a timeless quality to them. I could listen to this in a decade and still the mood would be enough that I wouldn’t have to have such deep understanding of the context. That I could listen to it in 10 years and still feel like it was listenable, I guess.
It does feel like a certain amount of the idea of time-specific sound has collapsed. Disco never died—people still make it. Garage and 2-step are experiencing Tik Tok revivals.
Now the technology is just accessible in all these different ways that it’s not tied to, “This is when the synthesizer came out.” It doesn’t matter anymore, which is interesting, because I’ve never been able to keep up anyhow. I’ve never really felt like I was like a part of the zeitgeist. I’ve never felt like I was there. So, I think the idea of timelessness was like, “OK—this is what I have. This is what I can relate to.” I think it’s just because I love pop music, I like catchy music. So that seemed to be the anchor.
You say you can’t keep up, but this mix is full of tracks that bespeak connoisseurship. How do you hear new music?
It’s friends. Just continuing to talk about music with my friends and engage with people who care about shows or about artists. It’s just community based, just sharing for sure. I would be lying if I said that the algorithm didn’t come into play. It does. I spent a bunch of time on YouTube, just like digging around as I’m sure you do, and everybody does.
Was there anything that, because of licensing or whatever, you wanted to put on here, but couldn’t?
Yes. There was a lot. I’ve found that R&B music is virtually impossible. There is just one song by this artist, Debbie and the Code called “The Code of Love.” We found Debbie and she gave her blessing and said, “I would love for you to use it, but I don’t know who owns the rights to it.” She thought it had reverted back to her, but then ultimately she just didn’t know. She thought the label might still, so we just couldn’t use it.
Anything else unique go into the making of this mix?
I finished the mix and I felt good about it, but I felt like it was missing something, which is why I went through and did another pass where I was just doing live vocal takes and singing over parts that I thought maybe needed something and just doing live effects. That part was really fun. That just made me feel like it was something really special to me. Singing over it definitely made it feel finished.