“Most of the record deals with recreational drug use and cloning. And then I guess personal turmoil. Those are probably the three elements.”
Layne L’Heureux is serious. You can hear it. His latest album, United Hotcake Preferred, is a slow, tumbling drift through the cold dark of space. Fitting for a record named after a chapter in Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan.
“The idea if space travel and time travel… for some reason it’s always been the most important thing to me. I love it so much and I really don’t know why. … The song “Solaris” is about this person who wakes up on a satellite, and he goes to the edge and looks out into space. But he’s so neurotic and so jaded that all he can say is ‘space isn’t interesting, but at least it was a free ride.’ And I think that’s just really funny. It’s kind of where I was at, too.”
It does feel like there’s another universe contained in L’Heureux’s mind. Talking to him, I got the sense that there’s a whole space in his head that I’ll never gain entry to, a room where he’s always quietly contemplating his music. Tyler Butler once wrote that Layne has a “monk-like dedication to his craft.” L’Heureux dismisses this as “a bit hefty,” but it’s clear that music is the centre of his existence.
“I put so much focus on songwriting that it impacts my daily life. I find that my memory is totally faulty. People will tell me a story and say ‘remember that time you did this or we were here and you were with us’ and it’s just gone. And I think about it and … I can remember making records and I can remember what I was like when I was making records, but then in between each period of time is [a blur].
“My self-value is stamped with my discography. But also, retrospectively, the discography that I have made, you can see a progression of craftsmanship happening and development happening. It used to be a lot more spiritual for me. Now it’s just something that I do and have to do. If I don’t do it I kind of freak out. … It’s probably one of the few comforting things that I keep in my life consistently.”
So consistently that L’Heureux has lost count of how many albums he’s made (“Fifteen? Maybe just 6 or 7 or 8 records. At least one record a year”). Despite the turn-out, he explains that it’s been a long process to overcome his shyness and to share his music. He still struggles with it. As someone who wrestles with occasionally debilitating shyness, I had to smile at the absurdity of our scene: two admittedly shy strangers eagerly discussing how shy we are. Layne’s persistence is heartening for the timid among us, as is the fact that his shyness comes with conscientiousness and kindness that extend to his audience.
“Let’s say there’s somebody performing in this room, playing over here. Let’s say they’re playing really melancholic music, everybody’s going to be incredibly affected by that. If you’re going to play something happy, a lot of people can kind of deflect that, if they want. It’s easy to deflect that emotion, but it’s hard to deflect the emotion of melancholy.
“I don’t really deserve to put people in that place. Just because I’m feeling this way, doesn’t mean that I should project that on people if they listen to it. Maybe I should find a better way, so maybe take the idea but put it in a format that’s not going to be as heartbreaking or slow.”
United Hotcake Preferred may not be heartbreaking, but it’s certainly not poppy gloss. It opens by asking “why don’t you believe in anything?” It closes by repeating “everything will be alright in the end” until you begin to believe it. Like L’Heureux in “Funeral of a Former Self,” his album is both masked and startlingly candid. It is bizarre and celestial. If you let it, United Hotcake Preferred may make you come unstuck in time.
Words + pictures by Becky Smith-Mandin
Video by Dylan Howard