In 2014, Matt Hemerlein who goes by the name Lo-Fang’s cover of You’re The One That I Want soundtracked a commercial for Chanel No. 5, with the singer appearing in the video looking clean-cut in a sharp suit. A few years down the line, Lo-Fang is playing a show at St. Matthias’ Church in Dalston. The performance was full of intimate funny moments, including placing a Himalayan singing bowl on the heads of audience members and pointing out that several taxi drivers around the world have noticed that the singer bears a resemblance to Jesus Christ. All the while, Lo-Fang flooded the church with the ethereal sounds of his cello. The day after his gig, I had the opportunity to chat to Matt about his transformation, his plans for the future and what it means to be an independent musician today.
You’ve got a rather usual stage name, what’s the story behind it?
Matt: It was 2012 and I had already started recording music for my first record. I knew I didn’t want to put it out under my name, because it was the first thing that was commercially released and I felt like there needed to be a separation of sorts. I had a song called No Fangs so it was related to that - it ended up having more meaning than I initially intended for it to have. I found out that “Lo” was the first word that was ever written on the internet; and the etymology of ‘fang’ in Latin means to capture and ‘lo’ means to look. In this sense my name means to look, perceive and then capture, which obviously relates to any creative endeavour. Those are things that gained some significance later on, but I was just subconsciously really attracted to it.
You did a commercial for Chanel a few years ago and you have undergone quite a transformation since then, what happened?
Matt: Yes! I think I was already undergoing a transformation when that was happening. A lot of things have happened since. Musical exploration and plant exploration… I was initially playing shows and going into creative settings on mainly on Psilocybin containing mushrooms and then I learned how to grow them. I started focusing more on the aspects of music that were less to do with technology and more to do with actual sound that is created from instruments, focusing on what your body does. I was participating in dance classes and other movement classes and teaching some Qigong classes as well. A big part of that transformation just had to do with following things that felt good and plant-based explorations. I was already doing that when I was filming the Chanel commercial, because I was using mushrooms for creative purposes. Now, I’m back to a place where I am really enjoying performing again and have a really good balance with doing shows that feel good to my body and my voice.
What role does spirituality play in your music?
Matt: I think there’s always a bit of mysticism in some of the music and a connection to my inner visions in lyrics that allude to things - but none of the music that I make directly has to do with spirituality. It’s more about trying to share a mind frame that I get from certain sounds which I think is helpful for any creative work. A lot of the songs I’ve been writing have more to do with coming back into your personality. I’m communicating with the crowd when I perform and the music should just be a nice creative primer for anything else. If there’s any feeling of spirituality in my work I think it has to do with the fact that I am trying not to put any additional things in there to distract people or clutter their minds.
You’re working independently now, no longer with a record label, how has that influenced you creatively?
Matt: It’s just easier. I made my first record without a record label and then signed it to 4AD as a licence and there were just tons of problems. Right from the beginning they wanted me to take out a section to 88 and wanted me to take the word ‘cancer’ out of the song. We just had two different visions. They didn’t even want You’re The One That I Want on the record, which is funny now. I ended up reordering the record based on their input. We just did not get on well. Even though that album did well I was out of the contract by the end of 2014, only a few months after the record came out. Not having a record label, and being in the position that I was in, has allowed me to figure out why I was making music in the first place. This took me to Nepal to research and explore antique Himalayan singing bowls. I only brought one of the 24 I have to the show last night but I spent as much time as I needed to put together a collection of singing bowls that was comprehensive. I also went back and recorded with Nepalese musicians to develop that connection further. Most record labels would never support something like that, I would have a lot more voices around encouraging me to not do that. I think you have to be really careful with voices that tell you not to do something that you really want to do. There should always be a certain amount of risk involved. I like having the freedom that I was missing in the short time that I was with a label.
You played some songs at your show that haven’t been released so far. What are your plans for the future?
Matt: I have the bulk of a record called Near Other Worlds that is finished. I will be releasing songs from that as well as some other things. I just want to consistently release music and play shows around it. It doesn’t seem as though its in independent artists’ favour to just lump out a record, it seems more advantageous to release music steadily and through streaming platforms. I plan to come back and do two more rounds of shows here next year. We also shot a video in a rainforest in Canada, so I have some video work to do. I will just keep releasing songs and maybe I will end up working with a label again at some point if it’s the right fit.
Photo credit: Lo-Fang