Bringing Music And Books Together, Meet Lusterlit

From the Bushwick Book Club collective comes Lusterlit, Brooklyn’s brilliant answer to bringing music and books together in harmonious unison. One’s imagination knows no bounds as you’re transported into a fantasy filled sounscape with hints of P.J. Harvey, Portishead and Love And Rockets. Lusterlit are BBC founder, Susan Hwang and BBC contributor and producer, Charlie Nieland. They alternate lead vocals and harmonies while supporting each other on guitar, bass, synth, traditional Korean drum, accordion, piano, drum kit and more.

Lusterlit released their first EP ‘LIST OF EQUIPMENT’ earlier this year with each song being inspired by a different book…MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING – Julia Child, BLOOD MERIDIAN – Cormac McCarthy, THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE – Jonathan Lethem and THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS – John Wyndham.

Lusterlit also just released a new video for the joyous song ‘Flight’ (directed by Deb Magocsi). “It’s inspired by THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE by Jonathan Lethem and is filled with images that conjure the magic, the Brooklyn, and the altitude of the story, not to mention Ms. Josephine Baker.”

The Lusterlit/Bushwick Book Club is currently gearing up for a Tour of the west coast, playing songs about books at music venues, literary events, and with chapters of The Bushwick Book Club from Seattle to LA celebrating the release of Chuck Palahniuk’s new book, LEGACY: AN OFF-COLOR NOVELLA FOR YOU TO COLOR, (Illustrated by Mike Norton and Steve Morris). For event dates and information please go to LUSTERLIT.

Torched Magazine is pleased to have had the opportunity to sit down and ask Susan and Charlie a few questions about where they find their inspiration, how it all began for them, and their creative process for ‘List of Equipment’…plus more!


TM – Tell me about the beginning of Lusterlit. How did you get together and where did it start?

CHARLIE: I met Susan when I played my first Bushwick Book Club here in New York City in the summer of 2013. As I became a frequent contributor to BBC shows, we began working on each other’s projects; I mastered her album DONG PEH and she played accordion on my EP ICE AGE. Then she asked me to produce an EP of her Vonnegut-inspired songs and I started to record my own album of Bushwick Book Club songs. At the same time we started to back each other at the Book Club shows and our arrangements of the newly written songs grew out of those performances. As we finished our albums and started planning a tour, it was obvious we’d become a duo and we named it Lusterlit. Susan thought of it. My name ideas were terrible. After returning from our tour of the West coast, we made our first EP as Lusterlit at the beginning of 2017 called LIST OF EQUIPMENT.

SUSAN: Charlie’s pretty accurate. The only thing I disagree with in his story is wording. For me, it wasn’t “obvious we had become a duo” — for me, it was just that we started to play as a duo, and we needed a name as we started to book shows on the West Coast for our first tour. I had thought of the name already, but asked Charlie if he had any ideas. They were all terrible. So we went with Lusterlit.

TM – Who or what are some of your creative influences?

CHARLIE: Science and storytelling and hearsay and myth get my brain cooking while I’m constantly hearing music in my head. Musical influences are from all over the place David Bowie, Harold Arlen, Cocteau Twins, Nick Drake, Eurythmics, Marvin Gaye, PJ Harvey, Love and Rockets, John Barry, XTC, Animal Collective, Aretha Franklin, ELO, Gamelan music, Debussy, on and on.

SUSAN: Blues is my home music. It is my comfort food. Motown is glory and heaven. James Brown me please. Prince me any day of the week. Judy Garland set a standard of emotionality that Tina Turner stands on the other side of. I still have Fred Astaire dreams. Sparks let me know that the sky is the limit and that humor and depth can hold hands in any way I say.

TM – Is there a hobby that you enjoy outside of music that helps rejuvenate your creativity?

CHARLIE: I run in the cemetery. Pretty goth, eh?

SUSAN: I eat like there’s no tomorrow. That’s arguably a hindrance to my creativity though.

TM – Your EP ‘List of Equipment’ was created for Bushwick Book Club with each song being inspired by a book. Can you briefly explain your process for creating these songs?

CHARLIE: Well when I’m reading the book, I underline stuff and I pay attention to things that are coming into my life at the same time; accidents, happy, sad, interesting shapes. And I let my reaction to all of it combine with the text. Then I pick an instrument that I think would be a good counterpart to the feeling. Then I drink a lot of tea (sometimes vodka) and eat strangely and crash the toys together ’til something starts to happen. And it always does.

SUSAN: It’s different every time. I just hang out in the song hole and something happens. Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I don’t, and I browbeat it and ask it “Why can’t you be better?” And other times, I like it right out of the womb. And other other times, I’m just happy something came out, and then I look at it again and think, holy cow, aren’t you a spunky little number? And then you keep listening and hearing other parts and harmonies and rhythms and counter melodies and then you invite all your friends to come and sing or play a horn part.

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TM – How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?

CHARLIE: We’ve found more ways to weave things; on the inside, exploring how we fit together in the pocket of each song and on the outside where we’ve expanded our arrangement ideas, with each of us layering sounds that create a picture. The studio has become a paintbrush and we produce each other.

SUSAN: I become more comfortable and braver with trying things. I know I can do something and play around with ideas, and I know if Charlie doesn’t like something, he can tell me, and if he does, he tells me, and if I like something, I can tell him, and if I want him to change something or pay attention to something, he’ll do it. I don’t know how that comes out in the music, but I know what that feels like in the process, and it’s just smoother and more expansive.

TM – What has been your biggest challenge as a band? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?

CHARLIE: It’s always a challenge to keep coming up with new songs for the deadlines of Book Club shows. I love how we both go into our selves to get the ideas birthed and then we have more new things to play together. It’s like we run a day care center for song babies. Or we’re the parents on one of those cable shows with scores of kids who keep adopting more. The challenge is not a thing to overcome but to celebrate over and over with new songs.

SUSAN: Yeah, the biggest challenge as a band is just getting all the songs recorded fast enough because we keep writing more, and we like all of them and want to record and play them.

TM – Do you have anything you would like to add that I might have missed?

Charlie: We’re releasing a new video this week for the song Flight, directed by Deb Magosci. We really look forward to making more videos. Plans are in the works for those and like 5 more EPs we’ve already started recording.

Susan: Yeppers.

Keep up with Lusterlit
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