Eliza Goetze chats to Edward Lyons, aka Embassy, about his musical endeavours, plus his love for Pete Rock, Shlohmo and every artist in between.
“You’ll hear some rapping, but then there’s the delicacy of the female vocal…”
I’m sitting outside a café in Glebe with headphones on. Edward Lyons is educating me about electronic music. This man is bursting with ideas and energy. He’s been talking for two hours and shows no signs of slowing. Sometimes he holds his hands in the air or shuts his eyes tightly as he’s trying to express himself, as though his brain is moving faster than his mouth.
It’s the same with his music. “There’s a certain point when words fail,” he says.
Lyons goes by the name of Embassy. In illustrated form, Embassy is monochrome images of a cold, gritty New York, of the Empire State building and of graffiti and vast record stores: these photographs inspired him to embark on this project.
The music is a sparse, delicate mix of samples— on paper, that’s kind of where the ability to summarise it ends.
There are the songs where he tops shimmering piano and quivering classical strings with drum beats from old funk vinyls to create instrumentals that build over your head and inside your ribcage (‘Night Bus From Washington’ and ‘Brave Eyes’).
Sometimes vocals become the focus, as in ‘Cold Comfort’, featuring Chiara Kim, and the band’s cover of ‘Twice’ by Little Dragon, which leaves the lyrics echoing around your brain.
Then there’s hip hop. Not so much from the present day, he clarifies, but old school hip hop, inspired first by Pete Rock; his remix of the 90s classic ‘They Reminisce Over You’ inserts that smooth female vocal over the instrumental breaks between verses.
Oh yeah, and he’s working on a remix of Rihanna.
In his own words, his tastes are eclectic, but he sees diversity as an asset.
In primary school, living on a rock diet of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Powderfinger, Lyons took to the bass guitar. Then in high school, his music teacher gave him his first jazz CD and he discovered “another world” of improvisation and spontaneity. He now plays weddings and jazz festivals in a trio with his brother.
Lyons is also heading to the studio soon to record an EP with his indie band, Harriet Whiskey Club.
But a year ago, five weeks living with a “very cool” producer friend in New York City pushed him down a different path. “I thought, when I get back to Sydney, I’m going to give this a go.”
Lyons is a 22-year-old UTS law student and overachiever. He was Musical Director of the Law Revue last year, he plays in the Army Reserve big band and a jazz trio, he teaches music, he plays soccer, and he works at a bar. He probably does more in one day than most of us do in a week, so it was no big deal to add another thing to his schedule.
Lyons stands out from the legion of “button pushers” who populate the Sydney electronic scene. His live show sees him play keyboards and bass guitar, whilst his brother drums on an electric pad, and two of his friends get on board with piano and vocals.
“I started going to gigs and going well, I like this music, this is good, but there’s nothing ‘live’ about this…quite often the body language is quite isolating; they’re not aware the audience is there. Seeing someone playing piano live, and drumming live, and that group element, for me —and maybe because of my background— that’s what ‘live’ means.”
The idea of ‘delicacy’ comes from the way he produces. Electronic music, with all the control it offers, is a new challenge for Lyons.
With electronic music, the foundation —chords, beats, melodies— can be laid out relatively quickly, but then it’s the little details —fine tuning, polishing sounds— that, for him, take the most effort. “I find it so easy to do the first 85 percent of the song, and so hard to do the last fifteen,” the self-described perfectionist admits.
Embassy’s influences include Bonobo, James Blake and SBTRKT, Mt Kimbie, Shlohmo and Oddisee.
Lyons asks me about my own listening habits and has an opinion on everyone, from Jay-Z (“he’s an enigmatic character”) to Chet Faker (“Chet, if you’re reading this, here’s your next support act”) and fellow local electronic act Albatross (“they are at the top tier of the local scene”).
His listening habits today are a mad mix of every genre mentioned so far, and then some. “Having that diverse understanding is what I really began to appreciate in other people.”
And in turn, an ability to play a variety of styles is where the value lies for him as a musician. But versatility in a successful artist (unless you count Vanilla Ice as successful) is a rare thing these days, and it’s a situation that disappoints him.
“With most producers, I guess you’re aiming to create your own style. To not even have your name said, that’s the ultimate aim,” Lyons acknowledges. “To do that effectively though, you need to give yourself a few restrictions. Like, some painters are really well known for their landscapes or their realism. Not many are known for how well they do everything. For me, trying to blend hip hop, which has different characteristics to faster paced dance music or ambient stuff, you can’t squish everything into every song.”
The solution to this dilemma presented itself in an old school strategy: the mixtape. As well as being a low-risk option —“If you release an all-original EP, because you’re standing alone, there’s a fair amount of judgment that’s going to fall on you… I feel like I’m not quite ready for that”— it gives him the freedom to express himself. “I think of it more as a body of work, rather than the need to sell myself as an artist based off one type of song.
“That’s how the Weeknd got discovered. Each song [on the mixtape] might not be immediately identifiable as him, yet as a body of work it represented what he stood for as an artist.”
The common thread through Embassy may lie in his description on Soundcloud, “music that makes you feel”.
Cliché breakup songs tend to lend themselves to guitar-and-lyrics territory. But “when you approach something from an instrumental point of view, it can be interpreted in so many different ways… I’m influenced by other music, and how that makes me feel, and how I can give that feeling to someone else through something of my own… When you realise you can have that through something of your own creating, you can impact on people, it’s addictive…if they can find a purpose in it, that satisfaction is enormous. I would take that over a record deal.”
No record deals yet, but he has made people feel things. They’ve sent him emails telling him so. “I’ve saved them… I would probably frame them!”
The track he’s about to show me is by One Room, a mysterious producer who exists only on Soundcloud and earned a following from his sporadic, anonymous releases. The idea of cult success redefined by the internet age is a concept that fascinates Lyons, who is baffled by his overseas audience. “So many weird things have happened.”
Thanks to the internet, his music has been used by an ad company in Boston and an architectural firm in Queensland. The clip for Twice “got put up on some Ukrainian website, and then some other weird Eastern European blog – like, how does that even happen?
“I’m getting about six thousand plays a week,” he says incredulously, “And when you wake up one morning and there’s been a thousand hits overnight, you know something’s happened.”
But none of it compares to the “high risk, high reward” thrill of live performance. “The live show, for me, is the point of all the hours in the bedroom… A live audience cheering after one of your songs, or even just seeing people nodding along to your music…that beats the whole online thing of watching your plays and your downloads go up.”
His relatively rare real-instrument setup has “sort of been my biggest ace up my sleeve at the moment, because it requires a degree of skill that you can’t learn quickly… And because I had that already there, it was playing to my strengths, really.”
That classic struggle between musical success and authenticity is at the front of his mind.
“Why do I have all these different philosophies to everyone else? Is it because you have to compromise these things in order to be successful? I guess to me at the moment, not having an enormous following, I haven’t got a lot to lose.”
To have a listen to Embassy, check out his Soundcloud