Dive into the world of Ducks! – a Berlin-based duo made up of singer-songwriter Lani Bagley and ARIA award-winning producer Craig Schuftan.
Teasing their upcoming album Things That Were Lost with experimental, surrealist single Swerve, Ducks! seem to continually explore new sonic landscapes – combining unique field recordings with orchestral instruments and Lani’s intimate, lulling vocals.
Keen to learn about their creative process, I had a chat to Lani and Craig to find out more…
Hey Ducks! Introduce yourselves to our readers…
Craig: We’re two people making music in a small home studio in Berlin.
It’s electronic, but very ‘out of the box’; our songs always start with somebody plugging some cheap electronic device into another one, playing a tape loop through a wobbulator, or pointing a microphone at something. We’ve made 3 albums like this, and I feel like we could happily make another 30.
You’ve just released your new single Swerve. What’s the story behind the song and how did you write / record it?
Lani: Swerve was the very first thing we made when we were artists in residence at Blitz in Malta in 2017.
We arrived at the space and immediately pulled out our field recorder and started exploring the building, recording everything that could make a noise. The bell-like sound that the song is based around is a tapped wine glass from the gallery’s bar, re-pitched to make a melody.
I had a really bad cold at the time and was feeling a little bit sorry for myself, so the lyrics are suitably gloomy. It’s about comparing yourself to others and trying to be satisfied.
Swerve is the only song on the album that hasn’t really changed much since we wrote it. It’s very restrained. The only big change was replacing sampled strings with Rachel Maio’s cello, which was recorded back in Berlin.
You’re releasing a new album at the end of the month. What can we expect from the rest of the record?
Lani: It’s really diverse – there are weird disco bangers, ambient soundscapes, pop songs. It’s equal-parts party and introspection, but to me it sounds like a cohesive story, listening all the way through. There are some really dark, moody tracks and deliriously happy moments.
We’ve used a lot more ‘real instruments’ this time around. Guitars, cello, violin, toy piano and drums. We called the record Things That Were Lost after a song which we’ve since cut from the album. So, one of the things that was lost is the title track.
Craig: It seemed like a good phrase to sum up the mood we were in when we made it, and the process of making it too. In French and German, the phrase for ‘lost property’ is actually closer to ‘found objects’ in English, and the French phrase has become the standard art-history term for that surrealist practice of taking old junk and turning it into new art – Objets Trouvés.
We did a lot of that – not sampling other people’s records, but collecting junk from the flea-market and recording it, or finding sounds around the city’s streets and parks… a little atmosphere from a church yard, a marching band going by, people talking. Are these ‘lost things’ or ‘found objects’?
We like the idea of the album as a little museum for them, and one of the reasons we asked our friend Harriet to do the album and single art is because she does exactly this in the visual realm – taking lost things and making them ‘found’.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Craig: Just before you asked us this, I was reading an essay by Ursula K. LeGuin, about exactly this subject – influence. She said she finds it hard to answer when people ask her who influenced her as a writer, because she thinks some of the most important influences on her are things she’s not totally aware of – like fairy tales that were read to her as a child, long-forgotten stories, old radio programs, that kind of thing. I think that’s true – plus I think we’re probably just as influenced by things we don’t like as by things we do – maybe even more!
So with that in mind, I’d say our influences for this album include things we really love, like Mouse on Mars, Deerhoof, The Avalanches, St Vincent, Joni Mitchell, Stereolab and Massive Attack. Those are all artists we listened to and talked about a lot.
But I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of all the music we hear when we go out in Berlin, in nightclubs, bars and corner shops; hundreds of tracks I couldn’t remember or even name in the first place that, at one time or another, made us say ‘let’s make something like that’ or ‘this is terrible, let’s go home and make our own music’.
And then you’d have to add things like the music on ‘Sesame Street’, or the handful of albums my parents played around the house when I was a kid. Nana Maskouri and original cast recording of ‘Cats’ have probably shaped me as a producer in ways I can’t properly account for.
I see you’ve also made music for art exhibitions and installations. What’s been your favourite experience / commission so far?
Craig: We had a really good time making soundtracks and songs for the BBC Radio 4 comedy series, Not a People Person. The concept – a documentary series about birds, which is constantly derailed by the host’s psychological obsessions and phobias – appealed to us for obvious reasons. But we also learned a lot about genre and musical arrangements.
When it’s your job to conjure a certain mood, or period of time, you have to listen really closely to references and try to figure out why something sounds the way it does, so you’ll know how to get there. I can hear us becoming more confident, and also more ambitious with arrangements on the new album, and I think experiences like this really helped.
If you could perform at any venue in the world, where would it be and why?
Lani: My dream venue doesn’t exist yet. I have this idea for a portable performance installation that we could take to festivals and put in the gardens of nightclubs. It would be a geodesic dome covered in black fabric with pairs of glasses and goggles sewn into it so only a limited number of people can watch at any time, and they have to have their faces right up on the dome.
I also envisage the audience being able to stick their hands in some of those gloves that scientists use to handle radioactive materials and push buttons that would change the lighting or set off a confetti cannon or a smoke machine. One day we’ll make it happen!
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Lani: Our album comes out on the 28th of March, and we’re celebrating that with an album launch party at Monarch in Berlin on the 29th.
It looks like we’ll be playing a lot of shows outside Berlin this year, which is super exciting. We’re in the middle of planning a tour of Germany in June and we have some festivals and showcases booked for Denmark and Sweden in August/September.