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KUČKA on self-acceptance, remaining universal and her long-awaited debut album 'Wrestling'

4 May 2021 | 3:01 pm | Emma Jones

Nearly a decade on from her debut, KUČKA has finally released her long awaited debut album, titled 'Wrestling' and out now via Soothsayer and LuckyMe.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="827"]KUCKA KUČKA by Dillon Howl[/caption]

So often the cliche of saying an artist is "pushing their sound" is used, but in the case of KUČKA it rings true — no one else is making music like her. From her early days as a local Perth artist to now, she has maintained an uncanny knack of remaining on the cutting edge, fearlessly experimenting and trying new things, playing to her strengths and ultimately creating music which defines its own sound rather than following trends of others.

In addition to her own expansive solo material, KUČKA also has collaborative production credits with the likes of FLUMESOPHIEA$AP RockyVince StaplesFetty Wap and many more. In less than a decade, she's elevated herself from bedroom producer to one of alt-electronic's most prolific and sought after collaborators, and with the release of her long awaited debut album, Wrestling, she cements her spot in the upper echelon of future-facing talents breaking new ground in music.

Also known as Laura Jane Lowther, Wrestling is her first KUČKA release in six years, following on from her Unconditional EP in 2015. 2019 would mark her return to releasing solo music in the form of the mind-bending, genre-shattering 'Drowning'. Complete with bone-rattling bass, spliced vocals, hypnotic and infectious vocal lines and a reinvigorated sense of artistic identity and direction, 'Drowning' was KUČKA but not as we'd quite heard her before. Commencing a drip feed of new singles ('Real', 'Ascension', 'Contemplation', 'No Good For Me', 'Eternity') from KUČKA which steadily added to the intricate, meticulously produced world of her debut album.

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Completely rejecting traditional conventions, KUČKA poured her heart out across twelve deeply personal, yet entirely universal songs. From reckoning with her grandma's negative reaction to her coming out, to making space for new love, to recognising the need for stillness and respite in a chaotic and demanding life, each song is a snapshot of times in Lowther's life, cautiously cherry-picked and put under a magnifying glass for any listener to find their own experience in her stories. It's this authentic and genuine yearning for connection with those outside of the KUČKA project that makes Wrestling such a powerful listen. Reading like pages of a diary, yet still spacious enough to insert your own experience into the foundation, Wrestling not only provides comfort and solace to the one listening to it, but also a detailed journey of Lowther's own self-acceptance and reflection.

Finding a home in pop-infused and dance-driven electronica, her sound moves from explosive and liberating pop to industrial electronic to gentle ambient and so much more, but in her own way. Lowther's production has always been in a league of its own, but throughout Wrestling, she showcases just how refined and natural her creative talent really is in this field. Precise, intricate and richly detailed, KUČKA moves effortlessly from tinkering, intergalactic and spacious soundscapes to booming, dancefloor oriented breakdowns - sometimes in the same song. Never once sounding forced or unnatural, such is the strength of the production prowess exhibited in the KUČKA project, as well as that of her co-producers in Frank Ocean collaborator Vegyn, Nosaj Thing and Flume, each and every song is intentional, all-encompassing, cutting-edge and bold.

Partly a dedication to KUČKA's wife and Wrestling's creative director, Dillon Howl who played an integral and vital part in the creation of the album in many different areas, Wrestling ultimately documents metamorphosis and evolution, and the discomfort and joy that this brings. Growing up, moving, falling in and out love and learning about the world around us all is tough for anyone, and KUČKA manages to distill this life experience into a tight, fresh and futuristic record which sounds as current as it does timeless. She bravely details her own experiences and lessons learned, shares her pain and joy, and in doing so has created a record which connects instantly with its listener. As she details in our interview below, conducted over Zoom in the week prior to the album's release, knowing these experiences are universal makes it more real, and pushes her to keep going. And while the album is the culmination of nearly ten years of making music as KUČKA, Wrestling marks the true arrival of Lowther as she enters the well-deserved spotlight on her own terms and invites us in to take a look for ourselves.

I'm so excited to talk to you! ‘Wrestling’ is out so soon. How do you feel?

I feel so good! I feel like it's been finished for a while and it's one of those things where it's this huge chunk of my life and no one's really heard it. So yeah, it feels good!

I wanted to throw it right back to the release of ‘Drowning’. It feels like only yesterday but then weirdly it also feels like a really long time and so much has happened since. It was such a moment when you released it; it had been three years since you'd released music at the time, and it felt like a really big moment for you as a producer. Now with the release of ‘Wrestling’ just around the corner, can you tell me how it feels looking back on that to now?

When ‘Drowning’ was released, I hadn't really worked out a whole international team yet, but I was kind of in this mindset of, “Maybe I'll end up just doing it independently overseas?” and stuff like that. We decided to make a music video for it, and I just knew I needed to start releasing these tracks and get the ball rolling. I remember, we’d just booked our flights to go and film the music video when I met LuckyMe who ended up being the label in the UK. I said to them, “Yeah I’m making a music video!” and they were like, “...Okay! You’re very proactive!” [laughs] It was just this whirlwind thing to get it out with them basically as soon as I started working with them. It was a REALLY new relationship and it was kind of bizarre, but cool.

One of the main things that's developed from then to now is getting really comfortable working with new labels and stuff like that. Also working with Dylan who's my wife, I don't think we were married at the time when we first made that… Oh yeah, actually we were! Because at the same time that I met LuckyMe, in one of our first meetings they were like, “What have you been doing lately?” and I was like, “I got married yesterday!” [laughs]

[Laughs] It’s kind of like your TikTok about reasons why you're late to reply to emails! “I am sorry that I'm late to this meeting, I just got married!”

I remember them just being like, “Congratulations?” and asked if it was a planned thing. I was just like, “No! Not really!” [laughs] I feel like that was the start of working with Dylan creatively which has now become such a huge part of the record and the process. She ended up doing the artwork and directing a bunch of the videos.

You are someone that does everything on your own and you have done for so long. What does a label like LuckyMe or here with Soothsayer mean for you? What can they bring to someone who can do so much already?

Creatively, I feel like I have it down. But, in terms of everything else, I have no idea. Working with Spotify and PR and all of that. I just love getting emails where they're like, “Here's what's happening: at 7pm post this and then post, and this is what we need from you.”

One of my favorite songs on the record is ‘Contemplation’. I loved what you said about it, that it's about the importance of giving yourself time away from the chaos and all about that reminder that stillness is necessary. I thought that was so interesting because, although mental health in music is kind of discussed, it's not really discussed in this way. We do need stillness, and this can be a very chaotic life. I don't really see a lot of artists talking about the necessity for this. Was that a difficult learning curve for you to get to that point?

Yeah, and I feel like I'm still trying to get to that point. For example, I feel like last year basically before the pandemic, I was making a lot of time to exercise and do yoga and, you know, along with that came more times for meditation. But, once the pandemic hit, I was just like no more yoga! I just couldn’t do it. I was trying to get into the headspace but it was just so hard. Recently, I’ve been like, “Okay so that's not happening. What else can you do that is actually manageable for you?” So I've been trying to find things that are enjoyable and that also feed that kind of stillness. I think it's one of those things that has to be evolving and changing to suit your circumstances. There’s no one way that will work over time. It’s just something you have to constantly work on but it feeds you back when you do spend time doing it. It's tough, especially in the music industry where I feel like it's really difficult to separate your work from your life. I’m sure it’s like that for every job in the industry.

‘Wrestling’ is so deeply personal yet so universal, which is clearly a very strong thing that you wanted to bring throughout the album. I've noticed that that's been a common theme throughout your music in general. You try to make things at a personal level, but you still want people to connect. Why is that level of relatability and empathy something you've kept at the forefront this whole time?

I feel like somehow when you know that it's universal, it somehow feels more true. It's hard to describe but it's like, when you go and watch a comedy show and they are mentioning these small things and the fact that everyone's laughing means everyone's like, “Oh fuck! I do that too! Yes, I know what you mean!” I think there’s something [in that] that's really amazing. I just love those moments when you feel like it's not just music for yourself. A lot of people can be like, “Yes, okay. I feel that.” I think when it's relatable, it just gets into someone a little bit more as well.

And in a way if you're creating from that angle, to me it would sound like it would make it less scary to be dealing with such personal things, right? Because you’re able to kind of take on it on and hope that someone might be able to relate to it. It's like a weird catch 22 in a way.

Totally. It’s like, in the grand scheme of things, is it really important? And you can be like, “Yes! It is important!” But it’s also not important, and you have to hold those two things and just know that you can work through it.

I think that empathy, it's even embedded in the songs and the you've in the stories behind them. On [the song] ‘Wrestling’, you’re talking about your grandmother and her reaction to you coming out. That story is unfortunately a tale as old as time, when people come out and it’s not received the way you were hoping it would be. Is it liberating in a way to be able to share these really personal things with people, and does it then encourage you to keep sharing personal stories and personal music?

Definitely. I mean as much as that experience was super painful at the time, it also in a weird way, brought us closer together. I feel like it was such a thing for her too. It was kind of like, “Oh I've been leaning on all of these beliefs that weren't even my own, and now it's staring me in the face with someone that I love so deeply.” It forced her to very quickly be like, “Oh my God, what have I done?” I just remember her calling me being saying, “I know that I've upset you so much, I'm so sorry, what can I do?” Just seeing that like change in her so quickly was just [a lesson], like, okay this is what we have to do when we fuck up. It was just one of those things. ‘Wrestling’ was inspired by that, but also at the same time it was like [for me], “Where do I need to examine myself when I have a blip like that?” Everyone does it, I definitely don’t judge her. The way she was for maybe one second, she definitely apologised for and was it like okay, let's reset. I just thought that was really admirable.

It sounds like there's been a lot of self-analysis as well as this reflection, and I think that's really important as well. Sometimes analysis and holding yourself to account is just as important as reflecting. That's where these things are coming from, like in ‘Wrestling’ or even in regards to the lyrics within songs like ‘Drowning’ or ‘Ascension’ — all of those you've made space for really looking at yourself and holding up that mirror. These songs are also quite old now, so have you continued that with what you've been making since, or even in your collaborative production?

I think since then, there's definitely some songs that feel like they're in a similar vein, but I've also been working on some that are just like wildly different. That's been fun too!

One big part of the inspiration from this album is a deep dive into the Soundcloud and Spotify algorithms. I often think about those algorithms and how it’s like, is this just one big giant echo chamber and I'm just listening to the same thing over and over again? How do you feel as an artist being able to kind of explore those algorithms and really kind of push how they're created? Do you think that they kind of maybe do stifle creativity and inspiration if you’re just passive listening?

There’s probably a certain part of your brain being activated when you’re passive listening still, so I don’t want to discount it. But for me, I just love getting excited by stuff. There's just so many people making music! There are so many incredible artists, I just love music so much. I was listening to this podcast recently of Laurie Anderson talking. She was saying when she was in the sixties or seventies in New York, she was one of about a hundred working artists in New York. Now there is, I don't know what the statistics are but she was like, “There’s so many, how do you stand out? How do you find people?” And yeah, there ARE so many, but I kind of love that. I love that accessibility. The fact that you can go on Soundcloud and someone hasn't had to pay for anything, they haven’t needed to be rich. They can be from anywhere and you can just listen to their music that they might have put up at like 3am randomly. I just love that.

I read a thing recently that said by the end of this year, there will be 60,000 songs uploaded a day to Spotify alone. That is just mind blowing when you think of that. There's no way you would possibly be able to hear anywhere near that. Is that something that you take into account as an artist as well?

I think there’s a certain amount of, “Am I just adding to the noise?” And then it’s like, noise is cool. That’s fine! It's funny because a hundred thousand streams, for example, is not considered that much, but you think about it in terms of people? That’s a lot of people! It puts a weird perspective on things.

Looking at the visuals for this whole album, it has been so awesome to see these video clips. My favorite one is the ‘No Good For Me’ clip, I love it so much. It's interesting that you work so closely with Dillon, your creative partnership is so strong. A lot of people would probably not get their partner into their creative space, but it seems to work well for you. Can you tell me a bit about this working relationship you have with Dillon and how it contributes to creating these clips?

Dillon is one of those people that is just so good at so many creative things. It’s insane. When I first met her, she was producing and creating really cool music. We got along really well working stuff like that. After a little, while she would show me these things, like this artwork that she’d done or video work. Initially, she was just gonna creative direct things. So in terms of music videos, she was gonna find directors that suited the brief or whatever. When we were looking for music video directors for ‘Drowning’, we found a few and we'd reach out. They’d be like, “Yeah cool! Definitely interested in working with you, it’ll be 20,000 pounds.” Like we could do a lot with that money. We just started going, “Okay, maybe we could just do it ourselves?” And what seemed so crazy, we just started working at, and then it just became a reality. With ‘Drowning’, we hired someone to film it and someone to edit it and do the color grading. But Dillon directed it and I kind of produced it and organised all the stuff. Then we realized, for the next video. I was like, “Actually, I could probably edit it?” We just kept adding more, like, “I could probably film it?” By the time it got to ‘No Good For Me’, it was just the two of us doing everything. It’s been awesome, we’re building our skills together and it’s really fun.

It is so exciting that this album is coming out. It’s been nine years you've been making music with this project. What do you think young Laura would be thinking, looking at this album that you've been able to create that's about to be released into the world nearly a decade on from that first song?

Shit. I think I would be really proud. It’s nice to think of it like that sometimes. It can be so easy to feel like you haven’t done enough, or have negative thoughts. I definitely didn’t think that my music would bring me here, so I’m really happy and proud.

'Wrestling' by KUČKA is out now via Soothsayer/LuckyMe. Buy here.

Interview by Emma Jones

Image by Dillon Howl