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Leon Vynehall On 'Rojus' Album: 'It Feels More Significant With an Idea Binding Everything Together'

Leon Vynehall
Courtesy Photo

Leon Vynehall

Leon Vynehall’s new album, Rojus, comes with a series of conceptual frameworks. The title of the first track and the last one combine to put a neat bow on the whole release – “Beyond This…” eventually merges happily with “… There Is You” – and sampled bird sounds help carry the record from one track to the next. Along with these, there is also the title’s instructional postscript, Designed To Dance – the terms of engagement here are pre-set.

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This may seem redundant: why would a producer known for shifting hips feel the need to label his output as dance music? But this sort of structure is not unusual for Vynehall. 2013’s Music For The Uninvited was unified by nostalgia – the producer describes it as, “me looking back on what music helped shaped me as a writer, using samples of the music my mum would play in the car on the way to school.” Vynehall also contributed a song to the second volume of Gerd Janson’s Musik For Autobahns, a compilation built entirely with driving in mind.  

“I don’t see having a concept for a record as a hindrance,” Vynehall explains in an email. “It’s fun. [Designed For Dancing] is just the theme I’ve chosen for this record,” he continues. “The next one will be about something else. I like having stories behind a release, rather than just putting something together for the sake of it. It feels more significant with an idea binding everything together.”

He reiterates this concept later in the same email. “I have done smaller two to three track releases in the past without such cemented themes, and that’s fine. But I really enjoy thinking of an idea and seeing it through right up until release day.”

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Acording to Vynehall, Rojus came together in two stages. “I made a couple of the songs not so long after the show in Lithuania that initially sparked the idea,” he tells Billboard. “After that, I was involved in a songwriting project that took up a lot of time, so there was a gap of five to six months where I didn’t write anything for myself. Once that was finished, it didn’t take me long to write the rest. I had a sort of spurt of inspiration which kept me on a roll.” He bounced some of his ideas off Janson: “when I started writing tracks for Rojus, I would send them to Gerd and go from there.”

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The resulting work traces a gentle arc, starting slowly with the near beatless “Beyond This…,” picking up steam in the mid-section, and coasting to an end. It’s a slick, lolling album – maybe designed more for late-night swaying, the come-down after the evening’s most intense periods of activity.

After “Beyond This…,” “Saxony” sets the tone with a melodic bass line and light pitter-patter on drums. Keyboards outline the song’s curves, but do not impose their will or shatter the calm forward movement. Mellow vocal samples, usually wordless – sighs, exhales, murmurs – drift in and out of the beat. The sonic homogeneity is important. “The concept of the record gave me parameters,” Vynehall notes. “To start adding slower or faster songs that weren’t around the 118-125 B.P.M. range wouldn’t necessarily work.”

A few moments stand out from the dulcet bath. In “Wahness,” there’s a grating noise that sounds like a sword skittering off a wall. A track later, “Kiburu’s” showcases a pleasing variety of hollow wood percussion sounds. And Vyehall saves the most aggressive moment for last: there’s a thin snap to the percussion in the final track, “… There Is You” – part martial rat-a-tat, part Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison.”

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Rojus displays a strong consciousness of dance music tradition. After all, bird sounds have a long history in the most mellifluous strains of house, reaching back to the late ‘80s and the famous birdcall that opens Sueño Latino’s “Sueño Latino.” (One mix of that single was labeled “The Paradise Version;” Vynehall’s album has a track titled “Paradisea,” and the producer’s press materials suggest that Rojus means “paradise” in Lithuanian.) The erotic whispers that cruise atop the beat of “Beau Sovereign” can be traced all the way back to the titillation of early disco. There are also connections to more mainstream branches of contemporary house: the long “oooooh” sample that flits through “Blush” isn’t far from Gregory Porter’s contribution to Disclosure’s “Holding On.”

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Vynehall is already at work on the follow-up to Rojus, and he suggests that listeners should expect another framework organizing his next release. “I’ve been working on the next one for a while now,” he writes. “They get more and more elaborate every time. One day I’ll bite off more than I can chew.”

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