Taking inspiration from influences ranging from anime to Bonobo to Blade Runner to Neil deGrasse Tyson, it makes sense that Lastlings’ debut album, First Contact, is smart, deep, futuristic and a little bit celestial.
Written between the brother and sister duo’s home on the Gold Coast of Australia and the Japanese fishing village where their grandparents reside, the album’s dozen tracks have a sophisticated allure, maintaining their delicacy while often growing thick with layers of synth and percussion. It’s altogether live electronic music ripe for sweaty dancefloors and packed tents, many of which the duo filled during sets at big deal festivals — including Coachella and Splendour In the Grass.
Named one of Billboard Dance‘s artists to watch last November, the duo is making good on their industry hype, falling in the white hot vocal house territory also occupied by acts like Bob Moses and Rüfüs Du Sol. The latter act is in fact so into Lastlings, they took the pair on tour with them for several big 2019 shows — and are also releasing First Contact via their Rose Avenue Records imprint, in partnership with Astralwerks.
Both lifelong musicians, Lastlings’ Josh and Amy Dowdie have made an album focusing on the idea of of first experiences, “those beautiful moments” they say, “when we feel love for the first time, when a child takes its first steps or when we travel to a new destination. It’s also about the somber moments in our life where we have lost something or someone for the first time and how we grow and change.”
In a year that has been cause for much growth and change, 2020 seems an ideal time for Lastlings to make contact with their excellent debut. Here, the duo share the backstory on each track on First Contact.
Josh: We started “Deja Vu” in a studio in Sydney. We couldn’t connect to the interface or the speakers but there was a guitar sitting ominously in the corner of the room, so we decided to just write with that. It’s the first song we finished for First Contact, so I feel it is a perfect way to open the album.
Amy: “Deja Vu” is about the fear of truly expressing who you are. The predisposition to feel like you should fit in, instead of embracing your uniqueness. The sudden realization that you should learn to trust yourself, try new things, follow your heart, and find out what it is you love doing.
“Take My Hand”
Amy: For “Take My Hand,” Josh and I were inspired by one of our favorite anime films, Your Name. The film tells the story of two strangers infatuated with each other yet isolated by distance. Fittingly, “Take My Hand” is about two people who are unprepared to let go of each other.
Josh: The production was based around some really simple chords, and I’d been listening to a lot of Rüfüs du Sol at the time when I started producing it. Like a lot of the tracks, I try to visualize what environment I would ideally hear the song in, and I envisioned a massive, sprawling festival setting for “Take My Hand.”
“Out Of Touch”
Amy: I wrote “Out of Touch” at our grandparents’ home in Japan in 2018. I had just finished school, and the time that I spent there was a wholesome time for me to focus on myself. “Out of Touch” is about disconnecting from real life, spending some alone time and looking inwards, especially when life becomes too much and you need to recharge. Outside of the major cities, Japan is such a peaceful place.
Josh: The guitar melody from “Out of Touch” was inspired by Joe Hisaishi’s “The Wind Forest” from one of our childhood favorite Ghibli animes, My Neighbour Totoro. I used my dusty, old classical guitar to record through a drum condenser mic. It was all very DIY, but miraculously sounded great. The song evokes a profound sense of nostalgia for me, having used my first guitar, and how our forest surroundings at home looked quite similar to the scenery of Totoro.
Josh: I loved producing this song. For what felt like forever I put it on the back burner because it was missing something. When I finally played the main lead on my prophet-6 synth it felt like one of those light bulb moments — I was vibing to the song for ages on loop in my room, it just clicked.
Amy: “9400” is the introduction to “Last Breath.” It is Josh and I’s birth years mashed together – I was born in 2000 and Josh was born in 1994.
Amy: One of my favorite moments from my trip to Japan in 2018 was sitting on the bullet train on the way to my grandparents’ home. It started snowing and I looked out the window — all the villages were covered in snow. It was in these moments that I wrote the lyrics to “Last Breath.” This song is about being born, seeing first light, living and being there for each other until our last breath. It is dedicated to our parents because of their on-going love and support.
Josh: Up until this point, a lot of the demos had been focused around a four to the floor beat. We mixed it up on this one, placing each layer on this interesting drum sound I’d found. The track really came together and found direction with the arp that plays throughout. Sometimes when I’m producing, I like to play a movie in the background on mute so it feels as though I’m scoring to that film. I was definitely watching a sci-fi or space film like Arrival or Interstellar for this one.
Amy: “No Time” was inspired by Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go. It is about releasing yourself from negative thoughts, and growing from our disappointments and failures. It is also about living life to its fullest potential because — as cliché as it may be — life really is short, and everything happens for a reason. Fate, I guess.
Josh: The song began with the vocal oohs and guitar plucking I recorded at home. It has undergone multiple iterations, but we finally got to the finished product when we were in Sydney polishing our demos with Cassian. We were just going back and forth on different melody ideas with Cassian, and settled with a version that really focused on Amy’s vocal textures. I think that’s why the melodies feel so dynamic — we love working with him.
Amy: “Visions” is about moving on from an unhealthy relationship and the hardships you face during the healing process. This is one of my favorite songs; I think the vocals are almost haunting.
Josh: We were listening to a lot of Kiasmos and Chrstian Loeffler at the time. I think it was “York” by Christian Loeffler that inspired the production. The songs sound very different, but it was mostly to do with the rhythm of the bass and the simplicity of our drum track.
Josh: I was really inspired by the music video for Bonobo’s track “Cirrus” to make a purely instrumental dance track for the album. The video had this hypnotic repetition and while I was producing the song it made me think of a high-tech facility with endless production lines of robot units being assembled – kind of like iRobot.
Amy: “Held Under” is about the unavoidable fear of growing up, the process of accepting this as a fact and learning to find your independence. There is a focus on inner strength and bringing yourself out of your shell as you encounter the new and unknown. It is a reminder for me to go at my own pace and to not be afraid of what is to come, and instead to be excited and willing to learn.
Josh: This track was the final addition to the album. I enjoy albums that utilize interludes, because it feels like a moment to pause or reset, before you continue listening. It was initially an intro for this other song that we had demoed for the album but it never quite got there. I was watching the documentary Cosmos and Neil deGrasse Tyson was explaining the beginning of life, and it made me think of that initial moment where a baby’s heart starts beating, and how beautiful and fascinating life is. The interlude gives me an overwhelming sense of newness and birth, and when I listen back with my eyes shut it feels as though there is a burst of white light that forms in front of me.
“I’ve Got You”
Josh: “I’ve Got You” was inspired by a track called “Bad Kingdom” by Moderat, one of our all time favorite artists that we draw inspiration from. I really love the bassline in Bad Kingdom, it has a real rawness, sharp-edge to it, and suitably “I’ve Got You” is an homage to that sound. I love how this song turned out with its floaty atmosphere and Amy’s vocal part juxtaposed with the aggressive, driving synths. I like how the two can co-exist.
Amy: “I’ve Got You” is about overcoming that subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place. The song also reflects on caring for our loved ones, talking to them, and making sure that they are okay.