Published Nov 20, 2019Though Luke Lalonde has dealt with travel anxiety while touring with Born Ruffians over the years, a different kind of anxiety fuelled his second solo venture.
"That thread of environmental anxiety of ecological crisis kept coming up as I was writing songs," Lalonde tells Exclaim!. "It just consumed so much of my thoughts that it tended to come out."
Stemming from a set of songs penned in 2016 in a studio space in Brooklyn, NY, Lalonde's The Perpetual Optimist is an honest progression through the stages of grief for a dying planet. This is clear on the album's final track, "Winners & Losers," when Lalonde sings: "Droughts bring the fires / Fire brings the fuel for all of your desires / So let them play it cool while we sing 'burn it higher.'" With an eye outwards to Fridays for Future marches and Amazon devastation, and an eye inward to the guilt of "white and Western privilege," it's an album for working through the feeling of living in limbo.
But it is not a hopeless album for this self-proclaimed optimist. One thought that has brought some solace to Lalonde is the resilience of the planet — in spite of its people. "When you zoom out from humanity," he explains, "the planet is this organism that we can alter for millions of years and it could still bounce back."
Speaking to the fact that only about one bone in a billion gets fossilized, Lalonde is fascinated by the fact that "there must be entire epochs of animals that existed that we will just never know about, and we might be one of those. It's tragic that we may be the 'highest intelligence' beings in the history of our planet — maybe — but the fact that the Earth will survive is a nice thought, in a way. Life is so much bigger than me or us or this current time."
But day to day, Lalonde is well aware that "you're not going to get anything done if you're just wringing your hands about the end of the world." So once these particularly personal songs started taking shape — after giving them a whirl with the other members of Born Ruffians, who quickly understood that "this is a different outlet" — Lalonde made it happen himself. "Playing all the instruments, recording it and mixing it on your own, psychologically feels more special," he explains. It provided space for Lalonde to work through these anxious thoughts. "There are a couple songs that I would cry while listening to them. It's really therapeutic."
You can hear this self-discovery on personal tracks like "Go Somewhere," a song in which Lalonde's father — battling cancer — gives his son some heartfelt advice. "He told me, 'write about whatever,' Lalonde recalls, "'just write some stupid songs and eventually you'll get better at it.'"
This advice has led to the second thing that brings solace to Lalonde during our environmental catastrophe: creating, freely and joyfully. Asked about the creative process of The Perpetual Optimist, Lalonde exclaims, "It's my favourite thing to do, to have a song and knowing where I want it to go, and I can just sit there and build it, throw ideas against the wall. It's my favourite aspect of creating."
Lalonde hopes that it brings listeners the same happiness that it has brought him. "Ultimately, I hope that it brightens that half an hour of listening," he says. "The same feeling I get from records I love, that make me say 'I'm glad I listened to that record just now — that's just what I needed in that moment.'"
The Perpetual Optimist is out November 22 on Paper Bag.