Welcome to Jacksonville Music Experience’s Songwriting School, where we talk to local songwriters about how they wrote one specific song.
Rania Woodard and Brian Squillace of LANNDS met here in Jacksonville and have been making psychedelic electropop together since 2016, releasing singles and EPs regularly. On March 3, LANNDS released their first-ever full-length album, Music for the Future (Run for Cover Records).
Of the singles they’ve released from their new record, the one that stands out to me most is a song called “Blueprint.” This song checks all my boxes for what great electropop should be: it’s a little ethereal and it has a killer beat. The song builds in a way that’s impossible not to pay attention to. Right away, I knew this was a song I wanted to talk to these two musicians about.
The pair spoke with me over Zoom from Squillace’s home studio in Los Angeles, where he and Woodard are now based. They were excited to discuss their new music, sharing the improvisational techniques they utilized and the constraints they worked within to record their song “Blueprint,” along with the rest of their new album, from a cabin in northern Georgia. Overall, this is a duo that strives to be in service to one another’s evolving vision, which is a lovely thing listeners can hear and feel in their music.
Listen to a portion of our conversation about “Blueprint” or read the full interview below.
As a duo, how does the songwriting process typically pan out for you? Does one person kick off the process and the other add to it?
Rania Woodard: This latest project, the album that’s about to come out: we kind of did the bulk of it together, in a sense. All of the instrumentation. In the cabin, like two years ago—we stayed there for a whole week—Brian would be sitting at the computer and just kind of, like, coming up with texture sounds and chords. And then I would be walking around, coming up with melodies and lyrics. And we would get something down, like, okay, this feels good. Like, this is like where we want to go. Or we’d kind of like stop and be like, okay, what do you feel about that? Or just kind of in the moment, like, okay, that sounds good. Maybe I’d be like, maybe add some of this, maybe add that. That’s kind of been the process for the past. So the most recent stuff, I don’t want to say it’s not like there are no roles or anything.
Brian Squillace: We’ve done several different methods. There are several songs where Rania starts the demo at home on her computer and then brings it to me. There was even a track on the last record that started as an instrumental that I had just done in my free time. Most of the recent stuff almost felt like alchemy, where we’d get into the room and there was nothing pre-written and we were both just improvising. And that’s kind of like where we had the most fun.
Rania Woodard: It, like, legit feels like magic.
Is that an angle you’ll take moving forward? Do you think that’s going to be your approach from now on?
Rania Woodard: I think so, yeah. Again, like, I don’t feel like there are any roles or anything. I don’t want it to have, like, a set way that we do things, because I feel like it’s more freeing to be like, Hey, this is how I want to do this. This is how I’m feeling right now. Creativity can go in so many different ways. I think that’s what works for us now.
Brian Squillace: Yeah, because you can’t control when something comes to you. So it’s like, you know, although we had really good luck with just getting in a room and doing it together, if there was ever a time where we’re creative but separate from each other, we should still just make the music. You know what I mean? Just whenever you feel it, you’ve got to do it. But I do think that I could definitely see us going forward, continuing just to make up stuff together.
How malleable is a song when you first go to record it? Are you making decisions as you go, or do you have a plan going in that you tend to stick to? It sounds like it’s more on the organic side.
Brian Squillace: Yeah, no plans. Actually, on the last record, we were very linear. I feel like in the past we’ve been more like, let’s talk about what the chorus is and what the verse is, and we’ll talk about a structure. But on this stuff, a lot of it was moment-based, where we would write 30 seconds of music, and then the question we’d ask ourselves would be more like, What’s the coolest thing that could happen right here? And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a hook. It could just be like the whole song explodes into fireworks or whatever. Anything goes. And that that was more fun just following a linear path for each song. And there are a couple of songs on the record that are a more traditional pop format, but that’s just what felt good.
Thinking about “Blueprint,” what were the moments in that song where you paused and asked yourself, “What’s the coolest thing that could happen here?“
Brian Squillace: That song is the one where the whole thing about us improvising was perfect. It worked out perfectly. It started with just the piano loop that you hear at the beginning. Well, actually, to set the scene completely, it was pouring down rain outside, so the first thing we did was record the rain, and we did two tracks of it and put it in stereo so it’s kind of in your ears. And then we laid down that piano loop. And then Rania just started singing the melody that you’re hearing at the beginning. Like, pretty much like right away, I feel like. What do you think?
Rania Woodard: Yeah. I’m pretty sure all the melodies from that song, we did the first takes of all the recordings, or like the first initial ideas. So yeah, I just had my phone out, and I was writing lyrics just, like, here and there. We also recorded this video-wise, and in the video—I forgot this—but actually, I think you already had come up with the textures and the chords, then you were like, catch the rain, because it’d started raining.
Brian Squillace: Oh! So that’s what it was. We had that mood going, and then it started pouring down rain, and we were both like, Whoa, that’s crazy serendipitous.
Rania Woodard: Yeah.
Brian Squillace: But at the moment that happened, we had that whole vibe where it was just Rania singing, and we were like, That’s so good. We don’t need to add a bunch of stuff here. So that’s why the whole first part of the song is literally only vocals. And then the moment to us was when the drop comes in, which is just this really guttural vocal sample that is actually Rania’s voice from another song.
Oh, no way!
Rania Woodard: Yeah.
Brian Squillace: I just dropped that into the sampler and just pitched it down, and I just hit the key, and that was just what it sounded like. And Rania looked at me like I was crazy, and we’re like, That’s it. That’s the song. Let’s go.
Rania Woodard: That’s literally how it was. I’m pretty sure it was from a song we had recorded… was it the night before?
Brian Squillace: Yeah, whatever song we had worked on the day before, we just grabbed the vocals from that and put it in the sampler.
Rania Woodard: It was so magic. It was cool.
So you really are writing and recording as you’re going.
Brian Squillace: Exactly. Yeah, that’s what it was. That is what happened. I guess we went back to add in backing vocals and that kind of stuff. But even that was just completely off-the-cuff. Like, Yeah, just sing into the mic. Whatever we get is what we get.
Rania Woodard: I feel like, as far as the structure went, we wrote it as everything came to us.
Brian Squillace: It doesn’t always come that easy, I should say. I know this makes it sound like we just, like, open up the computer and then there’s a good song. But that was just a good moment for us. We definitely struggle, too, sometimes.
How much of the songwriting process on this song and these songs you’ve released so far this year, for this new album you’re working on, felt reliant on the setting you were in at the time? Because, like you said, you were in this cabin in North Carolina, correct?
Brian Squillace: Georgia.
Georgia. How much of it felt like it was influenced by that environment?
Rania Woodard: Honestly, I would say probably all of it. Yeah, most of it. There were probably a couple songs that we started in Brian’s studio, but the bulk of that album was made in that cabin.
Brian Squillace: And although the visual setting was really important, I think, for me, one of the biggest things was just being isolated and not having to do my normal morning routine or go to do work or whatever. Like, just being somewhere where it’s like, This is music only. This is in these walls. This is what we’re doing. Only this. That, to me, was the big influence on the creativity side of it.
And how long were you there?
Rania Woodard: Uh, we were there for a week.
Brian Squillace: Yeah. Eight days.
Sounds like a productive eight days! I want to talk about the lyrics for “Blueprint” as well. Rania, you said that as you were singing that initial melody, you started writing lyrics on your phone. What was the inspiration for the lyrics of this song?
Rania Woodard: I’ll also kind of point to how nice it was to get away from the city and just, like, be away from our everyday life and focus. For me, it was nice to get away from all the noise and ask, specifically, What can I say right now, though? And so I think I’d just ask myself that question in the moment as Brian was messing around. I was like, How can the universe speak to me right now in the most honest way? And I honestly was just, like, looking around at the cabin—it’s kind of literal, I was like, We built this house. It means a lot of things, but I feel like you can kind of point to society and people. If you kind of zoom out a bit and just look at the world with this lens on humanity, rather, and also community, your friendships. For me and Brian, we built this house. We built this. This thing that’s happening. So it means a lot of things. But in all of it, it’s a look at the world and what’s been happening the past couple of years. We’re continuing to build this house, and it’s for you to decide how you want to, like, leave your legacy? I don’t know. I feel like I think about “Blueprint” a lot, and it changes for me the more I listen to it.
Brian Squillace: That’s cool. It changes. I know what you mean. Like, when you listen to your own music, it morphs. That’s interesting. That’s cool.
Rania Woodard: That makes sense, right?
Oh, definitely. That’s such a great answer. And lyrically, I always admire the strength of your phrasing in your music—not just in this song, but in other songs as well. You often repeat one really strong sentence as a chorus, or in this case, a fragmented sentence: “where we laid down, where we laid.” How do you know when a short phrase you’ve written is right for that kind of repetition?
Rania Woodard: I guess it just feels right to me. I guess it’s not, like, a right way. But yeah. It just feels right. I’ve been trying to do this thing where, I, like, legitimately will take a breath and just think, Okay. I want to speak my mind and how I feel. And I know that like if I sit with that, and if that’s what comes out, then that’s what comes out, you know. It just flowed, honestly.
It sounds like it’s a really organic process. On the production end of the song, we get a lot of fun like bleeps and bloops. We have a lot of gorgeous synth washes, and there’s that big, “pah!” kind of snare hit. It sounds like you were able to hear those kinds of sonic choices as you were writing this song. Can you tell me a little bit about how those decisions are made in the moment?
Brian Squillace: Everything is in service to the mood. In the beginning, everything is in service to whatever creates an emotional atmosphere. And once Rania starts putting lyrics in, it guides me where I want to then be in service to that. So it’s not necessarily like, Oh, I have this sound I want to use, or this style of drum I want to use. It’s more just what’s emotionally resonant, because in this digital age of making your own music, there’s an unlimited number of sounds you can use. You can be that kind of artist, and there’s plenty of I’ve listened to music like that where they just use every sound there is.
But I don’t think that’s the point, really. The point is to kind of build a weird world that feels—you know, when you hit play on a song and it just changes the color of the room or something like that. That would be like a lofty goal to have, to write something like that. So that’s kind of where my head is when I’m making textures, but a lot of it is just discovery, like repurposing things and always sampling our own stuff, like sampling Rania’s voice. I mean, I don’t know the actual stats on this, but I’m going to venture to say that 60% of the samples on any of our records is probably just some weird, manipulated version of Rania’s voice. We’re just always doing that, and you might not even know it’s a vocal sample, so that’s a big part of it.
That’s incredible. What are some of your favorite ways of manipulating Rania’s voice to create a new sample?
Brian Squillace: Let’s see. There are so many. There are obvious things, like pitch-shifting. Taking her initial, very angelic vocal, but then pitching down, like, two octaves so sounds like the voice of God, just screaming at you or something. That kind of thing. Or finding little ends of it that are really percussive—like, little kinds of sounds—and then putting them in an arpeggiator and then making a new fluttery kind of noise. And sometimes that stuff will end up sounding like a synth lead. But it’s not complete like it’s a voice, you know? But you wouldn’t know that unless you deconstructed it back to the source.
Oh, that’s so cool. I’m so inspired. I want to play around and try that now. That’s awesome.
As a band, you have such strong visuals, too. Your album covers. You mentioned your music videos earlier. Even your press photos. And the music video for “Blueprint” is particularly striking. It’s the two of you on a cliffside by the ocean, and there’s lots of sunshine, and a red veil at one point and a mirror. Are you imagining those sorts of images as you’re writing the music, or does all of that come later?
Rania Woodard: That definitely came later. It came recently, because we got our friend Brandon Young, who brought his ideas when he listened to the song. He was like, What do I see when I hear this? We definitely were not thinking about the visual side of it. I mean, we’re always thinking about it, but not exactly one thing. For instance, the red scarf—I would have never thought of that. That was all Brandon’s idea. Even some of the stuff we were doing in the video, I just never would have thought to do.
How often do your song ideas become songs you record together? Does anything get scrapped? Or does it feel like, when you’re together, you pretty much make it happen?
Brian Squillace: We scrap a bunch of stuff, actually. But on the more recent record, we actually ended up with more songs than we needed. And it was a tough call to whittle it down a little bit. But I would say that, in the past, we’d very rarely get a song all the way to completion and then scrap it. Usually we know it’s trash when it’s a demo still, and we’ll love it for a couple of days and then we’ll both be like, I don’t know about that one.
What makes you say you don’t know?
Rania Woodard: I guess what we have done in the past is, like, we’ll be working on something, and we’re not feeling it. We don’t feel excited about it. We don’t keep feeling excited about it.
Brian Squillace: Yeah, no, that’s it. We have a Dropbox, where we share all the music. And for me, when it’s good, I want to listen to it. I’ll listen to it throughout the day. But then if you find yourself not stoked and not listening to it, that’s not a really good song. Sometimes we’ll work on something, and three days later, Rania will text me like, Yo, I was just listening to that, and it’s so sick. Permeation through the rest of your life is the guide. Because at the end of the day, we’re music listeners. When you listen to something and like it or not, you know.
I think that’s a great segue into talking about your influences for the music you’ve been making lately. What were you listening to when you were in that cabin together besides your own music?
Brian Squillace: We listened to Dark Side of the Moon on the drive up. I remember being stuck in traffic, just listening to guitar solos being like, So crazy.
Rania Woodard: I think we listened to something else from Pink Floyd too. Another album.
Brian Squillace: Yeah, it might have been Meddle.
Rania Woodard: It was just cool. I actually didn’t grow up on Pink Floyd at all, and I just recently started listening to them years ago. It’s cool. It’s awesome. Of course it is. It’s nice to discover something that’s older like that and feel inspired, you know? I was also listening to a band called Child, who is a newer artist, and that’s really sick, too. But listening to older bands and getting inspired—I know that, back then, there were a lot of limitations.
hat’s great. Well, I’m super excited about your new music. When can we hear more from you guys?
Rania Woodard: March 3rd.
Awesome. We can’t wait. Thank you so much, Rania and Brian, for chatting with me today. I really appreciate your time.
Brian Squillace: Of course!
Rania Woodard: Thank you!
You can hear songs from Music For The Future, along with the best new music from emerging and established artists working in all genres on The Independent 89.9 HD4 — a music discovery station from WJCT Public Media and the Jacksonville Music Experience.