Having written, produced, mixed and mastered her debut EP in 2018, LCYTN’s been steadily building a cult following: amassing over 170,000 streams on her single ‘Ride’, becoming the first artist invited to live-stream a DJ set from London’s Facebook Studios, and recently collaborating with Gucci and Schuh.
Last year saw her launch her own club night, LCYTN & Friends, and perform to 60,000 people at the NYE countdown show in Yangon, Myanmar. Her latest release, the EP 'Every Thursday Night / Spotlight', encapsulates a world of energies in just three tracks, sliding from dreamy longing to darkly glittering, bass-heavy frustration to Afrobeats-inspired pure vibes in a rollercoaster 12 minutes.
Between shows, LCYTN (real name Lucy Tun: like a good Countdown contestant, just add vowels) has been keeping busy studying Economics and Burmese at SOAS and crocheting enough cute hats to supply an army of cottagecore TikTokers. Her wisdom belies her age; as the vibes began to flow and we got deep into discussions about the ailments facing today’s youth and the seductive power of death metal, it became clear that Lucy’s songwriting is deeply informed by a perceptive, introspective character determined to carve out a space of her own.
Also - even through the soul-crushing negative energy portal that is Zoom - she’s really fun to hang out with. (Honestly, our conversation felt like a sleepover, not just because we talked about crushes and star signs but also because we were both in our pyjamas in the middle of the day).
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You’re working on a new EP right now - how has that process been in lockdown?
Yes, I’m working on a new EP, hopefully due to drop next year. I feel like I've been in the teething process for a while - meeting a lot of different producers, a lot of different people in the industry, people who I would definitely not have seen myself being paired with - and somehow we ended up putting together something really cool. I'm just moving with the times. Because of everything, literally everything, changing every week thanks to the government's rules, it's very hard to, you know… release an EP. It takes more than just getting the songs out.
Say I wanted to film something, say I wanted to meet up with people for a launch: those things I can't really do if we're in lockdown. And so I don't want to put my foot down on anything too quickly. I definitely do know that there are some singles coming out in the next few months, and that seems like a much easier feat at the moment than releasing a whole body of work. Maybe I'll call my EP Vaccine.
I’m into it.
Yeah. ‘The Vaccine.’
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Do you find it easier to make music when you're stuck inside - or is it difficult not being able to collaborate? Do you get your inspiration more from external or internal sources?
So I had a year where I lived completely alone and it was supposed to be this pinnacle moment of the beginning of my twenties. I was like, Oh my God, I get to live alone when so many people don't have this opportunity. I'm going to be so productive. And I did make lots and lots and lots of music that year. I was in that stage of experimenting and learning how to DJ, and I was getting more into electronic and dance music.
But a lot of my emotions come from my songwriting, and because I didn't have a lot of outside stimulus, I didn't feel that my songwriting was that strong during that period. I mean, I produced a lot of beats. I did some remixes. But the period I'm in now, it's been very different. It's probably extreme, but a lot of the songs that I've ended up wanting to release have just been made in the last 10 or 20 minutes of a session. That mode kicks in when you realise, Oh God, I have 20 minutes to do this. All of the anxiety just kind of goes away and that way I can work well under pressure.
I can only write songs on my own when I'm really, really emotional about something; when I’ve experienced something really bad, writing music is the only way I can squeeze out the emotions and really think things through.
At the moment, I definitely like to work quickly and thoughtfully at the same time. And it's usually in under half an hour that I can really make some good music.
So when you’ve made tracks through that process, do you find that you end up making things that are too personal or too revealing to put out?
Mmm. I do have a slight hesitancy to put out songs which don't make people feel good. You know, when I put out 'Ride', it was such a feel-good track and everyone loved that song. I love that song too. And it captured so beautifully a moment where I was just so full of love and so full of hope. That's something I cherish, but it’s just a snapshot in time. I do hesitate to release songs that snapshot moments where I felt really depressed, not worthy of love and really not worthy of appreciation.
That said, I'm trying to find a way to do it because I just don't want to put out music that says, ‘Oh, I'm sad’. I feel like a lot of artists already do that in some ways. I come trying to work more on telling a story through a song that doesn't necessarily refer to anything about me or another person, but a story that makes people have to listen carefully, over and over again, and discover its underlying themes for themselves. Those are the types of songs which I feel really comfortable releasing.
For example, I have a song coming out with [producer] Usher Lavelle called Another Week that I wrote when I was in a really dark time. I was so depressed: I’d just come out of a breakup during lockdown. I felt wilted in some way; like my brain was a flower and it had kind of... wilted. I couldn't really get a grip on anything, but I remember writing that song. I was writing out of desperation and sadness, but the way that I sang it and the way that Usher’s beat sounds, it sounds so fucking happy. You hear it and you just want to dance.
You know, if you read the lyrics, you can see that I'm actually quite sad, but somehow the feeling of the song is bright and cheery and funky and warm. I feel comfortable putting that type of music out: because it's multi-multi-dimensional. It can make you feel a bunch of different things.
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Is your next EP gonna be multi-multi-dimensional, then?
I think my next body of work draws upon a few themes, one of them being womanhood. That's a really big one. It draws upon how girls have to grow up much more quickly than men. I'm not saying that in a way to attack men, I'm just stating a very natural process, which has been a given throughout my life; that girls have to mature faster than men, both physically and emotionally. That whole process is something that is quite prevalent in my songs. I sing about some of the things that girls might experience that would make them mature much faster than they would like.
Another theme that runs through the EP is adulthood. As I grow more and more into a young adult, everything’s getting more complicated. I’m finding that you don't just feel sad or happy a lot of the time; you often don't know what you're feeling in that moment. I don't know if it's an agenda or a genetic thing built inside us, but at this age, you always want to keep moving and to keep learning. All of my young friends nowadays, I see them doing so much every day, trying to be as productive as they can.
Maybe it's more prevalent in the UK, but last year when I moved into a house with five uni students, I saw the way that young people are desperate to avoid pain and trauma. I never realised how busy people are - waking up at 7:00am, going to the gym, going to uni or work, seeing friends - in a constant cycle every day. And as a young person, you just think: okay, I need to work. I need to get myself in this mode. I need to go out. I need to go see people. I need to immerse myself in something. I need to get ripped! For me, someone who had been living alone for an entire year and had never been exposed to that attitude growing up, I just thought, whoa. That's crazy.
None of my family were like that. We weren't lazy, but my dad just stays in the house all day because he likes to sit and think. Whereas a lot of young people now don't want to think about things, they just want to move.
Yeah, I think our generation glorifies work so much that if you're not working, you feel like you have nothing to offer. Like you say, it's a way of numbing the things you don't want to work through because it's so much easier to scroll on your phone or to throw yourself into work instead of to face them. As a generation, we suck at facing things.
Yeah. We’re not good at facing stuff in person. Posting how you feel and what you're doing on a public profile can be a good way to let your emotions out when you don't feel comfortable letting them out in person. But I find it quite dangerous for young people to see social media as the only outlet to express themselves in everyday life. I guess that’s another theme that the EP touches on; running away, avoiding, escapism, numbness.
I feel like those ideas characterise young people throughout their twenties. I'm not saying that in a way to make people feel depressed; I’ve really enjoyed my twenties. I think I've learned so much and I've experienced so much and I'm just so grateful. This pandemic has really made me slow down and recognise all the stuff that I've been avoiding.
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I wanna ask you what your favorite subculture is - past or present.
My favorite subculture right now that I've really invested in is the death metal scene. I never listened to any death metal, any hard metal rock or even any rock growing up. But recently started watching videos from Hellfest. There is so much energy there. In so many death metal songs, you can't even find a beat: everything is going at the same time. The singer’s going, the drums are going, the guitars are going, all at once. You can't even groove. You can't even bop. Everyone stands there for like 20 minutes and then just starts fighting each other. I'm like, what the fuck? I've never seen anything like this.
The main subculture that I was in when I was younger was definitely video game culture. Me and my brothers and my cousins got together at every single family function to play games. I was obsessed with the whole Mario / Nintendo franchise. Some people can hear that in my music too, with the samples I add. I was also a really big K-pop and J-pop fan, and I went through that whole anime and manga phase from when I was 14 to around 18. - I also got deep into drag culture when I first started uni. Watching RuPaul's Drag Race and Paris Is Burning really got me through a hard time. Then I started meeting a lot of drag queens and it became a really great culture to be a part of, where everyone was just so open.
We’re really getting into the Year 6 sleepover questions now. What’s your favorite colour? Or is there a colour that symbolises the music you're working on right now, or the period of your life that you're in? Your song ‘Ride’ says ‘Silver is my favourite colour’...
Well, this is the thing: the song actually says silver is our favorite colour. Me and the person I was with at the time.
Forgive my inadequate research.
No problem. During that relationship all I wore was silver jewellery. I didn't own a single piece of gold jewellery. And after we broke up, all I wore was gold. Now I have a mix of silver and gold. I've also always felt really close to pink: a specific shade of muted pink, baby pink, is my go-to colour. There's a lot of pink things in my room. But in terms of my music right now, everything is multi-coloured.
Do you connect with your star sign?
It’s weird, because my birthday falls in between Pisces and Aquarius and I grew up thinking I was a Pisces, but later on I realised I was actually an Aquarius. It changed everything - even the signs I was compatible with flipped around.
Aquarians are really unconventional; they don’t like to stick to one thing. And I can see that in my music, how I hate to stick to one sound. I don’t like to be kept in a box - I get quite irritated. My moon is in Scorpio, so my energy is pure water and air. I don’t have any fire signs, but I love their energy: they’re so much fun!
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You’re kind of unique: there aren't very many Burmese-British musicians on the scene right now.
It's a bit weird. I think at times it’s felt like a weight in some ways. Since university, I've gone back to Burma once or twice a year. I really feel connected with my Burmese roots, but I do feel that it’s hard with such a small Burmese community in the UK. I didn't really see anybody else around me in the UK who was Burmese and taking the musical route. There’s only one Burmese-British musician I know: this guy who makes amazing anime-inspired progressive rock music, called Sithu Aye.
Having said that, my Burmese friends in the UK have really helped me develop my artistry: the person who does my cover art is Burmese, the person who helped me with creative direction is Burmese. They definitely taught me a lot about - I guess this sounds cheesy - where I came from, because they came over here from Burma when they were 16, whereas I've lived here my whole life in the UK. I really didn't know a lot about my culture at the time, but now I do. Living ‘between cultures’ can feel heavy because the cultures are just so different. There are some people in the UK who don’t even know Burma is a country, which I find quite shocking. I mean, we all study geography at one point, and Burma’s literally... the largest Southeast Asian mainland country... so I find that quite crazy to believe, but, you know, it is what it is.
I’ve stopped explaining to people who make these kinds of mistakes; I've stopped answering to people who don’t know anything about it. I can't be a mouthpiece. I can't be a poster child. That's not what I'm here to do. And it operates the other way around as well: I don't want to talk to Burmese people about being British, to become this Westernised persona with a perfect British accent. I'm just going to be me. Sorry.
I respect that. How does it feel using Burmese in your music?
In one of my songs I have my Australian-Burmese friend screaming down the phone to me and she’s crazy. She’s a Leo with big crackhead energy who screams to me about her relationship problems everyday. And one day I was like, Hey, do you mind if we just go with this? So we put it in a song. I have done songs in Burmese before with Burmese artists, but I think at the moment I really want to focus on my music and how I can convey my story. And obviously, because English is my first language, that's what I'm going to sing in.
You’re a big collaborator (with artists including Osquello and The Last Skeptik) - it’s clear you love working with other people.
Well, I didn't really start doing sessions properly until a year and a half ago: before that I was just doing everything myself or with my brother. I feel like there are some people in this world who find it hard to work with others; they can be very self-righteous about how they feel and what they want. And then there are some people who are the opposite; incredibly adaptable, sensitive, seeking their own sound. I feel like I'm in the latter group. Every day I get influenced by something different.
I'm always open to trying new things and incorporating that somehow into my music, so I’ve really loved the experience of having sessions with different producers. I've never had a bad session, which I think is actually kind of a bad thing, because then I don't end up even liking half the songs. This era, I want to define my own sound a little more. I do have one or two collaborations coming out next year with other artists, but mostly it's just gonna be me. I'm at the stage of really trying to define my own sound.
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In a few years’ time, then, do you have a dream collab?
My dream collab? Hmm. I don't know. That's really tough.
One would be Kevin Parker of Tame Impala. He's an Aquarius too. And he's so multitalented. His lyrics aren’t complicated; he’s not belting them out, they’re just quietly present. The space of all his tracks is incredibly open: you get taken away by the plugins and the reverb. I'd love to learn from him about how he does that.
SZA is another massive one, especially for the singer-songwriter side of me. I completely look up to her. I always bumped her album CTRL because you can picture exactly what she's talking about and what she's feeling and what she's going through, and I related and resonated so deeply with that. But at the same time, you're able to escape into her own life and her own experiences of growing up in her twenties.
In terms of artistry, I would love to collab with Bjork because I think she just doesn't give a fuck. I think that's pretty cool. She's really geeky and still has that childlike spirit in her. She’s also an inspiration because she blew up at a later age. I'm seeing a lot of my friends right now who are 19 or 20 blow up, and I'm like, I'm 22 now. Am I missing my time? But then I see people like SZA who put 'CTRL' out at 29, and I realise age means nothing. Fiona Apple put out 'Fetch the Bolt Cutters' and I think she just turned 40. It’s amazing: it’s such relatable music. I'm starting to understand that age really doesn't matter.
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Words + Photography: Imogen Malpas
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