LUX: Calloused Hearts & Love Songs

“THE ROMANS AND THE Greeks believed the Muse and the Genius were these otherworldly things — these spirits,” Jake Wesley Rogers tells me between long pulls on the straw of his iced coffee. “It wasn’t until the Renaissance that the Genius became the man. And when the man became the Genius, I think that’s where it all went wrong.”

Written and photographed by Charles Goodin

It’s a strangely emphatic statement coming from the male half of local indie pop duo LUX, someone whose boyish introversion often has him playing the quiet yin to the more vocal yang of his female bandmate, Ivy Schulte. But, sitting at Springfield’s Bistro Market as the sun sets on a whirlwind day for a pair of musical luminaries, Rogers unabashedly takes on the professorial tone one might expect from someone possessed of his round-frame glasses and snappy vocabulary.

He’s referring, of course, to the ancient Roman view of Genius as a sort of guardian angel — an instance of divinity separate from the man it followed, but tied to him — and the Muses as holy personifications of the arts.

“I still believe there’s a weird spirit that flows through me every time I write something that’s supposed to be written. It all sounds crazy, but it’s honestly kind of freeing for me to be like, ‘I didn’t write that song,’” he says as his eyes shift nervously from mine to his rapidly-emptying cup. “And that’s kind of how I look at most of my favorite songs I did. I didn’t write that, something else did.”

If he were any other front man for any other band, an admission like that might smack of faux humility, but there is no room for insincerity in the land of LUX. Rogers and Schulte are too busy bleeding from their beating sleeves to concern themselves with pretense.

The degree to which effortless authenticity defines LUX’s work became clear to me hours before my coffee shop rendezvous with Rogers. On the opposite side of downtown, in the heart of Springfield’s brewery district, I tagged along as the dynamic duo recorded a promotional interview for their latest music video, a classically choreographed homage to their mournful ballad, “The Way I Loved You.”

At once hauntingly beautiful and painfully honest, the song recounts the conflicted emotions of a jilted lover caught between the memories of an erstwhile romance and the urge to move on to something better. Like most of the other songs on their debut LP, PAX, it’s a deeply personal track for both artists, although for decidedly different reasons.

“I think, especially with 'The Way I Love You,' I would say there’s definitely two different emotions in the song, and I think you can feel that in the way it pulls back and forth,” Schulte explains beneath the bright lights at the downtown production house Locke + Stache. She’s speaking with Josh Pfaff, co-owner of the videography firm and the man responsible for the concept, direction and editing of the video, which dropped on June 20 of this year.

In it, a pair of ballet dancers perform an interpretation of the song’s vacillating tones amid a stark, empty warehouse — a performance that so closely mirrors the emotions of the song, it would be easy to assume it was choreographed specifically for that purpose. In reality, Pfaff says, nothing could be further from the truth: the dancers, both just 16 years old, have been practicing it for years as part of their work with a traditional dance troupe.

Writer and photographer, Charles Goodin, staged this photo shoot with LUX at the vintage game room 
at 1984 Arcade in downtown Springfield, Missouri. 

As soon as he heard the song, he was immediately inspired to combine the two.

“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what a dynamic,’” he explains while showing Schulte and Rogers clips of the dancers on stage juxtaposed with their performance in the video.

Pfaff was so moved by the way the seemingly disparate elements complemented each other, he shot the video in just one day using a warehouse space in Joplin. His team built four sets in which the lighting — several frames made of high-end Quasar Science bulbs — also serves as the only visible element aside from the dancers. From there, he said only minor adjustments were made to the choreography so that it could be performed within the confines of the sets.

“Those kids — they’d done that piece so many times, they knew exactly what to do. But it was interesting seeing them adapt it to that song,” he explains. “Coming from a cinematic point, I wanted to have the best visuals … I wanted big moves and also be able to show the passion these two kids have at sixteen.”

Fans will decide for themselves whether or not Pfaff accomplished his goal, but an early hint as to the likely response can be found in Schulte’s initial reaction to the video’s first cut.

“I had to pull over and cry,” she recalls. “I was driving down the road, which is not very safe, but I was like, ‘What is this?’ So I clicked on it, and I started watching it, and I was like, ‘Oh God.’ So, I had to pull over to this place called Pineapple Whip and I started crying in the parking lot.”

“Which is not the first time you’ve done that,” Rogers quickly points out, the lilt of his voice bringing levity to what might otherwise be a tense conversation.

The gambit works, and an irrepressible smile spreads across Schulte’s lips.

“It’s what I do,” she says. “#WhatIDo. Cry at Pineapple Whip.”

If “The Way I Loved You” is a tale of two conflicting emotions, the remainder of PAX is perhaps best described as an audible therapy session for two friends who feel the same emotion stemming from separate experiences. For Schulte, it’s the result of a lengthy tale involving, among other things, a dishonest lover, unannounced sexual fluidity and at least one window shattered by a bloody fist. Meanwhile, Rogers — who, at 20 years old, is more than a decade younger than his bandmate — views his art as a sort of bittersweet farewell to the childhood he left behind when he entered the world of showbusiness (when he isn’t performing with LUX, he works as a professional songwriter, and also nurtures his own solo project).

“I had to let go of a lot of things that kind of defined my high school days or my youth, whatever that means,” he says. “In a lot of ways I felt like I was being forced into this new thing that I knew nothing about — a new world, really. Also, a new environment, new people, new everything. When I went away I realized a lot of things that were bad about what was back home.”

Throughout both experiences, and despite living nearly six hours apart from each other, the bandmates transcended their songwriting relationship, ultimately fulfilling roles that were equal parts confidante and therapist. As one might expect, that closeness enabled them to write more profoundly about each other’s struggles, which in turn further strengthened their friendship.

“He knows everything about my story. He knows my heart and soul, and he knows all the shit that I went through,” Schulte says. “And it’s good to be able to share that with a human and trust them and be able to formulate cool words with that person.”

It’s a relationship Schulte couldn’t have imagined going into her first meeting with Rogers, an encounter she organized through mutual friends after he made his debut on America’s Got Talent at age 14. Initially afraid she was going to “ruin him,” she quickly discovered he wasn’t as naive as she might have thought — and he became even less so over the course of the next several years, while the two worked their way through a series of bandmates who ultimately didn’t pan out.

Finally, on a late night trip home from a 2012 gig in Tulsa, they decided to go it alone, and LUX was born.

“We fired everyone but us, and here we are,” Rogers says in a way that suggests the process was less heartwrenching than one might imagine.

“And we made tracks of all of you. Sorry friends!” Schulte jokes, before assuring me, “They know.”

The words have barely escaped her lips and Rogers is already summoning his biting sense of irony for a closing bon mot. It arrives in the form of an ironic growl: “You know who you are!”

All jokes aside, it’s clear LUX’s current arrangement harbors no ill will toward the ghosts of co-performers past. The same cannot be said for the events that inspired many of the album’s lyrics, which Schulte describe as “pretty dark, with a lot of 80s flair.”

Tracks like “Abstract” and “Vanity” drive her point home in terms of both style and substance. In the first, verses are dedicated to comparing the grim reality of knowing something intimately with the idealized appearance it holds from afar. The second explores the pain of disappointment with its mournful reminder that, “anyone can hold their arms open, make a promise broken.”

Then there’s “My Skin, My Body,” a more substantive meditation on the absence of attention that was once awarded in heaps before being unceremoniously taken away. “Can’t you hear my heart? It’s beating, my skin and my body’s reeling too,” the pair lament in the duet. “Can’t you hear my thoughts? They’re screaming, my skin and my body calls for you.”

Along the way, listeners get to experience a spectrum of related emotions, including the sinking realization that the object of one’s affection has moved on (“Good Times”), misgivings about their own efforts to move on (“Faded”), and, at long last, the realization that nothing will ever be the same — or, as the pair admit in the classic ballad “Calloused Heart,” “In the day I’m a whole soul, in the night I’m a lost one, too.”

Together, the tracks achieve a sort of collective catharsis that veers carefully away from the self-indulgent malaise typical to such oeuvres, something Rogers credits to the recent and raw nature of the events that inspired them.

“We both had a lot to process in our own lives, and even though they were different things, we didn’t really write it from a reflective point of view. We kind of wrote it while we were in it and trying to process different things going on in our lives,” he explains. “It’s like if you were to write a diary, but most people just kind of close the book and put it away. But that was my diary right there and then, and here it is, still fresh and alive today.”

While the album’s dose of heartbreak and woe may well be alive in one sense, it cannot be confused or conflated with the present-day lives of the man and woman who created it. As we speak, Schulte is weeks away from marrying the love of her life, and when he isn’t putting together tracks for his solo project, Rogers is making an effort to reconnect with the youthful freedom he sacrificed by beginning his career so young.

Careful listeners can even find a sense of their recovery in the album itself. Case in point: the surprisingly hopeful imagery outlined in the indie rock-tinged chorus of “Fire in the Forest,” in which Schulte and Rogers seem to offer themselves affirmation that, “What you need’s in front of you, not gonna find it in the dark … What you need’s inside of you, leave the old ghost behind.”

Both are quick to dismiss the track as a one-off attempt to force themselves into writing something positive, but considering the happier, healthier futures that seem to be ahead of them, it’s not hard to imagine it as a hint of things to come. So, is LUX about to shed its penchant for unpacking the pain and suffering inherent to being human, or will their art remain unchanged by the shifting sands that form the days of their lives?

As with any question of existential proportion, the answer may well be both. Rogers insists that “you don’t have to suffer to be an artist,” and believes he and Schulte can mine past heartbreaks for future tracks without having to endure them in the present. And although Schulte admits the duo has written an as-yet unreleased love song, she is hesitant to suggest that it paints a complete picture of the group as they stand today.

“I don’t know if I have it in me to write twelve love songs,” she says. “I’m not heartbroken anymore, which is great. I’m not angry anymore. But there are still things I need to write, I think, about it. Even from this side. It will be from a different perspective. A healthier perspective.”   DM

Stream music by LUX on Spotify.

As seen in Issue 13 of Deitra Magazine.


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