Considering the gauzy, deep freeze of his productions, it’s not hard to imagine Guerre, AKA Lavurn Lee, living inside a smoke machine in a Berlin nightclub, only occasionally venturing out to brood menacingly on the dancefloor. However, when we speak on the phone, he’s calling from a farm in deep rural New South Wales, where the Canadian expat has been working due to visa requirements. There’s not much sunshine in his music, but he’s been getting a lot of Vitamin D recently.
“I’m on a working holiday visa right now, the second one I’ve had,” he says. “To acquire that, the government needs you to do three months of farm work in a rural area.”
Though Lee has been enjoying the rural environment, it hasn’t all been rosy, with the prospect of having to pack up his life in Australia hanging over him constantly, as well as a few queries over the government’s policy.
“At first I thought it was good because I was getting a new experience and learning more about the country, but it’s a strange way for people to stay in the country. I mean, sure, there are lots of backpackers who can do it, but what if you’re disabled or can’t work? It’s been a draining experience, because if I can’t stay it feels like the end of a lot of things for me.
“I came here when I was 17, so I’m literally losing a huge part of my life.”
Despite the visa limbo, Lee has something to crow about, with his debut full-length, Ex Nihilo, finally reaching the public.
“I feel really relieved,” he says. “It’s been done for a year, so the songs have been sitting there for ages. It’s been mostly laziness though, in trying to get the artwork done and figuring out who to release it with.”
International heavyweights Remote Control ended up stepping in, through the work of Matt Blanchard at the Yes Please label, who released Guerre’s earliest works (it’s also the home of Oliver Tank). Ex Nihilo is another crowning moment in the recent parade of Sydney-based electro producers, providing a darker counterpoint to the work of Lee’s contemporaries like Chet Faker and Collarbones. Lee, however, doesn’t feel like there’s such a scene going on, despite their proximity to one another.
“I don’t necessarily think that geography means community; the music press here in Sydney really likes to group people together in terms of that because it’s easier and benefits everyone. I don’t necessarily feel like a part of anything with the bigger names, but within my circle of friends making music, there’s a similar attitude in the way we approach writing.”
Guerre’s distinctive visual style – equal parts David Lynch and American Apparel ads – draws out the qualities of his music in a pretty alluring fashion, something that Lee is keenly aware of, having originally come to Australia to study fine art and drawing.
“The drawings, the artwork, they should not detract from the music. The visual side has to inform what the vibe is, that’s the most important thing.”
That vibe is shadowy as hell, which makes Ex Nihilo (Latin for ‘from nothing’) a pretty appropriate title. “I like the idea of looking at my music as if it’s coming out of nothing, which is a bit of a cop-out!” Lee laughs.
“Because, of course, there’s a source to everything. But working with digital equipment, it does feel like there’s a certain level of disconnect with the machine because you’re not producing these sounds yourself; like, with a guitar there’s an element of physical extraction. With digital equipment, there’s more randomness – instead, you’re choosing these sounds and seeing where they go.”
While Ex Nihilo embraces that limitlessness, Lee remains locked in a struggle to stay in the country where he’s made a distinctive contribution to the dance music scene. If it’s up to Lee, it’ll just be his music that travels far from here.