Amsterdam-based producer, songwriter and musician Luwten (Tessa Douwstra) today releases her new album ‘Draft’ available now on Glassnote Records and streaming on all platforms fromhere.
Luwten is a Dutch word simply meaning ‘place without wind’. Tessa Douwstra adopted it as the moniker for her solo abstract pop project, enamoured with the creative process of “working in a total vacuum”. Her EP of late 2020 ‘Door’ bore the unambiguous title that reflected, in Tessa’s own words; “A study of a perfectionist who acknowledges that everything’s in a constant state of flux”.
For a young Douwstra, flux became the norm with the divorce of her parents, sending her shuttling between two cities. Spurred by a love of singing discovered in church (coming from a strongly Christian family), Tessa retreated from an unsettled childhood into sketching songs on piano and guitar, later her computer. Absorbed in creating, friends were recruited to act in ‘television series’ shot on an old camera of Tessa’s, whilst a Fisher Price tape recorder was repurposed to capture pilot episodes of a nascent radio show. “I’ve never rooted anywhere specifically’” she recognises; “and maybe that’s because I feel at home in my space but it doesn’t really matter where that space is: as long as I can be me there.”
The material gathered here on ‘Draft’, however, marks an opening up of that that space, allowing some outside influence, to rush in. Speaking about the ideas of agency, control and freedom which spur her processes, Tessa notes; “How much of being alone is because it’s helpful? Does being alone help being authentic? Or is looking for authenticity something you could or even should look for with others? I noticed I’m writing a lot about thinking versus feeling and being alone versus being together with other people. I love the idea of music as self-exploration. For the maker as well as the listener.”
Across ‘Draft’, its songs evoke the feeling of the breeze underneath the door; a subtle reminder of becoming open to another. Luwten transmutes different sounds together with quizzical warmth: taking cues from minimal touchstones including Steve Reich, Olafur Eliasson and Teebs, Tessa’s production laces field recordings and organic noise with electronic sounds and melodic live instrumentation. On ‘Draft’, these intuitive productions – guided by a spirit of improvisation, which Tessa likens to ‘dressing up as a kid’ – tell as much of a story as Luwten’s soulful lyricism.
‘Draft’’s title track tackles the push/pull between introversion and openness, Douwstra building up meditative textures by layering samples of her family and friends all singing a single note. ‘Sleeveless’ reaches for the simplicity of an existence without pretence; “Life gives us many things to hide behind: the things we say, the things we buy, what we choose to show, the expectations we and others have of us. I think I have done quite a lot of hiding myself but most of the time I’ve found it to be tiring. It doesn’t feel like an honest way to live and it can actually deprive us of living freely,” notes Tessa. Elsewhere the stark ‘Call Me In’ scrutinises just how far we truly hold ourselves to account for our behaviours, and the sensual ‘Control’ plays out through the lens of the chronic second guesser. Vocally Tessa is influenced by the resonance of D’Angelo, Solange & Frank Ocean, particularly on R&B adjacent ‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ (which assimilates a male choir lifted from her Grandmother’s old tape recorder) and the muscular ‘Airport’, sampling a quote from Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel.
All these songs are reaching out in a certain way; the embrace and empathy in Luwten’s music lie in the process itself. She’s looking for new ways, without reading the manual first. Douwstra digs deeper into these ideas on her podcast series, ‘Drafts’, in which she discusses process & inspiration with other musicians – the latest episode sees Luwten joined by Charlotte Adigéry, with their conversation streaming from here.