Luna Li: spellbinding indie-rock from a divine new star

Each week in Next Noise, we go deep on the rising talent ready to become your new favourite artist. This week, the Canadian artist discusses her long-awaited debut album, which features dazzling collaborations with Beabadoobee and Jay Som

Luna Li’s debut album ‘Duality’ comes with a big purpose: to provide a safe place for people who feel like they don’t belong. It’s something that the 25-year-old Toronto musician (real name Hannah Bussiere) can relate to well, her experience of growing up between two cultures sometimes leaving her feeling like she didn’t fully fit in with either. “I’m half-Korean, half-Canadian so [I was] trying to find this balancing act of the two cultures that I come from,” she explains.

From that experience, the concept of duality came to feel like part of her identity. During the four-year process of making her first full-length record, though, she kept noticing it manifesting itself in forms other than her personal heritage. “A lot of the songs had a little bit of happiness, a little bit of sadness, a little bit of excitement, a little bit of anxiety,” Bussiere notes. “Nothing was ever one thing. So the word ‘duality’ felt appropriate for me trying to find my place in the world and trying to figure out the balancing act of life as one has to when they come into their adulthood.”

Although she says she’s still figuring out what or where her place is, ‘Duality’ gives us a beautiful window into where she’s at and where she’s been since beginning work on it in 2017. It invites us into family memories (‘Cherry Pit’, which opens in a fit of swirling psych before softening into something more magical), trying to learn how to love yourself (the string swoons of ‘Afterglow’) and keeping your head above water when life gets too overwhelming (the sombre beauty of ‘Trying’). Each song is shot through with empathy and warmth, helping to create that safe atmosphere Bussiere had in her mind.

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More than anything, the rising artist wants the record to offer space and comfort to young women – and particularly young Asian women who might also have grown up not seeing people who look like them being celebrated in music. ‘Duality’ does its bit to help re-balance that, with only women of colour joining Bussiere on the album. Jay Som contributes to the dreamy lethargy of ‘Boring Again’ and Dreamer Isioma appears on the twinkling ‘Flower’, while new single ‘Silver Into Rain’ boasts vocals from Beabadoobee.

That latter track – a softly building, poetic song that feels like drifting through the middle of a grey rain cloud – has been floating around the Luna Li world for five or six years, but remained a favourite of its creator’s. While re-recording it for the album, she realised Bea’s voice would fit into its atmosphere nicely. “It felt like a shot in the dark but we were like, ‘Let’s just shoot our shot and see what happens’,” Bussiere recalls. “I’m so happy that she was able to come on board because her section really fills out the song and brought it to its final form.”

Luna Li might be a must-know name in terms of exciting new indie artists but it was only a few years ago that her focus was on a completely different side of the music world. Her mums run a music school together in her hometown and she was encouraged to play instruments from a young age – at this point, she can turn her hand to piano, violin, guitar, bass, drums and harp. Towards the end of high school, she began to feel pressure to go to uni and auditioned for a spot at music school at Montreal’s McGill, where she continued her classical education for one semester.

“I felt like that was the path I should take, but right before I went, I started getting involved with the Toronto music scene,” she says. Seeing other budding artists eschew traditional routes and managing to make it work made her realise she could do the same.

The classical side of her music brain emerges at various points on ‘Duality’. Strings swoop and soar and bolster the mood of the likes of ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Alone But Not Lonely’, while ‘Misery Moon’ is set to a melancholy harp ripple and ‘LonelyLovely’ erupts into a big, bold orchestral climax. It’s something Bussiere wants to bring more and more into her songwriting. “When I left McGill, I was fresh off of practising the violin for four hours a day and I decided to abandon that. I was back in the Toronto music scene and, at the time, there was a big garage-rock scene,” she says. “I was like, ‘Violin’s not cool! Let’s do this instead’. Gradually, I was like, ‘Wait, it’s kind of sick to have strings involved in my sound’.”

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Bussiere’s music is infused with a spellbinding quality that feels almost celestial, as if she’s made it while gliding high above among the stars. It makes sense, then, that her stage name comes from another fixture of the nighttime – Luna means moon in Spanish and Italian. “The moon has just always been this magical, mystical, feminine presence and I’ve always been inspired by its energy,” she explains.

What first started out as an alter-ego has lately become more blurred with Bussiere’s off-stage life thanks to the pandemic leaving her only being able to connect with her fans by inviting them into her bedroom on social media. In the future, though, she wants to separate the two again. “I’m excited for Luna to evolve into someone who’s way more badass than I am,” she smiles. “I feel like on tour and on social media I’ve showed the side of myself that’s really soft and kind. That’s definitely a part of who I am, but I also am excited to kick some ass as Luna.”

While music might be her main focus right now, expect to see Luna kicking ass through other creative fields too. Bussiere has designs to make her career as varied and multi-dimensional as possible. “I’m excited to see where I can go creatively and expand the world of Luna Li into fashion and dance and other types of art, and just be a creative powerhouse,” she says.

Luna Li’s debut album ‘Duality’ is released March 4

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