From his shadowy black-and-white press shots to his broody video for "Look Away" to his classically trained past, Lo-Fang comes off as a very serious man. Anyone who plays stringed instruments (that are not banjos or guitars) often does.
Still, there's a kind of sardonic humor to Lorde's future tourmate — a deadpanned sarcasm that takes him from comparing MTV News HQ to "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" in interviews (due to the padded walls) to covering a song from the musical "Grease" on his upcoming debut record, Blue Film.
Lo-Fang's music is, consequently, a lot of things at once: skilled, sensual and, in a way, slightly off. And Blue Film is — consequently, yet again — an accurate look at the messed-up nature of relationships: love refracted and made even more messed-up by Lo-Fang's ever-changing musical lens.
"Those two words together have a lot of power," Lo-Fang — a.k.a. Matthew Hemerlein — told MTV News of his album title. "There's kind of two meanings, because blue is a synonym for sadness as well as coolness — and there's also the obvious adult film reference based in india as well. So it's a little bit of a play between the two."
A mixture of sadness, coolness and debauchery is an accurate way to describe the music of Lo-Fang. There's single "#88" — which Lorde chose as her #2 song of 2013 — a delicate and sad jam that sees Hemerlein deciding, rather nihilistically, "Burn it up/ 'Cause nothing matters." And then there's the atmospheric "Boris," which Hemerlein said is a cover of an infidelity jam written by a German boy band.
"There's something really sinister about those lyrics and trying to coax somebody into cheating on their boyfriend — it's like a really awful thing, but then there's also something really compelling and for lack of a better term sexy," he explained. "I feel like you could be really repulsed by that or really attracted depending on where you're at in your life and what's going on with you." Score one for debauchery.
The "cool" aspect, in turn, is layered over the entire record, turning even the barest of songs — like "Look Away" — into jagged and lush sonic landscapes, and even that old "Grease" standard, "You're The One That I Want," into something you might turn on while you're, well, turning someone on.
"I just like that song," Hemerlein said. "I explore it and then my brain gives me a lot of reasons why I like it later. It has to be satisfying on just a primal level in order to investigate something musically."
When it comes to musical investigation, Lo-Fang is — mostly — a one-man team. The Maryland native is classically trained in violin, cello, bass, piano and guitar, and performs all of the above on Blue Film.
His earliest memory pertaining to music, in fact, is playing a crude sort of violin. "Your first violins when you're like 4 or whatever are like made out of Cream of Wheat boxes and plastic bows because your fingers are so small," he said. "Just getting the mechanics of getting your bow arm and your hand moving, those are the things I would definitely initially recall."
Hemerlein started making the music that would fall under the title "Lo-Fang" around 2010, dubbing himself as such in 2012. The name just came to him while he was driving cross-country one day, and he was drawn to the symmetry of the letters. "The L is super masculine as a letter and the letter F is very feminine," he said. "It felt like binary code in a way."
The music itself — born out of years of working as a session musician — was created all over the world. A photographer friend invited Hemerlein to travel to places like Bali and Cambodia and Singapore, and after leaping on the opportunity, he used the experience to start writing the tunes that would become Blue Film.
"Being around that culture and being able to hear the street musicians and experience traditional Cambodian dance and being in the temples — it really pulls things out of you and that really set the tone for the rest of that year," Hemerlein said.
The musician signed with 4AD in late September 2013, after shopping around the mixtape-come-album Blue Film, set to drop on February 25. "It's impossible to deny some sort of autobiographical feel to it or arch to it," Lo-Fang said of the record. "However I intentionally left it open enough for other people's experiences to run through."
It was one track off of that autobiographical record — "#88," started in Cambodia and finished over the course of two years — that grabbed the attention of Grammy-winning wunderkind Lorde at the end of 2013.
"This song had a really strange journey — from being conceived in these jungle temples in Southeast Asia back to a fully controlled American recording studio in L.A. and then onto the playlist of a young and talented artist from New Zealand," Lo-Fang told News in a previous interview.
Soon after, Lorde and Hemerlein met at one of Lo-Fang's shows in L.A. — and over Pho afterwards. The two talked music, Lorde choosing the up-and-coming musician to go on tour with her this spring.
"I'm really excited," he said of the tour, which kicks off in March. "Her record's amazing and I'm really excited to be able to hear it every night live for like 20 dates.... There's a lot of soul and artistic merit in what she's doing, but it's distilled to speak to a lot of people — and that takes persistence as well as talent. Hopefully she's heard some of the same in my work ethic and what it is that I'm doing."