The Process: The Expanding Universe of Luna Li

A Q&A with Hannah Bussiere on existing in a world of her own creation.

Photographer: Halle Hirota @hallehirota

Styling: Cat Calica @yungguava

Assisted by: Olivia Mokrzycki @sink.bug & Antoni James @antonijames

Floral Arrangement by: Jaime McCuaig @j_aime

Whether she’s harmonizing centre stage or jamming live from her bedroom, Toronto-based musician Luna Li curates an immersive experience beyond our wildest dreams.

We sat down (virtually) with Hannah Bussiere, the fairy-like songstress behind Luna Li to learn more about the girl who could play melodies with mermaids and sing lullabies to the moon. We discuss experimenting with her identity and the many puzzle pieces that form her current project.

Moving through the industry as a woman is no easy feat, but Bussiere’s talent makes it appear almost effortless. It’s clear this is what she was meant to do.

What does your “workbench” typically look like? What is part of the “essential toolkit” of a Luna Li song?

My essential tool kit would be having logic open — I really like to be recording all of my ideas as I go. As a multi-instrumentalist, I obviously can’t play everything at the same time, so it’s nice to just be able to build things and record as I go.

A really essential tool for me is a full MIDI keyboard. With that there are so many sound packs that you can use to create so many different kinds of sounds with just the one keyboard, so that really allows for a lot of variety. Also, just having all my instruments around me is really helpful. But, I usually start off with the keyboard. It was my first instrument and it feels like the most versatile for me because I'm the most comfortable with it. One really necessary tool for being creative for me, is exploring new sounds and finding something new every time — otherwise it just doesn’t work if i’m doing the same thing over and over again. I need to push myself and go somewhere new every time.

And when did that start? You and music?

I grew up in a very musical household. As a kid my mom was always just singing with me around the house. I asked for piano lessons at age five. And then my mom joined her partner in running a music school when I was just a little bit older. So I was just really lucky to be able to grow up in a musical community with students and teachers and just be surrounded by all that all the time.

When did you start getting experimental with your sound?

I think I would say that when I first started learning the guitar is really when I branched off. I was really focused on classical music before then. And then I turned twelve and thought “I’m going to rock out on the guitar.”

I don’t know if that was the time that I really started finding my sound yet, but it was a stepping stone to get there. That’s when I started learning covers and started writing my own songs for the first time — those will never see the light of day, thank God.

I think a really big turning point for me was after I left high school, I went to McGill to study violin. I ended dropping out after a year and moving back to Toronto to start my project. I realized what I really loved was being creative and so I knew I wanted to start building something from the ground on my own. I felt like I wasn't getting that in music school.

What is the magic touch that you feel a song is complete? Are songs ever complete? How do you know when to move forward? How do you know what to keep or to discard?

I think about building songs like a puzzle. Arrangement feels kind of like you're fitting all the little pieces together to create this one big picture. I would say that there's a moment where you just know that it's done, where it's like, I have used all the pieces here and I know sometimes I go overboard and then I have to take things out. Usually it's just a lot of experimenting until you feel like it's good.

A really key thing for me is to leave it and come back to it the next day. Have a break and come back and be like, “Okay, am I still liking this? Does it still feel like it's done?”

The [Instagram Live] jams were a really good exercise in songwriting and production because I had to create something with the intention that it was going to be heard [as it is]. I was going to post it on Instagram and people were going to listen to it.

Whereas usually when I'm making a song, I'll create a demo first. And then I'll be like, “I know I'm going to take this to the studio so I know it's going to change before the world hears it”. I build it as much as I can by myself, but I know that's not going to be the final form. I feel like I've also been able to learn a lot about production in the past year, just experimenting and being on my own and having to do everything myself.

Does that feel different to release music that is just you playing instrumentally, versus a complete lyrical song where you're using your voice as an instrument as well? How does that feel different, when you get that out into the world,

It definitely is different. I had never created something from start to finish completely on my own and released it into the world. So that was new for me and exciting. Um, I would say that instrumental music feels easier to create because I find lyrics tough sometimes and also, it can be really vulnerable and feels a lot more personal to me. So I would say that the instrumentals have this kind of easier and more chill feeling to them where it's maybe a little bit less scary.

Do you first start thinking about lyrics for a song or do you first start thinking about music? What does that process you described as vulnerable look like?

I think it's changed for me over the years. Recently I've been doing the music first. You know, sitting in my studio, making a little loop, kind of seeing what comes out of that. And then if I have something and I really like the way it sounds, then I'll sing over top of it and try and find a melody. Sometimes words end up flowing out and I can start refining the lyrics from there. Usually that's my process, but I also sometimes like to just sit down on the piano and just write a full song with lyrics melody at the same time without really building a track.

So it kind of changes every time. And that's what I love about it too, is that it doesn't have to be the same every time.

How do you feel when you revisit an old song or something from your past? What is your relationship like with your younger self as a musician?

That's a good question. I don't actually listen to my old music ever.

I think I am really, really focused on what's happening in the moment, where I'm going and who

I’m evolving into. Okay, I would say that the rare moment I do listen to my old music is interesting. I'm kind of a perfectionist, so a lot of the time I go back and I listen and I'm like, “Oh, I should've done this. I could've done this better.”

But sometimes I go back and my past self surprises me and I can appreciate at least one thing about it and be like, oh, I forgot I did that cool thing in this song or whatever

. It's a little bit of mixed feelings going back. But yeah, I don't think I would change anything about how I got here. I'm here now and I'm still growing, so it's all good.

You built Luna Li, this whole identity and concept around yourself so well that I didn't even know your name which is wild. I'd love to know how it was that you built this identity for yourself.

I decided to create this name so that I would have an alter ego to step into when I was performing. I created [Luna Li] pretty early on in the game and I was still learning about, you know, being confident on stage and learning your state prejudice presence and everything like that.

It really helps me to push forward and step into that more confident role on stage. That's kind of where it originated. I've always been really inspired by nature and the magic of the universe and so I was using moon imagery and stuff like that in my previous project and I decided to use the name Luna because it just felt really fitting. I would say that now, like the lines between Hannah and Luna becoming constantly more blurred because of social media and, you know, I'm just filming myself in my room — it's very personal now.

I think Luna Li has become more than just my artist name basically. It’s become a lot closer to who I really am in the past little while.

How has that changed you as a performer? Not really having this ability to step into this, you know, alter ego on a stage. You have to essentially create your own stage and use your own platform. How is it different to perform virtually versus on stage?

I think performing virtually feels like a completely separate thing to me. It's definitely something that I've been exploring a lot more since COVID happened. I think it felt exciting to me to be able to open up and be a little bit more personal with my audience, bring them into my room and show them what I'm doing in my little creative safe space and everything like that.

I do like the fact that it does feel more personal because it feels just closer to me and more meaningful. That said, I really do miss playing live and having the energy in the room with actual human beings.

Where do you keep any drafts?

I usually like to do a voice memo or I'll write lyrics in my notes app. Sometimes I'm just having a conversation with someone and one of us will say something interesting or poetic, and I'm like, “I have to write that down and use it in [a song]”. I have so many embarrassing voice notes of me going for a walk. And I'm kind of out of breath from walking and trying to like sing this little thing that it's coming to me in the moment.

How do you use music as a tool of reflection?

Writing music can be really therapeutic as everyone knows. And sometimes I'll write something or something will come out and I didn’t realize that's how I was feeling. It just kind of comes up because a lot of time I'm doing a bit of a stream of consciousness where I’m setting up the microphone and singing along to whatever I made.

So it's kind of interesting to be like, “Oh, I didn't realize I was feeling this way, but I was subconsciously able to articulate this through, through a song.” It definitely feels like something that can provide clarity and help with self reflection in a way that I don't think anything else really can.

What do you wish for your music to transcend?

I think I really want Luna Li to be a full experience and not just a typical, “this is the music” and that's it. I'm still exploring what that means. I think creating a live show that feels really personal and something that an audience can really participate in is really powerful to me.