Khari Lucas, the producer/beatmaker who creates under the Contour moniker, spent years perfecting his craft mostly behind a laptop, weaving together his inventive, hazy instrumental style that was rooted in hip-hop but pulled freely from soul, jazz, and downtempo electronica currents.
Around the release of 2017's Softer, though, Lucas, who had just started putting his own vocals on his songs, got the idea in his head that Contour could be something more.
"It was really just like kind of an idea in passing," he says. "I just thought it would be interesting for the release show if I played with a band instead of just playing by myself."
After the initial backing group fell through a month before the release show, Lucas pulled together the current members of the live band — drummer Chase Bunes, bassist/guitarist Jesse Kieve, and pianist Tyler Sim — and that has been the live identity of Contour ever since.
"We put together what were pretty barebone versions of the songs on the record just so that we could play them, and then we had the release and everything, I don't know, it just kind of clicked," Lucas explains. "We discovered that we enjoyed playing together a lot and decided to keep doing it."
Now, this live, organic-sounding version of Contour finally has a recorded document of its own, the self-consciously titled Live on Record, which debuted on Fri. March 15. While it's in keeping with the fundamental tenets of Contour's previous studio efforts, these new songs tend toward looser grooves and more jazz-like digressions at times, channeling the collaborative spirit and groove-based tendencies of the various members, even as Lucas is firmly at the helm.
"I'm still the person who writes the songs, but there's a much more collaborative process with what happens with the band, because I'll write something with my setup, which can just be like, you know, MIDI drums, or sometimes I won't write with a guitar in [the song]; it will just be keys," Lucas admits. "Sometimes I'll even just bring a demo in, and then we have to reformat it so that everybody has something to play and it makes sense and translates to our format. And sometimes one of my bandmates would be like, 'I think this song is good, but I think we should add a section here so that there's more movement, something more structurally interesting going on.'"
The album is actually a bit deceptive in that Lucas composed and recorded three of the songs entirely himself, although with a sound and style that fits easily among the full-band efforts here. The main goal, he says, was to have something that accurately reflects how they sound rather than being purely a document of the four players. It's a fascinating development, and one that suggests that collaborating with the band has pushed his music and approach to production in other ways as well.
"As time's gone on, I've found myself writing stuff with the band in mind. And also indirectly, just playing with so many other bands over the course of the last couple of years kind of moved my musical direction a bit and reignited my interest in guitar music and rock music," he offers. "I was mainly listening to hip-hop and soul and stuff like that. And I still listen to a lot of that, but in the past year I've been getting really heavily into psych and even acoustic guitar-based stuff, which I would have swore off several years ago. It's been pretty fun and cool to see it all evolve."
As for the future of Contour and his own creative trajectory, Lucas likes to keep his options open. He's got a number of different projects going on "behind the scenes," he says, and is currently participating in an artist program that will include an upcoming summer residency in Italy.
"I really have a kind of wide range of interests, like besides the obvious, which is writing and composing and producing and stuff," he says. He mentions Flying Lotus as a guiding light, an experimental hip-hop producer with an idiosyncratic style that has seen him both in the limelight and pop world, but also in the avant-garde and behind-the-scenes roles as well.
"I want to continue to develop all of the areas of my interests, artistically, and ideally turn them all into things that are a part of my career," he concludes.
Catch Contour on Sat. April 20 at Cultura Festival at the Royal American.