By Emily Eveland
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Given the cavernously epic quality of their dark and crackling electronic music, it's tough to see how Lookbook could have started as a gag—but that's exactly how it went down. And although they knew each other casually through playing shows together with their bands Passions and Digitata, Grant Cutler and Maggie Morrison didn't exactly jump right into working together.
"I heard from [engineer/producer] Joe Mabbott that Grant wanted me to sing on some songs—and you never asked me," says singer Morrison to Cutler as we sit outside of a northeast Minneapolis bar on a warm Sunday evening.
"Well, I was terrified of you," laughs Cutler, who writes and constructs all the music for the duo.
"But then you sent me an email asking if I wanted to sing over some R&B tracks," Morrison continues, "and I was like, 'Sweet! Me and my friend Abby would love to do that, and we'll be called Tina Turn-on.'"
Such a project would seem more in line with Digitata's sinuous and sinister trip-hop groove than Cutler's work with the bullet-shaped screamcore of Passions, but Cutler has another history as well.
"Do all your bands start as joke bands?" I ask Cutler, who's also performed some seriously lascivious electro-sex music under the name Tomhanks.
"Yeah," he sighs ruefully.
But Abby moved away, those original tracks were ditched, and from such tongue-in-cheek beginnings came a band whose vast soundscapes are steeped in a reverence for analog synths and '80s new wave. Listeners familiar with M83's superlative Saturdays = Youth will recognize some of the same reference points: Kate Bush, Tears for Fears, New Order, maybe even Heart. But where M83 are awash in nostalgia, Lookbook are leaner, more minimalist.
Their as-yet-untitled and still-to-be-released EP is lush not from an overabundance of sounds and textures, but from the space and respect paid to each component of the sound: Morrison's voice is swathed in reverb, taking her away from the cool edge of her work with Digitata into something approaching gospel. Cutler's high-pitched croon curls around it, connecting it to the stark, dull shine of the music.
Cutler had a chance to cut his teeth performing with nothing but backing tracks as Tomhanks, but Morrison was more familiar with fronting a full band before starting with Lookbook. Usually, singers without their usual instrument don't know where to put their hands, but Morrison actually finds it freeing.
"I don't have a Wurlitzer to hide behind," she says, "so I've been forced to do more. But then we sing at each other, too; people seem to like that." Ah yes: the time-honored girl-and-guy-singing-at-each-other combo is a crowd favorite. Cutler and Morrison, though, often take the tactic of having the dude go high in the harmony.
"It's 'Stop Dragging My Heart Around,'" says Cutler, reinforcing that '80s attachment. "Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty."
But for any new band, the hardest thing isn't creating a sound or perfecting their stage presence, it's coming up with a name. So what exactly is a Lookbook?
"It's something a [clothing] designer sends out for the spring line," explains Cutler, whose girlfriend, Juliet Thompson, is a fashionista. "It's like Polaroids of models in the spring line. They would send those out usually to the stores that carry their shit, so it's just a big book of photos."
Coming up with the name was undoubtedly a relief. "We were just exhausted with trying to find a name," says Morrison. "We even played a couple shows as Maggie & Grant—not that that's what we were going to call ourselves, because we didn't want to be like Matt & Kim."
"Is that a thing?" asks Cutler, cutting in incredulously.
"That's a band."
"That is...awful," laughs Cutler.