Christian Luthi talks like an old jazz cat – ‘That “Everybody” track that everyone was digging on…’ – despite looking nothing like the presumptive jazz aficionado. In a way, he’s Nashville’s answer to Ryan Gosling in La La Land, except Christian can sing, vibe, and groove with the best of them, largely unlike Mr. Gosling in the Best Picture runner-up.
The namesake of his eponymous group, LUTHI, Christian Luthi (this could get confusing) has spent a little over half a decade creating a more pervasive presence of old school funk, jazz, and soul within Nashville’s (at times) binary scene of country and Americana. His initiative was, as he puts it, to make something “weird.”
Hailing from Chicago by way of Madison, Wisconsin, Luthi arrived in Nashville in 2009, with every intention of carving himself a funky little niche within Nashville.
“I went to school for musical theater all my whole life and then I did school for vocal performance in Madison, so I had a lot of classical and training and just writing in a room on an acoustic by myself and listening to a bunch of old records my parents had.”
Nevertheless, Luthi didn’t really make much headway in terms of getting the ball rolling with what would later become LUTHI until he met LUTHI guitarist and bandleader Taylor Ivey. Former roommates, Luthi latched onto the scene Ivey had ingratiated himself into, along with LUTHI drummer Patrick “Patty” Futrell. When I met with the trio, Luthi tried to play the initial forms of LUTHI off as a byproduct of hanging out, but Futrell suggests a more calculating (in the best sense) Luthi.
“He’s being modest. It was pretty much this guy. We were all hanging together and then he brought everyone together.”
Without skipping a beat, Luthi admits to his ulterior music making motives, and explains that despite having every intention of enlisting Ivey and Futrell in the earliest form of LUTHI, things were still plenty organic.
“I was just showing them the tunes. I did piggyback in the sense that I leveraged [Taylor] Ivey to get things going. Ivey was the vessel of that. And then after sharing the music, everyone just kind of dug it. It was just different. I hadn’t even been here for six months when we had met, so at that point – our music has changed now – it was whatever we wanted.
It was just an interesting project, I think, it caught their ear – it wasn’t straight country or Americana, it was an interesting blend of different things.”
Still, Futrell added that while compounding interest amongst LUTHI’s early members did become apparent, Luthi still managed to hammer their interests pretty hard.
“Luthi was pretty tough to say no to,” said Futrell with a humored huff.
Since LUTHI’s earlier iterations of Christian Luthi providing initial spirit and spark, the group has since expanded to a revolving door of nine members, all of whom have come to embrace the overall “weirdness” and peculiarity of LUTHI.
“I think even when you look back at that stuff at that stage in 2009, I think that was kind of weird outside of what was going on in Nashville,” says Ivey when talking about what sets LUTHI apart from the rest of Nashville’s burgeoning funk and soul scene.
Luthi agrees with Ivey’s sentiment, but adds a qualifier with regard to LUTHI’s Nashville ties.
“There are and were similarities to Americana, but at the same time its totally different – its evolved and now its gotten even weirder than before.”
“As long as we stay two steps weirder where we are in comparison to everyone else, we’re going to be headed the way that we are. In a good way,” adds Ivey.
And as the soul scene in Nashville grows, LUTHI continues to grow by those same weird standards, all the while staying within a uniquely LUTHI-an lane.
“There’s just an amazing mix of music and more kind of funk horn oriented things happening now than there was four or five years ago, so I think we’re all kind of challenging each other. I think we try to be weirder too, but there are so many bands that we’ve had a chance to play with that are definitely step outside the box, and I think that’s kind of an amazing thing that we all bring completely different musical backgrounds, especially in our crew,” offers Luthi.
The band LUTHI itself operates like a well-conditioned football team, and they use the reference point often (seeing as LUTHI has as many members as it does, the references make sense) – talking game footage, strategizing, and calling audibles in the middle of a set. According to Ivey, it provides ultimate flexibility and freedom within the set.
“We were all very free to – I feel like – improvise in those roles too, so whenever we get together, its never really a “set” of rules. Its just kind of like, ‘here’s seven, eight, nine people who really rule at what they do.’”
The camaraderie is distinctive in the sense that despite being comprised of nine members, there’s hardly been as much as a kerfuffle or tiff, much less a fight, which in the end might be a good thing.
“[A fight] would probably end with someone having a horn impaled in their skull. There’s some scary things we travel with that could be used in a fight,” says Ivey.
Ultimately, that camaraderie benefits the band, as the internal nine (!) offer up a bounty of avenues, but the extended circle, as Ivey lays out, offer even more options.
“It’s a community. Like, it’s a band, it’s Christian, but the greater circle is probably like 30 people – musicians, producers – it can at any given time show up or take off.
Futrell adds that the large faction of LUTHI faithful creates as organic a sense of community and inclusivity barely recognized by most bands and musicians in general.
“The thing that we hear when we play live because of the community – both in terms of us all knowing each other and having known each other for a long time and playing together and all that stuff – its just that people can sense that we’re having a good time.”
In the end, it does come back around the band’s braintrust and namesake, as Luthi attests that the strength of the band itself is the aforementioned community and camaraderie.
“The greatest thing about it is the camaraderie with the crew in that we can take everyone out and do dates with that many people and not have that much of an issue and just enjoy each other.”
In turn, LUTHI’s collective mentality has found an anchor to tether its line to in the greater Nashville community, and they don’t seem to be heading anywhere but up, whether the money comes later rather than sooner.
“Its been this whole city. Its like there are some super fans that have become friends and they help move things forward too. They’re part of this huge machine. Its like yeah, the music has to be there, but everything else has to, too. Its been amazing to see it all come into play. Its almost overwhelming in a great way. Because success right now is defined by this process, because what’s to come. To see people going out of their way to do the things they have, that’s why I can sleep well at night. Its like, damn if they see it too, then so can I. Yeah, its not money in your pocket, but its something,” says Luthi in earnest.
“I think we’d all take that instead of money in our pocket right now,” adds Ivey.
And you know what, its hard to disagree, especially when anyone – fan or band member alike – can feel just as involved in the weird future of LUTHI. The big break may not come immediately, but if luck favors the prepared, there’s no way its going to miss LUTHI.
If you want to see LUTHI in all their live grooving glory, then head out to Exit/In on June 1st.