Lewis – L'Amour

Tony Mederos still remembers the morning in 1983 when a man called Lewis arrived at the Music Lab Studios in Los Angeles. “We were the cheapest studios in town,” explains Mederos, “$25 an hour. [LA punk producer] Spot Lockett would be in Studio B overnight with Black Flag, Meat Puppets… our clients arrived in mini-vans. Then this guy pulls up in some kind of expensive looking white car, with his girlfriend. This was not your typical $25-an-hour guy.”

As general manager of Music Lab, Mederos showed Lewis around the studios. “He was very quiet, observant, always with his girlfriend. He said he was into the fashion scene. He described a little bit of his music. He said, ‘Well, it’s atmospheric and very ethereal.’ I told him he needed to work with Bob Kinsey. With Bob you’d get all these great sub-tones, a lot of space. Bob Kinsey could make nothing sound great.”

“No one could find him... The music is like a mirage, a dream."

Lewis recorded his album with Kinsey in Music Lab’s Studio A. “They had a 10-foot grand piano in there,” says Mederos. “It had an amazing sound.” Kinsey no longer remembers the sessions. However, Mederos does recall one more strange detail. “This guy said he lived in Malibu. This was an El Niño summer and he said his house had fallen into the Pacific Ocean. He had an issue with the insurance and just wanted to get this album out.”

The next thing Lewis needed was an album cover. “I have no idea how I came to be in contact with this guy,” says photographer Ed Colver, who’d been active on the LA punk scene since 1978. “This guy was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel, driving a convertible white Mercedes. Said his name was Randy Wulff. I thought it was a pseudonym. He was the antithesis of what I was doing.”

Posing out near Malibu in the late afternoon’s natural light, Colver recalls that the artist “came with his blonde girlfriend. She could have been hired for all I know. It was all really strange. The cover makes him look sort of android-like, rather vacant. Kinda seedy. He was thrilled with it.” But when Wulff’s $250 cheque bounced, Colver discovered he’d already left for Hawaii, via Las Vegas. “Ten years later I came across a copy in a thrift store,” the photographer recalls. “I was like, Oh, that son of a bitch! I’m gonna buy it just so as I can remember his face. I’ve never played it. I don’t know how to say this, it looks kind of like it could be appealing to men. Pseudo romantic piano music, I guess.”

Lewis and girlfriend. By Ed Colver.

That could have been the end of the story; another unheard private-press vanity album by a dreamer with delusions of success. Flash forward to New Year’s Eve, 2007. At a closing-down flea market in Edmonton, Alberta, crate-digger Jon Murphy is rooting through second-hand vinyl.

“The cover appealed right away,” says Murphy. “All the songs seemed to be originals… I was just hoping it wasn’t a religious folk record.”

It wasn’t. Despite tracks with such titles as Cool Night In Paris, Love Showered Me and Summer’s Moon, and a sticker on the sleeve announcing that “This Album Contains The Hit Single ‘Romance For Two’ inspired by Christie Brinkley”, the album that Randall Wulff recorded as Lewis in Music Lab in 1983 is a strangely beautiful album, an ethereal blend of Arthur Russell country-folk, New Morning era Bob Dylan and Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue. With the diffuse light of Wulff’s forlorn mumbled vocals, tentative piano melodies and melancholy classical guitar ever falling behind grey clouds of billowy synthesizer, L’Amour possesses an eerie West Coast chill, the romantic endearments of inchoate love songs suffused with a ghostly exhaustion.

Stunned by his discovery, Murphy informed a fellow collector, Aaron Levin, who, after finding more copies in a record store in Calgary, posted clips of L’Amour online, which led Rob Sevier of Numero Group and Matt Sullivan of Light In The Attic to seek out Randall Wulff.

“No one could find him,” says Jack Fleischer, who wrote the linernotes for L’Amour’s reissue. “The music is like a mirage, a dream. That’s totally appropriate. I did that drive he did. From the Beverly Hills hotel to Silverlake, along Sunset Boulevard. What a delusion. He was dreaming. There’s a lot of sadness there.”

A private investigator hired by Light In The Attic tracked down Wulff’s family, but the last anyone had seen of Randall was seven years ago, in Vancouver.

“There were issues,” says Fleischer. “A new pseudonym… some ugly stuff. I’m not sure what’s real and what’s not. I don’t think he’s dead. I don’t think he’s homeless. He’s just not in Canada any more.”

Though Fleischer is unsure whether the reissue of L’Amour will bring Randall Wulff out of hiding, there’s one final revelation he’s keen to share.

“The nephew mentioned that Randall made a bunch of albums in the late ’80s in Europe. And in the past decade he’s made five albums in a studio in Vancouver. All under different pseudonyms. That’s a lot of music. All original songs, it’s mindblowing. I see it as this person who’s running from himself, dumping all his sins onto vinyl.”