I’m zipping along Foothill Road on a beautiful day with Elliott Lanam’s new album, Delirium Honey, blasting from the Bose system in my Prius, and damn if it doesn’t pass the “car test” with flying colors. The car test is one of those rare urban legends that are actually true, and it involves the idea that when a music producer thinks they have finished a mix, the best way to test it outside of the studio is to listen to it in a car, preferably while driving somewhere like Santa Barbara. When I visited Lanam at Hidden City Studios, the facility on Chapala Street that he has run since 2014, I asked him about the car test, and he was emphatic: “The car test? To this day, 100 percent, it happens. You burn it to a CD, throw it in the car, and then go drive the car test. The car is actually a very transparent way of listening. I purposely bought a car that had a CD player for that reason.”
With Delirium Honey, Lanam looks set to start hearing his music coming from a lot more cars than just mine and his. He wrote and played all the instruments on its 10 remarkably varied, exquisitely arranged and produced tracks. Add the outstanding vocals of such major Santa Barbara talents as Will Breman, Brandi Lentini, Brett Hunter, Haiva Ru, and Łaszewo, and you have music that holds up in comparison to the biggest names out there — Mark Ronson, Andrew Watt, Max Martin.
Keeping this kind of company isn’t entirely new to Lanam. Hidden City has played host to some of the biggest stars in music, and Lanam has the diamond record plaques from Katy Perry’s Prism, which he engineered, to prove it. His meticulous yet easygoing manner clearly appeals to professionals. Recent clients for his elite podcasting setup include Rob Lowe and Forrest Galante. Galante, a graduate of UCSB who scored big with the Animal Planet television series Extinct or Alive, liked Lanam’s approach so much that he ended up using his instrumental music on the show. Speaking of instrumentals, Delirium Honey is just one of three releases from Lanam in June. The other two, One Man Orchestra, which he put out under his own name, and Harmony, which flies under the flag of “Buddha Mama,” are instrumental forays into the worlds of scoring for film and yoga classes, respectively.
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As a producer and engineer for hire for more than a decade, Lanam has heard a lot of music. On Delirium Honey, he’s spun all those hours spent recording other people into gold. Although he wrote and played all the music on the album, half the songs were written for specific voices of singers he had in his personal database. Some of them had come to him to make their own music, but with others, he says “they’re singing for someone else’s rap record, or whatever.” “When it came time to write my album and produce it,” he told me, “I thought it would be really cool to feature all the best ones I came across.” The fact that all of these talented people have connections to Santa Barbara just makes Honey that much sweeter.
Will Breman and Brandi Lentini each have two tracks, while Brett Hunter, Łaszewo, and Haiva Ru contribute one apiece. Stylistically, they’re all over the place, but, like a lot of the most successful recent albums by mega-producers, it’s still a coherent listen. And, more importantly, virtually all these tracks could break big. My personal pick at this point is “Give All Your Love to Me,” a huge-sounding summer song that Lanam wrote for Will Breman. But don’t hold me to it. Over the course of repeated listening, that could easily change. And there’s already a strong single, “WHO I AM,” that’s not on Delirium Honey. Who added the haunting, soulful vocals on that anthem in the making? Elliott Lanam.