Luke Bower is conflicted.

“I think there's something to be said for artists that remain mysterious. People like Frank Ocean or Prince back in the day, the way that they keep people so hooked is by not giving away very much.”

At a glance, the nocturnal, sleepy brand of jazz showcased on his 2018 EP Vol. 1, combined with album artwork cartoons that mimic a mix of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Pink Panther animated sequences suggest a mystique surrounding the London musician and his solo project, Lucy Lu.

But 10 minutes into our discussion in the dimly lit downstairs of a Waterloo coffee shop, he relates an anecdote about coming home after a few drinks as a teenager and asking his dad for a jamming session, only to be admonished with: ‘Luke, you smell like a brewery.’ At this point, he halts, and says resignedly: “As you can see, I’m really not a very mysterious guy.” In truth, having seen the likeable frontman on stage the week before, I had not been expecting an impenetrable enigma.

In that show, Lucy Lu’s debut headline gig at Servant Jazz Quarters, in Dalston, East London, he was poised in the centre of his six-piece ensemble. On vocals and guitar, he displayed a musical virtuosity and uncanny sensitivity to what each band member was doing - perhaps a reflection of the fact that he writes most of the instrumental parts himself (“Though I can’t take credit for a couple of the really tasty horn lines”). The set was, at times, mesmerising. Some songs had the builds and contours of progressive jazz, some were funky house jams with bouncy synth lines, and others were more downbeat, thoughtful, soul meditations.

It was a tantalising teaser of what’s in store for his next EP, out later this spring. As I spoke to him it was at the mixing stage, and Bower describes it as a sonic progression from the first: “It feels really cohesive, and I’ve been much less shy about adding things that people might think are cringey.” He’s tight-lipped on featured artists, but he does reveal that a collaboration with Bristol artist Harvey Causon will be among the tracks.

Though it didn’t take as long as his first release, a 12-minute EP, two years in the making, Vol. 2 still provided some headaches for Bower. He expresses the kind of perfectionism that is both the hallmark and the bugbear of the musician-producer. “I create these puzzles with music that I have to solve, and they're like battles with myself. Like, I'll record the drums and arrangement for a song, then I'll go, ‘Well I love that part of it, but I hate this part’, then I realise I have to flip the verse and fix this and that…”

The intermittent nature of the process didn’t help things – he has been travelling the world on and off for the past year, variously with fellow London jazz proponent Jacob Allen (aka Puma Blue) and as the bassist in Nilüfer Yanya’s touring band. That said, the opportunity to practise his songs in different environments, not to mention performing without a backing band, was crucial in developing the new material. Asia was an eye-opener for Bower. “It's so otherworldly being that far away from home. The audience is completely different from a London crowd. In Tokyo they were pin-drop silent during my set, which worked great, because it was just me and a bassist. We were playing really stripped-back versions of the songs, and then they'd applaud politely afterwards.”

Back at home, Bower lives in the same Peabody Estate apartment in Waterloo in which he has always lived – with his parents before they moved out of the capital, and now with his girlfriend - Uma, a fellow musician who was one of the support acts at the Dalston concert. This central London location proved key in the origins of his music career.

Firstly, there was Pimlico Academy, where he would bunk off class to practise the piano in empty classrooms. Use Somebody by Kings of Leon was an early favourite for band practice, but his music tastes were always eclectic: “I loved film-score music and orchestral music. My mum would play me The Planets and I would be, like, ‘This is sick!’. I kept that on the down low, that was a secret guilty pleasure on my mp3 player when I was coming home – I’d just bang on some really emotional, dramatic music and think about life.”

This led onto the Brit School in South Croydon, a rite of passage for generations of young talent, from Adele to Rex Orange County. Bower relished the chance to challenge himself here by collaborating with super ‘techalicious’ musicians, such as Max Pope and Flo Morrisey. He points me towards a song called Petit Garçon, which the trio recorded when they were just 17, and he produced. It’s a pretty slice of indie folk, and surprisingly cohesive given the different paths the three have taken since. “It was a case of 'none of us do the same thing, but we all fit in a really interesting way,’” he recalls, reflecting his broadly collective approach to making music in the years since.

Bower’s first band, Hester, emerged from the south London art and music nights Steez, which became something of a paradise in the mid-2010s for young musicians looking for a platform for experimentation. He reminisces about the nights nostalgically. “You'd get the craziest jams with eight people, a four-horn section, all improvised looking at each other, building up these beautiful harmonies, then you'd have a drummer just killing it, going ham, then they’d have a rapper, maybe a singer joining in with them. Those are the things where if you got to play it, it was like 'don't fuck up'.” Spurred on by the pressure of Steez’s explosion of musical talent, Hester, whose music bore many of the same jazz inflections as Lucy Lu, supported Loyle Carner on tour and released an EP before going their separate ways. All except for drummer Ellis Dupuy, who now plays in Bower’s band.

It was then that Bower decided to scale things back, resolving to compose songs mainly on his own as Lucy Lu, with a backing band for live performances. The origins of the name are unexpected: “I learnt that from a Dragon’s Den documentary, where James Caan says ‘My name's not actually James Caan, I made it that so that I could say ‘James Caan, like the actor’. So I’m Lucy Lu, like the actress…except it’s not spelt the same!” The loose nature of his project has allowed him to bring in diverse talent, such as poet Lyds, Puma Blue, and sax player Chelsie Carmichael, who he describes tearing the roof off the Shacklewell Arms during her solo in Outlines.

There is something deeply exciting about hearing the musician reel off a list collaborators and friends in the London music scene, which seems to be an endless pool of talent right now - especially the jazz wave that’s gaining more and more momentum. If Lucy Lu’s next EP can succeed in capturing the electric atmosphere of his live shows, he ought to be riding the crest of it.

Luke Bower, aka Lucy Lu , has just dropped a new single, ‘Crucial’. The foreboding track melds electronic sounds with a jazz inflection, and is the first cut from his upcoming second EP. Listen below.