Monday 24 February 2020

Lanterns On The Lake - Interview

Lanterns On The Lake released their fourth studio album Spook The Herd on Friday containing the singles Baddies and Every Atom and seven other tracks. It's their first album since 2015's Beings and has already received universally positive reviews. We caught up with Hazel Wilde to talk about the birth of the album, the themes that inspired her writing and future plans.

At the end of the touring cycle for Beings, you posted on your socials that it might be the end for the band. What changed to make you continue with Lanterns On The Lake?

I don’t think we ever said it would be the absolute end, we just knew it would probably be our last show for quite some time…and it turned out it was. I don’t think people would have blamed us for throwing in the towel at that point though - we’d had a good run at it, made three records, toured loads and done a live album with Royal Northern Sinfonia. I mean, that would have been a good place to call it a day but we felt there was probably more we had to offer and further to go creatively, we just weren’t sure what or where that would be. And, if I’m honest, I was personally just a bit tired at that point. We didn’t feel any major need to rush into the next thing either. It was almost an unspoken agreement amongst us that we’d have a bit of breathing space.

Around the time you supported Mercury Rev at the Sage in Gateshead, it was suggested that the new songs that were revealed that night were from a solo project. How did they go from being that to a Lanterns On The Lake record - or was the intention always to make a band record?

The break from Lanterns meant I was getting back to writing stuff just for the pleasure of it rather than for a specific album or plan to introduce the songs to anyone. I had a handful of songs or at least some ideas for songs. I think when we last spoke I mentioned to you that I need to have something I’m working towards otherwise I can feel a bit lost. So I agreed to do that Mercury Rev show so that I had a goal to work towards. I would finish a batch of songs so I could play them there. So for 2 days a week I was putting a proper shift in, working on music and just seeing what I came up with on those days. I made it a routine but it was refreshing because there were no expectations so I was just trying to write songs that I liked and as a way of compartmentalising a load of thoughts and feelings. I had so many songs demoed on my phone so it was a productive time for me.

A couple of people had suggested I do a solo record around that time so I was starting to half-heartedly think “well ok maybe”. But when I played some of those songs to the rest of the band and we all had a go at them together they just took it to a whole new place. I couldn’t have done those songs justice on my own without the creative input from the rest of the band. And besides, I’ve never really felt like I could be a solo artist - I have a place in Lanterns On The Lake.

More new songs were revealed in 2018 when you supported James at the request of Jim from the band who had championed you publicly previously. How was that experience touring with such an established band and playing to a new audience each night with a mix of new and old material?

Oh that was a fun couple of weeks. The pressure was off for us for that tour because we were playing to people who most likely didn’t know us, we didn’t have a record to promote and it meant we could try out new songs and develop them as the tour went on. We got on so well with James too - they’re fun to be around and I liked seeing how they work. We were driving ourselves around in the van and turning up at the venue, hanging out a bit with James, playing our set then joining James on stage for Sometimes. I remember there was a bit of a heatwave at the time too so all these things made it feel like more of a holiday than a tour.

Doing support tours can often be disheartening because you can sometimes find that people don’t come in to see the support band or sometimes you get mega fans of the main band lined up against the the front of the stage, arms folded, just waiting for the main band to come on and you feel like you need to try to win them over. On that tour though we didn’t care too much about that, we just enjoyed the experience of playing new songs on a big stage and hanging out together. We do find that we pick up new fans who wouldn’t have heard of us otherwise and they continue to follow us so we’re always really grateful for the opportunity to do that. Obviously James have a good track record with their support bands too!

The record has a more sparse feel than the previous albums and also there's a sense to us that the influence of having done the live album with the Royal Northern Sinfonia has influenced the sound as well. How was your approach to recording this album different to the other three studio albums?

We’ve always recorded our albums ourselves in our rehearsal space or homes. It’s worked in the past but this time we wanted to approach it differently for a few reasons. Firstly, we wanted to get on with the job of actually playing the songs rather than having to do things like checking that levels aren’t peaking or thinking too much about mic placement and stuff. Especially for Paul as he’s always ended up being the main engineer and I think this time he just wanted to be the guitarist.

We also wanted to make sure that the songs were as solid as they could be. So by ensuring that we knew that the songs and every part we’d written were as good as they could be before we went into the studio we weren’t relying on layering things up or writing parts as we were recording because that’s always the temptation when you’re doing it yourself. Secondly, we wanted to capture a more raw, live sound of us in the room playing together. We made a conscious effort to make sure that every note, every part served the song and in that way it gave everything space to breathe.

But going back to that live album with the RNS, it feels to be retrospectively like a line that we were drawing under what had come before for our band. We’d done three albums, had some ups and downs, had band members quit. There’d been a lot of difficulties for us over the years and yet we’d persevered because we still believed in it. So by the time we’d finished touring the third album Beings we were actually in a really good place - we were better live than we’d ever been and we were all enjoying touring together and rehearsing and everything.

Then there we were, in that prestigious venue in our hometown and so many people there to see us including people who had been following our band since the start and been on the journey with us. There was Simon there who is head of Bella Union and the one who gave us a lifeline and a platform in the first place..and there was our family and close friends who have had our back and supported us even when at times they must’ve been thinking ‘why on earth do you put yourself through all this’… and we’re there and we’re playing our songs with a fucking orchestra. It kind of felt like a celebration of all the music we’d made in the past and a bit of a release for us personally because all that perseverance had in some ways paid off - at least in the sense that we were still going and we were able to be there, then, in that moment. So looking back now it feels to me like a closing of a chapter for us.

Starting on ‘Spook The Herd’ felt like we had a clean slate and we could look at how we do things from a new perspective.

That is also reflected in the album's artwork. Was that something you designed yourselves and what made it seem like an appropriate choice?

Our good friend K. Craig did that artwork for us. He also did the Beings artwork and made the video for our song Elodie. He’s sickeningly talented.

The artwork mirrors the album. It could be seen as a blue screen or as a door to something better, its both hopefully and unsettling, inviting and unnerving. I don’t know, you could read into it as much as you you like. I think it’s beautiful.

The album's title Spook The Herd comes from a line of the opening track When It All Comes True. What made you choose that particular line and how does it fit with the themes you investigate across the record?

There’s a few references to how unsettled society has become in the record, and there are references to the role social media plays in that - online manipulation and wanting to escape it and get back to what really matters. Like the line in A Fitting End - “I’ve been switching my patterns trying to track the machine”, a reference to trying to escape the algorithms. Or “that scrolling screen is all you seem willing to hold on to” from Blue Screen Beams. Anyway, “the blue lights that spooked the herd” is one of those lines. Ol told me he liked that line. Ol is awesome at distilling some of the themes and picking out a lyric that captures it all and it was him who suggested ‘Spook The Herd’.

Baddies starts with the line “don’t look now, here the come the baddies, on a wave of hate" which captures perfectly in one line the divisive nature of politics and society. You've chosen to donate profits from the single to Stop Funding Hate. Do you think it's important that musicians take a stand on such matters and express an opinion rather than saying nothing - and are you disappointed that so few seem to for fear of being seen as controversial?

Yeah I had spoken to Richard who is the company director at Stop Funding Hate on the phone. I just really appreciate what they’re trying to do and we wanted to show our support. Baddies was the perfect song to do that with.

The funny thing is one person online started criticising us for doing it and the whole thing started an argument on our Facebook page. This person was basically saying we were in the wrong to be backing Stop Funding Hate and how they’re the bad guys and others were arguing the case for why it was a good cause. I couldn’t get over the irony of it.

But of course you’re going to be criticised for speaking up about anything but fuck it, people criticise you for all kinds of things so we may as well be criticised for something we actually believe is the right thing to do. You’ll always end up being the baddie to someone, even when you’re trying to make things right.

There's a number of references to people living in the moment (Before They Excavate / Swimming Lessons), sticking together (Baddies / Every Atom) and focusing on the positives rather than being divisive as the only way to survive across the record. Was that an intentional message to counter the passive way in which so many people seem to accept their fate and feeling of being powerless these days?

It wasn’t so much that we are trying to put any intentional message in any of the songs, it’s more that this is the way I’m viewing the world and so that’s what ends up in the songs.

Both Every Atom and Baddies have been playlisted by 6 Music. Have you been surprised by the support and response you've had to the two singles after having been away for so long?

We weren’t even sure we’d get played on the radio this time around. You never really know how things will be received until it’s out there. The singles have had loads of radio play here and some spot plays in the US on KEXP - which occupies the same space in the States as 6 Music does here. Baddies has been added to the A list too which is a first for our band. We’ve been a bit taken aback and touched that there seems to have been such a positive response to the singles so far. It makes it all the more special because we weren’t expecting it. I hope people take the record to their heart in the same way.

You're taking the album out on tour in April. Are you excited to be back out on the road playing the new songs and are there any songs off the record that you're particularly looking forward to playing?

When bands are trying to plug their tour they all say “we are really looking forward to the tour” but with us it’s genuine. We haven’t played live for so long so we are itching to get out there and feel properly alive as a band again. I’m actually doing this interview en route down to London for some intimate private launch shows which will be the first gigs we’ve played for a couple of years and I’m just thinking ‘shit, I hope I can still do this’.

Songs I’m looking forward to playing are Swimming Lessons, When It All Comes True, A Fitting End.. actually just all the new album ha ha! Of course we’ll be playing older songs too and I’m looking forward to seeing how they feel in the context of being played with the new songs.

What plans do you have post-tour? You've had some pretty exciting festivals announced already.

Yeah we just announced that we're playing Bluedot which is a good one for us. The line up is mint and we’re on the main stage on the Saturday so hopefully we can win over a few hearts and minds. I think over the summer we might be doing a bit of writing and possibly some recording too, we’ll see. Then I think we’ll try to get over to Europe in the Autumn.

Spook The Herd is out now on vinyl, CD and download via Bella Union and can be preordered via their web store.

Our review of the album can be found here.

They play instores at London Rough Trade East (February 24) and Newcastle Reflex (27) before a  tour in April calling at Leeds Brudenell (2), Manchester Deaf Institute (3), Newcastle Boiler Shop (4), London Earth (15), Brighton Patterns (16), Exeter Phoenix (17), Nottingham Bodega (18), Birmingham Castle And Falcon (22), Norwich Waterfront Studio (23), Cambridge Portland Arms (24), Bristol Thekla (25), Glasgow King Tut's Wah Wah Hut (30), Belfast Sports Club (May 1) and Dublin Lost Lane (2). Following that they play festivals at Wakefield Long Division (June 6) and Bluedot Festival (July 25).

Lanterns On The Lake's official website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

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