The bedroom project is by no means a new concept. For years people have been questioning the standard-issue blueprint of album release, and for years the output quality of those rogue artists who take every inch of rein they can wind around their palms has been improving; gradually, tentatively and with a growing sense of assuredness.
Plenty of times, too, has the relentless presence of digital media driven an independent band or label to produce something tangible in moves to remind the world that they are, first and foremost, artists. We have seen and been part of the ripple effect of these with the successes of events like Record Store Day, of purposefully outside-the-box releases like Radiohead’s The King of Limbs, and of bands who are so unwilling to be pulled away from their audience across the commodity or even celebrity-status line that they’ll do everything they can to keep their claws sunk deep into what goes out under their name.
Often, however, labels want a safer investment; a different direction, or – like Chief Wiggum being forced from the Be Sharps – a different image. Sometimes financial necessity forces bands to relinquish control in certain areas to those willing to bear the costs, and thus is the clay moulded into a shape that isn’t necessarily what the artist had in their mind’s eye when they set out. Many do choose to go it alone, and many do wonderful things; however, without the necessary resources, expertise or reach to really make their voices heard, those wonderful things often fail to go further than the music-blog world and the headphones of its readers. It’s rare that a set of circumstances present an artist with the opportunity to do everything their way, and even more rare that a project will live or die based purely on the belief and love that that artist harbours for what they are doing – to the extent that if they are unable to create it, it will not be created. However, Lanterns On The Lake are a band dripping with vision, and, more so now than ever at the release of their second highly-lauded album, Until the Colours Run, a band that have taken what they earned and built the rest entirely themselves.
We meet the five members backstage before a sold-out show in Shepherd’s Bush in West London. There’s an infinite amount to ask about a group that have experienced every step of their journey, and, with the band spread out along a sofa in their dressing room, we begin by asking them to explain the importance of their physical releases; something they’ve taken great pride in since their inception.
“Our generation are still the generation that got the chance to go to a record shop on the day of the release,” says frontwoman Hazel Wilde. “My first memory of music was physically going through my parents’ vinyl collection and looking at the artwork and being totally fascinated by that side of things. I know nowadays people tend to download one track or share songs with each other online – which is great, it’s a good way to spread music – but for me it doesn’t beat physically holding something and consuming everything about it. If you love a record, actually having it in your possession is a really beautiful thing. It’s a shame that in the future there’ll just be no stuff in people’s houses! No records, or books on the shelf, or films, or even pictures in frames – it’ll all just be on somebody’s Mac.” We ask if they really believe it will be that extreme, and Hazel pauses to consider her answer. “Well, lately I’ve noticed that the physical thing does seem to appeal to people a lot more. We make a lot of our merchandise; EPs hand-packaged with wax stamps, or screen prints, and things like that, and I think people really warm to that. They like the physical thing and feeling like they can possess things. In this day and age, with this lack of physical release around, there is that desire to have and hold something.”
Lead guitarist Paul Gregory, perched on the end of the sofa, continues; “Different people want different formats. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with digital. Most of our personal music collection is digital – it’s a lot easier if you’re in the kitchen frying an egg to turn your laptop on than it is to put a record on, and that’s just the way it is. There is definitely something different about putting a vinyl on, though. We see people come up and pick the vinyl up and look like they’re thinking ‘what the fuck is this?’ – you know, they’re pulling it out, having a look, and I think that’s really important. They connect with it more if they’re holding it in their hands than if it’s just on a laptop.”
Andrew Scrogham, the band’s bassist, nods in agreement. “If what’s gone into that physical thing has come directly from the people who have made it, it helps people get a connection with the artist that I think has been removed to a large extent with digital. There’s a disconnect, or at least a change in that relationship. It’s going the other way, and it means that putting a bit of yourself into a physical release is really important.”
Sara Kemp, the member behind the incredible string presence on Until the Colours Run, adds, “If you’re a fan of the music you would want to support the band, and you would be interested in the aesthetic of the band. In our case Hazel did all the artwork for the album and it was painstakingly painted – and it looks beautiful. I think that’s just as much a part of that record as the music on it. I don’t want to see that on a screen, I want to hold it and look at it and think ‘wow, the band put a lot of time into that’. I think it’s worth paying an extra few quid to have that, and it’s good that bands still care about it and are willing to put that much effort in.
“It harks back to the days when you’d get a CD or a vinyl and you’d look at what’s on the cover, what’s in the notes – even down to what typeface is used,” continues Andrew. “I think all that is really important and I think it’s gotten lost a bit over the last fifteen years.”
It’s definitely fair to say that this niche exists, but we ask if the band think it may be something that is fairly specific to independent music culture. “I don’t know if Beyonce does hand-packaged EPs,” Hazel laughs.
“Those wax-sealed EPs, when we first started doing them…” says Paul, “we did that because we’d spent a long time making the EPs and we wanted something nice; an experience when you buy it. When we finished them, we looked at them and they were like little letters and I thought ‘there’s music in there; that’s kind of amazing’.” The band all nod in agreement. “The label we’re on, Bella Union, are really into the physical release,” he says.
“We want to be a band that’s special to people,” Hazel professes, “and if my favourite band made an EP and it was wax-sealed by the band I’d really want that in my house. For us that’s a big thing; to be a special band to people.”