Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
A true DIY success story: Best Fit meet Lanterns on the Lake

A true DIY success story: Best Fit meet Lanterns on the Lake

26 November 2013, 14:00

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.”

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Lanterns on the Lake Backstage 2

Lanterns on the Lake have said before that their homeland, the north of England, has great presence in their music. We ask if this is true for the second album, and they all chuckle. “There were some weird things happening in our part of the world at the time,” says Paul.

Hazel elaborates; “You’re influenced by what you’re around, and I don’t really think it’s just about the North; it’s more about our experience of life in Britain at the minute. Before we made the last record we’d never toured Europe or been to America or anything, and this time around we had. A lot of people ask if we’re purposefully writing political songs or whatever…”

Sarah interjects; “I think a lot of people want to stereotype the North a lot, and because we’re from Newcastle people always ask ‘what’s like, is it grim?’ and that kind of thing and yeah, it does totally affect you – it would anybody – but I think it was more the whole state of the nation and how we felt at the time.”

The band seem intent on making us understand that the album isn’t a political statement, as some have come close to labeling it. Paul continues, “There probably are bands out there who think ‘everything looks a bit fucked-up at the minute. The Tories are in – we’ll just write some songs about that and play on it a little bit. It’s not a gimmick, it’s just what’s influenced us. We’re not the Manic Street Preachers or, y’know, Billy Bragg or anything. It’s just, there’s a thread of that through it that we can’t help. A lot of the things we talked about on this record were things like friends losing jobs, and all sorts of stuff, and a lot of that was going on around that time and will continue to do so, but I think when you talk about the positive things in the record… the North-East is still a really amazing place to live, and it’s a place that we’ve all grown up in and we absolutely love it. I think people have this ‘it’s grim up north’ approach and feel that that’s something we’re trying to get across in our music and I don’t think it is.” There is a strong murmur of agreement from the band, and he continues, “If we are influenced by where we live, and I’m sure we are because everyone is, it’s as much by how amazing it is as it is by some of the more difficult things going on there.”

“The good people, as well,” chips in Hazel, “the stories that you hear. It’s just everything; it’s just life.”

As we move onto the logistical release of the album, we ask the band about their production, and they say that Paul was responsible for all of it. “I used to have lots of hair!” he says, laughing. “We started making EPs ourselves because we’d been in studios before and hadn’t had fun. They cost a lot of money and you have to be very quick, and you can’t really get across what you want to a person that you’ve met for an hour, so we decided to do it ourselves. We bought a four-track – or was it sixteen? can’t remember – and had no idea how to use it. I just watched loads of YouTube videos and we literally worked out how to do it from there. We recorded with a guy in London called Pat Collier years ago, with another band, and we kind of remembered how he did things. Oli plays drums, and when we set drum mics up we tried to remember how he did it but obviously got it completely wrong.”

Hazel chuckles and says, “Actually on the first EP I remember we only had one mic and Oli was playing and I just stuck the microphone up in the room and was like ‘is that what you do?’ and he said ‘don’t know – ah it sounds alright.”

“It was just like a big muddy snowball rolling down a hill, really,” says Paul. “We’d record stuff and realise that, actually, that sounds awful, and do it again. When we came to do the first record I can’t remember being asleep very much, it was mental. I kept thinking ‘this is actually going to be released on Bella Union and we actually have no idea what we’re doing’. We still don’t really know what we’re doing. I mean, if you’re trying to learn how to record a violin or a cello and there’s some American kid going ‘this is what you do’ you just copy that – and that’s literally what we did.”

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Lanterns on the Lake Backstage 3

We ask how Bella Union reacted when they told them they were going to do everything themselves. “They loved it,” says Paul instantly. “They were like ‘yep, off you go.’”

“They never even mentioned a studio!” remarks Hazel. “They were just like ‘are you gonna do an album then?’ and we said ‘yeah, we’re going to do an album’ and they were like ‘yep, well, off you go’.” Sarah animatedly continues, “That was the great thing about them; they never questioned us. They just had this faith. They never gave us any time frame at all; no pressure, it was just up to us.”

We ask if Paul thinks that this utterly independent manner of production might be indicative of a significant change in the way albums are recorded by small bands. “I think so,” he nods. “I mean, we’ve made two albums now on just a laptop with some pretty cheap software, with borrowed microphones – and they weren’t even very good! The microphones we used for the drums were just disgraceful. Horrible things. We actually planned to burn them afterwards. It took a long time to mix because of all that but I think the fact that we were able to do it on very little cash is kind of amazing, really. The hard thing about it is that if you’re in the band and the band are producing themselves you don’t have an extra set of ears telling you if you’re going the right way or not. You have to make all those decisions yourself and you end up doubting everything – a lot. I did, anyway. You’d do something and you’d hear it back and your instant reaction is ‘that’s the worst piece of music the planet has ever heard’ and you kind of just want to go outside and hide in the snow. You have to learn how to get over that. I think as the technology gets better, more and more bands will start to do it themselves because, I mean, the results you get…”

The band have firm belief in the way they’ve done things. “You have to, nowadays, be as self-sufficient as you can,” says Hazel. “People aren’t going to be able to sell records forever, even though we were talking about the physical side. There’s just no money in music, so if you want to make music and you want to make records you’ve got to learn how to be clever about things, how to manage yourselves. I really admire bands that show that they can do that because you can really tell how important it is to them.”

There’s no pretending that the process was easy, of course. Hazel tells us that there were times where it all looked like it was going to fall apart; “There were points in this record… I mean, there was one day where Paul didn’t get out of bed and we were all like, ‘shit, the album’s off’. He was feeling very much like ‘I’m not producer, I can’t do this, I’m useless, there’s no way we can do this, forget it’. You just get those moments, and it’s difficult, but at the same time it’s nice to feel that it is our record all the way through. It’s our thing, there was nobody else there, and only us five have got the memories of making it, and only us five know every little bit that went into it.”

We wonder how the group think their experience compares to the standard formula for recording and releasing an album; whether they think it’s as good as working with a studio and professional sound engineers. “I think it’s better!” says Sarah adamantly. “I mean, Paul’s in the band, so he knew exactly how we wanted it to sound. He’s been there for every step, from when we started writing the song to that final moment of it being recorded. All of us had complete trust and faith in his judgement, whatever it was, when he was doing all that production. Unfortunately we were all doing day jobs and had to leave Paul to do so much work, around the clock; he was exhausted. We all knew at the end of the day that we were going to be happy with it because it was Paul that was doing it, and we didn’t want anybody else.”

“For our type of music,” says Hazel, “probably ever since The Beatles, the producer is as much of a musician as the people playing the instruments. Every little nuance or detail in the production is a part of the bigger picture.”

One thing is for sure; the band have worked themselves to almost to breaking point to produce this record, and the pride they feel over it is absolutely justified. “From the very beginning,” says Paul, “right up until the end, the whole thing; the artwork, the songs, the lyrics, and the sound of the album that we recorded is just us, and that’s nice. We’d never work with anyone else. If we did…” he trails off. “They’d have a really hard job,” finishes Hazel. Paul nods in agreement; “I think they’d hate us because we have our own ways of doing things.” All five affirmatively nod. “It’s entirely our thing, now.”

Until The Colours Run is out now on Bella Union. Read our review of the record here. All photography by Eleonora Collini.

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