Pictish Trail - an interview in May 2017

Pictish Trail – an interview in May 2017

Yours truly has long been a fan of Pictish Trail – Johnny Lynch with his band, as a duo or solo. Nothing like the longing and wildness in the song “Winter Home Disco”. He presented a shiny, glittering album of ten delicate songs to us recently: “Future Echoes”. Since Johnny now resides on the Isle Of Eigg, one of the Small Islands, part of the Inner Hebrides in Scotland, I even contemplated to take the Road To The Isles…I haven’t do so yet but I still give you Pictish Trail – an interview in May 2017. How? Read on!

Less than one hundred people live on Eigg and do so totally independent from the mainland. And yes, you can write songs there and much more…Johnny runs a record label there – Lost Map Records (featuring artists like Rozi Plain, Kid Canaveral and Seamus Fogarty and organises a festival even on the island called Howlin’ Fling!

Would I ever have a chance to see Pictish Trail in action? Yeeeeessss, British Sea Power, brilliant band in now yet another way, picked Pictish Trail as support for their UK and Europe tour. British Sea Power have also played at a Howlin’ Fling festival!

On site at the Gebäude 9, Cologne, Johnny agreed to a chat and turns out to be the kindest and funniest man ever – well, music in most cases does not lie! See for the interview with Pictish Trail’s Johnny below.

Pictish Trail - an interview in May 2017

I have to tell you about this gig…the venue is empty, Pictish Trail manage to call  some people in. Bewilderment on the audience’s faces, then careful laughter and nodding, more laughter, sheer amazement. This development is followed by people going outside telling the rest to come in for Heaven’s sake. Those who remained outside until British Sea Power’s set were reproached in no uncertain terms by the ones inside that they have missed brilliance! I was there to witness it and totally agree. Pictish Trail were present just as a duo, Johnny and Suse on bass and great vocals (and with a tremendous sense of humour too). It was to be an acoustic set, consisting of some heart-warming songs on bass and acoustic guitar first. Without giving too much away, we were treated to the thirty-seconds songs from the soundbox afterwards and one full song from the new album with Johnny wandering in his kaftan through the audience. I still have my mouth hanging open…many insects have found their way in since Thursday…I don’t care.

Check out Pictish Trail’s website for more information and soundbites and other goodies.

And here comes Pictish Trail – an interview in May 2017

Offbeat Music Blog:
Thank you very much for taking the time, Johnny! We sadly never make it to the Isle of Eigg, so it is great that you are supporting British Sea Power and we meet you here.

Pictish Trail:
No problem!

OMB:
Is your festival on the Isle of Eigg/Scotland taking place this year?

Pictish Trail:
It has not happened yet. It is happening at the end of July. We have not announced anyone who is playing yet, so it is all top secret. But we will announce it in the next few weeks. Basically, I am still organising it. I have booked all the bands but I don’t know where to put them all. There is not much accommodation on the Isle of Eigg.

OMB:
I know! So what do you usually do? Tents?

Pictish Trail:
There is a lot of camping and there is a hostel in the middle of the island. It is not a massive hostel but it is big enough and it is very good. So, I’ve got a lot of the bands staying there all together. So, yeah, it’s gonna be messy (laughs).

OMB:
Do you get midges?

Pictish Trail:
We do get midges but I don’t think that they are that bad but then I have been living on Eigg for seven years and I think you can get used to it.

OMB:
Are they not interested in you anymore?

Pictish Trail:
I’ve got a protective forcefield which is my beard. My beard covers up about eighty per cent of my face now.

OMB:
You started out your label Lost Map really from a caravan, didn’t you?

Pictish Trail:
I did, yeah. I mean, I ran a label before when I was living in a fishing village called Anstruther on the East Coast and I had a label called Fence there. When I moved to Eigg we rebranded the label as Lost Map in 2013, four years ago. Yeah, but it was working out of a caravan. (Laughs). It was a great caravan. I have built a house since then so I am now in a house. But the caravan was amazing because it was just really relaxing and the views from the caravan were beautiful. Eigg is an amazing place to live.

OMB:
What made you move there?

Pictish Trail:
My partner, she is a farmer on the island and I went to visit her when we were first going out. As soon as I arrived, I made friends with a lot of people on the island. I couldn’t really figure out a reason for not staying and so I just stayed. I enjoyed the place so much, that I thought, oh, I can just live here. And do what I do. Because I travel quite a lot anyway. It did not matter to me where my home was. Home is just where you leave all your stuff. So it’s there. And I am spending more and more time there now.

OMB:
So, for the tours you obviously have to travel but music for Pictish Trail you can do there and everything concerning the label Lost Map you can do there as well?

Pictish Trail:
Yeah, I can do everything there. The only thing I cannot do there is…I do a lot of writing and record demos. But I am not a very good producer. I have realised that now (laughs). All my records were self-produced and very low-fi. I love that sound and I will continue to do that stuff. But I suddenly realised, I don’t have any interest in producing. Eigg is good for writing but recording I do elsewhere.

OMB:
Eigg is self-sufficient but you have to be a bit careful with the electricity. So, probably, when you switch everything on, everyone else is without electricity.

Pictish Trail:
(Laughs). Especially when I go for a tea break which is like once every thirty minutes. Yeah, we are totally off-grid. We generate all our own electricity. Although the equipment I use does not use much electricity.

OMB:
So noone has to sit on the bike and pedal away?

Pictish Trail:
Nooooo. Although sometimes it is good to have no electricity. We had a few power cuts this year and that’s actually been really good for writing because it forces you to play with your guitar.

OMB:
Let’s talk about your lovely new album “Future Echoes” (nicely produced!).

Pictish Trail:
Yeah, let’s talk about my new album! It was produced by my friend Adam. My friend Rob co-produced some of it, Rob Jones. I am really proud of it. It is the first time as Pictish Trail to kind of work on ten songs and really focus on the songs. Before, what I would do, I would have just a pile of songs and I would jigsaw them together like a compilation of my favourite ones.

OMB:
With this one you had an album in mind?

Pictish Trail:
Yeah, and I had a few things that I wanted to try out. Within those ten songs, if something didn’t work, I just had to go back and work on it until it fitted. And it makes for a more cohesive album, I think. This would be something, I’d do again. It took a long time though. The writing and recording session took over a year and a half. So I would write and do demos on Eigg and travel down to London to record for three days with my friend and travel back home. A few months later I would go back down again. So it was a lot of back and forward. But it was really good and I enjoyed that, so I think the next album will be like that.

OMB:
What did you have in mind with this album? Maybe an overall story or atmosphere?

Pictish Trail:
In terms of sound, I wanted to have something that was a bit more full-sounding, my vocals right to the front and something that sounded a bit better produced really. In terms of theme: My previous record had been primarily about the passing of my mother and coming to terms with that. This one was sort of my own mortality. I’ve just had a son. So that definitely played a role in the shaping of the album. It is basically an album about death (smiles). Also, my partner and I miscarried while making the record. So that was definitely on my mind and I was worrying about the next pregnancy. But it went well. It is something that we really don’t talk about that much and I thought, well, I may write some songs about it.

OMB:
Yeah, been there as well and you keep thinking of it and it is good to deal with it. And you wonder what kind of person that could have become.

Pictish Trail:
And also I wondered, my son who now exists would not have existed if the previous one existed.

OMB:
Yes, and where do they go?

Pictish Trail:
Yes, this is it! It is all kind of a weird alternate reality. And you think about how someone’s personality can completely affect your life and how it can completely change your own perception on things. But the chance of that person existing is really (clicks fingers). My Mum miscarried before she had me – sorry, this is too dark….but so often I thought, maybe what would have happened if I had not been. If he had made it. That makes me think about my own mortality in that respect. So I got quite metaphysical. There is a lot of questioning about existence on the album. There is one song about being in a car crash. Me and two friends were in a car crash. We should not have lived following this car crash. The crash was horrific, we definitely should have died. Afterwards I was having a recurring dream where I had died and I was looking at the world without me in it – sounds very self-centred but you can’t control dreams. So that kind of thing came up quite a bit.
But also there is a thing with the record – there’s song called “Half Life” about how something decays forever and even if something breaks up, there is always something that will eternally divide leaving some sort of semblance to the original thing. That song has specifically to do with a relationship. It exists and it plays a big role.

OMB:
What kind of bands would you be interested in taking onto your label?

Pictish Trail:
I don’t really know to be honest. Most of the people who are on the label are people who I am friends with. I tend to like music of my friends, thank God (laughs). We have put out a lot of music this year by bands we’ve only just met. But they are all people who I get on really well with. I am quite open-minded. The deal that we have as a label is quite different to a lot of other record labels. So I operate more as a distributor as opposed to an actual label. The band is self-releasing but with our assistance. I had a policy of saying yes to everything and see what happens. Not that the quality has gone down but if it is something that I really like, I go: Well, okay, this is what we can do for you. Let the people know about the record and get out to shops and we can help you get gigs and all this sort of stuff. Let’s just see if it works out. With every record that has come along which I have enjoyed and I have met the person and they have not been an arsehole, then I am: Okay, let’s do it.
I think that might probably come to an end at some point. I might go: Oh my God, I am taking on too much. I think that people understand the limitations that we have as label. We can’t give tour support and we can’t pay them for the recordings. We can make sure that they get copies. We do a product split. Say, a thousand copies of an album will be made and the band pay half and we pay half and they get to keep half the copies and we keep half. Whatever they sell, they keep and what we sell, we keep. If one party runs out of copies before the other, then they can buy back at cost price. It just means that everybody can get the copies for a cheap amount of money. I’ve got friends who are on labels who pay like really crazy money to buy their copies back from their label. For me, particularly nowadays, with touring, CD and vinyl sales are a massive part of my income. Like I normally tour with a five-piece band and before I can’t afford to pay each of them as players. I rely heavily on CD and vinyl sales to make it work. So that is my attitude with the label as well. Like Factory Records we don’t own anyone’s music. All the rights belong to them. So if a band gets picked up by a bigger label, which has happened a few times, it means that they own their entire back catalogue. At the end of the day, I just like to help people out. And it’s worthwhile. To be honest, these days, not a lot of people make enough money out of selling music anyway. So as long as it doesn’t cost us, as long as we are not losing anything, that is the main thing. The area where we manage to make ourselves sustainable, is events. Those are used to showcase the bands on the label.

OMB:
You have done that in London too?

Pictish Trail:
We do a few shows in London. We do a festival on Eigg, a few events in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I’d love to do something further afield but I am not that organised (laughs).

OMB:
Well, you can’t be everywhere at the same time.

Pictish Trail:
No, unfortunately not. Even though, touring with British Sea Power helps, definitely.

OMB:
And is that good?

Pictish Trail:
Oh yeah, it is amazing. They are incredible. I have been a fan since they started so it’s a bit surreal as well. But they are all so nice, so friendly. Also such an incredible band, so many great songs, really great albums. Quite a singular band as well – there is really no act out there like them. They’ve always really impressed me. They have their own sound and they developed within that sound, done soundtracks, something that’s quite epic, something that is quite intimate but retained their quality to it. It also existed outwith any kind of trends. They don’t fit in with whatever the hot trendy new thing is.

OMB:
I would not know what the hot trendy new thing is…

Pictish Trail:
I definitely wouldn’t know, not on Eigg (laughs). Yeah, but just great songs at the end of the day, amazing playing. I have been watching their shows every single night and just loving it.

OMB:
Thank you very much, Johnny!

Pictish Trail:
Thank you!

Pictish Trail - an interview in May 2017

Pictish Trail © Kevin Burns

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