Before I treat you to an Lanterns On The Lake interview: Oversimplifying matters a tad, you might notice that there are talented singers and musicians out there that might not get the attention they deserve whereas others are rolling in it who are just…well, tastes differ.
Then there are others who also have that rare gift of songwriting on top, and yet, the appreciation these days might be next to none. A true artist will of course prevail – they have no choice, their creativity must flow. Yes, we are getting there: Lanterns On The Lake from Newcastle are one such band: Relentlessly they continue to create, it is essential to them like breathing. They also manage to actually progress in a way that they have found their own style. Many hard-working years behind them and personal problems like everyone else plus band changes, tour cancellations, you name it. But their output and development is hardly equalled. Yes, they do get well-deserved attention from fans, critics and media alike but it could and should be more:-) Everything just really fits about
HAZEL WILDE – Vocals/ Guitar/ Piano
PAUL GREGORY – Guitar/ Production
OL KETTERINGHAM – Drums/ Piano
BOB ALLAN – Bass
ANGELA CHAN – Violin/ Cello/ Viola (additional member)
Their third album “Beings” (Bella Union) had me in bits hearing it first. And I dare you, you can listen to it a hundred times and you will still find some musical or lyrical touch or something in the overall sound or emotion of it that will get you hooked all over again. (At the moment they also sell some really nice hand-packaged lovely EP CDs that I could not refrain from).
This album Lanterns On The Lake were presenting on a tour through Europe. Their live shows also come highly recommended. The gig I attended was in Cologne, Germany at the fairly new venue Yuca in a railway station (cool support act from Olli of “Die Sonne”). It being Monday night, lashing rain and possibly rough weekends before, the gig was not as well attended as one would wish for, however: Those who were there, unanimously were hypnotised by the needle-drop quiet songs, the build-up in the trance-like wall-of-sound rockier songs and of course, the sheer musical ability and modesty of Lanterns On The Lake.
The creaking door of a toilet led to quite a few giggles also from the band who were after thanking the audience for their absolute attention and silence during the quiet songs:-) No, it was not me for a change who was making that clatter.
I had my own embarrassing entrance as in turning up late for an interview (okay, it was not raining, it was chucking it down: Trucks, rush hour, speed limits, a non-too-well-working navigation system (Turn in 200 metres means NOW) and not finding the band at the venue at first were slowly leading up to a nervous breakdown on my part):
In I barged, a huge woman coming in from the dark, dripping wet, babbling incoherently but Lanterns On The Lake were so forthcoming and polite and simply wonderful as to forego dinners and breaks and resting before their gig and grant me a huge lovely interview.
A big thank you to Hazel Wilde and Ol Ketteringham for the interview and the rest of the band for bearing with me and also to PIAS’ Julia Manzl for organising this.
As usual you will be able to hear snippets on ByteFM and large sections on novumFM. An audio file with the original interview will be added later and as is my custom, I will give you the interview word by word so nothing gets lost or misinterpreted. Now, sit back and enjoy, best with Lanterns On The Lake playing right in your ears.
Offbeat Music: How is the tour going for you? You have been in some really nice locations.
Ol Ketteringham: It’s been brilliant so far. It is always fantastic going over from England. We have been to some great places, been treated brilliantly wherever we have been. I think, as a band, we have been coming more together and feeling more comfortable as the tour’s been going on.
OM: Some people would make music to be on a stage and others can’t really be bothered – they take it as “ I have to do it financially” or ‘It’s just the thing that goes with it”. What would you do if you didn’t have to tour? Would you do it nonetheless?
Hazel Wilde: We love it. We love playing live. I can understand why some bands get a bit sick of it or a bit tired with it. It depends on if you love your music and enjoy playing it to the people that you play to, which we do and still do. If a day came where we didn’t enjoy that, we wouldn’t be in a band anymore.
At the moment we still really like it and we get a lot out of playing every gig.
Ol: Yeah, we love meeting people. The travelling can be tiring and repetitive at times but I think we are all the sort of characters who enjoy it: There is so much to see and we meet so many great people. It’s fantastic.
OM: The reason I was asking this in the first place is that when making an album you are really living like in an enclosure, just yourselves, nobody else. You do everything yourself, even producing, even engineering. Could you tell us about the advantages for you?
Hazel: I think, one advantage (it has its advantages and disadvantages) for us has been – because we have done it from the beginning, from our first early EPs we made; that’s when we decided to start just recording ourselves – that we have been able to really grow as songwriters. The landscape of the music – we know how we can structure things. We can play around in the studio with different ideas. We have got a lot of freedom in that respect.
In a studio, you have the time restraints, you have financial restraints because obviously it costs quite a bit of money to use studios. Also you’ve got another person in there, a producer or whoever, who can be an outside influence. But now it’s just us, we can know that it is our own world that we are creating there. We have a lot of freedom to push ourselves in different directions and go down different paths that we wouldn’t necessarily go down if we didn’t do it that way.
One of the disadvantages is, I suppose, you have to be really careful not to get too bogged down with some ideas. We’ve certainly been guilty in the past of over-obsessing over certain aspects of the songs or obsessing over certain sounds. Because there is nobody there to tell us to just snap out of it, move on to the next thing, we can get a little bit caught up in a circuit there. We are going round and round in circles with it. That is probably one of the disadvantages.
OM: I was going to ask that. Your music is very complex. If you have the mixing desk there and everything, you would feel tempted to not let go of a song. Still thinking, no, it’s not there yet. Thinking maybe, you are going to look back on it and think, we could have done some more. So, is it hard to let a song go, to say “out you go!”?
Hazel: I think it is. One thing that makes sure that we have to let go, is, that we have a deadline. If we didn’t have a deadline, we’d get stuck with it. I remember reading something recently about somebody who said “Great work comes from having a good idea and not enough time”. We definitely have a lot of great ideas and then the fact that we don’t have enough time, makes us go full-on in one direction with something and in the end, you have to let go and it just has to be what it is.
Since you have done everything on the songs yourself, do you find it easier to transport the songs to a stage?
Ol: I think this time we have. When we wrote this album, we stripped down the parts. We wanted it to be a lot more like the sound or what we sound like as a band when we are in the rehearsal room. So we tried to pretty much record the parts that we had written and played together. That made it much easier to translate to the live sound. We already knew how to play those songs. There are always some parts that you maybe can’t replicate. You can add bits and pieces when you are doing the recording. Overall for the recent record, it was much easier to translate it into a live setting. What we play live isn’t so much different to what we played on the album.
But that’s part of the learning process we’ve had from the previous albums where sometimes, I think, we were just guilty of layering stuff on in the recording studio, going “Oh, that sounds nice”. Then you don’t want to get rid of anything and you end up with so many layers on it, that when you try and translate that into something that you can play live, you’ve got to strip so much away that it actually becomes something a little bit different, I don’t think that was necessarily a bad thing. For our earlier records, what we did live, was a little bit different from what we have done on our records. Now what we are doing live, the interpretations that we have of the stuff from the new album “Beings”, is a lot closer to what we have done on the album.
Both things have their own positives and negatives. But I think for us it has been much easier this time around.
OM: So you already mentioned that sometimes on stage, you have to strip down a song a bit. Do you generally notice a song changing a lot over the tour?
Hazel: Yeah. We were joking the other day, that we are ready to record the album now. You grow into the songs a lot. It’s like buying a new pair of shoes and you think they are great, but, really, they really become your shoes when you have walked in them for a month or two. It feels like we have grown into these songs and the songs have grown around us. The album is still what it is. It is a piece of art in its own right. The live shows are their own piece of art in their own right.
OM: The only thing that you don’t do yourself anymore, is, release the records. How are you getting on with your label Bella Union in terms of controlling everything you put out?
Hazel: I’ve got some friends who are on other labels. From what I gather we have probably one of the easiest, most natural relationships with a record label that I have heard of or come across. It’s not that many people working for Bella Union, so it is like a close-knit family. Obviously, three records in, we are good friends with the people who work there. We’ve grown with them and they’ve grown with us. It’s a great relationship. They let us make the music we want to make and put out the records that we want to make. We love having that support.
Ol: Absolutely. They say, go off and make a record. We go off and make a record. We bring it back however many months later and we give to them. They give us advice if they think it’s warranted, constructive feedback. Sometimes, on the back of that, we might change something a little bit. But mostly, if we don’t agree, then they’ll accept that. If we do and think their suggestions are good, then we might go and change something. They do pretty much give us complete freedom to do what we want. That’s what we always wanted from a record label and they have given us that and it’s been fantastic. That relationship, as Hazel says, has continued to develop because we have that freedom to do what we want. That’s something we really appreciate.
Hazel: I think as well, going back to what we were saying about us being locked in our own little bubble making the records: You come back into the big wide world and they are the first people to hear the music. If you have somebody come back who tells you that they have such strong belief in the music and are behind you and really understand where you are coming from: That gives us a lot of justification to do what we do.
OM: I recently had a show with the subtitle “Silver Lining” where I thought both your band name and the third album fitted in really nicely – that brings us to three questions really a) The band name, how did it come about? b) The – do you called it that – septagon or heptagon on your covers, what does it mean? and c) Do you feel that the songs on “Beings” have more light at the end of the tunnel?
The band name, how did it come about?
Hazel: We have given so many different answers to this over the years that I can’t even remember what the real one is…to be honest with you: I think we had a gig coming up and had to think of a band name. It’s really, probably (laughs) one of the most difficult things you’ve got to do as a band – to think of a name that a) somebody else hasn’t already taken b) kind of suits the music and c) doesn’t sound too silly when people ask what’s the band called. We had a whole list of different names and ‘Lanterns On The Lake” was just one of the suggestions that I had made and it went through because it probably ticked all three boxes.
b) The septagon or heptagon on your covers, what does it mean? Apart from taking away part of the picture and everybody wonders what’s under it?
Ol: It is very difficult to say exactly what it means. If Hazel and I answered that question, we’d probably give slightly different responses. For me, it is kind of a dark hole at the centre of something beautiful. You have the backdrop and in the centrepiece you have something quite geometric but also dark. Black, so there is an absence of something. With the album being called “Beings” – the contrast between the beauty and the absence is something quite intrinsically human. For me that sums that up. Hazel may say something different.
c) Do you feel that the songs on “Beings” have more light at the end of the tunnel than the other albums and EPs? Is there more of a silver lining?
Hazel: There is the thread of a silver lining somewhere in the record. It is definitely also, as Ol says, a lot darker. There is the sense of looking for that missing piece that’s there and looking for a sense of connection. But it definitely still has a vein of hope through the whole record. It is romantic not in the sense of “boy-meets-girl romantic” but romantic in the sense of …sometimes I have a tendency to romanticise about how the world or society could be run in a better way, how life could be lived better. There’s a hint of that in the whole record, a hope.
OM: How do you see your own musical development? What would be the song you are most content with, thinking, “That’s us in a nutshell” and which one you cannot identify with at all anymore?
Hazel: Your relationships with songs change all the time. There are some songs that we wrote in the early days which we felt were completely representative of where we were as people at that point in time. And they were. But now they don’t necessarily speak for us in the same way. Your relationship with songs does change in that way. That doesn’t mean you don’t still believe in those songs or what you said at the time.
This record for me personally…I am more content with this record than I have been previously. You always feel that there is something unfinished or there is more you could have done with it but as it stands, this record and probably the song “Beings” and another song on this album – “I’ll stall them” – , for me personally, I cannot really speak for everybody, they are two quite special songs.
Ol: I’d agree. I think, those are two songs we are incredibly proud because they represent what we are at the moment. We really enjoy playing them and they encapsulate what we are about at the moment.
OM: Is there a specific influence on your lyrics, Hazel? Is it observations you make, is it really personal and then you might abstract them a little?
Hazel: All of those things. I don’t know what the most direct influence is other than – as I progressed with the band – to be more honest with myself, push myself to really write the lyrics that I want to write deep inside. There aren’t major things that influence me when I am writing lyrics other than the music that we are making, my relationships within the band, family, friends, the world, everything that you see. It’s hard to say what’s really an influence. Everything influences you without you even realising.
OM: Speaking of influence: Newcastle is a rather large town, unlike Liverpool or Manchester or even Glasgow or Sheffield not that many bands seem to come from there. How is the Newcastle music scene?
Hazel: Newcastle is not that big a city. You could probably walk from one side to the other in half an hour, forty minutes. It’s as far north from London as you can get, the most northern city in England, just on the border of Scotland. So we probably feel a lot closer to Scotland and cities in Scotland than we do to London. We were actually talking about this the other day in another interview: There is a sense of being quite isolated from that part of the UK and a lot of the decisions that are made politically in the country. We are right at the coast and we are a city but not very far from the countryside.
Musically, like you said, there are not that many bands you can think of – The Animals, Prefab Sprout, (Ol: Dire Straits), but not that many recently. A couple from Sunderland. There are a lot of things going on in Newcastle culturally. There are lots of bands and DIY scenes but I guess, since, traditionally we have been cut off from the London-centric England, not that many bands get notices than if they would if you were a little further south.
Ol: You tend to find in the Northwest that all the smaller cities outside London are clustered together, so you’ve got Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds. They are all very close to each other. You can get a scene going around those areas. Record labels might have bases there. For someone from London, they can take a train up to Manchester and cover all those areas. But we are so isolated. Newcastle is a smaller city in the UK, but it is the biggest city in the Northeast, so there is not a huge amount around there, so it has to do things on its own. It suffers from the fact that the whole region doesn’t have the population that other regions do. It is much harder for people from the record industry mostly based in London to take notice of it.
But it is changing a little bit and it has over the last few years. There is a lot of work being done with Grassroots Music in the area and the arts in particular. I’d like to think over the next few years and especially with the opportunities the internet provides musicians, there will be a lot more coming out of the Northeast.
OM: A lot of people were complaining you were not going to play in Newcastle. But you were actually and had a surprise, playing with an orchestra, the Royal Northern Sinfonia. How did that performance go?
Hazel: Yeah, it was funny because we were announcing all those gigs around the record release and we did get a bit of stick of people wondering why we forgot our hometown. But the truth was that we really wanted to do something special for our hometown. There is obviously a lot of people there who have supported the band for a long time. I think each release is almost like a punctuation mark in each part of the band’s history and timeline. It is nice to use your hometown gig as a marker along that timeline with the band for the people who have supported you for that long. So the orchestra was part of the idea to do something a bit more special and a bit more memorable to mark this point in the band’s career and where we have come from and how we have grown.
Obviously, bands are going to say “oh yeah, my hometown gig was great, really special, but it was genuinely, hand on heart, I couldn’t forget that because it was such a memorable night and such a magical feeling.
Ol: Yeah, it was a phenomenal experience: The whole experience of working with the orchestra, the buildup to the show. With it being in our hometown, everybody you know is there and everybody else is, it was probably the most pressure we ever felt as band. I personally can’t really remember of the show itself (Hazel’s laughing). It went by like that. It went so fast. I can remember it beforehand. I was speaking to Bob this morning and he was saying exactly the same thing. You just have this little fragment. But it was a great experience and we are lucky enough to do two more shows with the orchestra, so hopefully we will be able to replicate that over the course of this year.
OM: I think, it was you, Hazel, who commented after someone else’s comment about why are people streaming a song twenty times rather than just buying it once. Would you go into that a bit more? What are the disadvantages of nowadays’ music industry?
Hazel: Was it me who was saying that? Might have been Paul, he’s got a bee in his bonnet about streaming. I think, it’s tough because the kind of level we are on as a band, we really struggle to make any kind of living from music. It’s a struggle whereas in the nineties it was a lot easier. We could have probably done a lot more. Streaming is a part of that problem. But at the same time it does open a lot of doors in terms of people coming across your music. We do meet people at shows who say “I heard your music coming up on Spotify as a recommendation. So I’ve come along to the gig. I am going to buy a t-shirt and I do listen to your album on Spotify. I suppose we have to be thankful for that.
But at the same time we are quite aware that Spotify make a hell of a lot of money from advertisers. We have been streamed a lot of times on Spotify, so many millions of times. So that does generate a lot of income and that goes to somebody and it is not going to us. It is difficult to just forget about that. There is a bit of bitterness there because, you know, someone is making money from our music that we have spent a lot of time and love and effort on. Someone is making the money from it and we don’t see it.
Ol: I think it is something you see all over the place. You are touring, you meet the bands. Musicians, especially indie rock musicians really struggle making a living from music. You can go all over the place: You have people working in the record industry and making a living. (Me mouthing “Not me :-() Not everybody. Anyone who works in the Arts – it tends to be a labour of love. as much as anything. But there people making a living from music and a lot of time it is not the musicians. That’s a problem that I’d liked to at some point be addressed. Part of the problem is that people who make music tend to it because they love it. People who got a business do that as a business. I am not saying musicians are universally exploited but they tend to care more about their music than business.
That is little sidestep from the streaming thing but obviously there is a lot of people making a lot of money from streaming music.
Hazel: I think, it wouldn’t be so bad if nobody was making money from it, if all it was was exposure for the music and the likes of Spotify made enough money to keep running. That would be one thing. But the fact that they make a lot of money from other people’s art and effort and time, that’s what I have a problem with.
OM: Basically it is like the old record stores playing music and recommending and giving advice but the record stores are actually selling the records.
Hazel: They are playing the music in the shop for the love for it and recommending music out of the love for it rather than just to make the money.
OM: I remember the scene in the film “The Commitments” where the manager sits in the bath and imagines he has his first interview. Was it with your man who died recently? (Note to self: Sir Terry Wogan, Alice, Sir Terry Wogan). Did you ever do that? Maybe as teenagers thinking “oh God, if I give my first interview, you know”. What would you like to be asked?
Hazel: I don’t know, actually. You reminded me when you mentioned The Commitments of that scene where he is getting ready in the morning. Is it Terry Wogan? Well, Terry…
I definitely did that when I was teenager. I would imagine I was on Terry Wogan or Parkinson or somebody like that. I don’t know what I would like to be asked. What about you, Ol?
Ol: I don’t know. I tend to think that probably the whole idea of being interviewed would have been enough for me. I never thought I get to the point of being asked.
OM: You have not seen the rest of my questions yet, ha. What’s up next for Lanterntalks (Note: Yep, too much looking at Lanterns On The Lake’s tweets here – lanterntalks it their twitter name or handle).
Ol: Hot bath I think.
Hazel: We don’t know. Weirdly in the past, we always had a bit of a plan, a year ahead even. We had a good idea of what we’d be doing a year in advance – plan three months at a time of what would be happening. But weirdly at the minute, I don’t know, we’ve just taken each day as it comes without wanting it to sound like a cliché. Maybe this time after this tour, we’ll just get home, relax for a bit, maybe write some more music, I don’t know. Possibly play some more gigs. It feels quite nice to have that open chapter.
Ol: We are going to have a lot of those conversations when we get home. Personally, I’d like to get back to America at some point. We’ve done that once. It would be really nice to go back there. We are going to have a talk with the label about whether that would be possible. Have a think about where we are going to play next. Like Hazel says, we have focussed on this month. We have got a few bits and pieces over the summer, there will be some festivals. In terms of what we are going to do – maybe have a couple of weeks rest when we come home and probably get together and have a chat about it then.