More about: Lord Huron
Honouring the poetry that goes into song writing, Close Reading is a series of intimate conversations about all the books, films and thoughts behind some of your favourite songs. Diving into the lyrics and picking apart the lines that make you want to sing along a little louder, Lucy Harbron is sitting down with some of the most exciting songwriters around to hold a magnifying glass up to the lyrical form.
And who better to start with than Lord Huron. The indie folk band, headed up by Ben Schneider, have captivated with their narrative-heavy songs that drip with nostalgia. Their 2015 track ‘The Night We Met’ became an essential in melancholic playlists worldwide, going on to become just one piece of the Lord Huron cinematic universe, filled with returning characters, ghosts and unknown tragedies. With all these characters finding a home on their upcoming album Long Lost, Lucy and Ben talked about writing ghost stories, perspective and the horror of a breakup.
Gigwise: So we have to start off with ‘The Night We Met’. What was the process like of writing that track?
Ben Schneider: I was thinking a lot about bittersweet teen romance and 50s pop tunes and how I love that a lot of the time there’s this great juxtaposition between what’s happening musically and what’s happening lyrically.
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On ‘The Night We Met’ I wanted to tell a story of love, but the feeling of regret at the end of a relationship where you’ve gone through so many wonderful things together but you feel like it wasn’t worth it. You wish you could go back to the origin of the relationship, and instead of commencing it, go another way.
I hear about people playing it at their wedding and I’m like … okay well, I think you misunderstood what the meaning of the song was, but that’s cool.
GW: Maybe it’s the echoing start, but I always get an image in my head of a ghostly scene, like something out of Wuthering Heights with two lost spirits…
BS: Yeah, it’s not explicit but a lot of Strange Trails deals with thinking about the memory of people in terms of ghosts. I’m not a huge supernatural guy, but I do appreciate the utility of those ideas about ghosts. It’s very engrained in us to come up with things like that to process how we feel, and I think ghosts are such a beautiful metaphor for the way the memory of someone can hang around and haunt you.
GW: In the version you did with Phoebe Bridgers, it felt like it changed the story into a conversation. Did it alter your perspective on the story of the song?
BS: I think it’s interesting to see both side, like you say, a Wuthering Heights type situation where there’s regret and remorse on both sides and both people are left with this feeling of being haunted.
You never fully move on from someone you’ve shared something so powerful with, for better or for worse, they haunt you for the rest of your life. That’s an impossible ghost to get rid of, there’s no spell, no incantation for that.
GW: We’ve mentioned wuthering heights, but were there any books or films that you were pulling these characters from in your head?
BS: Strangely around that time I was reading a lot of horror fiction, like Thomas Ligotti. And I think I drew from the primal stuff that fear stories tap into that’s very much related to the emotions you have in the outside world. Fear, to me, plays a lot into the feelings of loss that go along with love. You know, fear of being alone, fear of being untethered in the universe. So it’s strange to relate that to a love story, but it coloured that album a lot. It’s about relationships and loves, but there’s this feeling of dread beneath it all, that I think is at the core of a lot of emotional pain that we have.
GW: Even on that song, there an eeriness to it, and when you do dive into horror, a lot of the time the terrifying thing is supposed to symbolise something very real in people’s lives, like a break-up…
BS: That’s real pain! Its real horror!
GW: These ghostly figures definitely run into the new record, Long Lost with its ghostly narrator Tubbs Tarbell and collection of lost spirits. When you started off with this album, was there ever a moment where you sat down and wrote out this narrative or plotted out the characters. Or was it just an exploration?
BS: I guess with us there’s no real definite line between any of the albums we do. They’re different but there’s always a through-line running between them and a lot of that is these characters that have been hanging around for several albums now with names people may have seen before in our liner notes.
Once we came up with the idea to do these live stream shows, Alive From Whispering Pines, that seemed like the perfect format to dive into all these characters with Tubbs as the leader. The music is there and people can just enjoy the songs, but there’s a narrative element that we can get into, and hopefully people are up for taking that journey with us.
When you started playing around with visuals, who was on the mood-board?
Honestly, what I’ve thought a lot about in making it are the children’s shows I watched growing up. Shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Rodgers. I wanted to try to capture the sense of wonder and delight I felt watching those shows.
They had a format, and yet they were incredibly varied. There was room for humor, emotion, music, science - anything really. Also you could see the seams a little. You could get a sense of how they were made. That was really appealing to me. It got my creativity going.
Can you tell us anything else about Whispering Pines?
That’s our actual studio where we work and hang out, and it was built at a very specific time in the early 70s, so it has a very distinct character to it. In a way the studio is the main character.
We’ve tried really hard to find out the backstory of the place and what was done there, but we’ve been unable to find much info. So we had to make it up! And that was the genesis of a lot of the lyrics, imagining the characters that moved through there and the stories of their lives.
The way I thought about it visually was that obviously you have the character you see on stage, but I wanted to write songs that felt like you were watching from the wings rather than the audience, looking from this perspective with the lights hitting their face but it’s a little more shadowy.
GW: A lot of people when they come to write a song would start off with a particular book or film or character in mind to reference, but you’re writing that yourself, starting with a space and writing the ghost stories you’re referencing…
BS: Yeah, we’ve had to figure out how that works. Occasionally you want to reference something in the real world, but it felt more expressive to only reference things in this world. They never talk about specific dates or mention a Led Zeppelin song, it’s very self-contained. The way we conceptualised it is that it’s a parallel universe, where things are almost as you know them but not quite. So everything can be new and novel, but with a nostalgia you can’t quite put your finger on.
GW: I think that nostalgia is big reason why so many people connected with your work and ‘The Night We Met’ especially, which is even more present on this album…
BS: At some point I realised that there’s a musical shorthand in borrowing from music of the past and it’s amazing how much you can communicate with just a little snip that reminds somebody of something else, because they bring all the baggage and all the emotion that they tied up in that song along with it.
GW: With the latest single, ‘Not Dead Yet’, where does this song stand? What’s the character and the scene we’re opening on?
BS: I’ve found the only way I can write is to start with a kernel of truth. Even if I’m veering off into fiction, it has to start with something I’ve experienced.
So with ‘Not Dead Yet’, we’re with a band called The Phantom Riders who have appeared in our previous narrative stuff. This is just from the perspective of one of the members that’s so worn down he looks himself in the mirror and he’s tired of being with himself. And I’ve had that on the road, being worn down physically, drinking too much, not sleeping enough and wanting to get away from myself but there’s nowhere to go. You’re stuck with you and you’ve got to learn to love yourself!
Lord Huron Recommends…
To Read – Raymond Carver’s Short Stories
They’re these beautiful vignettes of people’s lives that seem so mundane and so commonplace but somehow he’s able to ring so much emotion out of it. I always go back and re-read these when I’m starting to write.
To Watch – The Uninvited
The actress that plays the female lead was extremely self-conscious and became an alcoholic after the movie. She would call into radio stations and request this song, ‘Stella By Starlight’, which was written about her character. I just thought that story was so haunting, it’s sad so I hate to call it beautiful, but it is to me.
Long Lost Tracklist:
- The Moon Doesn’t Mind
- Mine Forever
- (One Helluva Performer)
- Love Me Like You Used To
- Meet Me In The City
- (Sing For Us Tonight)
- Long Lost
- Twenty Long Years
- Drops In The Lake
- Where Did The Time Go
- Not Dead Yet
- (Deep Down Inside Ya)
- I Lied
- At Sea
- What Do It Mean
- Time’s Blur
Long Lost arrives 21 May via Whispering Pines/Republic Records.
More about: Lord Huron