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02 February 2018

INTERVIEW: Lake Ruth | By Elizabeth Klisiewicz.

I have a late breaking relationship with this fantastic psych by way of baroque dream pop band. I come up with these descriptions merely to guide the reader and potential listener to expect simply magical music. Because the way vocalist Allison Brice emotes around guitarist Hewson Chen’s and drummer Matthew Schulz’s complex and ornate arrangements is singular and fantastic. They sound like no one else on the planet but themselves. Yes, certainly there are signposts in their music that may provide a few hints, such as the band Love, or even Fairport Convention or The Left Banke. And really, it doesn’t matter what you think informs their work, you should enjoy it for the delectable sonic feast that it is. So onward to some questions for the band, who have a new album Birds of America coming out on February 16th.

Did you folks really meet on Facebook? Do tell.
AB: Hewson and I first virtually bumped into each other back in the MySpace days. I'm pretty sure that we were switched on to each other's music via Greg Hughes from Still Corners. Greg and I were fellow south Londoners at the time. Sadly, Hewson and I didn't keep in touch after MySpace folded, but in early 2015 found ourselves reunited via our mutual friend Phil Sutton from Pale Lights. On a silly Facebook thread he started about frozen food of all things…

HC: The interwebs brought Matt and I together too. I looked him up to hear what he sounded like and one of the first hits on YouTube was a cat car chase video: Holy Fuck's "Red Lights".  I pretty much knew we would work great from there.  I have cats in common with Matt, and TV dinners in common with Allison.

AB: I'm severely allergic to cats and have never been able to set foot in either Hewson or Matt's apartments!

You all have played or currently play in other bands (New Lines, The Silver Abduction). How do you find the time, and is this on top of regular day jobs?
AB: It's a challenge. We all have day jobs and are raising - or soon to be raising - young children. I think that when free time is in short supply, you just have to grab what you can get - focus, and get down to work.

MS: You have to choose between sleep and art. I still choose art.

HC: Time is a tough factor for sure, but the technology helps - like you can sketch in broad strokes with plug-ins before actually hooking up the Farfisa, or what have you...

How does songwriting usually happen? Are all three of you actively involved in writing your tunes?
AB: Yes, we all are. We ping ideas back and forth and constantly share audio via Dropbox. The tunes start with one of us passing around a fragment, adding parts here or there in my home studio in Miami or Hewson and Matt's in Brooklyn. I moved to Miami a few years ago after a decade in London. It's an easy 'commute' up to NYC to join the rest of the band - Hewson & Matt plus Rene, Sohrab and David from our live group - for shows.

MS: Hewson and I often record random drums at the crack of dawn and then he returns with a pile of tracks he made from them. Then we beat them into submission. It's so backwards to me but works well with our geography and time restraints.

HC: Yeah sometimes the song will start with Allison singing a random melody with no words. Sometimes we'll start with a drum track that Matt belted out after me being like, "What's up with the purdie shuffle?" Other times I'll have some little filigree banging around that needs a story, or something to give it direction and Allison will say, "This one is about the Heaven's Gate cult." Those last two examples ended up being the same song.

What informs your songwriting? You include some rather fantastical themes in your storytelling. It is all fascinating, and not your standard fare.
AB: Songwriting is a mysterious process. I'll begin with a melody, and work with that until the vowels and consonants start falling into place. Eventually, some skeletal words will emerge - and I'll begin to get an idea of who is communicating and what they want to say. Every song has its character, its setting, and its story. The common denominator among the characters seems to be their marginality and their need to be heard. Often their stories are distressing and difficult to voice, but no performance is compelling without genuine emotion driving it.   

HC: She's very earnest. You can joke around like, "How about a song about the rise of modern epidemiology?" and voila, Dr. Snow and the Broad Street Pump.  She used to work in a bookstore, that's got to figure in somehow.

How would you self-describe your music if someone asked what you’re about?
HC: An Italian friend once exclaimed "old time music!" after hearing some tracks. I chose to take it as a compliment.

AB: I once read on a guitar forum that we'd sound right at home soundtracking "The Love Witch 2" - that works for me.

You now have two full length albums, some EPs, and a collection of previously released and some unreleased tracks. If you had to name one favorite tune, what would it be?
AB: Julia's Call. It was the only track off Birds of America that I could persuade Hewson to sing on. And the character was so powerful that she ended up informing several other songs on the album: One Of Your Own, The Cross of Lorraine and Westway.

MS: One Of Your Own.

HC: Yet Still Tomorrow Comes. The words are so stark and chilling. I thought Allison has got to be a dark, brooding type person, but oddly she has a reasonably cheery outlook - generally speaking!  Matt matched this sense of mystery by choosing a beat which starts, uncommonly, after beat 1: something which haunted me greatly when first (re) learning the song for playing live!

We have a mutual friend in the cool Jack Rabid, who has done a lot to promote the band. Are there other one of a kind folks out there who have sung your praises, such as Nathan Ford?
AB: Yes, we are so grateful to Jack - he has really gone above and beyond to promote our music, both in print and on the air. A lovely man and a true champion of underground artists. As for Nathan - The Active Listener has long been a great place to discover new music and I'm glad to see it continuing. We're very grateful to Dom Martin, who has released all of our vinyl via various imprints HQ'd in his north London kitchen. Also Renato Malizia of TBTCI (Brazil) & Laurent Boyer of WW2W (France) with whom we've done digital & cassette releases. More locally, Paolo DeGregorio of The Deli NYC, Bill Pearis of Brooklyn Vegan, and Maz Hadid who booked our debut show at NYC Popfest (currently on hiatus, we hope it will return someday).

What are you all listening to right now that fans should look out for?
AB: Beautify Junkyards, Green Seagull, Vanishing Twin, Kadhja Bonet. A long-lost Vannier / Gainsbourg soundtrack for the film "Les Chemins de Katmandou" - recently released by Finders Keepers, a favorite label of mine. A trio of early 70's aquatic-themed jazz / electronic albums by Italian library composers: Amedeo Tommasi's "Mare Romantico", Edmondo Giuliani's "IL MARE: Musica Con Strumente Elettronici", and Bruno Zambrini TV series soundtrack "Racconti Di Mare" (Sonor Music Editions).

MS: Omni, Light Beams, Patois Counselors, 1939 Ensemble, No Age, and most pre-1970's jazz.

HC: Elizabeth Cotton, and more recently Listening Center's Paths and Surfaces by our very own David Mason. I like to imagine science fiction scenes around his songs - like people in austere environments interacting with machines.

Do you find the Brooklyn scene to be as vibrant and close knit as it used to be? Some have said it’s faded a bit, and some have left due to rising rents.
AB: I'll have to leave that question to the guys as I'm never in town long enough to form an opinion! I love being in New York though. Like London, it's truly an international city. You can feel at home there in about 5 minutes because it belongs to everyone. You get on a train and hear conversations in five languages. There are other regrettable similarities, namely the gentrification. The inflated rents and housing instability that such unchecked capitalist gluttony creates have definitely forced people out of both cities.

MS: Coming from an actual tight-knit scene in Dayton, OH, I never felt like there was any scene in Brooklyn. When I moved to NY 18 years ago my band was sort of lumped in with the "disco punk" silliness at the time, but the only band we felt a real brotherhood with was Les Savy Fav. I think it's easier to have a scene around a couple localized venues, record labels, and/or record stores. Brooklyn has hundreds...

Any extensive tours planned to support the new record?
AB: No, we don't think so unfortunately. We love playing shows, but it's costly - we're a big 6-piece band live. We'll continue to play NYC & the east coast. We've had a wonderful reception in the UK & EU so would love to get across the pond someday. My dream gig would be the Lewes Psych Fest with the magnificent Innerstrings on visuals, or the Green Man festival in Wales, surrounded by mountains.