Lord Huron‘s Ben Schneider talks spaghetti westerns, DIY and Irish folk with Siobhán Kane ahead of their gig in Whelan’s on Sunday.
Lord Huron‘s atmospheric Lonesome Dreams was released last year, yet its nostalgic references, and intriguing artwork suggested it was not only from another time, but another world entirely. Mingling elements of folk and calypso, the record is captivating, its gentle presentation framed by a heavyweight talent.
Lord Huron began as a solo project by Ben Schneider, who had spent years working in visual art, with music playing a more supporting role, but Lonesome Dreams helped to change that, with its overwhelming soundscapes that seem like prayers to nature, deep love, and personal freedom. It is a wandering kind of an album, reflecting Schneider’s own curiosity about the world, and which involves a wandering kind of creativity – for example, he created fictional author George Ranger Johnson (http://www.georgerangerjohnson.com) to accompany the project, harnessing an interest in old mythologies, and creating new ones in the process, it’s an exciting period, he tells Siobhán Kane.
Ennio Morricone recently played here in Ireland, with a huge orchestra, and choir, which showcased that sweeping, travelling nature that is so synonymous with much of his work. Considering his relationship with Sergio Leone in particular, and your own interest in spaghetti westerns, and the idea of the “frontier” that populates Lonesome Dreams, has he been something of an influence for you?
Absolutely, he’s been a big inspiration for all of us in the band, me particularly. I suppose it reminds me of my Dad, and watching those movies with him – those spaghetti westerns were a really formative thing for me, the style of them really impressed upon me, it’s one of my favourite genres, and that music just brings you right back to being a child.
As children we are curious, and have a kind of wanderlust, this seems to be another theme running through the record, the playful roaming into the unknown.
I think that is part of it. I think when I started this project I just allowed myself to follow my instincts in every way, not just musically, but the visuals and what I wanted to write about.
The artwork for this record is very unusual, and beautiful, there isn’t really a straightforward rendering of the band/project, it is grainy, deliberately hazy.
I was sort of working more in visual art for a long time, music was part of it, but was secondary to the projects. It’s not necessarily about a specific medium, it’s about a feeling I want to express, so in this case, music is the centre of it, and the artwork adds to it, and creates a kind of universal, mysterious atmosphere. It took a long time, but I tend to work on each of the pieces concurrently, and I like doing that because each of those processes inform each other, so by working on one of those book covers or painting, I might learn something about the song, or vice versa, so to create an immersive experience for other people I try to immerse myself also.
This immersive experience is really well thought out, you even created a fictional author George Ranger Johnson to accompany the project.
Yes – I created it so that if people wanted to get deeper into it, they could explore, and fill in the blanks of these “novels”. It took a long time to evolve, and it keeps evolving, it might actually end up involving real fiction someday.
You were in a punk band at high school, which must have been a good template, the ethos of just doing it yourself, something you have really taken to heart with the Lord Huron project.
These days it is so possible to do it yourself, the way technology has gone, it’s really helpful, from a creative standpoint as well as financial. You can just do these things now, it’s been really satisfying for me.
Because it was originally a solo project, was it a difficult transition to bring in other musicians?
I did have a little bit of trouble to be honest, just because it was such a personal and solitary project for me early on. The only way I could make it work is by finding people I could really trust and had known for a long time, and because I am so idiosyncratic, I knew I needed people who knew me creatively and personally, and who would go along with me, that was the key part. After that initial discomfort it was really rewarding, because if we could we would have 12 musicians each night, but we can only have 5, so it takes a lot of figuring out how to translate the record live, and it is not about recreating it note for note, but creating the essence and the feeling of it, and letting the live show be its own entity and experience as well, rather than trying to be too strictly sticking to the record.
Considering the folk influences on your record, have you listened to much Irish folk?
Actually Irish folk music is something I listen to quite a lot, and it has influenced so much American folk music, with chord progressions, and other various aspects, so much has come from that music, and it has seeped into our record, and I am very open to seeing some of that when I get over there. I have never been to Ireland, and I have wanted to for a long time, so we are very excited.
There is a real sense of place to your record, an overwhelming connection to nature. You are originally from Michigan, but live in Los Angeles, that must have been something of a change, it is not nearly as elemental a place.
I struggle with that, and for that reason I try to go back to Michigan at least a couple of times a year, especially around winter, I need that season change. But Los Angeles has been a good place for us to start the band, a good jumping off point – and the mountains and oceans are near. The elemental nature is there in my music – spirituality is very much based in nature and it has always been where I have drawn my inspiration and inner peace, and has helped me get through a lot of things, and that reverence comes through our music. That is what I like about Irish folk music, as there is a similar sort of reverence, and an almost a mystical awe about nature.
Years ago, when you were travelling around Indonesia, you recorded different gamelan orchestras, the sound of which eventually influenced your record, it perhaps goes back to that sense of the open road again.
That is sort of the constant struggle with me, there is a real duality in my personality, I am a real homebody, and like being close to family and friends, but the other side of me just wants to get out and roam around, far away. Being a touring musician has been a really positive way for me to do that – I have a good reason for being out there, it’s not just travelling for travelling’s sake, which is great, but expensive. Now I get to see so many places and meet so many people, and hear so many different kinds of music, and get inspired, but I still get to go home regularly, which is great. At this point we are just so happy to have any excuse to travel to so many great places, it’s a dream come true.
What have some of your highlights been so far?
It’s been non-stop, so I have finally been able to slow down and assess it, and make sure we are doing a good job, and I think we are, maybe that’s the highlight. We are kind of in a middle stage about how popular we are – over here in America anyway. In Tucson recently we played to a couple of hundred people, but in New York there were 1200 people, and to me it is just really exciting as every show is so different, and every show has a different feel and different level of intimacy, and it is keeping me on my toes – it’s great to spread the word – so far so good, we are not at each other’s throats yet [laughs].
You love writers like Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy, and Louis L’Amour, great writers that often engage in the idea of mythology, such as the Old West, who are you reading at the moment?
I have been tearing through books while on tour – I read Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, which is a short novella and was great – I have been into reading shorter fiction lately, and I have been reading some poetry, like TS Eliot again which has been really nice, and I have picked up some random dime novels, which really reminds me of when I was a kid – Shane, it brings me right back to childhood again.
Lord Huron play Whelan’s this Sunday, August 18th with Conor Linnie.