Lanterns on the Lake are, with no disrespect, unashamedly out of step with current trends. Their grandiose post-rock instrumentals, indebted to Sigur Ros and Low, are unlikely to ever give them buzzband status. It’s not the best time for plaintive folk tales either, with the genre still suffering from its bastard “nu-“ prefix spawned by Mumford & Sons and the campfire song posturing of Ed Sheeran. Yet much to their credit, they’ve continued to work at a craft that has been shunned of late.
If that sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment, Lanterns on the Lake are far from outmoded, their majestic string led pieces (courtesy of violinist Sarah Kemp) are also imbued with haunting touches of reverb, echo and even the creak of floorboards. Guitarist Paul Gregory, who is responsible for those electronic flourishes, has also self-produced their records thus far. Indeed, the band is rather keen to do nearly everything on their own terms, from hand making record sleeves to the less glamorous managerial jobs. I spoke to Sarah, Adam Sykes (guitar, vocals) and Hazel (vocals) just as they were about to embark on a UK tour, beginning at York’s Duchess, the first stop on from their coastal hometown near Newcastle.
Your debut album, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home, was recorded in quite a few locations, is that right?
Sarah: Yeah, we did it all ourselves, Paul was the one who did all the sound engineering and production. He’s got a little studio in a spare room in his house in North Shields. And we did a bit in Brendon’s [bass] parent house because we needed somewhere we could set a full drum kit up.
Did they mind?
Adam: We kicked them out the house, convinced them to go for a day trip to Ikea.
S: And just the odd little bit in other places, but mostly all locally as and where we could manage to.
So how did you manage dragging your recording equipment around everywhere?
A: We have a really minimal, quite portable set-up. So it’s easy to get recording anywhere really.
S: From having done the EPs ourselves we’ve collected small bits and pieces of gear along the way.
Why did you decide to self-produce everything? Did you have any experience of producing, or did you learn on the job so to speak?
A: We learnt through doing the EPs. Paul got more confident and taught himself what to do as we recorded. We didn’t even consider going into the studio when the album came around.
S: I think even if we’d had the money, we would have still chosen not to do it that way. We just prefer to have the freedom to do it at our own pace, in the comfort of our own homes and with Paul rather than someone coming in from the outside that didn’t necessarily know what we were trying to get from our sound.
Speaking of which, the idea of home comes up a lot on the record. Is location quite important to you as a band?
S: Definitely, we try to go away to a place in the middle of nowhere, usually in Northumberland. We use to go to Rothbury, because Ol’s dad had a place there, and we use to play through the night, right in the middle of the countryside. This time we found a great place in County Durham in an old church hall, with nothing but fields around for miles. We did a lot of stuff there and we’re hoping to return there for our next chunk of recording.
There is also something of a nautical theme to Gracious Tide, Take Me Home. Where does that particular influence come from?
S: Well three of us live down on the coast in North Shields, which is near the mouth of the Tyne. Near there me and Hazel went to school as well. Before we made the album Paul and Hazel use to live in Newcastle and moved back that way. I suppose that’s one of those things you can’t help being influenced by, the place you’ve grown-up in and lived in.
‘Ships in the Rain’ in particular is about being lost at sea, are stories like that something you hear a lot while living on the coast?
Hazel: ‘Ships in the Rain’ is actually based on a true story, about a boy who lives near me, he was sixteen and he was called Dan. He is from a fisherman family, they were trawling for fish at sea and there was an accident and he went missing. His family were looking for him at the same time as we were writing the album and that’s kind of what inspired the song. I guess it was just something that was on my mind. The lad’s parents got in touch in recently, they’d heard the song and thought it might have been about their son.
So have you spoken with them, how did they feel about it?
H: Yeah, I think we might meet up with them, and they might come along to a gig. We were a bit worried at first that it might have upset them, but they seem to be happy with it.
‘A Kingdom’ is based on another story of a lost young man, but at war instead of at sea. Where did that idea come from, and do you often find inspiration from tragic stories like those?
H: My granddad had this book, a collection of war letters that I think I pretty much stole off him. It was a collection, across the First and Second World War, of the very last letters sent home by soldiers. I don’t sit down and intentionally to write songs about stories like this, but often when you’ve written something and then sit back and read it, it reflects something that’s been on your mind at the time.By Adam Bychawski