Animal instincts – entering the world of LUMP with Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay

It was a creative project borne out of a chance meeting five years ago at a bowling alley inside The O2 in South-East London, while Laura Marling was supporting Neil Young on a UK arena tour.

Two days later, Laura started work on tracks created by Tunng co-founder Mike Lindsay in Ben Edwards’ studio in North East Cornwall (aka Benge, Neil Arthur’s long-time collaborator and Fader co-pilot), on what became the debut self-titled LUMP album, finally seeing the light of day in early June 2018.

Now, three years on, the second instalment, Animal, is on its way (due to land at the end of next month), Brit Award winner and Grammy-nominated Laura plus singer/songwriter and Mercury Prize-winning producer Mike planning to get back on the road to promote it in late summer.

As with the first LP, Laura arrived in the studio – this time Mike’s own in Margate, Kent – without having heard any of his music, hoping that would help bring the resultant lyrics immediacy and spontaneity. And having studied in recent times between music projects for a Masters in psychoanalysis, she drew heavily on course texts.

She explained, “I was taking the train down and prepped by putting a glossary of words in the back of my notebook. Ordinary words that are used differently within psychoanalysis, like ‘object’ and ‘master’; I felt I needed something to base the lyrics off. I like the idea that psychoanalysis attempts to investigate the routes of desire.”

There were other sources too: half-memories, family stories, strange dreams; things Laura had read, or been told or imagined.

“LUMP is the repository for so many things I’ve had in my mind and just don’t fit anywhere in that way. They don’t have to totally make narrative sense, but weirdly end up making narrative sense in some way.”

It was trickier second time around. Both artists felt a pressure to create an album as instinctive and magical as the first. And having moved to the coast, Mike was also inspired to start writing music inspired by the sea.

At the same time, Laura was working on rightly acclaimed, Mercury Prize and Grammy Award-nominated Song For Our Daughter, but found working on LUMP material liberating and distinct, explaining how it became about ‘escaping a persona that has become a burden to me in some way – like putting on a superhero costume’, at times feeling as if she might be ‘edging Laura Marling off a cliff as much as I can and putting LUMP in the centre’.

Of the splendid title track – the first number aired in public from the new record – ‘Animal’ (with the video here) was originally a word Laura thrown into a lyric simply to meet a rhythm. But it seemed to capture the mood of the work, and of the band as a whole.

“There’s a little of a theme of hedonism on the album, of desires running wild. Also, it fed into the idea we had from the start of thinking of LUMP as a kind of representation of instincts, and the world turned upside down.”

Mike added, “We created LUMP as a sort of persona and an idea and a creature. Through LUMP we find our inner animal, and through that animal we travel into a parallel universe.”

Laura, who grew up near Reading, is based in North London these days, but was at a friend’s house in Sussex when we spoke via the delights of Zoom. Meanwhile, Mike, originally from ‘somewhere between Southampton and Winchester’, was in his home studio in Margate, joining the conversation flanked in by banks of recording paraphernalia, or his ‘Nerve Centre’, as I suggested.

“That’s right. That’s what we call it!”

Were my two interviewees pretty quick to latch on to the brave new lockdown-like world existence of Zoom calls, sending files down the interweb super-highway, and all that?

Mike: “Well, actually, we had this done just before the first lockdown, so we weren’t sending any files down the line. We had a couple of video chats … but just for fun really. We had the record done just before, so we’ve been sat on it for a while.”

I imagine with your separate career paths, scheduling anything could be a pain. Is it like when you’re buying a house and there’s lots of you in a chain trying to work out convenient dates that suit you?

Laura: “It was. Originally it was. There was a whole plan to do my album and then LUMP, then of course the pandemic happened, and it all went out of the window. It was all just chaos.”

Seeing your surroundings there, Mike, are you a musical instrument hoarder? Are you the sort who has obscure stuff lying around just in case it’s needed for a two-second excerpt on some record or other?

“I’ve a few oddities knocking around. You can’t see them all here. But I do have a sitar, there is a saz, a dulcimer, a steel harp, and gurglers …”

Did he really say ‘gurglers’ there? I think so. I only picked up on that later. I’m sure he’ll put me right if that’s not the case. How about Laura?

“I’ve got a couple, but most of my weird musical purchases have been passed on to Mike. I bought a Moog Grandmother, which I couldn’t work out how to use and gave it to Mike … and what was that keyboard I gave you?”

“Erm, it’s the …”

“The OP-1!”

Sounds very Star Wars.

Mike: “It looks very Star Wars, yeah.”

When you first got together, was there a clear game plan, or was it more a case of ‘Where shall we go next?’ instead? Was it ‘send her some files, see what she can do’, or the other way around?

Mike: “Ha! ’Send her some files’! No, it wasn’t like that at all. We just had one day of experimenting. I had a piece of music and didn’t know if we could work together or not, Laura came up with some magic, and it seemed to take on a world of its own. That was the first song on the first record (‘Late to the Flight’).

“From there, we decided to try another day, that worked, then we tried a few days, and we had this collection of music that all seemed to take its own adventure on when I tied them together. It was very organic in that sense, and very ‘in the moment’ when we were together.”

The sonic results and that explanation suggest it worked from day one. Was it also a release of sorts for both of you? I’m not suggesting you felt the need to depart from what you were doing with your own careers. It’s not like you both worked in call centres or soulless banking jobs, but … did you see it as a departure from what you were doing elsewhere?

Laura: “Yeah, definitely, it’s a great relief in that sense, completely different to what I do, certainly. A different way of working … and also working with someone else is great.”

Mike: “Yeah, it was very exciting for me, and I was quite nervous about working with Laura first of all. I’d been a fan for a long time …”

Did she come with a reputation?

“Well, I didn’t have any expectations, and I wasn’t aware of any reputations, but I was excited about working with her musically, and I didn’t want to make a mess of it, you know. I was pretty surprised that I didn’t, and that we managed to do more. But honestly, I was just happy that we managed to make some music together that we both enjoy, because it was a secret – we didn’t tell anybody, no management or anything!

“That was what was special about it first time around, and it was the same this time around. We decided between ourselves just to try and make some more music again, and that’s always nice when it comes back to the roots of musicianship and how people started making music, before you signed any record deals or had any kind of notoriety. It was just about the want and the desire to produce and make and write and share music with each other. That’s real, you know.”

It’s good to hear you say that. Of the musicians I speak to, irrespective of how much success they’ve had, most seem to be enjoying it more these days, as they’re not chasing hits, record deals and world fame so much now. They tend to do it for the love of it. Otherwise, what’s the point? And I reckon I can hear in your records that you’re doing it for the love of it rather than chasing commercial success.

Laura: “Yeah.”

Mike: “Yeah … wouldn’t mind a couple of hits though!”

Laura: “Ha! Yes, but that’s the thing, isn’t it? That’s what makes LUMP such an enjoyable process. And I think from the feedback from the last album – people who really loved it, really loved it … but it was a very small amount of people. That’s a great thing in some respects, but it would be nice if someone put it on an advert. I wouldn’t be against that.”

Mike: “Yeah, McDonald’s or …”

Laura: “McDonald’s, tobacco factories, whatever!”

Word has it that you were also keen to maintain the ‘half-cute, half dark and creepy’ feel running through both the sound of that debut LP and the name LUMP itself. Have you a clearer idea of what this is all about a few years on, or is it still a voyage of discovery and that’s the way you want it to carry on?

Laura: “I feel like it’s clearer, or the process is clearer. We did pretty much try to replicate almost exactly the same way we made the first album. The sort of ‘other’ or ‘third band member’, almost, is still a useful way of thinking about the project as a whole. Neither of us, individually, but a combination of us both.”

You gave yourself a challenge, building on the acclaim of that first LP, or did that added pressure help you rise to the challenge of going at it again, attaining that same level or striving for something even better?

Mike: “Well, I think actually with this second record we were perhaps referencing some of the live experiences we had from the first record. We only did a couple of handfuls of shows, but they were really fun, and we took what we achieved on the first record – which was quite a central experience on the album – but kind of gave it a big kind of ‘thump’ on the live version. And I think that kind of trickled into a way of writing.

“Perhaps we were more aware that we were going to take it to the stage this time, and we didn’t have that thought the first time. There’s an element of that creeping in, and I suppose there was one big tune, ‘Curse of the Contemporary’, on the first record, and we felt it would be nice to have another … although I’m not sure we achieved that.

“It’s actually quite a different record in as much as it’s still the same process. You can’t try and emulate something you’ve already done – that doesn’t really work. And we’ve got new things now!”

Were there influences you both brought to the process and initial band meetings this time? Was it a case of throwing down a Bowie LP or an obscure film soundtrack on the table, saying, ‘That’s what I want to do!’”

Mike: “Well, when we’re together it’s definitely a case of ‘see where it goes’, because … I don’t know … Laura’s influences are probably non-musical and perhaps other literary references, or within her studies.

“And mine … yeah, there were things like the (Brian) Eno and Jon Hassel ‘80s records’ sound textures, and especially – as you mention Bowie – I bought this Harmoniser, the (Eventide) H949, which is knocking around over there, and was used on the Low record by Eno and (Tony) Visconti, and I think on that Hassel record where all those organic kind of drums are sort of liquified through this Harmoniser.

“I want it to take that vintage and late ‘70s flavour. I was born in the late ‘70s, so there are those sort of references, but there are new bands I’ve been listening to as well, like the Meridian Brothers from Colombia, stuff like that – that sort of electronic wonk …”

‘Electronic wonk’! I like that.

“Ha! But – for me, anyway – I’m not sitting there listening to records, thinking, ‘I’ll make something like that’. I’m more just turning on the toys, and I guess subliminally trying to channel those things I’ve listened to in the past.”

I’m led to believe (research doesn’t cost much, you know) the H949 is the heir apparent of the H910, the ‘pitch-shifter’ defining the sound of Bowie’s 1977 LP, Low, of which producer Tony Visconti apparently claimed, ‘It fucks with the fabric of time’. And it’s also seen by Mike as ‘the new sound of LUMP’.

As for Mike’s take on the overall sound of this album, he says it’s ‘quite woody and windy, human, animalistic sounds but very organic, mixed with these crispy, crunchy, slightly John Carpenter, slightly computer game, slightly through-the-portal-into-another-world, slightly Suzanne Ciani 70s’ synthetic sounds’. So there you have it. And what of Laura’s part in all that?

“Musically, I’m a very small factor in this outfit. Ha! I was just drawing – lyrically – on psychoanalysis, which is what I was studying. That was the starting point. Not really a theme, more a starting point.”

What can either of you do with LUMP that you can’t elsewhere. Have you found approaches through this side-project that made you think, ‘Why haven’t I tried this before?’.

Laura: “Well, I’m playing bass in the live show!”

Mike: “I was going to say with LUMP that we can do anything we want – the ‘three’ of us – and that in itself is unique to any other project. There are no sorts of boundaries, no one to answer to particularly. That’s why it’s liberating. No rules!”

I was putting finishing touches ahead of talking to you on an interview with The Catenary Wires’ Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, and on their new LP there’s a cracking single, ’Mirrorball’, about a couple finding love at an ‘80s-themed disco. What would need to be played to get you two out on the dancefloor?

Mike: “Ha ha! Erm …”

Laura: “To dance?”

Yep.

Laura: “Almost nothing would get me on the floor!”

Mike: “Erm … yeah, interesting! I don’t know if I’d go down the disco route, but stick me on a bit of ‘Satellite of Love’ by Lou Reed and I’ll be there … doing some moves.”

Is that right, Laura, that you turn up in the studio not knowing what Mike’s been up to, sonically?

“Yeah, that’s how … I mean, Mike does a lot more work behind the scenes than I do. I just turn up for six days and then wait to hear the results!”

Well, it works well, so whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. And might you catch us out next time with a pared-down folk album or something of that ilk, or will you save that for the day-jobs? It seems that neither of you have been happy to sit back and settle for where you’ve been before – you both keep pushing into new territory.

Mike: “I’d say there are some LUMP III ideas floating around, and they’re currently very different from both II and I. But I wouldn’t say that we’ll make a folk record. I think we’ve both got that covered in other areas!”

Do you think the upcoming live shows will be a good breeding ground for you to come up with new songs? Or are you not about writing on the road?

Laura: “Well, we don’t write on the road at all.”

Some people thrive on that.

Laura: “For my personal stuff I only write on the road, but LUMP is almost completely studio-based.”

Mike: “But the live shows definitely played a part in creating ideas for this record, so they might. And whatever happens in the future in terms of live shows, I’m sure something will come out of it that will end up informing something later.”

Well, thanks for your time, and for another essential listen for this summer … and there will be a proper summer this time, I reckon.

Mike: “Yes, it’s on its way, and it’s here today, actually! Nice one.”

Laura: “’Bye!”

Animal LP art and other images by Steph Wilson and stills from the promo video for the wondrous second single, ‘Climb Every Wall’ (linked here), by Tamsin Topolski.

LUMP release their new album, Animal, on Friday, July 30th via Chrysalis/Partisan Records, with pre-order details and information about the cracking second single, ‘Climb Every Wall’, out now, at https://www.lump.world/. Laura and Mike’s short late summer tour follows, opening at Gorilla, Manchester (August 31st), before dates at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (September 2nd); Trinity, Bristol (September 3rd); Patterns, Brighton (September 5th); and Scala, London (September 6th). To keep in touch with the world of LUMP you can also follow them via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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