INTERVIEW: Lanterns on The Lake | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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With their fifth album, Versions Of Us, Lanterns on the Lake have created the most empowering and triumphant body of work of their career thus far. Yet this monumental record very nearly didn’t exist.

We’d begun working on the new album and we knew things didn’t feel right,” explains singer and songwriter Hazel Wilde. “There was a negative energy in the music, and the more we tried, the worse it became. I still can’t really put my finger on it; it wasn’t the relationships in the band, but there were other financial and logistical pressures. We’ve always been a band that’s tried to make music that has real heart and soul, and we could see that that wasn’t there.”

With their fourth record, Spook The Herd, Lanterns On The Lake found themselves nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize. Now here they were just a short time later, wondering whether they were even going to make another album.

We always naturally put pressure on ourselves every time we come to record a new album, but in the back of our minds after Spook The Herd, to put it bluntly, we were all thinking, ‘We can’t fuck this up,’” recalls guitarist Paul Gregory. “We went back to the same studio in Ripponden with the same equipment and the same producer, Joss Worthington. It’s funny that you can take the same bunch of people and put them in exactly the same place and situation again, and for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work the next time around.”

After a lot of reflecting during an emotional and stressful time period, drummer Ol Ketteringham, who had been with the band since the very beginning, decided his time to move on had arrived. Lanterns found themselves at a crossroads: should they give up and call it a day, or start over again? Thankfully, they chose the latter, scrapping everything they’d recorded and stripping the songs back to their bare bones.

We’d blown our budget and passed our deadline, but in a way, it was almost liberating,” says Wilde. “We had absolutely nothing to lose and we still believed in the songs. We had such a short period of time to remake an entire album, but that gave an energy to the songs that made the album what it is; it feels way more alive and more immediate with all that bubbling emotion underneath.”

To bring the album to life, the band enlisted the help of a certain Philip Selway on session drums. So how did the Newcastle band end up with Radiohead’s drummer on their record?

I suppose I’ve got to a point in my life where it’s like, ‘everything is kind of fucked, but what if there’s a different way?

We’d met him before and he’s previously shown support for our music,” explains Wilde. “Apart from Ol, he’s our other favourite drummer, and as we went back to square one, we realised we needed something that had that Phil Selway energy about the drumming. So, in that spirit of having nothing to lose, we were like, ‘Shall we just ask him?!’ He was really sensitive and understanding about the Ol situation, and he had such a belief in the songs that it really reignited something in us too.”

It’s fair to say that with all these changes, Lanterns changed the destiny of their fifth record. It’s an irony that’s not lost on Wilde and Gregory, given that a huge theme of the record is destiny and fate, and whether we can change our path in life. These were all lyrics that existed before the initial album was scrapped – they weren’t changed to reflect the turmoil the band had been through.

Sometimes I think you can almost cosmically order stuff into your life,” laughs Wilde. “We’re really aware of the irony: a large theme of the album is imagining an ‘otherwise’ – imagining other possibilities and whether you’re stuck to a certain fate or if you can change that and turn things round for yourself.”

Versions Of Us is in fact a whole new version of their vision, and indeed of the band themselves. Lanterns have always been a band that have leaned towards the existential, and the ethereal quality of their swooning post-rock certainly lends itself to meditations on existence. On the swooping String Theory, where Wilde’s gorgeous vocal drives the track along in step with Selway’s rhythmic drumming, Wilde finds comfort in the multiverse theory and the idea of infinite versions of ourselves.

I think a lot of the previous lyrics I’d written were catastrophising in a way. I suppose I’ve got to a point in my life where it’s like, ‘everything is kind of fucked, but what if there’s a different way? Part of the context of all of these songs is that I’ve now got a daughter and I think that I need to show her that there’s hope. If one person can change how their life goes down their path, what’s to say we can’t all as a society change and fix this catastrophe that’s on the horizon with climate change and all the rest of it?”

This sense of hope permeates Versions Of Us more than any other Lanterns record. On The Likes Of Us, Wilde steels her resolve despite the state of things, her glorious vocals soaring over Angela Chan’s glittering strings and Bob Allan’s delicate bass line, ending with the determined repetition of the mantra-like “I won’t let this spark die in me”. It displays the cavernous sound we’ve come to expect from Lanterns, yet Versions Of Us is more austere in its instrumentation than previous offerings.

Whatever serves the song goes on the song,” states Gregory. “Personally, with Spook The Herd, I think we got it right in that all the bits that go on the song are to serve the vocal melodies and the lyrical ideas behind it. It’s about choosing the instrument carefully and not piling stuff on for the sake of piling stuff on.”

Something happened when we came to make Spook The Herd where we realised the less we have on the song the more scope we have to put the energy into the things that are there,” adds Wilde. “It ends up sounding wider and more powerful that way.”

Despite going into this record thinking it would be the last one, Lanterns On The Lake aren’t ready to give up just yet. “We love the music we make and we have such belief and faith in the songs, which is what pushes us every time to make another album,” says Gregory. “Of course, you question why you do it, but when you’re actually doing it, that’s all that matters in life.”

Lanterns On The Lake release Versions Of Us via Bella Union on 2nd June. The band play instore shows at Newcastle’s Reflex on Sunday 4th and RPM Thursday 8th June.


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