Sweet Narcotic Reverie: An Interview With The Lucid Dream
, July 30th, 2013 09:01
On their newly released debut album Carlisle's neo-psych trainwreckers The Lucid Dream inject their music with equal parts pop-suss and blistering noise. The band's Mark Emmerson speaks with Ben Graham about avoiding psychedelia's stereotypical trappings and working in isolation
There is some debate as to whether a lucid dream - a dream when you know you are dreaming - is actually experienced when asleep, or when briefly waking. Similarly, you could question whether the brutal, train-wreck neo-psych of Carlisle band The Lucid Dream is an aural narcotic - hypnotic and trance-inducing - or whether their urgent, synapse-disrupting blasts of alternating noise and melody in fact snap one into a state of preternatural wakefulness, more aware and alive than ever before.
Certainly their imminent debut album, Songs Of Lies & Deceit is capable of working either way. Opener 'How Is Your Low When You're Low Alone' comes across like the ultimate hammering, one-note, sneering six-minute garage-punk stun blast, until 'Glue (Song for Irvine Welsh)' ups the ante by tearing down the tracks with twice the ferocity in half the time, yet it never veers out of control, retaining whip-smart dynamics, clever hooks and slack-free arrangements throughout. 'Love in my Veins' sounds like the Warlocks chained to the nose of a plummeting jet plane; 'Heartbreak Girl' is resplendent in viscera-splattered paisley, and 'Heading for the Waves' is a tremolo-powered, Sonic Youth submarine voyage to Joe Meek's fabulous undersea kingdom. 'A Mind At Ease Is A Mind At Play', meanwhile, plays like Wooden Shjips with an amphetamine suppository whacked up their collective arses.
Songs Of Lies & Deceit is a mightily impressive work for a debut album. It wears its influences on its sleeve, certainly, but filters them through a contemporary perspective - specifically the experience of growing up in 21st century urban Northern England - and so injects new relevance and life into those established Spacemen 3 / Mary Chain / Primal Scream templates.
Of the four-piece Lucid Dream, Mark Emmerson (vocals / guitar), Wayne Jefferson (guitar) and Luke Anderson (drums) have been friends since school, and have been playing music together from the age of fifteen, while youthful bassist Mike Denton joined up "four years ago or summat," according to Emmerson. Having played their first gig in March 2008, they gigged round most of Britain in their first year, before releasing their debut, the Erbistock Mill EP (named after the disused textile factory where they rehearse), in 2010. Over the next couple of years, three swiftly sold-out 7" singles followed, alongside more constant touring with bands including Spectrum ("Sonic Boom is our hero, so that was bloody amazing") and A Place To Bury Strangers, of whom Mark says "live, they're fucking mind-blowing. I think we're pretty good live, and to find a band that's matching you every night is something you don't find very often, but they definitely did."
The Lucid Dream exhibit a healthy degree of self-belief, probably a necessary survival tool for any young psychedelic band coming out of a tough city like Carlisle, and accompany it with a serious, self-motivated, self-reliant work ethic. They've handled their own career from day one, releasing their own records, and have spent most of the last eight months touring Europe, despite all still having to hold down day jobs. And with their debut album about to be released, they've already written and rehearsed most of the follow-up, several songs from which are already featuring in their current live set.
"It's well underway now and it's going to be quite different from the debut album, I guess," Mark says. "That's another thing when you're thinking about second albums; don't repeat the first, do something completely different. I'm getting more into vintage synthesisers and stuff. I guess I'm jumping the gun, because the first album's not even out yet, but I guess it's only a good thing, because we're not going to be sitting around twiddling our thumbs, struggling for ideas." As for that debut album, what immediately leaps out is that there's a thrilling split between long, droning noise pieces and chiming, jangly three-minute pop songs. It breaks up the album in a way that not so many bands attempt nowadays, and it revives a neglected side of the neo-psych genre, where bands like The Jesus & Mary Chain were drawing on Motown melodies and The Beach Boys as much as Can or The Velvet Underground. By way of contrast, a lot of current bands influenced by those artists tend to only pick up on the noise and the feedback, and ignore the pop element.
"Yeah, that's it," Mark agrees. "For us it was always important to make sure that the album had plenty of pop songs on there. When we were mixing the record, a lot of it was influenced by listening to Motown, girl groups, the Ronettes, stuff like that was really inspirational. I love the fact that the album has got those moments; it's got the pop songs on there as well, a couple of three-minute garage blasts. That's what I love about albums; I'm getting more into bands that can do that now. At the moment there's so much stuff going on, but people are just lacking tunes. There's a lot of people doing long songs where the stuff that's going on in them is brilliant, but they just don't fucking write the songs. And I think that's why the album is how it is; it's a combination of it all. And it kind of gives a good idea of what we're like live, as well. We'll do 'Love In My Veins' or 'Heartbreak Girl' and then the end of the set is like one song, twenty minutes long."
Are you happy with the label of being psychedelic, and being described as psychedelic? How do you feel about that?
Mark Emmerson: People are always going to put a label on you, aren't they? But I think it's the tip of the iceberg, really. A lot of people compare us to Spacemen 3, which is one of our favourite bands and a huge influence, but I think there's a lot more going on than just that. The first song on the album is really noisy and like two notes, really influenced by Suicide. I'm not sure if you'd brand that as psychedelic, because it's kind of the opposite. I don't know; it's a term that people are going to use and it doesn't bother me, it's probably something that could fit us the best, but it's certainly not us as a whole. We're always looking to be different. There are, without a doubt, psychedelic moments on the album, but some of it is more like - the last song on there, the early stages of that song anyway, is influenced by the Staple Singers and people like that. I don't think psychedelic fits it at all. But people are going to use something, and it doesn't bother us that they use that. Have you noticed that in the last two years there's been a massive resurgence of bands branding themselves as psychedelic? Have you noticed that yourself?
Yeah; in a way, longer back, but also it's really picked up speed with papers like the NME picking up on it, just in the last year, really.
ME: I guess it started in 2009. That's when I noticed it really, with the Horrors and Primary Colours, which I think is a great album. But then once they did that they got a lot of exposure from that, and then it seemed like that's when a lot of it started to come through. But the thing with us, when we started in 2008 there weren't that many bands doing what we were doing. I think Wooden Shjips were the one that we always cited as being pretty exciting and influencing us, that Dos album in particular. But there wasn't an awful lot going on in that respect, really.
It's good that bands are moving towards that, and it gives bands that have been doing that anyway more chance of exposure, but with anything like that, like in the late '80s, early '90s you had the baggy thing, and with all of these things comes a load of shit as well. There's some bands who probably were wearing suits and making music more towards the Strokes a few years ago, who've come back with a projector in their pictures - like, new press releases with a projector in the background. There's so many bands that are doing that now. Nearly every band that are announcing a new album, they're there with a '60s projector covering their faces in the press release or whatever. With our album, the artwork's black and white, the promo pictures are black and white. I thought, let's make this album not like that, even if the music in the album is, in a lot of places, let's do everything black and white.
One thing about Songs Of Lies & Deceit in terms of it being psychedelic; it can be a bit of a lazy term, because you think of it as referring back to '60s music, but I hear a lot more '80s and early '90s influences if anything in your music. The Jesus & Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, early Verve, Sonic Youth even; stuff that certainly has a psychedelic influence, but was more just the alternative music of that era. Is that fair enough? Not to say that there isn't a wide range of stuff that goes into it, but you seem to draw more on the music of that era than merely digging back to '60s bands.
ME: Totally; I mean, what you named there were probably our three favourite bands. Early Verve in particular. For us, since we were fifteen years old we were obsessed with that band, absolutely love 'em. Verve definitely; especially with a lot of the guitar stuff that we're doing, Nick McCabe's work in particular. Jesus and Mary Chain without a doubt, and from a personal songwriting perspective as well, I love Primal Scream. Screamadelica, Vanishing Point, XTRMNTR, those albums; I even love Sonic Flower Groove and the self-titled second album. And from that era, the Stone Roses as well - the first album in particular, and singles like 'Elephant Stone,' the singles around the debut album. Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation is an influence on us as well, and yeah, I think that does fit it a lot better. Songs like 'In Your Eyes' off the album, that was influenced by Sonic Flower Groove-era Primal Scream, and a bit of Teenage Fanclub as well. That era, for us, is probably our biggest influence. We do love a lot of '60s stuff like Jefferson Airplane, Arthur Lee and Love, but we don't really sound like that a lot. It's not something that comes naturally.
You've also cited Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh as an influence, and your song 'Glue' is subtitled 'Song For Irvine Welsh.' Why was he important to you?
ME: I don't read many books, but I happened to read all of Irvine Welsh's. They just struck a chord with me, and I was really inspired by him, and a lot of the social commentary and things that are in his stories. That song, we titled it 'Glue' and put in brackets, 'Song for Irvine Welsh' because if we'd just called it 'Glue' I think people would've got the wrong end of the stick. They'd think we were glue sniffers or something! That song was really inspired by Irvine Welsh, but a lot of the songs were. 'How's Your Low When You're Low Alone,' the first song on the album, a lot of that was Irvine Welsh. I was brought up in a working class family, and you kind of relate to a lot of it from growing up, or people you probably went to school with who you don't see anymore, or people you used to see when you were younger. I like how you can always find somebody in those books who you can think of. Not necessarily someone you were friends with either, because you wouldn't want to be friends with half the characters he describes in those books.
Is there much of a scene around you in Carlisle?
ME: To be honest, no, there isn't. There's a good group of friends we have, who are all into similar kinds of music and hit off each other for ideas and getting into bands and that. But in city terms Carlisle is quite small, and it's quite a tough city as well. And I don't think there's enough here to make that happen. Most people here like going up town on a Saturday night and beating the shit out of somebody, to be honest with you. That's Carlisle. Not many people are inspired by music around here. But there is a good group of us, and I guess it's quite lucky in a city like this to have found people like that.
But when we started the band it was us on our own really, and that's what inspired us. It was driving us, like fucking hell, we can do this. There's been no musical exports from Carlisle in recent history; there's not much to write home about here, and not many bands get out of Carlisle, or Cumbria even. So I'm quite proud of the fact that we've got out of here, doing shows in Europe, things like that, because Carlisle really isn't the kind of place where there's a buzz, so to speak. A hundred thousand people live here, and the majority of them just aren't interested in music full stop, let alone decent music. So I'm quite proud of that, to be honest.
I'm hard pressed to think of anybody else out of Carlisle or even Cumbria. Even British Sea Power, who came from Cumbria, had to move down to Brighton before they got noticed.
ME: Yeah, they lived in Kendal originally, which is about an hour away from here. And you've got Wild Beasts as well, they're from Cumbria. It's funny that bands of note from Cumbria happen to be ones from the Lake District, and from the city of Cumbria there's been nothing really. I think we're kind of changing that; I think people are becoming aware of what we're doing now, and when you're from Carlisle you're up against it from day one. So I'm really pleased that we've managed to do that. We've just got to keep building on it, though.
Do you think that sense of isolation - musically, socially, culturally - feeds into your music and improves it, gives it an edge?
ME: Yeah, totally. As I said, we're not part of a scene, we're not jumping on stage helping other bands or guesting with other bands or recording with other bands. It's us and us alone, and it's always been that way. It probably always will be.
And yeah, it's totally inspiring. We're not part of some scene that other people are doing. There's nothing better than on a Friday night in Carlisle in our rehearsal room, say when we've finally nailed one of the new songs, and you're coming out of there thinking 'Fucking hell, I can't believe we've done that', and you're walking home, back to normality in good old Carlisle, and I kind of love that walk. If we were from places like Manchester or London, I think the inspiration would completely go. We have no aspirations of going anywhere else. We're staying here, that's it, we're never going to go and move to another city to try and get more recognition, because I don't think there's any reason to. We're in Carlisle; we're not going to go to London or anywhere like that, we don't feel the need, and creatively I think it'd ruin us.
So yeah, the isolation thing I'm more than happy with. That's how it is. There's a lot of bands that we're good friends with and we really respect, but I think we're on our own in that kind of thing. It doesn't bother me, and I guess it kind of sums up our personalities, too.
The Lucid Dream's Songs Of Lies & Deceit is out now on limited edition vinyl via Great Pop Supplement, and on CD/download by Holy Are You Recordings in early August