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Baker's Dozen

Lifting A Veil: Kurt Wagner Of Lambchop's Favourite British LPs
Luke Cartledge , January 11th, 2017 08:54

Reflecting at length upon his intimate relationship with British music from his office in Nashville, Tennessee, the alt-country veteran at the heart of Lambchop discusses freedom, interpretation and the lasting effect on him of 1970s Sheffield with Luke Cartledge

"I wanted to lift the veil on what it was about me personally, how music affected my life, and how that's connected, starting with my experience of moving to Sheffield as a pre-pubescent child," Kurt Wagner says at the end of our conversation. This was the logic by which he chose the albums for our discussion, and the explanation for his presenting us with a list far exceeding the usual thirteen-record limit. Aside from the records on which our conversation chiefly focused – the thirteen you will see below – his sinuous, elliptical descriptions of his relationship with music and the ways in which it has changed over the course of his life encompass a striking breadth of artists. The only real unifying factor is the nationality of the artists in question – British.

There is a specific reason for the Lambchop lynchpin, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, to feel such an affinity with British music. "I've always had a unique relationship with music from the UK because I moved to Sheffield in the summer of 1970," he explains. "My father was on sabbatical, working at the University of Sheffield, doing research there, so he brought the family along. I was 12 and I turned 13 while I was there, so there was this exciting awakening that was going on with me in general, puberty being a part of that, and I was discovering music on my own. So with what I'm doing here, it's not so much about cool, odd selections and how interesting music is and how it has influenced me; it's more about how the culture of Great Britain and the music of the time embedded itself in me and became something I would turn to over the years, continuing up until today."

So despite the following selection making specific reference to thirteen British records, Wagner's self-effacing, boundlessly enthusiastic reflections on each period of which he his reminded by each album are far wider in scope, both thematically and in terms of the sheer number of records and artists included in his musings and anecdotes. During my preparations for this interview, I was struck by a noticeable change in tone across the chronology of Wagner's selections. In contrast to the relative freedom, optimism and vitality of his earlier selections, like John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs And Englishmen, more recent choices such as Sleaford Mods' Divide And Exit and David Bowie's Blackstar are more significantly characterised by their expressions of melancholy, tension and anger. It seemed that the qualities for which Wagner is attracted to a record might have changed at some point. Yet when I mentioned this to him, it seemed more that he felt it was the circumstances which these albums were created in order to reflect, rather than his personal musical priorities, which may have changed.

"There's something that happens in UK music-making that is very influential to my becoming who I am as an artist", he elucidates. "Perhaps it's not reflected so much in the type of music I make, but there's something about the way they channel information and make it their own, very special and unique to the place that they make and present music. There's a great use of interpretation involved; I think that's been there since the British Invasion days."

Lambchop's latest album, FLOTUS, is out now on Merge/City Slang, and the group will appear at London's Roundhouse on 26th January. For more information, head over to their website. Click the portrait of Kurt to begin the countdown

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