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Escape Velocity

The Sound Of Silence: An Interview With Love Inks
John Freeman , November 25th, 2014 10:47

Ahead of their UK tour, Austin's Love Inks talk to John Freeman about "creating a wall of sound utilising silence" on their third album, Exi

It's a classic interviewing trick: ask a question, await the end of the answer and then remain silent. Most people are uncomfortable when confronted with a pregnant pause and react by continuing to talk in order to fill the space with noise. It's highly doubtful such an obvious trick would work with Love Inks, a trio from Austin, Texas whose minimalist pop of third album Exi excels in the use of silence.

Love Inks comprise husband and wife Kevin Dehan and Sherry LeBlanc, with Zach Biggs adding bass guitar. The band released E.S.P., a debut album of sleek, razor-wired pop in 2011, which was followed by 2013's meatier Generation Club. Exi harks back to the sparse elegance of E.S.P. and is a masterful example of stripping back sounds and allowing space and silence to create mood and tone. Much of Exi revels in simplicity, setting Dehan's clipped guitar work against LeBlanc's luminous vocal amid a spattering drum machine.

On the eve of a European tour, Kevin and Sherry chat via a Skype video link. While explaining how Love Inks crafted an album using silence as a key aesthetic, Sherry also talks about her love of Yoko Ono's positivity ("Whenever I am getting shit in my life, I often think about the 'Yoko One approach' and try to turn any criticism or negativity into something beautiful").

Bizarrely, but rather endearingly, Phil Collins crops up in conversation on several occasions - Sherry reveals that Kevin's karaoke staple is 'One More Time', which "always bombs" leaving him being harshly "heckled by college girls", who appear neither moved by the suspect delights of the Genesis drummer nor able to remain silent in their vocal condemnation. Some people - it would seem - should learn when, and where, to remain quiet.

I believe some of the songs on Exi were written a while ago. Why did you go back to old material?

Kevin Dehan: A lot of them are from after the first record, when we came back from Europe and were recording. When I start to record I will always go back through all my tapes and listen to everything to see if there are any hidden things. So, actually, Exi probably should have been the second record.

What was it about the old material that resonated so much?

KD: Well, probably four of the songs [on Exi] are from those tapes. I was staying up really late and started doing that really minimal thing more akin to the first record. That was the vibe that stood out and I felt that I needed to go back into that. It is all about the mood. I will listen to the demos and then try and recreate the mood of those demos. But, also, Sherry sings in a different key to me, so I have to adjust the song to her key - and then sometimes the song just doesn't work. I don't know why - it's just a magical thing about a song working in a certain key. So what happens is that I will just throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and a lot of times it is Sherry who will pick out the songs and the vibe.

So, Sherry, you're key to the vetting process for potential Love Inks' songs. How does that work, in terms of critiquing Kevin's musical efforts?

Sherry LeBlanc: Well, we have been together for 11 years so I have a good ear for what is good of his or not good of his. I don't get involved in the recording or mixing. Kevin has a really good ear, but if it isn't working I will tell him "it's too sparse" or "we need to pick up the tempo on this one" or whatever. But, it's rare that I even have anything to say. I would categorise myself more as a music fan. I have been buying vinyl since I was 11 years old. I'm vocally-trained and can play guitar, bass and keyboards but I am not on a level with Kevin. I write some of the melodies but really get to be more of the fan and the critic in the band. It works for us that way. On our first album there was a song called 'Blackeye' and when Kevin gave me the demo I knew that was "the song" and the whole album should be based around it.

KD: I thought that 'Blackeye' was the shittiest song I'd ever written, and Sherry was saying "everyone will think this is the best song".

It would seem Sherry was right with that particular song! It feels that compared to the previous album Generation Club, Exi is a lot more stripped back. Were you always aiming for a more minimal feel?

SLB: There was a fan who tweeted to us that there was less sound [on Exi] but a more expansive environment and that's exactly what Kevin was going for. That's what he wanted to do - to create a wall of sound utilising silence as the major component.

"Creating a wall of sound utilising silence" - talk me through how you might achieve that.

KD: When Love Inks first started, I used to play bass and the old guitarist, instead of playing a full chord, he would accentuate particular notes, be it a lower note or a higher note. Or he would pluck - he would never really just strum - he would have this restraint thing going on. On the second record I was letting it rip, and on this record I wanted to go back to his style of playing which was barely there. When you make a sound with a lot of distortion it kind of goes vertical and with reverb you can make the sound go kind of horizontal and wide. That's what we were trying to go for, even in our live shows there are few high frequencies; everything is low and surrounding you as opposed to distortion that can cut right through you. That was the idea.

Sherry, the minimal feel to the record had the result of allowing your vocal to come to the fore. Was this something that you decided early on in making the record?

SLB: We talked about using my voice more up front. We would listen to a particular Phil Collins album a lot on tour and I thought "holy shit - we are being like Phil Collins", even if it was only in a production sense in terms of where the vocals were placed. So, it was very deliberate and, of course, I love my voice so I was very excited about it [laughs].

KD: I don't want this interview to be totally about Phil Collins, but I recently found out that he is an avid collector of artefacts about the Alamo and he recently donated a huge part of his collection to the Alamo museum. He is the number one contributor of Alamo antiques. Which is so weird.

That's a great Phil Collins anecdote - but maybe we should stop there, lest the interview does become riddled with facts about Phil Collins. Can I ask about Austin? It's a very music-centric town - what impact has Austin had on how Love Inks have developed?

KD: It had some influence on us becoming a quiet band. In Austin, you are not allowed to play music just anywhere after ten o'clock. We were set up in our house so we could only play in the daytime. At night you can go to these practice spaces which would cost ten or 15 bucks a night. But, you'd be driving back and forth and lugging all your shit, so basically this band got quiet because we decided to play our instruments quietly at home. We used a drum machine because it can be played quietly and it meant we could practice for longer in our house. It meant we could take our time - talk about a song for 30 minutes - as opposed to playing against the clock.

SLB: Also, Austin was a very punk-centric town and we felt we wanted a different aesthetic. We didn't want to blow people out with noise when they stepped into the venue. Lots of bands were doing that.

You were both once in a punk band called The Handjobs. Did being in a noisy punk band influence the aesthetic you wanted to achieve with Love Inks?

SLB: We have both been in a few bands and this is the first band where we have sat and dwelt on what we wanted to sound like, and what we felt was missing from music. We couldn't buy an album of a band playing quiet songs, or of moody, sweet music. We didn't think that stuff was being made. But, consequently we get compared to The xx all the fucking time. It haunts us wherever we go, forever and ever.

You are about to tour around Europe - are you 'happy tourers'?

SLB: Yes, sort of. Prior to touring I was a bit of a control freak and when you are on tour you have no control over anything at all. You have to totally relinquish all of that and it has probably changed our personalities for the better.

Exi is very atmospheric - has it been easy to translate the mood of the record into the live setting?

KD: It's been really easy. All the songs on this record are really moody and have a really heavy vibe. The second record had the same mood throughout, so that may have been a little boring to watch. Exi sounds better live than it does on record. There is no bullshit to it - if people connect to it then they are drawn in.

SLB: We have just done a few shows and a lot of people would tell us that they were just at the bar without meaning to see us, but by the end were watching the show. One woman told us that we pulled her in like the smell of good food. I really loved that comment.

Exi is out now via Republic Of Music

Love Inks start their UK tour this week - take a look at the dates below:

Thu 27 - Sixty Million Postcards, Bournemouth
Sat 29 - Four Bars, Cardiff
Sun 30 - Glad Cafe, Glasgow

Mon 1 - Soup Kitchen, Manchester
Tue 2 - Shacklewell Arms, London