Although it started as a solo bedroom project for Michigan native Ben Schneider, the last couple of years have seen his Lord Huron project morph into a full band and take up residency in Los Angeles. On Oct. 9, the group’s debut full-length, titled Lonesome Dreams, was released on IAMSOUND Records and the five-piece can currently be found touring across the U.S. We caught up with Schneider to discuss the creation of the long-awaited release, the excitement that comes with a first album, and what fans can expect from their live show.
How has the band been preparing for the release of this long-awaited debut album?
Ben Schneider: Well, we’ve mostly been getting the show read for this tour (which began on Sept. 27 in Cincinnati). You know, getting the new songs together, making sure we are sharp, getting things in order with van. Basically just taking care of business.
For a songwriter or artist, this first full-length album is obviously a big deal as far as personal accomplishments go. How have you been affected by that?
Schneider: Well, it’s weird because I have been used to putting things out the minute I finish them. I literally posted the first two Lord Huron EPs online the same night that I completed them. It was a much more immediate thing. With Lonesome Dreams, I’ve been finished with it for about four months, just sitting around and holding my breath. There has definitely been a lot of excitement building up, but, at the same time, I sometimes forget that it isn’t out yet because I have been sitting with it for so long. I think once we started getting ready for this tour and our first press interviews started to happen, then the excitement really hit. I’m really proud of what we have made and interested to hear what other people think about it.
Tell us about the process of actually making this debut. You guys had already released a couple of EPs and you spent virtually all of 2011 touring. To the casual observer, it was easy to forget that Lord Hurondidn’t have a full album out yet. Does Lonesome Dreams feel like a long time coming to you, as it probably does to most of the people who are already familiar with you guys?
Schneider: It does in some ways. Some of the songs I started writing and recording around the same time that I was working on the Mighty EP, so some of them have been kicking around for a while. We’ve been playing a few of them live for quite some time as well. So, I can understand how people might feel like it has taken a long time, but we were on the road so much of last year that it was hard to find time to get in the studio and record. Also, we tend to take our time with the business side of things. We wanted to make sure we were working with the right people and in the right creative situation. So, that took some time and we had a lot of sit-downs with various people, but I think we found the right folks in the end and it feels good having it ready to come out.
Last year, you also were featured at a number of large music festivals, which is not common for bands with limited recorded output. You performed at Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and South by Southwest. By playing to these bigger audiences before you recorded this album, do you think it allowed you to maybe push for a bigger sound??
Schneider: Definitely. We felt really lucky to be picked to play those events and, as you said, a little surprised because we had so little recorded output. But, I’ve been really lucky to put together a pretty terrific band. They are my best friends, but they are also some of the best musicians that I’ve ever known. And, yeah, being on the road and playing those bigger shows allowed us to fine-tune everything, and where I recorded the EPs on my own, this album was made with the guys playing on it and I think that has really added new dimension to everything that is really exciting.
Seeing Lord Huron live a few times, I’ve always associated your sound with being somewhat, for lack of a better word, “tropical” sounding and then in reading your bio, there are are clues that tie in that sound, such as your father being in the Navy, your inspiration that comes from water, and your travels to Indonesia and Mexico. But, that “island” or “tropical” vibe is mostly gone from Lonesome Dreams. Have you noticed a change in your sound from the EPs to the album?
Schneider: Yeah, I think I was most interested in exploring that sound on the first EP, In the Sun, and the sound kind of seeped into the second one. And, I think at that time I was really into Carnival tents in Trinidad and those old field recordings, and just wanted to capture some of that energy. That definitely still informs what I am doing, as far as the energy goes, but it may be less of a literal interpretation than what I was doing back then. Now I am more focused on getting back to that American frontier music that I’ve always been really into, bringing with me some of the experimentations from the early EPs, but not being quite so committed to them.
You mentioned that some of the material on Lonesome Dreams had been written previously. Did you actually sit down once the record deal was in place and write music specifically for this album?
Schneider: Well, the reason I didn’t release those previously written songs was because they had a different sort of project and story arc to them. I knew that I would be saving them for the album, which I’ve had a sort of loose conceptual framework for a while. Otherwise, I would write when I could when we were on the road and try to record some when I was at home, slowly building up a collection of thirteen or so songs that we have trimmed down to ten for the album.
As you noted, Lord Huron has evolved from a solo recording project to the full band that worked with you on this album. How have the guys changed the way that you write, and to what extent was their actual involvement in the creation of Lonesome Dreams.
Schneider: Well, they haven’t really changed the way I write. I still demo extensively by myself and then collaborate with the drummer, Mark Berry, who is my arranger and helps me fill out the songs, getting them ready to play live. But, the band does affect my writing in that I never really even considered playing the first Lord Huron music live when I was making it. It was a recording project. So, now I consider how a song will translate live when I am writing, but, at the end of the day, I try not to let that influence me too much.
As for their participation, the guys came in after I had demoed everything. They listened to the songs and started coming up with ideas for parts we could add or change, and we worked together on that that. And then they played, and that alone added something that I really couldn’t have done on my own.
Your live show is notable for a lot of things, from the musicianship to the energy. And, one part that is particularly fun for the audience is the amount of unconventional instruments that appear throughout the set, from a theremin to a sort of metal vest that is used for percussion. Did these toys find their way into the studio?
Schneider: Yeah, well, essentially we use all those things in an attempt to capture the range of sounds from our EPs. We just have to be creative because we can’t have a 12-piece orchestra or whatever else join us for our shows. We had to figure something else out and, yeah, that really affected the recording process. We rented all kinds of crazy percussion instruments, marimbas, steel drums and all sorts of stuff. It makes it a lot of fun for us to play with all these crazy sounds and we wish that we could bring every piece of equipment to our shows, but that just isn’t possible financially. But, yeah, we do what we can to try to recreate all those sounds in concert, but as I mentioned, the album was written with a live show being considered, and the instrumentation is centered on the guitar, bass, and drums. But, we try to throw in some of that flare where we can.
Speaking of the live show and current tour, has their been any expansion of the general performance from what you guys were doing before the new album?
Schneider: Yeah, I mean, we are always changing things. We are using more electronics so we can incorporate the samples that we use in the recordings. And, we are always trying out new gadgets. Hopefully, our musicianship is also getting stronger, too. That is sort of the main thing that we all are striving for as a group. We want to be true to the record, but we also understand that it is never going to be the same thing, that the live songs will be a separate experience. Hopefully, we can elevate some elements of the record. There is a sense of community and catharsis at the shows that we really love and we’re trying to run with that as much as we can.
Looking ahead, what are you most looking forward to for the aftermath and support of Lonesome Dreams?
Schneider: We love being on the road, both playing to new people and seeing old friends. Playing in Michigan and seeing our families is always the high point of a tour. But, I guess when you work so hard on something, you are really interested to see what other people think of it. When you are so close to something like we are with this album, it’s easy to lose perspective. And, I don’t really care which way it goes, but I know I am proud of it and I know the band is proud of it. But, yeah, I’m just curious to see what is going to happen with it, to put it out there and see if people are getting from it what I was hoping to give them.