Members: Louise Rhodes, Andrew Barlow
Current Release: The Secret of Letting Go on Cooking Vinyl
If you enjoyed this interview with Andrew Barlow and Louise Rhodes of Lamb, visit their website of facebook page for more information, current tour dates, videos and music.
We also have a Lou Rhodes interview, in which she offers detailed insights into her songwriting process.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you?
Lou: Lamb began with two very different beings deciding to jump off a creative cliff together. We literally went into the studio to write our first music with no pre-planned ideas whatsoever. Over the years we’ve learnt what does and doesn’t work for us but so often we’ll take paths we’ve never taken before in order to keep our creative process fresh and avoid habit and formula creeping in.
What were your main compositional- and production challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time? What were some of the specific challenges for the new tracks?
Andy: As with most thing’s creative, the limitations were a big positive part of the creative process. Back in the day we had a Roland W30 sampler with a grand total of 14 seconds of sample time. With that we had to do the drums, the bass, the backing track, and pads, so there was a tendency to re-use samples and be ultra minimal with the amount of sound loaded into the sampler. Nowadays sample time is unlimited, as is track count. Some of the best records are made with the producer and artist having to commit to things as they go on (the Beatles recording on four-tracks for example). Nowadays, with everything so freely and easily available, music production is sometimes like an 'all you can eat buffet’ and it’s easy to forget the simple pleasure of a home-cooked, simple meal. On our newer stuff we make a point of keeping things as raw as we can with a policy of ‘if it isn’t needed, take it out’. That can be a challenge at times but definitely keeps our music fresh and uncluttered.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set- up evolved over the years and what were currently some of the most important pieces of gear for The Secret of Letting Go?
Andy: Our first Studio was pretty basic to be sure. Apart from the Roland Sampler we had an Akai S950 Sampler, A Studer 4 track Reel to Reel (which we borrowed from New Order), a Roland space echo, a Juno 106, a pair of random hifi speakers … it was super-basic.
Moving on to the latest album I have a full state-of-the-art studio. A Mac Pro running a load of software including Ableton and Melodyne. Some great plug-ins by Spectrasonics, Rob Papen, Native Instruments, Spitfire Audio. The synth on the title track is an Arturia Matrix Brute, which is stunning. Genelec and PMC monitor’s provide the delicate edge and bottom-end heft and my Yamaha customised grand piano was used a lot on this record. Lou has an amazing voice, and we really enjoy going for a ‘full frequency’ vocal sound, so we spend lots of time getting the vocal just right. The mic of preference is Neumann M149, which is powered by a UA 6176, and a Manley Vari-Mu compressor to bring out the harmonics. It’s an amazing chain which I have also used with Bono and David Grey to great effect.
How do you currently make use of technology? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
Andy: The biggest thing to have happened in terms of how the technology drives the creative process is portability. I remember assembling a tour bus studio that consisted of racks of gear, samplers, fx units and a mixing desk which I could barely carry (and which usually ended up collecting dust as it was so much effort to set it up). Nowadays a laptop with Ableton can create infinite possibilities and amazing sounding records, This works perfectly for my lifestyle, as I’m constantly on the road, and gain a lot of inspiration from the places that I visit. I can now create music wherever in the world I go which was previously just not an option.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play for you and what makes the collaboration within Lamb itself special? What are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Lou: Collaborations are a wonderful opportunity to take the creative process in a direction one might never explore alone. Between the two of us in Lamb that has always been the case. It’s a constant challenge that regularly pushes each of us out of our comfort zones and that’s what makes our music what it is.
Collaborations with other artists bring new flavours into that mix. We regularly bring our amazing live musicians such as bassist, Jon Thorne, drummer Nikolaj Bjerre, string player, Quinta and Kevin Davy on trumpet into the studio and all these have contributed to the sound of The Secret of Letting Go.
Writing our song ‘Moonshine’ out in Goa, we felt the need for a male vocal and the wonderful Cian Finn had been singing at a party on Andy’s roof a few nights earlier. He was the obvious choice and came over within days to our make-shift studio out there.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Lou: My days are pretty open-ended and don’t have a regular structure except for the fact that I begin each morning with hot lemon and ginger and my yoga practise followed by breakfast and fresh-ground coffee. My working day starts after the coffee. As I said above, as a single mother I had to seize any moments I could to be creative unless I had taken space away from home to be in the studio. More recently, with my sons fully grown, I have a lot more space, but still tend to find I jump between creative and other tasks in a free-flowing way. I guess this approach ebbs into the way we work together in the Lamb studio, too, which is in Andy’s house just outside Brighton. Often I’ll write lyrics while cooking food for us, listening to the track through the studio door, as I find this works better than sitting and staring at a blank piece of paper. Again, one creative process quite literally flowing into another.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of The Secret of Letting Go? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
Lou: The Lamb creative process is pretty open-ended and extremely hard to define. It’s a kind of alchemy that happens when two very distinct people throw ideas between them. The title track of ‘The Secret of Letting Go’ was an extreme example of this process. There’s often conflict between us but, on this day, it reached a point at which we considered walking away from the project completely. As an experiment we decided we’d each go into separate rooms and, ‘for the hell of it’ write something which we would then bring together to form a track without hearing what the other was doing. My lyrics spoke of the anger and frustration I felt with Andy and his music was like a ‘bucking bronco’ with no regular rhythm at all upon which to sit a vocal. The track emerged as the centre piece of the album and pretty much sums up our creative process.
Andy, with U2 you recently had the opportunity to work on an album with an extremely long gestation period, where every detail could still be turned around at the last minute. How does this approach and its results compare to your own projects, where you can capture a lot more spontaneity?
Andy: I don’t think anyone could be ready to produce U2; they have such an unusual (and wonderful) working method. The thing with U2 is that the ideas will be plucked from thin air, especially with Bono. If you don’t record it as it comes out then it’s lost forever, so it brings a lot of pressure to the table. It was the first time that I had been involved with a multi-producer album, which also takes a bit of getting used to. In the two years that I was working with them the biggest (and most challenging) mission was to let go of attachments; either my ideas or how the song should play out in my head. As the song would invariably change and morph into a hundred different versions, with different (and very talented) producers steering the ship of the different tracks, sometimes only to come back to where we had started. I learnt so much about creativity and producing but took a while to recover (laughs).
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? Within Lamb, how, would you say, do your two creative minds differ?
Lou: I guess the ideal state of mind for creativity is as ‘uncluttered’ as possible; with a minimum of collateral ‘noise’. It’s hard to feel creative if you’re worried about paying the gas bill or the phone keeps ringing so creative space, both internal and external is very important. Having said that you can’t always have the luxury of separating out the creative process from the rest of life. As a single mother I learnt that I had to seize any opportunity for creativity even whilst doing stuff around the house. In fact that became a bit of a pattern for me. To the outside world it looked like I was washing the dishes but I’d also be writing lyrics.
Within Lamb I guess Andy is a lot more methodical and this is partly due to his role as producer. I’ve had a long-standing belief that ‘first ideas’ (before the mind/ego kicks in) are best whereas Andy, particularly since working with artists like U2, has a more rigorous approach in which every possible avenue of an idea must be explored. This turned into quite a source of conflict during writing ‘The Secret of Letting Go’ but, ultimately, a learning process for us both.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Andy: I see them as one and the same thing, sometimes a melody will inspire a sound, sometimes vice versa. Like most creatives Lou and I tend to feel rather than think. The goosebumps don’t lie.
From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Lou: Wow that’s a big question! All our senses are united by awareness; our primordial human state. We can name and describe different senses and sensory experience but all are one in awareness. I guess this is the great gift of any creative process and the less we put our creative forms into boxes the better. Music overlaps with film and visual art, with literature and cooking. We create in each moment we are alive.
Andy and I spent our winter months in Goa, India, and the videos for our subsequent singles (‘Armageddon Waits’ and ‘Moonshine’) were made out there. We’ve found such creative freedom in that place; found the divisions between senses dissolve perhaps even more than is possible in the West, and these videos were very much a part of that experience.