What do you do when you share an obsession for The Doors, John Carpenter, and Hunter S. Thompson? You form a band of course!
I AM LONO originated as a Nottingham duo compromised of Matthew Stephen Copper and David Startin, but have recently taken on multi-instrumentalist Chris Moore to enrich and intensify the live experience. Their first release as a 3-piece is entitled “In A World Dusted With Sit Down Dinners”, and exudes all the chilly electronic moodiness we loved in the band’s debut EP. The Bowiesque elements are again apparent in this song as they are in I AM LONO’s 6-track EP. When you read the interview with Matthew below, the references to Bowie and the influence of Low and Heroes are highlighted.
Matthew had this to say about the addition of Chris Moore to the band:
“Even though up until now we have only performed as a two piece, there has really always been three members of I AM LONO. Down in our studio, Chris Moore has been heavily involved in the writing, recording and production of our music.
During the recording sessions for last year’s self-titled EP, as well as recording and producing, Chris played drums on a number of the tracks. We have since begun writing new material as a three-piece and this is the first song to come out of those sessions. As a band, we have always been interested in splicing electronic and organic elements together and are very excited to be combining the sounds of the drum-machine (which has always been so integral to what we do) with the human feel of live drums. We are forming a new dynamic for the band.”
The following is the interview with Matthew conducted by the band’s label, Louder City Records, for Step On Magazine in which they discuss I AM LONO’s incredible debut EP.
The EP is a bit of mix – the first three songs are pretty immediate, dark, pop songs; but the later ones have a more ambient feel.
Yeah, that’s really the result of the various musical obsessions that each of us in the band have. We produced the EP collectively, and tried to bring them all together to create something that had the immediacy of pop music, while retaining some of the mystery and strangeness of avant-garde music.
The Bowie albums Low and Heroes were a huge inspiration for us at the time. During recording, we realized we wanted to put the songs out on vinyl and began to think about how they would fit on that physical format. Those Bowie albums really inspired us to split the EP into two definite, separate sides, and we put the punchier songs on the first side, and gave the second a deliberately ambient feel.
The A-side certainly does make a big statement. The lead into Infra Red is pretty cinematic, and sets the tone for those dark vocals.
Glad it had that effect! We weren’t originally going to start the EP with that track and realized what a good opener it was shortly after we’d come up with what we thought was the final order. The lyrics are dark. They actually arose pretty spontaneously, and the whole song kind of sprung up like a weird dream. Sometimes we write that way: the words get sung and they can sound intense and real, and then when you try to explain them to anyone they don’t make an exact sense. Infra Red is one of those. It’s really a love song, sung by a man who is waiting for something to return that he knows will not. But the words don’t tell a precise story. Sometimes dreams are best left weird.
The second song “Why Everything is Made of Fives”, makes an impact in a different way, with those searing guitars over all the synths. How did that track come about?
“Why Everything is Made Of Fives” was one of the first things we wrote together. It was before we really knew what the band was about and how it was going to be put together. We had an acoustic guitar and were looking for a female vocalist who could sing like Grace Slick! Strange times indeed. David [Startin; bass and guitars] was interested in John Carpenter soundtracks and I was still listening heavily to The Pixies. Somehow those ended up being a prototype manifesto for LONO: to try to make something that was atmospheric while, at the same time, immediate and direct.
The lyrics of the song come from a long night out in Nottingham. We kept finding ourselves in heated debates with strangers about the Illuminatus! Trilogy; conversations that were littered with talk of secret societies, ancient orders, and how maybe the Pope controls the world and is a lizard from the moon. People kept telling us about the “Law of Fives”: an all-encompassing and usefully-vague law which states that “all things happen in fives; are divisible by, or are multiples of five; or are directly or indirectly appropriate to five”. Apparently, “the law of fives is never wrong”.
I didn’t understand what we were talking about that night, and I don’t think it is any clearer now. For me, numerology and superstition are absurd, but it is a glorious thing that people are so eager to explain how everything is connected, and to find hidden meaning in all things. Long live conspiracy theories!
Then it’s straight onto “Only Love” to round off the A-side. That’s different again: more bass-heavy; like a long-lost Cure track.
We’re actually big fans of the Cure, so that’s a huge compliment! “Only Love” began life as a pretty-downbeat song built around a catchy bass hook Dave kept on playing during rehearsals. It drifted in the back of our minds while we looked for ways to make the song swing. We were listening to the Bowie album Heroes a lot at the time, and in particular the song “Blackout”. It was so bold, crazy and defiant; the opening vocal line and swaggering bass rhythm totally inspired us to put a new demo together. Then there was a real spontaneity in the studio while we re-worked it – we did a lot of overdubbing on-the-fly; put down layer-after-layer of weird synth-lines; added heavily-processed bass guitar riffs; all of which we kept and used on the final recording.
The lyrics were written during a weird period in which a lot of good people I knew were ending long-term relationships, or having them ended for them. There was of course a lot of emotional anxiety for everyone involved, but what made my stomach churn was all the post break-up bureaucracy. It’s distressing how suddenly something meaningful and seemingly-permanent can switch and change on you, only to become an inventory of accumulated possessions that need dividing up and returning. So that song is kind of about all of that: Only Love. But with a sexy bass groove cutting right through the middle of all of it…
There’s a great analogue feel to all the songs. How were they recorded?
Thanks – that’s really down to the production. Although we’re known as a duo, because only David and I perform on stage, there are actually three of us in I AM LONO. All our studio work is done with multi-instrumentalist and producer Chris Moore who has a basement studio in central Nottingham. He’s recorded and mixed our music since the beginning.
Chris is a huge audiophile and loves analogue equipment, and he’s often finding and experimenting with interesting old kit. After we finished recording the EP, he spotted a broken reel-to-reel tape machine in a second-hand shop in town, stayed up all night bringing it back to life, and put all the recordings down to that tape. It’s given the songs a warm, grainy sound and removed some of the harshness that digital music so often has.
That’s noticeable on the B-side especially, which is pretty ambient and melancholic.
Yeah – the first track on the B-side, “I Wanted to, Once” was performed using a 1980’s vocoder and modular synthesizer that belongs to a friend in the studio next door, Julian Zizko. He recorded and arranged that track from improvisations we did together using his analogue kit. It was a lot of fun, and something we’d not really done before.
The next track, “Waltz” is a song David and I actually wrote a couple of years ago when we were working on pieces that had more of a soundtrack-feel. At the time David had Morricone and Wendy Carlos on constant repeat, and I was pretty much addicted to Moondog. We thought it was an interesting change-of-pace on the EP, and gave the final track more impact. Surprisingly, it’s been well received in its own right, and was played on BBC Radio in September.
“Waltz” does change the mood, and “A Macquette” is all the more menacing and powerful for it. That last song takes the EP back into familiar I AM LONO territory – more upbeat, but still dark and mysterious.
That track has been part of our repertoire for some time. At the beginning, the title was kind of a placeholder, while the song was still a working demo. Along the way, we noticed we’d started spelling it with an additional letter C, but we actually liked it that way and it sort of stuck. We took the accidental spelling as an opportunity to invent a new meaning for the song when it was finished – now we say that “A Macquette” is the name of a night-time veil worn by aristocrats during the French revolution; a veil that was thought to protect you from nightmares. Those guys would certainly have needed one…
So that wraps up the EP tracks. You’ve put it out through a new Nottingham label: Louder City Records. What’s the connection there?
Mark Didmon from Louder City approached us after hearing the Leland/In Silence single that we self-released in 2013, saying he would be interested in working with us to put out new material on vinyl. We couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect label to put out our music: Mark is a serious music enthusiast dedicated to releasing music he cares about on physical formats. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with him, and he’s brought a lot to the organisational and design sides of the EP.
Speaking of the design of the EP, the cover image is pretty unusual – what is it?
That image, and the one on the back of the EP, are photographs taken by Haydn Webborn. We used some of his other images on the digital singles we’ve released alongside the EP.
Haydn was the grandfather of my girlfriend Kate, and a great photographer with a keen eye for composition. Kate and I came across a collection of his photos at home, all on glass slides stored in five beautiful old, wooden boxes. All the images are of intriguing industrial buildings and equipment. They were most likely meant for experts in their field, but they really stand on their own as simple, elegant photos. Taken out of their original context, the photos are pretty surreal and haunting, like the ghostly relics of some industrial age.
To answer your question – we don’t exactly know what the cover image is… If any of your readers can tell us, we’d love to hear from them…