Interview: Mike Lindsay and Laura Marling Get Wonky

Mercury Prize-winning Producer Mike Lindsay and Grammy-nominated, Brit award-winning Laura Marling dropped a surprise album on us recently in the form of LUMP

Not only was it out of the blue in that no word of its production had been mentioned prior to its release but the album itself sounds unlike anything singer-songwriter Marling has ever done. The album was heralded by a unique video created by the Argentinian artist Esteban Diacono. In it a giant hairy creature, presumably the band’s namesake LUMP dances around in an imaginary journey. Its otherworldly vibe is perfectly in sync with the ethereal spaced out sounds of the album.  Reminiscent of a slightly more grounded Flaming Lips, the album is a treat on a pair of good headphones.

Collide spoke to Lindsay about the collaboration, how it came to be and what’s next for him and his band Tunng.

You’ve been in a lot of bands in various roles. Do you consider yourself a musician? A producer? A guitarist?
Ummm…sort of a vibes-man, a writer, producer somebody who leaps around a bit too much onstage and enjoys that too.

So Brian Eno while he was still performing in Roxy Music?
Oh wow (flattered) yeah let’s go with that! [laughs] I’m humble! [laughs]

What I was trying to get at is that some people say “I play guitar” or “I produce” but you’re really good on the synths so is that your “thing?”
I guess I am a guitarist really but I love playing with those pedals as do we all. It’s quite hard to define oneself as a producer because its been so DIY for me so I’m more of a facilitator. Getting those wonky sounds out of everything.

Yeah that word “wonky” gets used around you a lot. Wonky as in taking something and giving it a wack until it is bent into a different shape.
Yeah I like that. It’s not always the right shape but I like to take a sound and give it a whack.

Do you have an established system for how you do this?
I feel like it changes over time. I like to get one or two toys that are sort of new and throw them in the project studio mix and really use them. I got this tape echo machine about four years ago. It’s based on the old echoplex and I sort of got so carried away with it, putting everything through it that gave it this sort of mono wobble. I love doing things like that, using sounds and putting them through something else. I wouldn’t say my music is “mega-wonk” but it’s interesting to give things a new personality.

You aren’t that way out there but just enough that it’s interesting.
Yeah, yeah thanks mate.

You were making this music on your own before you brought Laura on board. Can you tell us about that?
Yeah it wasn’t really an album I was working on. I had a piece of music that I was working on to develop into other pieces of music that I was working on for a film soundtrack but that didn’t work out and I just happened to meet Laura at the right time for both her and myself because she had some time she hadn’t had before. She was always interested in working with someone else and I happened to ask and happened to have some music that was ready to go and leave the flight path. I had no idea she was going to come to the studio so quickly so I was like I have this and she loved it which spurned us on to try and do more. So I was writing each track as we went and she’d come back I’d present a new idea and connect them all together.

When I listed to that music instrumentally, I couldn’t imagine someone saying “Yeah this is perfect for Laura Marling!” Did you have someone else in mind or…?
I’ve been a fan of her for years and I think she’s the real deal, like a national treasure. I really appreciate her lyrics and the gravitas of her voice. I knew she would bring something interesting but I didn’t know what she was going to bring. I didn’t realize how fast she was going to be.

Literally listening to a palette of sound that wasn’t fully formed or arranged and that transforming into words and melodies using the full range of her voice. I don’t think she knew either. She really enjoyed the challenge. It was a new way for her to work.

She was able to stretch out.
Yeah, you hear the music without Laura and it’s something else completely.

Her music is generally so poetic and soft and hearing this was so out of left field.
I knew there was no point in me working in a capacity with Laura like that. She already works with great people in the studio.  She’s already covered in that regard so I had to do something different.

How was it working with her?  I hear she’s pretty shy. What is she like in the studio?
She’s not shy. Maybe she was but she’s extremely opinionated, extremely professional. It was a joy. Like I said, I don’t know what it would be like but she knows what she’s doing.  She’d come in, listen and put pen to paper off the top of her head. We’d talk about melodies and she’d nail it. Do one or two takes and done.

That’s amazing. That’s rare and I’ve worked with a lot of people where it takes quite a long time to write lyrics that really mean anything and make you feel something but she’d come in and nail it in one or two hours.

I feel like she really pushed herself into a more abstract area that she isn’t normally associated with. It isn’t quite a concept album but more elastic with a vibe. That is really hard to pull off.  A lot of artists aim for that and come out with nonsense gobbledy gook that doesn’t connect.
It doesn’t seem like nonsense to me but it came straight into the ears, into the brain and onto the page and it seems so natural. I feel there so many messages within these lyrics.

She’s saying something, not just making stuff up.
Yeah, for sure.

Did she contribute music as well or just the lyrics?  Did you stay in your own lanes?
We kept them separate deliberately but she did have opinions. There were a few tracks she wasn’t into where she’d say we’re losing the thread and it made me go back, re-listen and think “Why did I send that to her? It wasn’t finished!” [laughs] So yeah she had opinions but it was my music and production and her lyrics and vocals. 

Did you play all of the instruments yourself or did you bring in a drummer or something?
No it’s all me, except the flutes and trombone which is Laura J. Martin, a friend of mine who’s great and Hannah Peel who is doing really well right now. She’s a sort of synth girl too. They’re both amazing. Benj who has the biggest collection of synths in Europe and I recorded on his old 60’s modular Moog. I said I wanted it in 5/4 between D and B and added that to a couple of tracks but basically I’m on all the other instruments.

Where did the name come from?
Laura’s 5 yearr old god daughter came up with the name. Asked what the name of an imaginary band she’d like to be in and she just shouted “Lump!” Laura went with that. A band named by a child of a genius nature. We decided we’d quite like Lump to be a character so we got Esteban Diacono an artist from Argentina to do it. It became really interesting to talk about the record in third person. Lump was a character and we were all just vessels for the creativity.

It was a really unique way to discover this project to see this video just come out of nowhere especially compared to Laura’s past work.
Yeah, she was pretty instrumental with Esteban in coming up with all of this. She’s really good at working in different ways than her normal routine but she was up for it.

How did it work live? Was it just a band or prerecorded loops?
We just did a run of shows, some special performance and festivals.  We were just a four piece. I’m playing guitar through the wobble box and triggering samples and flute etc. Laura on bass and 12 string Danelectro guitar. Matt England on drums triggering Moog and Simon swapping out between guitar and bass. There’s a lot of energy live where we can twist in between parts. It was really great but we are done with that now.

No US tours?
Sadly, no but who knows. Maybe if we win a Grammy or something for it. [laughs]

So what’s next for you two? Is this it or is it “Call me in a couple of years.”?
Probably the latter.  We don’t really know.  We didn’t know what we were making. There was no money involved. It was just music for music’s sakes like how we began making music. If it has to happen again the similar factors have to take place. It’s too special to mistreat it especially straight away.

It’s nice that you aren’t trying to milk it. So what’s next for you?
My band Tunng has an album coming out in August and that’s a special record too. It’s the first time since 2007. We are starting to get some shows together. A bit of production here and there. Laura is doing some traveling I think and probably a record of her own after that. One of our tracks hit KCRW recently and a few other stations. 

That can opens some doors.
Yeah that’s what we hope. Maybe we can come over and do some shows. We’ll see.

Great! Hope to see you soon.

photo by: courtesy of the artist