Lamb release their seventh studio album, The Secret of Letting Go, due for release on Cooking Vinyl on April 26th 2019. The Secret of Letting Go is all about the space between sounds. From album opener Phosphorus’ minimalist harmonics to the dying choral embers of One Hand Clapping; through the snaking sub-bass drops that drive the title track and Moonshine and into the whirl and spin of Deep Delirium and the simple piano loops that help Imperial Measures float above you, there’s space everywhere. Mark Millar caught up with Lou Rhodes to talk about the making of the record.
Lamb release seventh album ‘The Secret of Letting Go’ on April 26th, 2019. Did you go into the recording with any preconceived ideas how it would sound and what you wanted to write about?
LR: It was a blank canvas in terms of what we wanted to sound like. We certainly tend not to enter any recording project with a plan of how it is going to sound - I guess we have a broad approach in mind. I think with this album particularly, because we had just done a 21st-anniversary tour of our first album, in which we played the whole album live on that tour, and a lot of those songs we never played live, and many of them even if we had, we hadn't played them for a long time. It was almost like going back and doing a dissection of that album, and looking again at how it worked in a way. I guess we came out of that process realizing that our best music is when we keep things stripped back, and we don't get too complicated with it.
That was the calling card of that album partly because of the limitations of technology back then. Because we were trying to do things that the technology wasn’t helping a lot with, and we were very limited. (Laughs) Also because it was our first album, and quite often first albums are exciting because you are experimenting so much to see what your sound is. So I guess we wanted to bring a lot of that beginner's mind into making ‘The Secret of Letting Go,’ and certainly that minimalist approach. We had a policy of if it's not needed to take it out on this record. I really like the space in it – a lot of the impact is the space between notes.
‘The Secret of Letting Go’ is a very spacious and minimal which leave a lot of room for your vocals.
LR: A lot has been said over the years about Andy (Barlow) and me fighting for space in our music, and that has certainly been a theme at times, but I think with this album we have come to a place where there is an understanding that it’s very important for the voice and the lyrics to have their place. I think in some of our earlier stuff you could hear my voice fighting with the music. (Laughs) If you think of the title track ‘The Secret of Letting Go,’ there is still that kind of battle going on in a way but its a struggle that makes it more interesting rather than more challenging.
I read that the song ‘The Secret of Letting Go’ was a result of a creative bust-up. It's a great track so do you think the argument was worth it in the end?
LR: Yeah, I love that track, and I think that probably wouldn’t have happened if the process of making it wasn't necessary. It's funny because, in the end, it ended up being the centrepiece for the album as well as the title track. It's an essential component in the record in many ways. The process of us considering walking away put us in this space where we thought, “We have got nothing to lose.” So we went in to separate rooms to write something. without hearing what the other was doing. I have got a real love of process-driven art, and that approach to creativity of not having a result pre-planned, and throwing a load of thing into the mix to see what happens. It's fascinating because you never know where it's going to go, and usually, that's when you get the best results - when the mind gets out of the way, and the creative process takes over. That's the sweet spot.
The album has a very Celtic sound. Songs like ‘Phosphorous’ and ‘Imperial Measures’ are reminiscent of Clannad and Enya. Was this intentional?
LR: Do you think so? No, that wasn’t planned, but people often say that. Obviously, you have Celtic roots, so you are going to pick up on that kind of stuff. I know that the inflexions of my voice have particular Celtic leanings as well, but there was certainly no conscious decision to do something that evoked Celtic sounds and rhythms.
Irish rapper Cian Finn features on “Moonshine.” How did Cian get involved?
LR: Purely by chance - the beginnings of the process of writing this album started in Goa in India. Andy has been spending most of his winters out there for the last ten years, and I have more recently been going and enjoying spending time there. We started writing this album back in the winter of 2017 in a little scaled down studio in Andy’s house that he rents out. We had to turn the fan off in the ceiling every time we recorded vocals, and you can hear bird sounds in some of the takes that have survived from those sessions – you can’t turn the birds down. (Laughs)
‘Moonshine’ was very much inspired by being out there and the fact that the moon does shine differently out there. It came as a shock because suddenly you look up at the sky and the moon is in a different dimension. The sickle moon lies on its back rather than sitting up as it does in the west, and it's well known to pull on the psyche and your emotions and so on so I was sure that having a different position in the sky would have an effect as well - so that's what triggered the song. We had started writing it, and we thought a male vocal would be good. Then Andy had a party, and we had a bit of a jam session on the roof, and Cian came along and was singing some songs on an acoustic guitar. We both had met him before, but we both were very struck by his voice – he has an amazing soulful voice and such a lovely vibe to the music he makes. So we invited him to come along for an afternoon to see how it would go, and he wrote his lyrics, and it just seemed to work and fit. It was nice that it was organic and grown in Goa, where the song was born.
Did Andy bring any new ideas and ways of recording to the studio after working with U2?
LR: Oh gosh, definitely! In fact, the battles we had on this album were very much a result of that. Because working with U2 was a very challenging process for him in many ways. Obviously, they have mega-stardom status, and people work on Bono’s terms and when he's ready to work. Andy was getting phone calls from Bono in the middle of the night saying, “Right I'm ready to do a vocal.” And he’d have to jump to it and work. The stuff that Andy did get out of working with U2 in terms of what he wanted to bring to our process, was the way that they will work and work at a song. A song will have so many incarnations before they decide on the final version.
He felt that he wanted to bring that approach to Lamb. It caused a lot of friction because I've always liked the process-driven art approach. It’s almost a beat poet process where your first idea is your best because it's before the mind gets too involved. Also, Andy decided that he wanted to get more involved in writing lyrics, which felt like a significant step on my toes considering that he's also producing. So we had a whole lot of friction around all of that, and that was very much the process involved in making this record. Although I think Andy would undoubtedly agree that it paid off - a lot of the songs weren't first ideas and were worked on quite a lot.
Is there a particular song on the new album that you thought "this is why we are doing this"?
LR: There's quite often one song on an album where you will know that you are on to something, but it becomes so complicated that you nearly leave it behind, which was the case of ‘Gorecki’ back on our first album, and that became the best-known song, and ‘Armageddon Waits’ was a bit like that. Andy had the idea for the basis of the musical track early on, and we kept revisiting it and couldn’t find lyrics that worked with it, but we finally got there. I think it is a pretty powerful song.
Lamb has been together for over 21 years and released six albums. How does it feel looking back now and did you still think you would be together after all this time?
LR: (Laughs) Probably not, no. It's remarkable - I've known Andy longer than most of my friends. He's more than a brother than anything – I always wanted a brother when I was a kid, and I got one weirdly. We have outlived many of each other's intimate relationships and everything – it's incredible. I don't think we had a clue where we would end up when we started. We didn't know if we would exist beyond our first album. There have been so many times when we have come close to breaking up, and obviously, as you said, we did break up for a while in 2004. Again, I think that's the nature of creative projects and what keeps them fresh in the end.
Of all the music in your collection, who do you have the most albums by?
LR: That would be between Sufjan Stevens and Elliot Smith.
What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend?
LR: I have become quite ridiculously hooked on James Blake’s new album, ‘Assume Form’ - I have had it on constant play for the last week. Which has surprised me, because I have always been a hater of vocoders, and there are quite a lot of vocoders on this record, and I'm actually quite enjoying it, which is really weird? I definitely recommend that.
The track listing for The Secret of Letting Go is:
- Armageddon Waits
- The Secret of Letting Go
- Imperial Measures
- The Other Shore
- Deep Delirium
- The Silence In Between
- One Hand Clapping
Lamb will play a one-off show in London at EartH in Hackney on Monday 29th April to debut the new album live.
Lamb are Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow. Originally formed in Manchester in the mid-’90s, they fused multiple electronic music styles with Rhodes’ gorgeous, arresting vocals for a decade. During a hiatus of several years, Rhodes’ made a handful of acclaimed solo albums and Barlow produced other artists. Since reforming, Lamb have released new music (2014’s Backspace Unwind) and also toured their classic self-titled debut album on the 21st anniversary of its release.