Having stepped out of the limelight back in 2004 following the release of their fourth album Between Darkness & Wonder, UK electronic music duo Lamb have returned this year with their fifth album, inventively titled 5. Working on solo projects in their time off, the core members of the project, producer Andy Barlow and singer Lou Rhodes were once again able to hone in on the core Lamb sound on this record, following on from some misguided experimentation with moving their sound more towards that of a live band rather than the sparse studio project it began as.
The resulting album sees the band find a more solid base for the sound, giving them the freedom to pursue goals and ideas with a greater sense of clarity. Having visited us earlier this year as part of the Playground Weekender festival we caught up with Rhodes to discuss how she found working with Andy again and how they have grown in their time apart.
Music Feeds: So it’s been a few months since you guys were out here for Playground Weekender; I’m imagining you’ve been crazy busy with the new album coming out and everything?
Lou Rhodes: Yeah, there’s just been loads of stuff to do. We hadn’t finished the record when we were out there, so we had to do all that, playing it together, mixing it, finishing little pieces of the songs and then I had to do the artwork as well, which I foolishly took on, so I found myself with two weeks till deadline, a pre-order book to do, the CD artwork and the vinyl gate-fold sleeve, so there was a hell of a lot to do, all while I was overseeing the mastering process. On top of all this we had started to tour the album live, so we had rehearsals for that. We’ve done a bunch of shows already and we’ve got the whole summer ahead of festivals in Europe. So busy busy busy.
MF: So has the live show changed much from when you were playing shows out here earlier in the year?
LB: I think as time goes by the live show inevitably changes, but also in the time since we were out there we’ve had a chance to incorporate more of the new songs into the set, which is really exciting for us. I think we only played four new songs when we were out there, the rest weren’t even ready (laughs, whereas now we’ve got about eight. We’d love to play the whole album, but we know we’ve got to mix in some of the old favourites. But it’s definitely evolved; we’ve had a chance to come to grips with what works and what doesn’t.
MF: So it’s been almost seven years since the band when on hiatus; do you think that having that time off has affected the sound of the album?
LB: Yeah I think so, I think the fact that we’d been able to have our own breathing space on our own creative ventures really helped us be able to approach Lamb again on it’s own terms. I mean when Lamb sort of stopped work back in 2004 I was really dying to get out and do some solo acoustic work, and it was just great to be able to do that, to be able to feed that need. Not to say it’s gone away, but I’m not trying to pull Lamb in directions it doesn’t want to go anymore. Lamb doesn’t really work on an acoustic level, in any sense of the word, so it’s great we had the time out as it’s given us the opportunity to see Lamb in it’s own light. In it’s most stripped down form, Lamb is an interplay between Andy’s technological trickery and my songs and voice, and it’s the sparseness in between those two elements that gives Lamb it’s sound, it doesn’t need to be filled in with other sounds.
MF: So you could almost say it was essential you guys took some time off to be able to approach the project again with a sense of freedom?
LB: Definitely, I think in retrospect it was definitely the right thing to do. I mean at the time I was pretty sure it was the right thing but Andy really struggled in the beginning there. I think he’d be the first to admit that he had a little crisis after the break-up, we really didn’t want Lamb to stop, he didn’t want to let go, but now I think he very firmly believes it was for the best.
MF: I can imagine as well that having put the band to rest for a number of years really allowed you to see that live or die, Lamb wasn’t the be all and end all, and with that you can really engage with the music and the process rather than have this looming threat of the band dissolving over your head?
LB: Absolutely, I think you’ve just summed up the whole of life really (laughs). If you face your greatest fears you can enter into whatever you’re doing with a freedom about it. It’s like romantic relationships, if your greatest fear is the relationship breaking up, then you can’t bring the whole of yourself into it with a sense of freedom. I think you’re absolutely right in terms of the band though, there is definitely a sense of freedom around the whole creative process because of the time spent apart.
MF: How has that freedom than affected the way you wrote the new album compared to the last album?
LB: Well I think by the time we were writing the last album, we’d moved away from what I described before as the basis of the Lamb sound because the live sound had evolved in the writing process and it had become more of a band, rather than the collaborative partnership between Andy and I that I think it should’ve always been, and I think that sort of diluted the whole sound. I think the main difference then is that this time round we’ve been very clear about how it should be and that it had to be raw and it had to be about our interplay in the studio in that very stripped down way. Also there was a greater sense of honesty this time round, having aired a lot of stuff that might have pissed us off in the past. I think we’ve both grown up a lot as well so we’ve been able to discuss things without taking things too personally and to be able to hold what the other person was saying in a much more objective way, so things went a lot easier in every way.
MF: I can imagine it must be very important when working in such a close creative partnership to be able to take on comments as criticism of the work and not an attack on you as an artist.
LB: Yeah it’s a big one (laughs). Mind you if you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into something it can be a bit hard if someone just turns around and says I don’t like it. We’ve gotten around that one by trying not to spend too much time and effort on something without showing each other, so we tend to show each other out sketches rather than finished ideas.
LB: In saying that though, Andy’s work in the studio can be a lot more labour intensive and sometimes I have to kind of let him go down a certain avenue with something, like he’ll be changing a drum pattern or something, and I’ve just got to leave him to get through to the end with it, before I come in and say ‘I’m not sure.’ It’s funny though, because now he tends to come to the same conclusion on his own you know (laughs). So we tend to agree more than we used to as well, but still that’s a point he needs to get to to come to that realisation.
MF: It sounds like you’ve come to a consensus on what Lamb is, and you both aren’t afraid of telling each other when something doesn’t fit.
LB: I think that’s it, we’ve learned to trust that whatever it is that makes Lamb what it is, isn’t something that Andy or I do, it’s more something that happens when we get together and we’re more comfortable letting that process happen rather than trying to force something out.