Modern technology has put up a lot of barriers between us, but there so far hasn’t been any invented to create the authentic live rock and roll experience. Even J. Mascis and Phil Elverum, musicians famous for wanting to do pretty much everything on their own, have to put their vision in the hands of others to play live. Ben Schneider found himself in a similar situation. After developing Lord Huron as a solo recording project, good buzz necessitated the creation of an actual band. As the release of Lord Huron’s debut, Lonesome Dreams, grew near, Schneider talked with Prefix about getting his band together, the perils of the fifteen passenger van, and keeping a clear head when your debut set is getting plugged on NPR.
Who is Lord Huron?
It’s a recording project I started a couple of years back. I put together some songs and released them on CD-Rs. They got a little bit of attention online, and I started getting offered some shows. I gathered up some buddies, and we’ve been touring and playing ever since. We just recorded our debut record and it’s going to come out next week.
How did you come up with the name?
Lake Huron is the place where I recorded the first few songs, and it’s been an important place to me throughout my life. As for the “lord” part, at the time I as making these songs I was listening to a lot of calypso and Trinidadian carnival music. A lot of those singers give themselves titles like “Lord,” “King,” or “Mighty.” I thought it was a cool old custom, and I wanted to adopt it and bring it with me to my music.
It got pretty crowded for something that started out as a solo project. Was it just the need to play live, or had you always wanted to be in a band?
I was in bands all through high school and college, so I had the experience. I hadn’t thought about it with this project only because I’d never expected to be playing any shows. When the opportunities came up, I knew I’d need a few people- the recordings are pretty layered. I’d have twelve musicians, but that’s just kind of impossible. I’m fine with five for now, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job with the songs. These are some of my oldest friends- guys I started my first bands with in high school, and now we’re on the road together. It’s really pretty cool.
Is it a democracy now? How does it work on a day-to-day basis?
Well, I’m still writing the songs, but the first EPs I recorded all the stuff myself and this time around everybody in the band was involved. I was still writing, but we worked together on arranging them for a live setting and making some changes during the recording process.
Have there been any bumps along the way that you didn’t anticipate?
Because of the complexity of some of the recordings, it’s been a challenge putting them together, but that’s a fun challenge. The actual recording was tough in places too, because I had developed kind of an idiosyncratic way of recording and now I had to get used to having other people around. There haven been a few things here and there to figure out, but overall it’s been a pretty positive experience.
If it’s not too personal, what were the idiosyncrasies that you had to adjust?
It’s just that when you’re alone and recording you never have to be self-conscious. You can get out there and try some things. When there are other people around, you just don’t want to let yourself go as much. Luckily I’m pretty tight with all the guys and we got to the point where it was a little more comfortable. You have to be able to try new things and not worry about it, or you’re in trouble.
Are there any hidden benefits to being in a band?
I think the best part is just being with my buddies out on the road. I couldn’t imagine doing this by myself. That would be such a downer. They’re all really cool guys, and each of them has a unique musical personality that has brought a lot to the band.
How are you guys travelling?
It’s funny that you mention it. We usually travel is a fifteen passenger van, but it broke down a couple of days ago in Kentucky. In order not to miss any more of our tour dates, we had to rent a couple of what turned out to be smallish SUVs. We couldn’t lay hands on another van. We’re travelling in two cars jammed with as much shit as we can fit in them right now. Then we have to swing back through Kentucky and pick our van, hopefully with a new transmission, on Thursday. That has been a little stressful.
And simply having that many people on the road isn’t a source of stress?
It’s been a great experience so far. We’re five shows into a twenty-seven show tour, so maybe you should talk to me when we get there, but it’s been all right up to this point. Like I said, I’m tight with these guys.
Do you see this as the model going forward?
I think I’m going to stay with it and see where it leads. The good thing about this project is that I can work in so many modes with it. There’s the music, but it’s been cool to work on the videos and the visual aspect as well. I think there’s enough there that it’s going to keep me interested for quite a while.
When I listen to the singles you have on the website, I hear Fleet Foxes and maybe Band of Horses. Am I way off?
You know, I wasn’t really familiar with those bands when I recorded the first stuff, but people started making some comparisons, so I did check them out. I think what you’re hearing is mainly the folk influences that I share with those bands, and the sonic quality- we both use a lot of reverb vocals.
What else should I be hearing? Do you have some influences that are a little bit under the radar?
I think that my main influences have always been the classic folk storyteller guys- Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen. That’s music that has always been at the core of what I do. As for the sonic flavors, Paul Simon has always been a big influence on me. I picked up some of the percussive stuff from calypso and Bollywood music and that lends a little bit of a Middle Eastern sound. There’s not too much point in overanalyzing that stuff, I guess; what you get out is what your hear.
Your band has been getting some good notices from Pitchfork, NPR, etc. Is that at all overwhelming for you?
I haven’t thought too much about it. I look at it right now as something that’s going to help me keep playing music. If people read some of this press and then decide to come out to a show, that’s a good thing for me. There’s a little bit of a discomfort with the whole press process, but I’m getting over it slowly.
How do you think that this press will translate when you go out on tour? What are your expectations?
It’s gotten better every time we’ve gone out. What I’m waiting for now is for the album to come out and see what that does to the crowds; right now they haven’t been the biggest, but everybody has seemed to be pretty into it. That’s been nice. Just having a few people there who are committed to hearing the music is special.
There’s going to be a dead night on the tour eventually. How do you pick up a room if it’s six people on a Tuesday night?
Yeah, we had a show like that the other night in Nashville. At this point, we just look at every show as an opportunity to improve the band. We just play the best possible show for the people who are there; if nobody’s there we’re going to play to get better. Having a large, appreciative crowd is nice, but we’ll put on as good of a show for two people.
What do you see as your goal for Lord Huron? What would make you happy when all is said and done?
It’s hard to say. I guess as long as people care to listen and we can keep surviving and doing this, I’m going to be happy. What’s most important to me is to make sure that I can keep doing it the way I want to do it. I hope that people keep listening.
Photo Credit: Jessica Yurasek
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