Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow – two talented artists who were at the wrong place at the right time. Though they always believed that making music together was a wonderful idea, Lou and Andy couldn’t keep their young fever alive in the face of their changing characters and the project Lamb was finalized in 2014. Fortunately, the time passed these guys by and Lamb came back after a five-year hiatus. Lou’s voice that can envy Mother Nature, and Andy’s layered production genius that entered all the houses in the streets of Bristol continue to leave memorable traces in the history of music. Back on tour to celebrate the 21st anniversary of their debut album, Lamb will perform at Zorlu PSM on December 4. They were kind enough to answer our questions before the concert.
You started your career in Manchester but your project, Lamb, is associated with Bristol. What’s the reason for that?
Andy: I guess even though we started in Manchester and have a lot of inspiration from that city, the sound is more likened to Bristol acts, such as Portishead and Massive attack. I guess it’s good to come from a scene. However we’ve always found it quite limiting as to be a part of any scene also has boundaries of what is possible within that scene. We don’t and never have called ourselves trip hop, it’s a too limiting genre for the extremes of dynamics that lamb offer.
Lou: People love to put music and art into “boxes” in a way to understand it better. Our music emerged around the same time as the whole Bristol scene and there are definitely influences in there but we’ve always done our own thing creatively and don’t really fit in to any scene or genre.
At the beginning of your career, you signed a long-term contract with a major label like Mercury Records, but after that, you avoided a situation like that. What are the problems with the major labels’ contracts? What’s the importance of a record label in 2017 for you?
Andy & Lou: There’s plenty of good and bad when signing to a major label; it can be very frustrating seeing all the waste. And the real focus for them is the commerciality of the music produced. Also, a lot of the team at the label came from a law background, which is pretty much the far opposite of being creative. On the plus side, they were extremely supportive. There was a lot of financial backing needed to tour the world (it’s extremely expensive for a new band). When we decided to go out on our own it was quite a shock! We really saw how much work went into it. We have no regrets signing to Mercury, but we do really like this exciting new paradigm of music in this current state and being in the driving seat of our musical fate.
As two artists with different musical tastes who decided to make music together, when was the first time you felt like your music is unique and yours? What made you think like that?
Andy & Lou: From day one really. We never really spoke about what style of music we wanted to make. When we were writing Cottonwool, we had moments when we thought it sounded too “pop”! Listening back now it sounds anything but commercial. On the 21 Tour just now, we’re playing the entire first album in its original running order, and what stands out is how well it has stood up to the test of time. It sounds as fresh now as it did when we wrote it back in the ‘90s. Like all of the best creativity it really feels like the ideas come through us rather than from us, we just really just need to turn up, be in the studio and get out of the way.
In your personal lives, you are parents – does this make a difference in your relationship and your music?
Andy: Being a parent certainly does help grounding especially after a tour. It’s almost the perfect antidote to rock’n roll. Also, I’m learning guitar at the moment because my son wants to learn it too. Learning it together father and son is a beautiful thing
Lou: Yea, I had my first son, Reuben, when we were writing “Fear of Fours,” and he and second son, Solly, grew up touring with us and understanding mum had to go away to write etc. As Andy says, being a parent is a truly grounding experience. So often I’ve landed home from a tour and before I’m even through the door my sons would be asking “What’s for supper?”
I know you both listen to many different kinds of music. What do you think about fusion-jazz, which recently became very popular; and bands that represent that genre? You use jazz structures, too.
Andy: I have to say most jazz leaves me a little cold, not classics like Coltrane or Miles but a lot of contemporary jazz just feels a bit thin and two dimensional to me. The band that we tour with systems from a jazz ensemble, and I love it when it successfully crossed with electronic music, or technology inspired music.
Lou: I love bands like Hiatys Kayote and artists like Flying Lotus who reinvent jazz. I think that’s what we were doing with our first album back in the ‘90s. Since its early days, jazz has always proliferated and infused other musical forms. In a way that’s what it’s about. Jazz only gets tired when it isn’t shaking things up a little.
How important it is for you to be still involved in solo projects?
Andy: I’m mostly a producer these days. I just spent the last two years producing the new U2 record. It comes out at the beginning of December. It was amazing to see how Bono and Edge write together and can feel that it also has impacted how I express myself as a songwriter. I was put under intense pressure to perform and was also invited on tour to be a tour consultant. I really love producing as it is a lot easier to take an overview of the music. A bit like babysitting someone else’s kids, taking them to the zoo and having fun, and then returning them back to their parents, Rather than having your own children and having (alongside the fun) to discipline them at times.
Lou: For me it’s really important to have both creative directions. My solo project is totally acoustic and I love stripping back to natural elements and not being tied to sequencers etc. On the other hand, I love what we do with Lamb. It’s about feeding the different sides of my creativity.
You released your last album “Backspace Unwind” in 2014. More than three years have passed, have you started working on new projects? What did you add to your music during this time?
Andy: We did a year-long tour and then I went straight into U2, also previously I spent the year doing the David Gray album. It was the busiest three years of my life!
Lou: Yea, likewise. I made my fourth solo album, “theyesandeye” after “Backspace” and toured with that project. We’re always busy even if it isn’t with Lamb.
If you could turn any place in the world into a performance venue, where would you choose?
Andy: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona would be amazing. We played at Manchester Cathedral last week which is also a very beautiful building. It made me think how wonderful it would be to do a tour of epic cathedrals. This one in Barcelona is the most beautiful I’ve ever visited
Lou: Hmm, Sagrada Famillia is awesome but not sure how you’d play a gig there (too many steps). Our Manchester Cathedral show was definitely very special. Likewise, I recently did a solo show in a roundhouse that someone had made, dug into the English countryside. It was made from bags of sand and earth and the acoustics in there were amazing. I played with no amplification to 30 people and it was magic.
What does “simplicity” mean to you?
Andy: Simplicity to me, means that every ingredient should be essential. Every note or piece of furniture or item of clothing, should be either beautiful or practical or ideally both.
Lou: There’s a Zen Buddhist saying that sums up simplicity for me: “chop wood, carry water”. The world is way too complex and the constant march of so-called progress makes us forget how simple things are what is important. When it all gets too much I just remind myself: “chop wood, carry water”