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Arts & Life

Michigan roots and nostalgic LA vibes join forces on Lord Huron’s latest album

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Courtesy of Sacha Schneider
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Lord Huron’s latest record, "Long Lost," isn’t only an album. It’s a hazy, echo-filled history, populated with a cast of mysterious, hard-luck characters and layered with ghostly fragments of musical eras gone by. Guitarist and lead singer Ben Schneider, who grew up in Michigan, said the band aimed for the record, released last month, to feel like a nostalgic classic lost to time.

“The concept that we thought about a lot in this record is just this idea of time's blur, as we call it,” Schneider said. “It has to do with not just our memories of the people around us, but of events and how they're sort of distorted over time — not necessarily obliterated, but changed, modified, sometimes as a way to cope with things we've been through.”

Time moves in many directions in "Long Lost," but the songs are anchored to a particular place: a recording studio. Lord Huron, which is based in Los Angeles now, recorded the album in their studio, which is called Whispering Pines, Schneider said.

“It's an old studio built in the '70s, kind of like they don't make anymore. We found it on Craigslist, believe it or not,” he said. “It's really got a character to it, and it really does feel sort of haunted. Not in a bad way, but in a sort of friendly-ghost way. It's got spirits hanging around for sure.”

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Credit Courtesy of Ben Schneider
Lord Huron’s lead singer and guitarist, Ben Schneider, painted the Long Lost album artwork himself. “I just started doing these paintings of these sort of long-lost characters,” he said. “But I took away their faces, almost like they'd been obliterated by the passage of time, or by the workings of our memories.”

So, the band imagined what kinds of forgotten voices might linger in the shadows of the studio, and how different genres and character types could shape their album, Schneider said.

“It's kind of those hard-luck, showbiz types, people who present a certain sort of persona and public-facing facade,” he said. “What I wanted this album to feel like was almost like when they turned away from the audience, what's the view from side stage or from backstage of these people, where the light hits them a little differently? And you see their true character and the shadows on their face, and the strangeness and the sadness of their lives.”

Schneider said he’s always had an interest in how music can enhance storytelling, like in movies. He explained that when he was growing up in Michigan, he played the upright bass for an orchestra, which helped develop his appreciation for the kinds of string arrangements and atmospheric sonic spaces that Lord Huron is known for.

“As I got older, I started kind of listening to that Nashville sound of the '60s and country music, and it's really incredible how much power can be added to a song from a string arrangement or from some backup singers,” Schneider said. “We wanted to try to incorporate all that stuff into this record and, yeah, lend it a cinematic feel that just feels kind of nostalgic in a way that's hard to pin down.”

The lore of Whispering Pines isn’t limited to the record — it extends into videos, including a sort of public access TV show called Alive from Whispering Pines. Schneider said the “head ghost” that appears in some of the footage and haunts the studio is a character the band developed called Tubbs Tarbell.

“This character we created, who kind of feels like the father figure, he's this really nostalgic guy,” he said. “He seems like he's almost stuck there in purgatory, reliving all of his old memories with his old friends. So he's there to guide us through the night. And he introduces the songs, but also lets you in on some of his back story and things he's been through and the people he's known.”

Many of the songs do tell sad stories, like elegies for worlds, lives, or loves that have faded through the years. Schneider said he drew on some of his own experiences and feelings about the music business to write "Long Lost."

“I found it a sort of a therapeutic way to write, to take the darkest parts of myself or sort of the worst fears I have and just write about them, kind of face them, as directly as I can,” he said. “I do see the grim side of that, but I also think, for me, it's been a really healthy way to avoid things in my life going in certain directions, you know? It's almost like by putting it to paper or to tape, it can't come true. So it's like a way for me to rout out those demons.”

For more, listen to the full conversation above.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.

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