UTG INTERVIEW: Lakefield Discuss Their ‘Swan Songs’

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Vancouver, BC’s Lakefield have succumbed to the pressures of life in and outside of their existence as a band, and as such have decided it best that they part ways, but not before leaving fans and new listeners alike with the aptly titled Swan Songs, a 6-track EP that will mark their final release.

Guitarist and vocalist Steven Luscher recently took some time to speak with us about Swan Songs, everything that had led up to it, and how it feels to say goodbye to an important chapter of their lives as Lakefield, so read through the break and enjoy what will likely be one of the band’s final interviews.

Let’s start from the beginning. How did you all come together to form this project originally and what influences led to the style and sound that you would eventually go on to work with?

Steven Luscher (SL): We were friends before we were bandmates. We started off spending evenings and weekends together, watching our favorite acts play The Biltmore, The Media Club, Pat’s Pub, The Railway Club, The Anza Club, and assorted house shows. Slowly, that turned into to us writing and rehearsing to hit those exact same venues, playing music that we would want to hear. You could dismiss that as mimicry, but we mimic as a way to follow in our heroes’ footsteps — to bring others the feeling of a cinema-perfect Stars outro, a double-barreled Mates of State harmony, a Death Cab For Cutie gang chorus, and a heartfelt confession from The Anniversary. We knew that it was working when fans started to tell us that we reminded them of Rainer Maria, The Postal Service, and American Football; we were pulling everything that we loved about music into our sound, and people could hear it come out the other side.

And with this most recent release, the band is making its graceful departure. So what has led to your parting of ways and what will you all be moving onto next?

SL: [long sigh] What has led us to this? I wish I could point to a single cause. In so far as bands are made up of people, they’re complicated. So has been this breakup. In these modern times, I would argue that a band is vulnerable to failure even with every single member performing at their maximum potential, and virtually doomed to failure otherwise. That’s the case with us. Life picked us off one by one — some by parenthood, some by career pressure — until those that remained simply fell over with the next gust of wind. I would keep going in a heartbeat, but I’m only one small part of Lakefield. I’m reminded of the post Kathryn Calder Immaculate Machine; they kept going for a while after she joined The New Pornographers, but ultimately were never the same without her.

What can you tell us about Swan Songs? What can listeners expect to find in terms of tone, lyrical themes, and general sound?

SL: It’s Lakefield, interrupted. This album is a record of us at the very top of our arc, right before the very end. Tonally, lyrically, and sonically, this is not a farewell album — consider it for what it is: our second album, except we (metaphorically) die halfway through recording it and it’s released posthumously. Imagine the record label (though we don’t have have one), upon hearing news of our untimely demise, drumming up the marketing department to weave our six remaining unreleased recordings into a story worth hearing. Sitting around the boardroom table, an intern pipes up to recount the legend of the mute swan — how it’s said to be silent for its entire life, save for one beautiful song that it sings moments before it dies. The creative director eats it up, and orders five swan feathers photographed — one for each member of the band — and plastered all over town in advance of the release. That, except we’re all still alive.

As you all seem very close, I’d imagine this being a very emotional release for you. Knowing that this was to be your final effort as a group, how did that affect your writing and recording process compared to previous works?

SL: The songs you’re about to hear were written without any knowledge that they would be our final effort. With the notable exception of the lyrics to the final song, “Your Conviction Is Sweet,” every track on Swan Songs was written pre-breakup, so you’re hearing Lakefield at full steam. On the other hand, the recording process was almost entirely marred by the knowledge that it would be our last. Paul (the drummer) was living in the UK at the time, so we had to convince him to find a studio in London at which to track his drum parts, alone. In stark contrast to the live-off-the-floor approach we took when recording our debut Sounds From The Treeline, this meant that we were going to have to settle on tempos, play to a click track, and multitrack the record or die trying. Kyle and I recorded tempo-locked scratch tracks for Paul to drum along with. That was January of 2012. Two years, litres of blood, and what felt like a billion hours of home-studio sessions later, we’re ready to ship it.

Was there any specific reasoning behind choosing to go with 6 tracks as opposed to creating a full-length record?

SL: We don’t think of Swan Songs as six tracks short of a dozen, we think of it as Lakefield’s bonus life — six tracks rescued from the scrap heap at a time when they could have so easily been swept under the rug. When we decided to disband at the beginning of 2012, we made a blood promise to each other to record and release every song we had written up until that point, lest they be forgotten. We’re delivering on that promise with the release of Swan Songs, and saying a final thank you to our fans in the process. It’s the dot on the “i.”

You mentioned some of the chaos of the recording situation and it looks as though the whole process took place in several locations spanning three countries. Can you explain that process and why the album has so many miles on it?

SL: The UK drum recording team at the Limehouse in London (Joel Davies and Rupert Pfaff) kicked it all off, then we finished the songs in Vancouver with boatloads of help from our gang vocalists, musician friends, and the recording facilities at Vancouver Film School. I’m a bit of an amateur/enthusiast recordist, so I tracked everything myself. For the gearheads among your readers, I used a MacBook Pro, a Metric Halo 2882+DSP ADC, a Universal Audio LA-610 MkII preamp, Logic Pro X, a Rode NT-1A condenser mic, and some vintage Shure SM57s. We were really into the first Freelance Whales record at the time, so we sent the tracks to be mixed in New York by their engineer, Jeremy Sklarsky. No recording of mine would ever be complete without a final pass by the inimitable master of audio mastering himself, Bob Katz at Digital Domain in Florida. He wrote the book on mastering. Literally.

What can you tell us about the concept for the “Good Guy” video? What are the shadows of that we see floating over your faces? And will there be any more singles/videos for the album?

SL: We think of the video, very simply, as a moving portrait; something we can look back upon to remember what it felt like at the very end. The shapes that you see floating across the frame are silhouetted swan feathers, produced by a web browser based particle emitter written in Javascript, and projected into real space using a digital projector. I know: Nerdcore. We filmed the entire thing in 4 hours, and spent almost no money on it beyond the cost of the equipment we already had on hand. We even returned some of the lighting that we bought for a refund after the shoot. Thanks, Canadian Tire! It’s likely that this will be the only video we ever produce, but we couldn’t be more excited with what we managed to achieve in such a short time.

So is the actual release of the album the last official activity for Lakefield or are there any touring plans or final events to take place?

SL: The release of the album will mark the end. We couldn’t be happier with what we’ve accomplished, and we hope that you love it as much as we enjoyed making it.

Do any of you see yourselves working together again on future projects?

SL: Personally, I’m looking forward to the closure that the release will bring so that I can start something new. Whatever comes, I would love to call on my old bandmates for help, however much time and energy they can afford to give.

What will you miss the most about being a part of Lakefield?

SL: We built something together, like you would build a house. Every rehearsal we’d decorate a room, or build a new addition. As the back-catalogue grew we started to tune our set to the type of show, instead of simply playing everything we had. When Sounds From The Treeline was released, we could literally touch something we had made. Lakefield became a thing, with mass and volume. It became a place where people lived, friends visited, and various forms of capital accumulated. The thing I’m going to miss most is being able to visit that place, because the house has been sold, and everyone has moved out.

And for Swan Songs, what do you hope listeners will gain from experiencing the album? What did you put into it that you hope they’ll get out of it?

SL: I hope that listeners feel the same thing that I feel when listening to Swan Songs — partly sad that it’s over, but mostly happy that they get to spend six last songs with us before the end.

 

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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