These are exciting times for Loma. Their self-titled debut album is just days away from release, and starting in April they’re set to embark on a three month tour spanning both sides of the Atlantic. Following a number of well-received singles, gaining the band plenty of attention, they have every reason to feel confident things are going to far exceed their expectations, as one third of the band, Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg explains, “I’ve been kind of astonished, the BBC has been playing it, and some people have paid attention to it here who haven’t before. The early signs seem good, but you never know, and you can drive yourself crazy trying to read the tea leaves”. Perhaps that’s a rather neat summary – both of the personalities behind Loma – and the album they have created.
For the beginning of the story, you have to go back to 2016, two bands from Austin, Texas, largely unaware of each other’s existence, had just put out new records. Cross Record, the art-rock husband and wife duo of Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski had released their stunning second album Wabi Sabi, while Shearwater, the melody-led indie project fronted by former Okkervil River-man, Jonathan Meiburg, had released their, by our counts, ninth studio album, Jet Plane and Oxbow. “I guess some agency recommended us, I don’t really know how they found out about us, but we were suggested as the touring support on their tour and that’s how we met”, explains Emily. From there the two bands were on tour together for, “most of 2016” , and almost instantly Jonathan was entranced, “I saw them play every night, and I really did see them play just about every night, sometimes you don’t always watch the opening band when you’re on tour for a while because you’ve seen the set and you know what’s going to happen, but there was something really compelling about them and I just couldn’t stop watching…it was kind of like a magic trick, I couldn’t figure out how those two people were making such a big sound”.
From there, Jonathan began plotting his next musical move, “I was just so curious about how they made music, and I wanted to do something different after Jetplane & Oxbow, and I didn’t know what. I thought maybe this is a good direction to go in”. Thankfully Cross Record were equally open to the idea, “Jonathan has a very different style of writing, so it sounded interesting to me to try and make music with someone that was different to me”. The trio convened at Cross Record’s home studio, essentially with no plans other than to see what happened, “it was very low key at first, I just set up one session, for about two weeks where I went out to their house just outside Austin, I’d frantically come up with a few song ideas, it was one of those things where you just pick a place to start, then you start…they were so good at keeping the ball in the air, that it never flagged, every time we went back to work on it, it just got better and more interesting“.
While instantly enthused by the music they were making, the record went through a long, and in many ways, complicated gestation period. The album was recorded in numerous short sessions over the course of a year, during which time Emily and Dan’s marriage ended. Listening to some of the songs, like I Don’t Want Children with it’s opening refrain, “I don’t want children, even though if I did I would want them from you”, it’s inevitable people will try and read between the lines of the words Emily sings. In fact most of the word were written by Jonathan, as he explains, “I’ve worked on records before where I felt like I’ve sort of predicted the future, not in any paranormal way, I just think your antennae when you’re writing songs are extended more than they might ordinarily be. So sometimes it’s easier to see things coming. When we got to the end of this record it was like oh, this is a break up record”. We ask if he saw the break-up coming, “no, I didn’t know they were going to break up”, related or otherwise, the album is an album about the process of change, as Jonathan explains, “the tension between the self you were and the self you are going to become but aren’t yet…if you’ve just been through a break up, it is such an excruciating time but it’s also very alive time, you’re alive in a way you rarely are after that, you’re so raw that everything just hurts”. He continues, “there are always things you have to let go of, and don’t want to, but it’s the only way that anything else will ever become important to you, but that intermediate stage, when you’ve cleared the ground but nothing has grown, is terrifying. That’s very much where this record lives emotionally”.
If Jonathan was channelling some unspoken emotions from the sessions, for Emily it offered almost the opposite, a time of pure escapism. We ask if it was strange singing someone else’s words, “I was going through a lot stuff in my personal life so I welcomed it as a break from my own mind and my own creativity in that area, so it didn’t really feel that weird, it felt fun”. There’s a complexity to the lyrics, existing as they do on many levels; Jonathan writing the words, with the idea of Emily singing them in mind. We ask Emily if she recognised herself in the words, “to be honest, no…of course, after several times of singing something you start to think about what you’re saying, but, it didn’t really feel like he was specifically writing only for me…I think he was writing words of his own, but maybe with me in mind, it was cool. It felt like I was singing someone else’s song but that I was putting my own things into it”.
It is clear talking to all the members of Loma, that it wasn’t just the prospect of working with someone else, but the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone that appealed. One song in particular, recent single Relay Runner feels like a complete departure from the sound’s the band are known for. Jonathan recalls the difficulty they had recording it, “that thing took forever, it got to be like 20 minutes long at one point, and it was all based off this one little piano figure, it drove us crazy, but we felt like there was something good about it, it was hard, we just couldn’t get it, we were about to give up on it. Then Emily said, “let’s get rid of the piano figure”, and at first I was like you can’t do that, that’s the basis of the whole song, but we took it away, and suddenly the song emerged from underneath it…At some point, I think each one of us said this is not like something we would normally do”. While for Emily it seems that song represents a feeling of uncomfortableness that is in some ways liberating, “I would normally not make a song like Relay Runner. I think that was part of the joy of working with other people, getting out of your comfort zone. I’ve said it before, but I still don’t know how comfortable I am with that song, and that is enjoyable to me”. For Jonathan, there’s a restlessness that is summed up in the track, “that song Relay Runner, it’s almost about writing Relay Runner. It’s about trying to push past this immovable object, but it does finally push through by the end but it takes all these funny detours along the way. You can see it trying to peek out the edges of this thing and get over it”.
Part of the thrill of any collaboration is the ability to learn from other musicians, and we ask what they will take away from the experience, for Emily it seems to be a self-confidence, and an ability to try anything, “I’m not sure it will influence the way I write per se. I do think I will take from him the sort of fearlessness in how he writes, he kind of just writes a whole bunch, and isn’t afraid it’s going to be bad”. While for Jonathan is was perhaps to play with a greater freedom, to let things evolve and let go of some element of control, “I went into places that I was afraid of, more on this record than I’ve ever done before, to write for someone else, to take on certain subjects that I’d never really thought about trying to make into a song before. To make arrangement decisions that seemed really kind of crazy, or just start with a single figure and trust that there was something good about it and hang onto it and just let it develop in the way it seemed to want to. It was like we had our hands on a Ouija board, the thing was moving but it was hard to tell who was moving it”.
One thing that stands out on the record is the creativity behind it; it is a record never afraid of trying something unusual, it feels like every song has been allowed to develop and go in the direction that it was destined to. The record features both the most accessible, even poppy, moments any of the members have ever done but equally some of the most sparse and experimental. For Jonathan, an experienced musician of many projects and albums, there was a rare freedom and energy to it, “that kind of energy is rarer and rarer these days. Music making has become so solipsistic, and even when we were practicing there were five of us just sitting there making music in a room, and I was like: do you realise this in itself is almost like anachronistic now. People making sounds at the same time in a room to produce something, and not just trying to make a track. That’s not because the golden days are gone, it’s just the world has changed”. We ask if the changing industry has changed the way people make music, “absolutely, with no question, part of that is that, in indie-rock terms, I’m over the hill. I’m about to turn 42, when I started we were still making records on tape. Home recording has changed the whole aesthetic of everything. I remember playing with a drummer plug-in on some newer version of garage band, it really scared me how good it was…I think in some ways the salvation is going to be in trying to make something that doesn’t sound like that, like something a machine could not do. Which is part of why I played the drums on a lot of this record, I’m not a drummer…we tried to make it sound like something that could not have come out of a machine”. Jonathan’s enthusiasm for the project is infectious, he speaks fondly of gaffer taping pianos to change the effect and about striving to create sounds that nobody else has, but unlike some other musicians of his age he doesn’t seem to pine for the past, “any approach can be good. It’s not just because something was made with the aid of machines that it’s bad, something that was just made out of wood, doesn’t mean it’s good. Just something is lost when everyone is playing the same snare drum…this was probably the most the human sounding record I’ve ever been part of, from the sound of it, to the emotion contained within it, that’s one of the hardest things to capture, as long as we can keep doing that I’d like to keep making music with this group for a long time”.
The one sonic constant throughout the record, is the vocal of Emily; Jonathan recalls how he would lay down a guide track for the vocals and then get Emily to sing over the top. “Each time it was like seeing a black and white image and suddenly it went colour…when I’d hear her voice on it, it was like, oh wow. She wasn’t just interpreting something I did, she was putting herself into it”. Much of the vocal sound on the record though was created essentially by accident, Emily recalls the revelatory moment, “we accidentally tracked one of them at the wrong speed, and when we put it to normal, we liked the way it sounded, so we just kind of went with it on a lot of the songs, because it was fun. I don’t think we had the pressure of it being exactly my voice, or being Cross Record, or being Jonathan”.
The other factor that seems to permeate the record is a sense of place; Jonathan speaks of the house as a muse for the record, while Emily recounts wanting, “people to feel a sense of place and space, of where we were, which was the ranch and Dripping Springs, so we made a rule that if there were any extraneous sounds we’d just leave them in. We would normally be more vigilant about the dogs being around or the windows being open, but we kind of embraced the whole thing”. Throughout the record you get a feeling of the setting, and especially the local nature, which is perhaps a bit more unusual than you would imagine, “it’s sort of a Texas thing, in the hill country people like to have Oryx and Zebras. Just over the back of the hill there’s a giant aviary that has hundreds of parrots, you can hear them in the album, when you wake up every morning out there, you hear this chorus of all these parrots, going crazy. It’s really something. In songs like White Glass or in Sun Dogs you can hear all those birds talking. All the recordings, all the atmospheric stuff, comes from that house, and right around it. We really tried to make that house, not just a studio, but the setting, like a set of the play”.
It seems almost perverse to ask about future plans even before the album has been released or a live show performed, but in the presence of such natural creatives it inevitably comes up. Emily has recently set up a new business as a death doula, helping people to come to terms with dying, while Jonathan is finishing off writing a book on Caracaras, a group of South American birds of prey, whose evolutionary history can be traced back to before the joining of South and North America, “they’re related to falcons, and they’re social, and intelligent and hilarious. Very very few people know about them at all outside of South America. I’d put them up with a Crow or a Parrot or other birds we think of as smart. It’s how their story, and the story of the people that lived with them, illustrates a much larger story about curiosity and of the history of their continent since the cretaceous extinctions”. Both promise new music from their solo projects, and equally we were intrigued to know if there was any plans for more Loma music, “I’d go in and start making another Loma record tomorrow, and I think it’d be really good. It seems like this vein is not exhausted, I hope it’s not a one off”, explains Jonathan. Emily is also open to the idea, if a little more circumspect, “I don’t know. It depends on how it goes, it takes a lot of time and a lot of resources to do something like this, so I’d love to say there’s definitely going to be another record or another collaboration, but you just don’t know what will happen…and that’s fine”. With a glint in the eye, as the closing credits roll on this most fascinating of debut records, we’re all hoping for a sequel sooner rather than later.
Loma’s self-titled debut album is out February 16th via Sub Pop. Click HERE for more information on Loma.
Details of their UK tour are below
30 May – Brighton @ The Hope
31 May – London @ The Lexington
1 Jun – Bristol @ Rough Trade
3 Jun – Manchester @ Gullivers
4 Jun – Leeds @ Headrow House
5 Jun – Glasgow @ Hug and Pint
7 Jun – Dublin @ Whelan’s (upstairs)
8 Jun – Liverpool @ Buyers Club
9 Jun – Oxford @ The Cellar