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IN CONVERSATION: Lanterns on the Lake on recording new album ‘Versions of Us.’ “It was a mixture of having nothing left to lose and having lost that thing anyway.”

Versions of Us was forged in a furnace heat of turmoil for Lanterns on the Lake. They lost their drummer Ol Ketteringham, singer Hazel Wilde reflected on motherhood. The North East based collective scrapped a year’s worth of sessions for the album when it just wasn’t working and had to re-record it this time with Philip Selway (Radiohead) joining the sessions, helping shape the new version of the record.

The nine songs of Versions Of Us are epic existential meditations examining life’s possibilities, facing the hand we’ve been dealt and the question of whether we can change our individual and collective destinies. The fate and shifting moments of chance turned this record into the version you hear now, tapping into these themes itself.

Wilde’s vocals are a revelation, throughout she invests each swelling piece with a urgency and boldness. ‘The Likes of Us’ documents the state of Broken Britain (“Oblivion howls for these gutted streets / Boarded shops cower in defeat”) but sublimates observations into a mantra of resolve (“I won’t let this spark die in me”). It’s a triumph of hope through struggle, of seizing the moment as it grasps onto a flickering light at the end of a dark tunnel. It is their best work yet.

I spoke to the band’s vocalist Hazel Wilde and guitarist Paul Gregory to uncover the turmoil behind the creation of Versions of us and more.

Wilde recalls the recording of the album: “So it it was a, mad process really. We started work on it at least a couple of years ago. With me kind of writing the bones of some songs really. I think bits of it were coming together during lockdown. Then we spent quite a few months sort of fleshing out those ideas as we do as a band.

“I would normally go in with a skeleton of a song, if you like, and then everybody gets their teeth into it. We’d like to take it to a much better place than I would be able to do. So we’re doing that, we were like fleshing it out for a while. Then we recorded it all. I think we got to pretty much the end of that recording process and it just didn’t go well. All the way along we were sort of kidding ourselves really that we’re going to pull it off”

Mixed by Paul Gregory in the bedroom of his home in North Shields, there is a sense of time and place that runs deep throughout this record but it was made in a time of turmoil and flux for the band. Paul recalls, “The last one was really easy to make, like really easy. There was loads and loads of fun, like I’ve never had so much fun making anything it was it was a joy to record ‘Spook the Herd’ (the previous album from 2020).”

“So we decided to do this one in exactly the same way, in the same place. The same everything. But before we went in the studio, when you’re in the band that you’re producing, you have to like, take yourself out of different molds, and every time I put the producer hat on. You could just hear something wasn’t right. So when we went to record, there was no like, sometimes when you record a song, and then you listen back to it in the control room you get this feeling that it’s working. There was none of that. It was all ‘okay, how are we going to fix that? What is wrong with this? But we persevered. We got all the way to the end and then scrapped it”

The band scrapped nearly a year’s worth of work, regressing to song demos with just Hazel Wilde performing with a single instrument. With a time limit in the studio and just three weeks to record it in, this sense of urgency is invested into the nine songs on Versions of Us. Each one is crammed with brevity, complexity, and heart. It is the most, epic and concise Lanterns on the Lake record yet, which is saying something for a band given that Spook the Herd received a Mercury nomination.

“The album came together ridiculously quickly but that bit of time of stepping out of one version of the album, if you like and starting again, was actually really a emotional and stressful time, I think for us and just as a band, it was a massive shift”,
Hazel explains.

“So then put recording an album in, in the space of like, maybe three weeks, not taking too long on anything just really like going in and performing the record and performing the songs that ended up having this feel to it and this energy that I think was lacking from the first. But also that I don’t think we could have captured under any other circumstance.”

During this period drummer Ol Ketteringham parted ways with the band, something Hazel says was “heartbreakingly difficult as we were and still are extremely close”. 

“We got to the end of that first version of the album. You’re just in a bit of a dark place as a band, and really trying hard to pull it all together. And we knew we needed to start again.” She explains: “At that point, we also knew that Ol our drummer – who we’ve been playing in bands ever since I was sort of like in my late teens; he’s a best friend – he wouldn’t be able to drum and that was like was another part of this kind of emotion and the energy that went into the album. It was a mixture of having nothing left to lose or kind of having lost that thing anyway. Then kind of thinking, well, this might be it for the band this might be the last thing that we do. So really wanting to put like everything into it.”

“Yeah, everyone was on edge and a bit of a mess, really?“, Paul recounts. “I think because like, when we started to record it, we had, you know, there was a timeline in place. We had quite a long time to make the new record. Then all of a sudden we had, I think it was three weeks to record. We had two weeks to mix, which to mix a modern record in two weeks, it just doesn’t happen. That was the really stressful thing. So like, while we were recording the mastering got booked, because if we didn’t hit that deadline, it wasn’t coming out this year.”

Plus in the midst of the pandemic there was a serious backlog at vinyl pressing plants as major labels blooked.

“Yes, Ed Sheeran and Adele had taken over all the pressing plants!”, Hazel laughs.

“A pressing in Middlesborough called Press on Vinyl, saved our bacon”, adds Paul

With no drummer and the sessions scrapped they needed some help to reimagine them. To give them back their momentum, they contacted Bella Union label mate Philip Selway of Radiohead.

“We knew that we needed a drummer and why not ask like, you know, one of your favorite drummers of all time?” Hazel explains, “I think part of that was also that all the way through it we always believed in the songs. Yeah. And all the way through, definitely, the last few records for us, it’s that belief in the songs that just kind of carried us through the trickier times.”

” For the record to kind of fall apart, and then we sent some demos to Philip Selway, and he really encouraged us and was really positive about the songs. So then that also gave us a bit more belief in them.”

“It was pretty much like how we imagined it should be”, Paul continues,”Maybe with the exception of a couple of songs, where maybe the feel was slightly different, like, the original versions were more up tempo, and they ended up being in halftime and a bit more chilled out. But other than that, it’s kind of pretty much executed how we had wanted it to be executed, if that makes sense.”

“I think when we’re working on stuff, we were saying, we’re talking about a drummer and saying it needs to be a bit like the kind of thing Philip Selway might do. So we just asked him, and then, and then he said, send some stuff. So sending demos.”

Lockdown and social distancing necessitated remote recording but maybe in this case it was more locations and distance that saw the recordings becoming a collaboration over email . “He (Philip Selway) just cracked on. He started sending because he recorded his drums in Oxford and he would try to do two songs a day”, Paul recalls. “He would send up his ideas and then we would just take it from there.”

“We recorded some of the stuff in Ripponden where we did the last record and recorded some of it in Newcastle. So yeah, there’s new studios.”, he reveals.

As well as being a life-affirming and complex album, the songs are asking whether we can change our individual or collective destinies, like fate? I get that from the likes of ‘Real Life’, ‘String Thoery’ and “The Likes of Us. ‘ Asking, are we helpless travellers? Or can we shape what happens to us?

“Yeah, and then I think it was like, weird coincidence that that ended up being the story of the record. We did change its fate, if you like”, Hazel concurs.

The album starts with the one two punch of ‘Like Us’ and ‘Real Life’. It’s an impressive and epic beginning.

“Yeah, I think that’s probably what’s different with this record compared maybe with the previous, at least the previous two, if not all of them”, Hazel explains. “That it’s not so much kind of wallowing and self pity, if you like, it’s trying to imagine otherwise, “

The big music sound of ‘Real Life’ is really bold and epic with huge reverberating drums and a soaring life-affirming chorus. It’s actually about admonishing oneself for standing on the sidelines and a hymn to seizing life, a theme that’s intensely personal for Hazel Wilde but its an anthemic moment that’s universal too.

“I suppose it’s like, in a way it’s me beating myself up a little bit for being a daydreamer, and life not turning out necessarily as I had always wanted ior magined it would”, Hazel explains.

‘String Theory’ imagines what shapes our fates too, what if there are different versions of us out there, what if we didn’t turn that corner or meet that person? Or thought a different way.

“It’s literally about ‘String Theory ‘the idea of the multiverse. Different version of us out there that think differently”, Hazel explains.

“It was interesting Before Philip came along, that song didn’t have any drums. It was really different. Yeah. But I think we could all imagine how it was supposed to sound but it wasn’t sounding like that”, Paul remembers.” Then when Philip sent the drums, he said, ‘please tell me if I’ve gone down the wrong rabbit hole’ or something like that and I opened it up expecting to hear, you know, just, you know, what the hell is this? But I put that drumbeat on like, that’s, that’s the beat that was meant to be on the whole time. But, you know, obviously, it kind of tied in with the themes of the song, to me anyway, that we had managed to pull that into the universe we’d all imagined.”

I first received music from Lanterns on the Lake over a decade or so ago now, before they were signed, each EP came with hand-made wax stamps. Even then what always stood out to me was the care and attention they put into their music, even their promos.

“I’m pretty sure you ever gave us one of our first ever reviews”, Hazel recalls, most gratefully. ” I remember you being one of the first people who received our first EP actually. You gave it a really good review. So we were really buzzing about that.”

“I would print the inlays on tracing paper. I absolutely messed up the printer at work one day and I remember coming in one morning, and somebody was like, who’s been printing all these things? I’ve no idea what that is?‘, she laughs. “Then I would seal them with a wax stamp and send them out. It was time consuming.”

“We wanted everything about it to be special, like the music, that packaging and everything. Thank you for your support in those early days. It meant a lot to us , thank you”

With thousands of songs put onto streaming platforms every week, and how fragmented music media is and how much social media bombards us, it’s harder and harder for new music to standout in the static.

“We’ve been talking about this recently, just how how much music is out there and isn’t being released. And you just get lost in this noise, just this wall of noise” Hazel agrees “We’re a bit outdated these days and how we look at things because we’re still in the business of making albums.”

There’s also the rise of AI with many artists concerned about deep fakes and how we might lose the heart from music. Hazel isn’t as concerned though.

“A lot of musicians are terrified by AI, aren’t they? But it’s a tool”, Hazel continues “You know, people have painted pictures of the Teignbridge for years and years and years. When somebody invented a camera and took a photo, it didn’t mean people were going to stop painting or aren’t the reasons for making something.”

Nostalgia is also such a dominant theme in music, we are sold reissues, reunions and documentaries examining and selling us music’s past, but it can also swamp new releases. Often how you loved it then is tied up with who you were when you first heard a song or a album. Look at the Stone Roses‘s debut album; it’s impossible to compete with the memory of that record as it’s a time that’s gone, it captures a specific moment.

Despite the difficulties in its genesis, Versions of Us is the most empowering album yet from the band. In exploring whether we can change fate or are doomed to repeat the same mistakes in life, this powerful collection of songs ultimately alights on hope. As closer ‘Last Transmission’ gradually swells in its final two minutes the lyrics sum it up: “in the last gasp of this old world / You know I think I found the beauty and the good”. It’s also never too late to change course.

It started similar to the others with me bringing in a tune, I think, straightaway, so that would be the closer”, Hazel says.

“That was another one where Philip sent the drums and it was exactly how it was supposed to be. The idea at the end of that one was always going to pick up the melodies of the first song, the album was going to end how it starts”, says Paul.

In spite of the themes and the turmoil and the tight turn around time in its creation, Versions of Us is the most confident vocally that Hazel has sounded.

“Its probably true that idea of having nothing left to lose and it being possibly the last mark we have made on the world as a band”, Hazel tells me. “We had to redo the vocals quite a few times I recorded those vocals in just a day in a couple of takes. Normally I would take ages, but this time it was just going to be this take.”

“It was win or lose when it came to sing it there was no room for error , the studio was booked“, Paul adds. “I remember saying to Mark, who engineered those sessions, it wasn’t just vocals it was a whole record. He was, like, how are you going to do that? We had earmarked three days to do all the new vocals, there wasn’t any option, I remember thinking if we didn’t nail this first time we are fucked.”

” I think there’s a lot of emotion and personal frustration being released” , Hazel adds.

Paul:” It was like standing on the edge of the world and watching it all burn. You nailed those vocals, though there was no tidying it.”

It’s an interesting question to ask, when is a song finished?

They’re just abandoned”, Paul offers.

“I think that’s where deadlines come in as Paul is a bit of a perfectionist.”

” I’m not a perfectionist, I just don’t want things to sound shit!”, Paul smiles, “but we had three weeks and what we did ended up in the final mix there wasn’t any other way of doing it . It’s mad its how they made albums in the 60s and 70s when bands just went into the studio and recorded it, when I listened back to it I can’t believe it exists.”

“We put a lot of heart and soul into it as well”, Hazel confides.

“Everything we have got is in that album”, adds Paul.

Lanterns On The Lake UK tour:

7th November – Birmingham – The Hare & Hounds

8th November – Nottingham – Rescue Rooms

16th November – Cambridge – Storey’s Field Centre

17th November – Leeds – Howard Assembly Room

22nd November – Sheffield – Crookes Social Club

23rd November – Glasgow – St. Luke’s

29th November – Brighton – Concorde 2

30th November – London – Islington Assembly Hall

5th December – Manchester – Band on the Wall

6th December – Bristol – The Fleece

15th December – Gateshead – The Sage

Home – Lanterns On The Lake

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.