Interview by Billy Hell
Last time I interviewed LoneLady (circa 2009), she was releasing her music on CD-R. Too Pure liked her first seven inch single "Army" so released the follow up "Early the Haste Comes" which pricked Warpís ears. They got the nerve up to fund a longplayer. Four weeks in an old Manchester mill where Julie Campbell built her studio and her debut album Nerve Up was ready to take on the city that inspired many of its ten tensely wired emotive songs. Julie regards debut albums as documents of struggle, an attitude that sheds light on her own perspective.
ED NOTE: This interview was done in early 2010.
PSF: You've chosen to release some songs as singles twice - why?
LoneLady: When it came to think about choosing ten songs for Nerve Up it was a case of asking myself which songs must be included? "Intuition" was one of these songs. The number of people who are aware of the Filthy Home version is relatively tiny. This is the only single to be released twice.
PSF: Were you unhappy with the original version?
LL: No, I love this version. Its 4-track naive quality is totally different from the album recording, which offers something else. I just see it as having two different, equally valid versions of the song available.
PSF: Did you rerecord the other songs from the "Have No Past" and "Hi Ho Bastard" CD-Rís?
LL: "Cattletears," "Intuition," "Have No Past," "Fear No More" and "Army" made the cut for Nerve Up. I felt the album should be a document of some kind of history. Some songs are a few years old, others a few months. I wanted the album to be coherent, compact and contain ten songs only. It took time for the idea of what a LoneLady album was going to be to coalesce, and when it did, there were certain songs that clearly didnít fit.
PSF: Have you rerecorded "The Forest," "Joy," "Accord," "Hi Ho Bastard" or "I Won't He Won't?" The last two of these seem nastier and less mature now than the songs on the album.
LL: None of these have been re-recorded. "Hi Ho Bastard" and "I Wonít He Wonít" are certainly less mature, and quite nasty. Nasty is good though, thereíll be more of that.
PSF: How do you view these songs now?
LL: I view these songs as part of the process of developing a musical voice. I am fond of the early 4-track releases as they are imbued with a kind of tape-y magic and an inevitable naivety. There are older acoustic songs that reflect more American/a influences - Will Oldham, Kristin Hersh (her acoustic albums), neither of whom I seem to listen to anymore. Gradually my listening has come back to the UK: Iím much more focused on what I want to sound like; all this takes time. The older songs are me starting out; I still like them but Iím not that person anymore.
PSF: Have you written any new songs since completion of the album?
LL: Yes, thereís unfinished material to work on and complete.
PSF: Is the title track the most recently written song?
LL: "Nerve Up" is the newest song on the album, yes. Broadly speaking, the sides of the album represent (to me) past and future: the song "Nerve Up" seems to be pulling towards something else, is straining forward, is even an anomaly: I like this.
PSF: Does it indicate a funkier direction for the future?
LL: I think it does. Iíve long been influenced by Gang Of Four, PiL, Contortions, etc. but am seeking to explore further back in time, to the, largely, black music that influenced these bands. I think Nerve Up is a restless album: I am drawn to music that wakes up the mind and body, music that is energetic, propulsive: these qualities are present in the new material. However, music can sometimes lead you off down unexpected alleys.
PSF: How did you hook up with Warp records?
LL: The LoneLady trajectory has been a gradual process: from 2005 I regularly sent material out there. Jason White (Too Pure/4AD/ALM Management) and LoneLady became gradually more involved. He put out a single on Too Pure ("Early the Haste Comes"), and later brought a CD of LoneLady recordings to the attention of Steve Beckett at Warp, who liked it.
PSF: Why did you choose Guy Fixsen as a producer?
LL: Nerve Up was co-produced by me and Guy. Guy engineered also. I needed to work with someone who wasnít going to superimpose his vision, rather, facilitate mine. This was a key reason Jason suggested Guy.
PSF: Were you a big fan of his old band Laika?
LL: I wasnít aware of Laika until I met up with Guy just prior to recording the album. He and I exchanged many pre-production emails. I had compiled detailed notes about how I wanted all the elements to sound before we went into the studio. I learnt a lot from this process, and from Guy.
PSF: One of your influences is Joy Division; do you think Guy has brought a spaciousness that recalls Martin Hannet's production?
LL: The newer songs on the album are more pared down, and incorporate emptinesses. There are illusory and real spaces carved into the songs through synthetic effects and the natural reverbs of parts of the old building; older songs are denser, fuller. We discussed Martin Hannet, whom we both admire. Hannet created incredible atmospheres, but to imitate would be valueless: we tried to make Nerve Up exist in its own Ďspace.í
PSF: The influence of Joy Division on Laika is obvious as "Out of Sight and Snowblind" is pretty much a rewrite of "Heart and Soul."
LL: Iíve not heard that Laika song.
PSF: It's the third song on their Sounds of the Satellites album. Your Fall cover "Bloedel" seems to me to have a Medieval feel - was that your intention? The Fall version always put me in mind of the U.S. Civil War and Second World War.
LL: On hearing "Hotel Bloedel" for the first time, I was struck how ancient it sounded. The lyrics refer to cyclical patterns in history, Ďminds encapsulating timeí. I re-imagined this song as a scene from Ingmar Bergmanís The Seventh Seal; a procession of monks, a single drum beating, bleak chanting, my vocal as rough as Brixís!
PSF: There is a theme of time travel in that song and "Wings." If you purchased a pair of flabby wings and hit a time lock, where and when would you hope to end up?
LL: Either at the Big Bang, or a few thousand years into the future - I canít decide.
PSF: The original "Hotel Bloedel" is the debut of Brix as backing vocalist in The Fall - were you aware of that?
LL: No. Iíd read that these vocals were meant as guide vocals only, but Mark Smith liked them and they ended up on the album, against Brixís wishes. I love her rough, plaintive tone; I wouldnít want them any other way.
PSF: The influence of Manchester looms large in the press release for the album, yet a lot of the lyrics seem to imply a high degree of tension. Does living in Manchester make you nervous?
LL: The press needs a starting point to contextualise a new (to them) artist. I have become increasingly appreciative of Manchesterís history, both musical and otherwise, after years of largely ignoring it. But contrary to press, Manchester is not the be-all and end-all of my thoughts/world. I think tension is an interesting quality; stimulating, energetic, questioning. Living on your nerves, getting the nerve up to...? Yes, I think living all my life in Manchester has shaped this outlook to an extent. We are overlooked by moors, history - Manchesterís town centre at the weekend is a violent place. Manchester makes me not nervous, but certainly aggressive.
PSF: What do you hate about Manchester?
LL: Many things, far too localised and petty to print here! I think the takeover of Urbis to turn it into a football museum is a pretty outrageous usurping of a public, creative space.
PSF: What do you love about Manchester?
LL: Many things. Familiarity breeds contempt but also fondness. When I lived briefly in Whalley Range, I couldnít stand not being near the city proper. I missed certain walls, pavements, canals. Its history feels close in the patches of wasteland and crumbling buildings developers have left untouched, for now.
PSF: Can being an "Army of One" be read as a way of dealing with Manchester?
LL: Lyrics can be read however you like, of course. "Army of One" for me is about forging your own path; itís quite a teenage sentiment.
PSF: The sleeve recalls the eighties, and many of your influences are from the very late seventies and early eighties. Paul Morley blurb compounds the eighties element - is this a period you have nostalgia for?
LL: I like a lot of music from the late seventies and early eighties. It seems exploratory, brave, smart, enervated. The bands and individuals seemed like real people. I am inspired by this period, yet live in a Manchester that no longer exists, and Paul Morley has commented on this element of dislocation of time and place/space in the music. Nerve Up is full of echoes from the past but I think the songs have their own voice.
PSF: Has your guitar playing been influenced by Echo and the Bunnymen?
LL: Yes, although Iím not actually that familiar with their albums.
PSF: Your London gig has been billed as your debut, but I'm sure you've played gigs in London before! How many?
LL: Indeed - Iíve played London many times; more people come to see you because there are a lot of people living there; it makes sense.
PSF: Can you list some debut albums that you consider to be the best? If I did this myself, I'd find almost all of them were from the late seventies punk and post-punk period, plus the first Neu! album.
LL: Some debut albums I admire greatly include: Murmur, Unknown Pleasures, Live At The Witch Trials, Throwing Musesí eponymous debut, Entertainment!, Pink Flag, A-Z by Colin Newman, the Teaches Of Peaches, Movement. Suicide, Neu!.
PSF: What is the current gigging line up of LoneLady?
LL: Andrew Cheetham - drums, Gareth Smith - keyboard, sampler, drumpad, Julie Campbell - guitar, voice.
PSF: What happened to the Githead tour that you were going to support?
LL: Githead and I both wanted the tour to happen, we had some practical problems which meant we couldnít have confirmed in time to properly promote the tour. I hope Colin/Githead/Wire and LoneLady will play together again at some point.
PSF: In your song "Have No Past" making a ghost of someone seems a metaphor for moving on/away but have you ever seen or felt the presence of a ghost?
LL: I think thatís true. That song alludes to letting go, freeing yourself before its too late. I donít believe in real ghosts/god/anything supernatural. I think the mind is powerful; memory is all we are, it contains hints and echoes, fragments that distort over time. In a way, the mind is full of layers of ghost-like remembrance/imaginings. References to the passing of time occur through the album. It is a concern, time irrevocably slipping away. Manchesterís cityscape and weather could be said to lend itself well to housing ghosts, the ruined buildings, dark canals and overcast skies haunted perhaps by musical history past, musicians/individuals who moved away/died/still remain.
Also see Loneladyís website
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