Interview: The Lucid Dream

The trailblazing Carlisle psychedelic quartet discuss the making of their lauded recent LP Compulsion Songs and future plans

Interview: The Lucid Dream Appearing to a flurry of outstanding reviews in September, Compulsion Songs the third LP by Carlisle doyens The Lucid Dream consolidated their status as the UKs best truly psychedelic band. Steering a clear course away from the bandwagon jumpers and retro-fetishists, the album is the strongest, widest ranging set of tracks from the group to date, incorporating woozy acoustic driven psych pop, dub, Kosmische, punk and kinetic garage rock into their idiosyncratic sound.

With a score of sold out shows and a highly praised set at this year’s Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, an event the group are approaching house band status at, logging their fourth appearance in five years, the ‘Dream’s ascent continues apace. Rounding off 2016, a hometown show booked for February 2017 romped home selling out in less than a day. Bearded caught up with lead singer/guitarist Mark Emmerson to discuss the inspirations behind the songs, stage work and future plans. Starting with first impressions made by the LP, what inspired the title? ‘To be honest the album title was literally concluded a day or so before we sent the album for mastering. Album titles always come last with us’ Mark explains. ‘It probably comes as no surprise that Joy Division and particularly Closer were a massive influence on this album, and I think that had a working title of ‘Compulsive Disorders’ or something along those lines, so it is a definite nod to that. I first got into Closer in 2006 and it is weird 10 years later that it came back as such a big influence. Timeless masterpiece’.

With this album you’ve really pushed the song lengths out on certain tracks, what prompted this decision? ‘It was all sub-conscious really' Mark says of the expanded running times. 'When I was writing the songs I had an idea that some were pretty long, but it was only when I was prepping them for rehearsing with the other lads that I realised how long some were! I have always been a fan of experimental tracks, tracks that can challenge the listener. A rule we have really though is that an album is best appreciated as one, 45 minute vinyl. It soon became apparent that this album would only be six or seven songs, and the fact that ‘21st Century’ is our shortest track probably makes it all even weirder’.

On the subject of which, Compulsion Songs’ vast closing track Epitaph in addition to being the longest song the band have recorded to date, is also possibly the most melodic. What inspired the track? ‘It is funny that, I did a telephone interview the other day for a Mexican magazine and they were saying how catchy that track is, and how they hadn’t got it out their head all day!’ Mark states. ‘I think it is the Kraftwerk-esque melody, sticks with people. Four out of the seven tracks on this album have received BBC 6 Music airtime, maybe they should have fired that on too, imagine!’

‘I struggle to recollect writing songs to be honest, but I think I began to write ‘Epitaph’ on the spot in a soundcheck before we played with Clinic a few years back’ the singer recalls. ‘The melody and lyrics were in my head, and I immediately knew Luke (Anderson, drums/percussion), Wayne (Jefferson, guitar/keys) and Mike (Denton, bass/backing vocals) were going to be in their element around it. There’s a definite Motorik-dance amalgamation thing going on. You could drop the first half of that track in a nightclub easily, same with ‘Bad Texan’ and ‘I’m A Star In My Own Right’. No shame in that either’.

‘I was inspired a lot also by The Verve’s Thaw Sessions for this track’ Mark explains, spotlighting one of The Lucid Dreams' formative influences. ‘That was the piece in which they marked their return in 2007, with a 14-minute, raw jam. Richard Ashcroft sounded back on top form again and hearing that was one of the most inspirational moments ever for me. Unfortunately, as we all know, Forth was pretty rubbish and polished’. The singer’s disappointment with the Wigan band’s return was coupled with a more local form of being let-down as well. ‘It still annoys me as much as Carlisle United blowing the League One play-offs against Leeds United in 2008, and both happened at the same time! Since the album has been released and reviews for the album too tie in with this most people have referenced ‘Epitaph’ as our best track yet. People seem to have connected with that track and its companion, ‘Nadir’, the most’.

One of the standout performances at the Liverpool Psych Fest in late September (video), the quartet’s live presence has grown with each tour, how easy was it to transfer the new material to the stage? ‘Very easy. Most people that know us know that we come into our own live’ the singer states. ‘We had only played ‘Bad Texan’ live prior to recording the album, and even still only a handful of times. We always rehearse the tracks live in the practice room prior to recording; we never ‘jam around an idea’ in the studio, so in a sense the songs are born live anyways. There are a lot of overdubs on this album, but not all at once, so for me and Wayne in particular it was a case of picking out the most relevant pieces to mould into the live show. There’s already a sense that this album has taken a new form live. ‘Nadir’, honestly, the buzz playing that track live is unrivalled. When we kick fully in to the track the audiences go mental. We were unsure given how many varying layers are on the record how that would transfer live but it is even better, if anything. I recollect in Edinburgh last month, when we merged into ‘Epitaph’ that a few people were almost applauding!’

Returning to the subject of titles, was inspired the memorable moniker of ‘Bad Texan’? ‘Ha ha, quite a funny one this’ the singer laughs. ‘We were dropping this into the set for the first time last summer, at Eindhoven Psych Lab, and a Liverpool mate of ours was teaching us loads of Scouse insult-phrases that weekend (‘whopper’, ‘toby’ etc), and ‘bad texan’ in particular for some reason had us in stitches. So, when we played this track in Eindhoven, I introduced it as a new song called ‘Bad Texan’, and it stuck!’

In keeping with the band’s previous two LPs the cover of Compulsion Songs is a striking black and white image, with a hint of the groundbreaking video for Joy Division’s Ian Curtis requiem ‘Atmosphere’ (video). Was the clip an inspiration? ‘I didn’t realise the resemblance until after we finalised the art but there’s no doubting the similarity!’ Mark replies. ‘Our old friend from school, Nath Jones, does all our art, and is a brilliant photographer. He uploaded new pics on his portfolio and I immediately sent him a message saying ‘I think you’ve just taken the picture for album number three’. It stood out for me, and tied in with the other two albums, which he did the art for too. He was best friends with me and Luke from the first day of school so I love how 20 years on we can keep that little connection going’.

Following the band’s first excursion into dub on their eponymous second album where they brilliantly re-imaged their single ‘Unchained’ as a dub cut, the band travel deeper into the form on the present album with spectacular eight-minute opus ‘I’m A Star In My Own Right’ . Guided by Mike’s aquaplaning bassline, Mark’s weaving melodica riff and Luke’s metronomic beats, the track takes on even greater dimensions live.

‘I was listening almost exclusively to dub over the winter of 2015, and in particular (reggae collective) Singers and Players, Jah Wobble, and the first compilation of Adrian Sherwood’s production work’ Marks says of the track’s inspiration. ‘I came up with the initial two note bass line that kick-starts the bass, massively inspired by (London sound system legend) Jah Shaka and from there I constructed it on the bass solely. I definitely had inspiration from Massive Attack too, there’s an element of ‘Safe From Harm’, and the bass lines on Mezzanine. I was already picturing the drum groove and knew that Wayne and I could sparsely add some space-echo guitar, we didn’t need to do much, the drums and bass do the talking. The melodica solo was the trickiest part of the writing. In the most I pieced the track together within an hour. I had it in my head for weeks, but couldn’t work out the notes! I painstakingly worked in out on an acoustic guitar, and realised it was pretty tricky. It certainly sounded Spanish at that point, then I worked it out on melodica, and all made sense!’

Continuing the ‘Dream’s exploration of the form, the track, along with the Beastie Boys influenced blast 21st Century flags up the band’s willingness to push the envelope on each LP. ‘One thing I will say, there’s been plenty of mutterings online and recently at gigs with people showing discontent at us doing the dub thing’ Mark divulges. ‘It baffles me, people listening to psychedelia and questioning dub. They are probably the two genres that are the most linked – delays, reverb, and experimentation. Great bands evolve, ‘OK’ bands don’t. We may lose a couple of people along the way but believe you me we are more than gaining plaudits elsewhere. Every single review that have identified us as the band at the forefront in Britain are acknowledging it is because we experiment, think outside the box more than others and have most importantly the tracks to back it up’.

With psychedelia presently undergoing a huge revival, are there any bands from the UK and/or further afield that have caught your attention recently? ‘We always give a shout-up to our mates in (Mancunian shoegaze stalwarts) Purple Heart Parade, love them lads’ Mark states. ‘I wish one day that (Liverpool psychonauts) The Wild Eyes would get back gigging and do some shows with us. Cannot speak highly enough of them, true souls that get it, and don’t draw from the obvious sources’.

With the huge proliferation of psych bands in recent times however the present group are less than keen in outfits who have recently invested in correct hardware and have all of a sudden lit upon the form. 'We openly remain detached from scenes/cliques’ Mark states. ‘We don’t feel a part of them or need to be. We are strong-minded loners, one opinion we do share as a band is that the whole neo-psychedelia thing is depressing. There are bands appearing out on a factory production line I swear. I remember back in 2008, there were a handful of bands in UK/Europe doing the noise thing. These bands, all sounding the same, ‘have fuzz, the look, will travel’, playing their Vox guitars like they’re antiques not to be touched – I have two Vox guitars but I play each gig with them like it is my last, and they’ve got the battle scars to prove it. It is such an unoriginal, uninspiring, boring ‘scene’. We cannot distance ourselves from it enough. Nothing annoys us more than getting pigeonholed with this ‘movement’, it is an insult’.

With the year-end lists currently being drawn up, bit of an inevitable query, what are the best albums you’ve heard over the past 12 months? ‘For me the new albums from Psychic Ills, which is brilliant country/gospel/spacerock and Fat White Family who are an out-and-out rock ‘n’ roll band if there ever was one’ the singer replies. ‘Neptune by Higher Authorities as well, they are basically Ade and Hartley out of Clinic I think, who released this side-project as a Record Store Day only release, and is produced by Adrian Sherwood. Superb!’

A final enquiry then, given the quick turnaround for Compulsion Songs with only 18 months between the new disc and its predecessor, when can we expect the follow up? ‘I think we shocked ourselves how quickly this came about’ Mark says. ‘It soon became apparent by Winter 2015 that we had another album in the pipeline. The Lucid Dream was finished in September 2014 but didn’t come out until March 2015, so I guess that gave plenty of time to think. In contrast, the week we finished mastering Compulsion Songs it was sent for promo copies to be manufactured! I like how we finished the album early June and it was released late September’.

‘We have no plans on the fourth album as yet. True to form I have said that and written two songs this week!' the singer says. 'The four tracks I have so far are much more like Big Star, Love, so whether they make a record, we shall see. We love a challenge so no reason why not. I think ‘The Emptiest Place’ proved our strength in that area. I definitely sense that if we make another album it will have a side of perhaps Hacienda-esque dance. I have been listening to some old Hacienda compilations recently and love them. We will definitely do a full-out dub track again if we go back to the studio. We’re currently talking about a live album. We’ve never properly recorded, mixed and mastered our live shows and it would seem a massive regret not to do so’.

Compulsion Songs is out now via Holy Are You Recordings

The Lucid Dream play Hebden Bridge Trades Club on Sat 12th November (w/ Purple Heart Parade) Tickets here