“Manchester took us as their own.” says singer Mark Emmerson. “We used to play here in the early days. It wasn’t particularly busy, but you’d have 15, 20 people who loved you. And in the last two or three years Manchester’s just gone fucking crazy. People here treat you like gods. We’re not asking for that, but it means a lot when you realise how much you mean to people.”
Mike Denton, the band’s bassist, agrees enthusiastically. “I’ve been getting all excited — getting butterflies today about playing here.”
On writing Compulsion Songs
For a band whose music is known for being multilayered and full of complexity The Lucid Dream are a humble bunch. Their third album — Compulsion Songs, released earlier this month on the Holy Are You label — has garnered excellent reviews from all quarters. It’s a complex album of long songs, so I’m astonished when Emmerson tells me that it was recorded in just five days.
“First or second take, every song. Literally everything: drums, bass, vocals, guitars. We’d occasionally do a couple more takes and they just wouldn’t have the same feel. It’s kinda like… ‘you’re just gonna lose the moment here.’ Every other Saturday we were in Liverpool, in the studio for half past 9… home for 7, 8 o’clock. It was very civilised.”
That’s quite some work ethic, I say.
“Yeah, but it was all very sociable. I mean I’ve got a baby son and I didn’t want to be sitting ’round in studios endlessly. I remember we did five or six days solid in the studio. It was grim.”
Wayne Jefferson, guitarist, agrees.
“Yeah it was. We were staying in the studio and sleeping on settees and what have you.”
The extra surprise in this is that Compulsion Songs sounds like an album of dark tunes written in dark places about dark things. It doesn’t feel like something recorded in a series of daytime sessions by a band looking forward to getting home to their families.
“Yeah,” muses Emmerson, “They’re dark songs. You’d finish a take and then you’d go and have coffees downstairs with families around you, and you’re just thinking ‘fucking hell…'”
“Or hen dos,” says Denton. “There were a lot of hen dos going around when we were recording. I remember the barman downstairs refused me a coffee once: ‘oh, it’s a private booking for Jolene’s hen do.'”
It’s a process born of experience, though, as Emmerson points out.
“The second album was done in almost exactly the same manner as the third. We only rehearsed the songs a couple of times. The only song [on this album] that took a long long time to rehearse or get fine tuned was Epitaph, which is eleven and a half minutes long. That took, I’d say, half a year, off and on. It was getting there and getting there and eventually fell into place.”
Compulsion Songs represents an evolution of the band’s sound, with overtones of Krautrock mixed in with jaunty, almost folky undertones. I put it to the band that it sounds like their horizons are expanding. Was this something that they planned?
“Yeah, yeah,” enthuses Emmerson. “When we made this album it was all perfectly planned beforehand. I’d write the songs and then we would rehearse at most, like, two or three times, because we’ve been playing since we were kids we know each other inside out.
“If we’re gonna do another album it’s gotta be different. It’s gotta be a progression. And it also comes with age as well. When our first album came out it took us four years to do but we were like 20, 21, 22. We were finding our feet. We were ripping bands off insanely at times and we didn’t have our own identity or maturity in the studio.”
There’s an added benefit to evolving their sound, too, which is that they’re able to make the whole album part of their set.
“I like how with this album we’re able to play all of the songs on this album live,” says Jefferson.
“Yeah,” agrees Emmerson, “There’s a couple of songs we can’t play cos of time restrictions, cos our set’s an hour long…”
“…Right, But if we could, we would.”
Emmerson continues. “We played Stormy Waters on the first night of this tour but we were well over curfew, so…”
“Plus,” laughs Denton, “Wayne’s wah-wah pedal broke.”
On their journey
The Lucid Dream have been together as a band for eight years, with bassist Mike Denton joining six years ago.
“The first couple of years, Mike wasn’t in the band,” says Emmerson, “but he was at our first ever gig — and it changed everything for him, I think.”
“It did, aye.” agrees Denton.
What’s the journey been like? I wonder. Emmerson muses for a second.
“When we started… to be honest with you we just wanted to record a few demos, cos we didn’t have any expectations. And we’ve done it the hard way. If you’re from Carlisle you’ve got to travel at least an hour to get anywhere, and at the start we did a lot of gigs where we lost a lot of money. We’d just treat it as a night out — we’d chip £30 in each and go and play a gig.
everything else is just a bonus. There’s nothing for me that we haven’t done that I want to do.
“And we used to just treat the rehearsals as a night out. Get a few drinks in and that, get a couple of mates in and make a night of it. That’s what it was all about for us and anything else was a bonus.
“We played Manchester quite a lot in the early days. But the thing was, every time we’d play one of these gigs one person was going around saying ‘fucking hell, this band are stunning.’ And then word of mouth developed.”
That kind of word of mouth is mana from heaven to a band, but as is often the case it took a while to snowball into something bigger.
“It took a long time, like three or four years,” Emmerson continues. “For me it picked up massively when Moonstruck came out as a single at the start of 2014. It was on 6Music non-stop. It was the fastest 2Pure single ever, it sold five hundred copies six weeks before it came out, and they were like ‘we can’t do another press.’ We could’ve probably done another five hundred of that. The single was just like… I remember them saying Piccadilly [Records] had sold a hundred or something, and it’s like… Fucking hell.”
Success breeds success, as the saying goes, but the band still appear to be completely grounded in the here-and-now.
“We’ve achieved more than we ever expected by a million fold. Anything else is a bonus,” says Emmerson.
The band has interest in Mexico, and may tour there next year if the funding comes through to make it happen. Emmerson remains philosophical.
“If that happens, that’s probably gonna be the top, getting to play Mexico. I’d like to do a Maida Vale session but I don’t see that happening. But everything else is just a bonus. There’s nothing for me that we haven’t done that I want to do.”
On the music press
It’s pretty fair to say that the reviews of Compulsion Songs have been glowing, although there’s been at least one savaging.
“Oh, there’s one!” cries Denton when I say I haven’t read a bad review.
Anderson smiles. “Still got five out of ten, though.”
“Oh yeah,” says Emmerson. “That was ‘why can’t they find a sound and stick to it?’ There’s nothing fucking worse!”
“It’s not us!” protests Jefferson.
“‘Let’s just do the same repetitive thing for 3 albums and hope that everyone sticks with it,'” moans Emmerson, rolling his eyes. “It gets boring! If a band does it even one other album, [the press would be] just like. ‘It’s the same thing that they did the last time.’ Nothing changes. Whereas I think our albums… The second and the third are more closely related than the first and the second, but it’s still evolved. I think shit has to evolve or it goes stale. The next album has to be different again, or else it won’t become an album.”
Are the band already thinking about album number four, then?
“We’re going synth pop,” jokes Denton, “low-down synth pop with a dub element, you know what I mean?”
“It’s something we’re not really talking about at the minute,” says Emmerson. “It probably will happen, but right now it’s on the back burner. We’re just gonna keep gigging.”
Some of the press attention that the band has had over the last few years borders on nonsensical, however.
“We get a lot of grief cos of the way we dress!” says Emmerson, “Which I think is pretty ridiculous.
“Time Out previewed the London gig and said “for fans of Oasis.” Like, what? When did Oasis do dub reggae or use a dub siren or do a fifteen minute Kraut Rock solo? That’s cos of the way we dress.”
Denton sighs. “They’ve never actually listened to the music at all.”
On music labels and self-releasing
With all the talk about selling vast numbers of records, I start to wonder about how the modern music marketplace has changed things for a band. I ask Denton how the streaming revolution has affected them. He muses about it for a second.
“Back in the day, if you were our standard and you were selling the amount of vinyl or had the amount of press and interest that we do now you’d probably be making a living out of it. But streaming makes it a lot easier to reach other parts of the globe. We’re doing really well in Germany and France, in Mexico… I find that if we didn’t have things like all the streaming sites we’d probably do quite well in the UK, but even then you know… How do people hear about your music if you don’t have that?”
He pauses, and Emmerson takes up the theme.
“We wouldn’t be able to self-release without that. If you think back to the 90s, the only bands that could do what we’re doing now are ones that were picked up on pretty big independent labels and were pretty funded. It was all paper press releases and phone calls, and we wouldn’t have had a hope in hell. I don’t get precious about the streaming side of it.”
Still, there are times when the easy sharing of information online doesn’t make life easier for a band.
“I was annoyed that the day before our album came out that it was on YouTube before it came out.” Adds Emmerson. “We’d already agreed that we didn’t want other people releasing it but it was through a Mexican site that were featuring our album and we’d already agreed that.”
He pauses, thinking.
“I don’t get precious about illegal downloads, though. Chances are they’re gonna come to a gig somewhere down the line.”
To Anderson, it’s fair to say that their fans have more refined tastes.
“I suppose the thing about our genre as well is that the majority of the poeple who are into us are into buying vinyl. It’s not some 18-year-old who just listens to Spotify all day.”
I try, perhaps foolishly, to boil down what they’re telling me into a soundbite. Streaming is the gateway drug to better things, perhaps?
“Yeah!” Denton bangs the table enthusiastically. “I’ll give you that!” He leans closer to my voice recorder. “Use that!” he says. “Put that in your thing!”
“We’ve never had — and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest — label interest, ever,” adds Emmerson. “Like, nothing. And that doesn’t bother me. but when you consider what we’ve done, it says something, I think.”
Denton agrees. “It’s pretty sound when you see that we’re in these independent stores and we’re outselling the Rough Trade bands.”
Emmerson laughs. “I remember Northern Records having done the preorder for the new album. Holy Are You were like the fifth bestselling label for the month. I was laughing thinking “It’s not even a label, it’s just something to put the album on.
“We run the label from a Carlisle living room, essentially. We have a great distributor in London, but that’s it. It’s all run from home really. We do employ PR and stuff, but that’s only because we want our releases to get the attention they deserve. Like you said, Mojo wouldn’t touch us before and they are now, and they’re saying we’ve been doing this stuff for years. That’s not bad for a bunch of Carlisle lads that are doing this all themselves.”
On the fans
Discussing the band’s fans makes Emmerson smile broadly, and brings us to the subject of their favourite town to play.
“Well, it’s Manchester, hands down,” he laughs, when I tell him he doesn’t have to say Manchester if he doesn’t want to.
“Certain gigs we’ve played in Manchester… afterwards, people have said ‘that changed everything for me.’ We played the Eagle Inn (in Salford) about two years ago and it sold out about a month before hand. There were people travelling from Glasgow for that. One fella said that before he’d come down he’d lost faith in music, and he said that gig changed his life. It reignited everything with music for him. That’s really special. But it’s normally in Manchester that that happens. We went through a period last year when we were gigging sparsely, and every gig we did was in Manchester — through choice. Because people were saying ‘we’re dying to hear you’ so we just come back here.”
He pauses and adds, “I personally can’t stand playing London. Can’t stand it.”
Denton nods at that. “There’s people down there that love us as well. It’s a bit of a thing though with London, it’s very corporate because it’s the capital. We played there the other day, and the last tubes were at 11, and the gig overran a little bit, and all the people that came to see us had to run off — great! It’s the city that never sleeps but apparently it very visibly goes to sleep at 11pm.”
On advice to new bands
I can hear the support act — Plastic Mermaids — getting ready to take the stage, so I pose my final question to the band: What advice would they give to another band starting out today, trying to play in the same space as them?
“Probably be a bit more synth-pop,” insists Denton, to much laughter.
Emmerson thinks carefully before he answers.
“Don’t have any preconceptions… If you’re going to start this, don’t have any plans, just do it.”
Jefferson agrees. “You’ve gotta be in it to enjoy it. Otherwise there’s no point doing it. Don’t play the game. Just remember all the time why you got into it.”
“We all work full-time jobs,” says Denton, “and this is just a cool hobby to have, you know. I work in a bar. I went away with these guys for a week and half, I came back and it was like ‘alright, where have you been for a week and a half?’ ‘Oh, I’ve just been touring Europe. So do those tables need clearing?'”
Jefferson adds, “…and there’ll be times when you play to like maybe two people and you have to get through that, you have to do it. If there’s one person in the audience buzzing at the end of the gig, we’ve done our job.”
I ask if there are any final words before we finish the interview and I let them get on with their night.
Emmerson grins. “The Lucid Dream are gobshites,” he says. He pauses, then… “And one last thing: if you’re gonna start a band you’re gonna have to realise you’re not quite gonna be as good as us.”