Interview: Ben Schneider from ‘Lord Huron’
“Artist” is the ideal word to describe Lord Huron’s frontman Ben Schneider. He paints, he writes, he sings, and most importantly he is a vivid story-teller. In March Californians Lord Huron will bring their indie-folk to Australia’s shores for Bluesfest. They have also added two sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne! We chatted with Ben about the art of performing, the trials of touring, and their signature brand of sonic storytelling.
When did you start writing music?
Well, I guess when I started writing music seriously was when I was around 12, when I got my first 4-Track Recorder. But, growing up in a family of four kids, we were always writing ditties. Pretty much every activity in our lives had a little song that went along with it. Whether it was cleaning the house, making dinner, or whatever, we always sang stupid little songs to each other.
Were you from a music family?
Not particularly, I mean not performers, but appreciators for sure. My parents were both big music fans. My dad had a guitar sitting around and he’d strike up campfire sing-alongs with his brothers and everything, but not a seriously musical family no.
So when you started, it was just you. So how did the band eventually come together?
Well I was looking for a new creative outlet. I was kind of frustrated. I had studied as a painter, and just hadn’t found much of a place in that world. So I did some art direction design stuff to pay the bills, but felt like that was draining a lot of my creative energies. So I took some time off and started this sort of visual and musical thing. A few songs on after that, and kind of surprisingly, I started getting asked to play shows, which I wasn’t expecting or striving for. But I decided to see what would happen, so I called up the only musical people I really knew who were old friends I played with growing up. I said come out west, and we’ve kind of been on tour ever since.
Does it help to work alongside people you’ve known that long?
Yeah it really does from a creative standpoint. I have an idiosyncratic way of working. They’ve known me for so long, and made music with me for so long, so they kind of understand that, and we understand each other very well in that way. Which I think is great. But, touring with people can be a real trial. When you know people this well it’s kind of nice, so you know when to give each other space. They’re like my brothers.
You’ve definitely got some traveling coming up including appearances at Bluesfest and Coachella. How do you prepare for those large-scale festivals?
Sometimes it’s hard to know how to prepare for them. I mean it’s a weird feeling. You feel pressure to do more than at a normal show for whatever reason. But, we always find at those big shows you always get the excitement of being there. The crowds that tend to come to those shows are just so excited to hear music, you know. So you can feed off of that, and naturally it will make your show a little more visceral, or energetic. That’s kind of our strategy. You also have a shorter set than you normally do. So we pick the songs that we think will turn people on the most, and just go up there and try to shred them as best we can.
Is performing your favourite aspect of the job, or do you prefer the creative process?
To be honest I’ve always been the type that really enjoys hauling up and making things. Which doesn’t necessarily mean sitting inside, but the creative process in general, which for me has many stages. And I really love performing too, and trying to sort of incorporate the creative process in with that tour time. You know, it’s not always easy to balance those two things, and I guess touring isn’t always the glamorous thing that people sometimes think it is. It’s a pretty hard job, and it can really take its toll on you after a while. Our goal recently has been to try and make it the most productive it can be.
So what are the main trials of touring do you reckon?
Well there’s a lot to it! Living in close quarters, the sort of strange repetition of it. Even though you’re in a different place every day, the repetition of waking up in that different place becomes almost trans-like.
You can see why some artists forget what city they’re in while on tour!
Yeah absolutely! In a lot of ways though it is like a normal job. The days are predictably the same. You wake up, you load in, you play a show. But everything is sort of moved back into the nighttime, so it’s very nocturnal sort of job. And obviously you’re away from people back where you live, which can be hard. Staying healthy, staying sane. Just like any other job, it has its ups and downs. You just have to learn how to navigate them.
Your music is essentially works of fiction, almost like listening to a book. Do you ever draw inspiration from your own life, or base characters off people you may know?
Yeah I definitely let things spin off into fiction. But, my sort of approach or philosophy has always been to begin with something that happened to me, or to someone close. There’s always something at the centre that’s from a real experience. To me that feels like the only way for the work to be true. That seems to be true for other people’s work that I’ve seen too, there has to be some sort of personal experience wrapped into it for it to feel authentic. But my real interest is taking those experiences and exploring them beyond my personal experience. So taking that initial idea and looking at it from a different perspective, or with some different circumstances surrounding it.
Do you prefer to keep your private life private, rather than laying it all out on the table?
Yes absolutely, it’s a funny thing because when this all came about it was pretty unexpected for me, and for the other guys in the band too. I didn’t have the ability to think ahead about doing something like Daft Punk, and wear a mask and worry about my personal identity. But yeah I want to keep my personal life personal. And to be perfectly honest the idea of personal fame and celebrity is like my personal hell. It sounds like a nightmare to me, to kind of lose my anonymity. So that’s important to me, yes.
What artists inspire you musically?
Things from all over the place really. My big sources of musical inspiration doesn’t necessarily come from music. I tend to get really into the idea of describing things that are non-musical, musically. A lot of times I’ll read a book, or see a movie and be really taken by an aesthetic, or a setting, or just a sense of place, or mood, a vibe even and get really into the idea of describing that with sounds. So that’s kind of how this project has worked since the beginning. Developing visuals and music together, and trying to see how those two get along and work together.
You are quite the artist! Have you thought about maybe turning an album into a book or a movie?
Yeah we’ve thought a lot about that! That’s why we make as many music videos as we can. We did try to do a film to accompany ‘Strange Trails’, but it’s so difficult to get something like that done. There’s other limitations, not just money, but time. We’re always on the road, so it’s hard for us to do everything we want to do. But I think down the road that’s definitely on the cards. We’re really interested in making movies, and I’m really interested in writing. So hopefully!
Many artists have said that some of their best work was written in twenty minutes. Has that ever happened to you, or do you find that time is a key ingredient to produce amazing music?
Well I tend to be a procrastinator in some ways. I really believe in the idea of letting ideas simmer and stew. Which can be frustrating for the people you work with, but for me anyway I’ve always found that it can be really beneficial. I think things are unconsciously being worked out when you don’t even realise it, and that it will manifest itself eventually. You may start something and not look at it for two months. Then, ages after you will have a twenty-minute burst when it figures itself out. I definitely think, for me anyway, that it takes longer than twenty minutes to get a good idea.
I agree, have no idea how they do it.
Me either! It’s amazing. But I bet they don’t realise that some part of it has been stewing in their subconscious for a lot longer than that. It’s hard to know exactly where it comes from.
Completely agree! So after touring, what’s next for Lord Huron?
We’re getting going on the next record now actually. We’ve got a studio here in LA, which is kind of our clubhouse. We’ve just been hanging there and throwing some ideas around. I’m sure I’ll collect a lot of scraps while we’re on the road as I always do, and then come home and lay it all out and see what it is. But I imagine we’ll be putting something out maybe early next year.
Check out all the Bluesfest set times HERE
Lord Huron 2016 Australian Dates
MON 21 MAR
The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
WED 23 MAR
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Get Tickets HERE
— Also appearing at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016 —