Thursday, September 10, 2015

LouFest Preview: How Ben Schneider of Lord Huron Lit a Fire Into Strange Trails

Ben Schneider of Lord Huron | Photo by Jason Gonulsen

She left no trace, but I know her face
I will find her

"Was that the one where there was a tornado coming through?"

Ben Schneider, the lead singer and songwriter of Lord Huron, remembers a tornado at the band's last show in St. Louis. But I remember a heat wave, the kind that made a club like Off Broadway almost insufferable, if not for the music being played. And that's the thing about concerts in St. Louis -- you almost always remember the weather.

At LouFest this weekend, that will probably remain true, but for different reasons: we're looking at 70's during the day, and maybe 50's at night. So you might have to bust out your fall jacket, even when Lord Huron takes the Phillips 66 Stage at 5:30 on Sunday.

Lord Huron released their second full length album, Strange Trails, this past April. But the band is still possibly best known for its song, "She Lit a Fire" from 2012's Lonesome Dreams.

"It's funny how different songs get different reactions, sometimes even in different places," Schneider says about "She Lit a Fire." "That song, it has definitely seemed to resonate more with the female population, but with couples, too. I tend to start songs with something personal in mind, but then I spin it off into fiction, so it's not necessarily about me."

I interrupt him, telling him I used to read Stephen King novels, especially the Gunslinger novels, and how they made me feel: like I was living in them.

"Yeah, yeah," he says immediately. "And I think "She Lit a Fire" is one that is general enough that it appeals to many people, but it's also got a specificity of emotion, a pretty specific feeling that that narrator's having that I think people can feel like it's theirs. For you to really connect to it on a deep, personal level, you have to feel like it's yours in a way."

But playing music festivals -- let's face it -- it's really not the environment to get personal with your audience. Even with a mid-size festival like LouFest, many sets can feel like a big party.

"There are so many different sizes of festivals out there," Schnedier says, "and you can't beat having a built-in, raring to go audience, so that's always fun. But depending on what time of day you're playing, you can have a different experience. We're at a cool point in our career where we play a lot of different venues. Some towns we're in cool bars, some places we're in bigger theaters, and then there's festivals."

And maybe that's the appeal of Lord Huron: their versatility, and the way they have crafted their songs. For their new album, Strange Trails, a new recording space was needed, and a new way of doing things was desired.

"Recording Lonesome Dreams, it wasn't bad by any means," Scheinder tells me, "but you're renting a studio by the hour, so you're a little under the gun. For Strange Trails, we could live with the songs more.

"We wanted to find a place where we could hole up, and not have to schlep our gear around -- we needed to find that place. But it's just hard, especially in Los Angeles where a creative space is at a premium. And we just answered this classified ad as a last ditch, and it was literally everything we were looking for. I mean, we were ready to give up. It was a little run down, but all the acoustic engineering was still intact, so it was just a matter of stripping some stuff out, bringing in our gear, and getting to work. And we just lived in there for six months, and we still rehearse there now."

The end result was a 14-song odyssey, one that doesn't necessarily feature a single (although "Until the Night Turns" and "Fool For Love" come close to defining points). This is not lost on Schneider.

"Because of the way we consume music these days, you definitely notice a move toward singles," he says."Which, to me, you know is just another form, but it doesn't appeal to me as much as the album format. It's the novel for music -- a more immersive experience for music. It's a tough thing, because you have to release something (before the album is officially released)A band like Wilco (who recently released Star Wars without any warning or promotion) is in a good position, because they're probably not super concerned with growing their fan base, which we have to be.

"But yeah, choosing that single, when you have spent all this time laboring over making a complete album, is like one of the hardest things you can do, because you're like, "gosh, does this really represent the record?" And for Strange Trails, where I feel there are like four corners where the vibe's kind of hard to choose how to represent it. And, really, you'll never know whether the thing you ended up choosing to do turned people off, or if it was the right thing."

See Lord Huron at LouFest on St. Louis on Sunday at the Phillips 66 Stage at 5:30. The full LouFest schedule can be found here. Tickets to the two-day festival can be purchased here.

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