In light of her coming vinyl launch of her third album Pilgrim this month, Lilith Lane spoke to us about her travels through Europe and Spain, her inspirations for Pilgrim, recording with Mike Mariconda and some of her worst performances and dodgy venues she’s played at.
In what ways did your travels around Spain inspire Pilgrim?
I initially went to Spain to study and learn the language rather than to go on a musical journey which is what transpired. My studies were a failure. I learnt a lot including the language but this happened from getting swept up by Madrid’s rock n roll scene and tagging along at festivals all over Spain with the musicians I met. I learnt more going out to see live bands, speaking to the locals and hanging out in galleries than sitting in a classroom. The musos that played on the record I met whilst living in Spain. I’d seen them play many times and talked about recording with the guitarist well before I had started work on ‘Pilgrim’.
Where was your most inspirational city you travelled to?
I became most familiar with Madrid and met great people who are very passionate about music and art. I love Istanbul and it’s rich history. Islamic buildings mashed together with medieval Catholic architecture. Mexico city and Latin America for it’s colour and energy, and New York. New York is a very inspirational city. You feel like you can do anything there.
Do you think you’ll ever live in Spain permanently?
I could definitely live in Spain again but I don’t feel like I’m the kind of person that will live anywhere for long. I play music and to me that means constantly being on the move playing shows and returning to friends that live in the far reaches of the world. There is a strong music community across the globe that are into the DIY approach to getting their music out there. I guess that is why I have a French indie label and I work with people like Scotti from Buttercup in Australia. These people have boutique interests and tastes and do what they do because they love it rather than just to make money. I prefer to work in a close community rather than with big companies.
What bought on the name Pilgrim for your newest album?
My nomadic lifestyle; studying pilgrimage in art history studies; my fascination with the phenomenon of organized religion; and the necessity for me to travel around the globe to work with the people I knew were right for this record. I was working in the Pilbara desert when I conceived this album so it was a big decision to make the record OS.
Do you feel like your travels were like a music pilgrimage?
Absolutely. I was studying music history in Madrid so I listened to lots of ecclesiastic music. Lots of early notated music like Gregorian chants and early Greek I became more and more interested in the immediacy of the voice as an instrument and using that as a focus for ‘Pilgrim’. Juxtaposing my vocals with a garage blues band I thought was an interesting contrast. I sent stripped back files to the musicians in Spain via the internet from the Pilbara desert (vocals and either guitar or keyboard). I knew the sound of the players very well so I had a very clear idea of the structure and sounds I wanted for each song before I went back to Madrid. I did have to follow my instincts and make certain pilgrimages to bring my ideas to life despite a fair bit of naysaying from people. Each album is a journey for me. This one required me to step out into the world as a physical journey.
What can listeners expect from Pilgrim?
Pilgrim is a very organic record. It is more guitar based than my previous records. It includes that raw raucous live element that I love to listen to in venues but hasn’t yet appeared on my previous records. The lyrics are minimal to allow space for my voice and the structures allow for instrumental moments to give a sense of openness (a direct influence of being in the desert). I kept the overdubs to a minimum (one guitar, keys or vocal maximum) for each track. We rehearsed for a day and then recorded for 3. It worked even better than I expected and has that live energy that I love on an album. The sound of a group of people locking in with each other.
What was it like recording with Mike Mariconda?
By the time I was ready to make the album Mike had moved back to Texas because of the financial crisis in Spain. It was a real toss-up between recording in the US with Mike and musicians I had never met, or in Madrid with musos whose playing I knew well but without Mike at the helm. I ended up recording in Madrid with a friend Ramón Moreira who has a cool studio DGR Sónica.
I took the files to the US and mixed the record with Mike in Austin, Texas although initially I intended make the whole record with him. I wanted him to make the album because I had worked with him before years earlier and liked his recording taste and knew he would understand the raw sound I was after. A few years later I bumped into him in Madrid, funnily enough at a show where the musos who ended up playing on ‘Pilgrim’ were launching a record. I like his punk ethos, the fact that he is a muso, his love of analogue and his straight-up approach.
Was recording overseas different to how you recorded here in Melbourne?
Not really. I have been a sound nerd for years and worked in studios so recording is second nature to me. I really feel at home in the studio and recording is one of my favourite things to do. ‘Pilgrim’ ended up being a very similar process to recording my previous records. All of us playing each song live for 1-4 takes. If the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you listen back and if you all like the same take that is my measure of when you’ve got the right take.
How did it feel to be away from Melbourne and writing?
I wasn’t focused on writing whilst I was away from Melbourne but songs just come to you when they please. There are always a few floating around in the back of your head. It’s just a matter of giving them the attention they ask of you. I usually find a space to write wherever I am and actually wrote half of the songs on this record in the studio in Madrid that we ended up recording in. I would go in there when there wasn’t a band recording and work on songs.
What made you leave Melbourne?
I wanted a fresh perspective, to challenge myself to learn a new language & to be lost in a city. Melbourne is so familiar to me I think it’s good to get out so you can come back with a new appreciation of things.
How was it recording at the same time as the band?
I prefer to do that. I could be wrong but I think it is the only way to capture the live energy and interaction between players that just can’t happen when you overdub and multi-track everything. You strip the magic from it all.
You’ve moved away a bit from the piano and string sound of your last album to more of a bluesy sound; how do you think / hope your fans will react to this?
Hopefully people will enjoy this side of my musical character. It was a very deliberate choice to exclude piano (although I did sneak in some organ on ‘Higher than This’). I wanted to focus on my voice and bring in a guitarist who could play differently to what I do when I am singing. I can’t solo on guitar whilst I’m singing. I tend to play quite rhythmically so this element really opened up the album spatially. I wanted it to be fun, open, raw and for there to be songs you can dance to. I also wanted to be able to be instrument free whilst performing. It is a liberating thing. I still jump on piano or guitar in the current set when I revisit my earlier songs. I’m enjoying piano at the moment. It may just appear again on the next record.
You’ve used the quote “Was that a ghost I heard?” to describe Pilgrims sound – what message do you hope to transcend through your music?
In the imagery and concept of this record I was heavily absorbed in the power of religious imagery, ceremony and ritual. From Santaria to Islam there are amazing things that humans do and create in the name of faith. I also think the role of music in people’s expression of spirit is very powerful. Music can transport people to other realms. Whether you believe in ghosts, God or the word of Mohammed music is an important human expression and to many it connects them to something sacred. I guess my connection to spirit is nature-based and that connection is what I tap into when I’m making music.
What inspired the film clip for “I could get used to this?”
I had always wanted to make a film clip with lots of dancing in it. I had always wanted to work with Gabi Barton of the Town Bikes. I was exploring the above themes of pilgrimage and wanted a character that had been dropped into another world.
Many of your headdresses and outfits were very reminiscent of Freda Kahlo – was she a significantly inspirational person for your video?
The headpieces were more inspired by mythological and religious characters. I do love Freda Kahlo so yes she may also have been a subconscious influence but the direct influence was the work of Lilli Hartmann who created them. Lilli and I became friends whilst I was writing songs in the studio in Madrid. She was working in the space next to me creating costumes and pieces for an exhibition. Her show was inspired by Jungian dream interpretation so she was making enormous rocks, horse heads, double-headed lady Magdeline costumes and clouds with feet. There was colour everywhere, sequins and paint. She asked me to perform in the exhibit and after I made the record and was thinking about the visuals of the show and clips I asked her to make some costumes for me. These were based on the image of the Virgin Mary, and other mythological characters. I could go on for hours about how we arrived at those visuals.
How long did it take you to learn the dance for the clip? Was it fun?
I deliberately wanted the dance performance to be as natural as possible so I asked Gabi to choreograph something that could be learnt on the day by non-professional dancers. I asked a bunch of friends to rock up completely unawares of what they would be asked to do. It worked amazingly well. Gabi was great. She had mapped out the formations and chosen moves that everyone was comfortable doing. Agostino Soldati who filmed and edited the clip was a perfect choice. We have known each other for years and have always talked about doing a clip together. When I finally called him to see if he was making clips I think he almost hung up on me when I said I wanted it to be based around dancing. He eventually got where I was coming from though. I think it turned out really well.
How long are you staying in Melbourne for?
I’m in Victoria for the time being. When I’m in OZ I am based in the country. I will head back to Europe on tour again soon and also be exploring other parts of the world to play.
What’s the dodgiest venue you’ve played at in Melbourne city and indeed around the world?
I’ve played many divey shows but I think Melbourne venues are pretty good. My dodgiest moment on stage was at Rod Laver Arena when I playing keys on tour in a house band and had to play piano on a podium with a big spotlight above me like a spaceship was coming to beam me up. The song was a well-known top 40 classic that begins with piano and when I started to play my keyboard didn’t work. I was making big playing moves and staring back at the band on stage. Luckily the other keyboard player on stage realized there was something wrong and picked up the tune. I had to do that song each night for a week or so and I nearly had heart palpitations every time I had to walk up that podium. Another night it was on the wrong sound setting so I was playing a clavichord or something instead of piano. It was a nightmare. I’d prefer to play one of Melbourne’s little venues any day.
What can audiences expect from your show at the Tote?
From my band and I you can expect a vibrant show. We have just come back from touring in Europe so I am really happy with the way the set is sounding. I might sneak in some earlier tunes and the support bands playing on the night are well-worth seeing.
Lilith Lane & band Friday October 24th @ the Tote
w/- Stella Angelico, Richie 1250 and the Brides of Christ, and one more act to be announced.
Check out the newest video from Pilgrim for ‘Slow Creeper:’