The industrial collective fast acquired a reputation as the most intense live act on the local scene. Bolstering that reputation with debut single Barbed Wire Church and now on their debut EP, Stephen Lewin virtually sits down with the group to discuss cults, the plight of live venues and potato babies.
A quick glance at the foreboding visual component of LONESAW’s work and one would not anticipate the cheery and accommodating reception that greets me at the other end of the Zoom tunnel. The group are even kind enough to look past the fact that an ailing laptop camera has rendered me a glitchy, vaporwave blob.
In attendance are lyricist and frontperson Ben Bones, saxophonist Jezebel Halewood-Legas, electronics man Christopher Connor and bassist Brad Malbon. Jon Stonehouse, director of the video for Barbed Wire Church, takes the place of absent drummer, Lisa Fawcett, for today’s interview.
Lonesaw’s music would, broadly speaking, fit under the umbrella of industrial; a genre defined by its machine-like rhythms and cold, dark tones. And, while the group concede that bands such as Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten and Cabaret Voltaire have contributed to their style, once again, the notion of Lonesaw as broody pessimists is very quickly discredited. “We fucking love ABBA!” confesses Bones. Connor is keen to elaborate: “A lot of our songs actually do follow traditional pop structures, but not necessarily intentionally.” Bones describes how these unintentional pop structures were wrought from the “utter chaos” that typified the band’s initial sessions. With the addition of sometime Uncle Jane drummer Fawcett, the group’s sound morphed from what the lyricist describes as “straight noise” and “simple pulses” to “more of a band sound”.
Upon hearing tracks from the bands forthcoming EP, the singer’s assessment rings true. In contrast to their debut release, the studio recordings feel more concise and structured, yet not necessarily softened as the word “pop” might imply. Produced, in part, in a.P.A.t.T. ringleader Stephen Cole’s What Studio, the four songs we are granted access to are rendered possibly more malicious through their precision.
Leash is one of the tracks reprised from the live session. The studio redux is a claustrophobic affair in which squalling saxophones punctuate the percussive skitter of the drum-machine. The group acknowledge that, while lyrically the song has a “BDSM vibe” (the line “crawl for the leash” being an obvious example), the interpretation could be broader than the imagery suggests.
Another standout, Man In A Burning World, was written at the time of the George Floyd murder. “That was a kind of reactionary thing,” says Ben. “We were all just in the flat going a bit mad and the drum machine was there,” he continues, inferring that the frustration and anger felt by the group at that time was borne out through the song’s “slamming kick drums”. Consequently, the track sees Lonesaw at their most Front 242; a pummelling metallic march which bounds relentlessly towards the cacophonous oblivion at its end.
In contrast, Yet I Am provides some sort of respite. Erring on the side of subtly unnerving rather than head-on terrifying, the song is a mutating mass of musique concrète, sculpted around an improvised pattern. Halewood-Legas elaborates on the spontaneous element of the band’s writing process on a track like this, explaining that there is always “one element” from which the band develop the core of the song, “whether it’s a certain sound or keyboard”.
To some ears Barbed Wire Church, the track which precedes the EP, is an odd choice of single. The song is an intense five-minute recitation, so musically minimalist as to give Suicide a run for their money. “We’ve always made decisions, but maybe not the right decisions for [our] career,” states Bones, addressing this wilful act of, what some might consider, self-sabotage. “They are the right decisions for us,” he continues, “we’re not doing this for anyone other than ourselves.”
The song’s video director, Jon Stonehouse, is also quick to defend the decision. “It was exciting to be working for a song that was not a single,” he enthuses, “the fact that they have had the audacity to call it a single is what makes it art.”
Waiting until the video could be released in tandem with this unlikely single was another part of Lonesaw’s masterplan. “I didn’t want to release it and it be forgotten about,” Bones explains, describing the group’s desire to make a statement with the coordinated release.
The result is most certainly a statement. Stonehouse’s accompanying visuals blend glitching iconography with footage of the band deep in the throes of a ritual. The filmmaker cites his own experience with what he says “you might call a cult” as having a sizeable influence on his and the group’s creative choices when making the video. He talks with enthusiasm about the elements of spiritualism and esotericism in the piece, but also discusses how, having left the organisation, he “wanted to communicate [his] disdain with that order”.
Although there is no love lost between the director and that particular group of spiritualist practitioners, he and Lonesaw, appear respectful of the practice itself. The video to Barbed Wire Church was a partial recreation of an actual ritual performed by Stonehouse and the band. According to the filmmaker, it was an act designed to put “intent” into the piece. He elaborates: “We realised we were playing with archetypal themes of the occult and thought it would be unfair to force it to be pretence.”
It’s at this point in the conversation that the subject of the “potato baby” is raised. Halewood-Legas excitedly bounds off to retrieve what I am informed by Stonehouse is a talisman created during the ritual. When she returns, I am introduced to a vaguely humanoid bundle of what appears to be stuffed sackcloth or stockings; its pained facial expression unsettlingly lifelike. “I won’t have anything bad said about him,” warns Halewood-Legas. Everything starts to feel a little David Lynch.
There is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek air to all of this, and, although respectful of the adopted symbolism, in conversation, Lonesaw come across as personable and unpretentious. There is also an aspect of altruism in the band’s outlook, particularly in the approach to running their QUARRY venue. “We would love for it to be a hub for likeminded creative people,” remarks Connor, “but also wouldn’t want to restrict the space for other people who have an interest in other kinds of music.” Bones is also keen to discuss the venue as a welcoming space for a broad variety of artists and events. “You can have a gallery show, performance art, comedy show, drag nights,” he says. “It’s a clear space for people to come and do stuff and, that hopefully, will breed a new hub.”
In the midst of the current pandemic, the outlook for live venues across the city is, at best, uncertain. Yet Lonesaw seem to retain a calm optimism regarding the fate of QUARRY. “It’s waiting in the wings,” states Bones referring to the viability of reopening the venue. “We are totally independent, so it’s mainly our money and the people that come and buy tickets at the bar, so it’s when it’s safe enough that we can get enough people in.”
Until then, the band can look forward to the release of the EP, Lay In The Salt Of The Soil. Having had its release date amended due to lockdown restrictions, with Connor noting it will come out when “the time is right”, the band has decided to press on with its release this February, albeit without a launch show that was pencilled in. It’s another thing we can look forward to, at least. For now, we can be thankful for more brutally beautiful sounds, volatile performances and profoundly disturbing mascots from the Lonesaw camp.
Lay In The Salt Of The Soil is available from 28th February via SPINE Records.