Since their inception in 2007, LAU have received the Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Group on no fewer than four occasions, as well as receiving critical acclaim for their many individual solo works. Comprising Kris Drever (Vocals, Guitar), Martin Green (Accordion, Wurlitzer, Electronics) and Aidan OʼRourke (Fiddle), they effortlessly straddle the great divide between traditional acoustic folk music and electronica – worlds which, outside of Lau-world, should never converge. This remarkable and adventurous trio release their much-anticipated fourth album – The Bell That Never Rang – this month, a record that is marked by several new developments in the way it was pieced together, not least the input and involvement of Joan Wasser (aka Joan As Policewoman) as producer. That, coupled with the necessary changes to the songwriting and recording process brought about by Drever’s recent relocation to the wilds of Shetland, has brought new freedoms and more space for ideas to be developed and realised. Ahead of their appearance at The Epstein Theatre on 16th May, Martin Green speaks to us about those freedoms, the process, collaboration and their plans for Lau-Land, the festival they’re curating in Bristol at the end of May.
Bido Lito!: You brought Joan Wasser in as producer for this new album, which gives the listener a sense of you having a greater freedom with the writing and recording processes. Would that be right?
Martin Green: Yeah, one of the things about being in a band that’s so small is that, from time to time, you need that outside influence, and it’s a really great thing to have, you know? Four minds is better than three. So, what we were able to do with Joan, was to present her with things that weren’t completely finished, and ask her what she would do with them. That’s something we’ve never done before. In the past, we’ve always rehearsed everything in a lot of detail, and then just recorded it quickly. With this, we left it a little more open, and did much more experimentation in the studio. And having an external producer kind of gives you permission to try new things. I don’t know how the psychology of that works, but it just seems to free everybody up. I mean, Joan’s an incredible woman, you know, obviously an amazing artist in her own right, but just as a person to be around, she’s endlessly enthusiastic, energetic and positive, which is just a brilliant thing to keep everyone excited. It’s a great way to work.
BL!: Kris Drever recently moved to Shetland, and it’s intriguing to guess as to how that would alter the dynamic, and the writing process. Does the distance make things difficult?
MG: It does in a way. It means that, where previously we’d grab the odd afternoon to rehearse, that has to be planned a little more in advance. But in some ways, that’s good as well, because it forces you to make the most of that time and focus. When Kris is around, we really need to use that time constructively. We have our studio in Edinburgh, where myself and Aidan are based, so, with this album, it was a case of spending more time in the studio experimenting and writing some bits in the studio together.
BL!: Collaboration plays an important part in all folk music, and is obviously important to Lau. The title track, and central piece, of The Bell That Never Rang is an epic seventeen-minute piece, written in conjunction with The Elysian Quartet. How did that link come about? And how did you approach writing this piece, Is it a long-drawn-out process of rehearsal and improvisation or a more structured approach?
MG: The Elysians are good friends of Adem [with whom Lau made an EP a few years ago], and the Elysian offshoot Geese we love very much and booked for Lau-Land in London. So there was a good social connection, and when the commission came up [the piece was commissioned by Celtic Connections Festival as part of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow] we wanted to work with a string quartet and they were the obvious choice. The writing process was different for that piece: normally we write all the music together, very slowly, jamming things out and piecing it together, but that doesn’t work so well when you are writing parts for other musicians to play. We wrote five minutes each, and Aidan and I have some experience writing string parts, so we did the instrumental bits, and Kris wrote the song in the middle. Then we gave it to the Elysians, who then improvised to that song and eventually made a solid part for themselves out from that.
BL!: Your festival, Lau-Land, is fast approaching and will take place in Bristol at the end of May. It doesn’t seem right somehow to describe Lau-Land as just a festival, as it appears to be much more than just a bunch of gigs. What’s the thinking behind it?
MG: We get easily excited by all kinds of music and people making stuff in general, we like things to happen, so we try and make Lau-Land quite hands on. We have discussions and open jam sessions and workshops of various kinds. At the next Lau-Land, you can come and make your own synthesiser and join in a discussion about whether the folk revival has been damaging or beneficial for traditional music; play an interactive table jigsaw; have a machine write music based on your whisky-drinking memories; learn to play old-time American fiddle; and meet some of the country’s most remarkable instrument inventors. And go to some rockin’ gigs. It’s gonna be ace!
Words: Paul Fitzgerald