15/01 – Harvest Sun @ 24 Kitchen Street
Under the pseudonym of LONELADY, Julie Campbell’s creativity pours into an audio-visual amalgam of art pop, post-punk and electronic grooves. Speaking to the self-described “hybrid artist” from the heights of her brutalist tower block in the heart of Manchester over Zoom, Julie discusses what fuelled her innovation following the release of her third record, Former Things.
LoneLady has steadily acquired a coterie of famous fans including New Order and Brian Eno; having been invited to support the former on three shows (an experience she describes as “mind-boggling”), she unexpectedly received a synth from the latter. She recalls the anecdote of him walking into her studio space and complaining about having too many synths. After jokingly offering to take one, days later, “a huge package arrived and it was a big heavy synth wrapped in foam. It’s a Korg Triton so it’s got a very crisp sound to it. It’s the main piano riff that features on the song Time Time Time”.
She describes her 2010 debut, Nerve Up as “economical post-punk.” For her 2015 follow-up, Hinterland, she added embellishments of funk, but plucked lyrical inspiration from the industrial Mancunian spaces of her surroundings. “I’d just go on long walks around the edge of the city. I’m drawn to leftover unloved spaces. I also love to walk back to Audenshaw where I’m from. I think where you’re from has a real kind of pull, like ley lines.” Former Things is LoneLady’s most personal record to date, lyrically drawing on Campbell’s childhood. “Musically it’s a bit softer and sadder, more vulnerable sounding. I was laying it bare a bit more than previous albums.”
Julie has remained busy in the six intervening years since her previous release. For part of this time, she took up a residency at London’s revered Somerset House, recording the larger part of Former Things at an erstwhile rifle range. “I got all this new electronic hardware. It was a real opportunity to play with my new toys, test them out, turn the volume up loud. […] I’d start by programming beats on the sequencer. I just love building that scaffolding of beats, playing around with different textures of drum machines and then bringing in a bassline with an analogue synth.”
Despite the change of scenery from her usual urban cityscape, Julie explains “the subject matter is inside. It comes with me”. Her hometown remains resonant in her lyricism: “I had this strong image in my mind of me sitting on my bed as a teenager watching VHS tapes and the flicker from the screen. There was an orange streetlight outside, and I was dreaming about the future and what I was going to be when I grew up.” Things took an unusual turn when Julie completed the album in the rural greenery of Macclesfield, staying at a friend’s farmhouse to add the finishing touches.
True to her moniker, Julie rarely works with other musicians. As a multi-instrumentalist, she laughs “when I’m not on tour my life resembles lockdown”. When the world seemed to be on hold, she remained optimistic, relishing the opportunity to experiment and take the time to hone her craft. “I certainly am a perfectionist,” she laughs.
A former fine art student with a keen interest in psychogeography, Julie eloquently explains the audio-visual element of her artistic vision. “Music contains all these multitudes. It’s always been a multi-sensory experience for me.” The album art for Former Things was designed by Julie herself, an image inspired by the medieval painting style she wrote a dissertation on at art school, each detail intentional in its intricacy. She describes the image as “a modern-day Joan of Arc wandering through the industrial streets of my past. All very romantic”, she laughs. “I designed the banner; had it hand embroidered. Everything has a meaning. The mesh fence and rough concrete floor continue the theme from Hinterland of a post-industrial environment.”
Over the past decade, Julie has continued to create visual art, namely with her Scrub Transmissions project, wherein she sporadically installs an MP3 device into the fabric of a structure. “What’s beautiful about them is that they’re in very personal locations, and also unglamorous locations, off the beaten track.” For Julie, it’s a way of “installing a self into the fabric of the city. There’s something really haunting about the idea of my voice looping around in a wall”. However, she’s not opposed to the idea of expanding the project into other cities or countries.
She will embark on the second leg of her Former Things tour in early 2022, including a headline show at Liverpool’s 24 Kitchen Street on 15th January. At the beginning of her career, she performed alone, weaving guitar melodies over a pounding drum machine. Gradually, she’s built up a live band of friends, and now plays with “a lean and mean three-piece”. The idea of recruiting session musicians anonymously does not appeal to her because she “would find that quite soul destroying”. For the current live iteration of LoneLady, Julie has put her guitar to one side, an experience which allows her to “inhabit a song emotionally”.
She’s already thinking about album number four but remains elusive: “I think now it’s just a case of alternating between playing live and having little chunks of writing time.” In the decade since she made her debut as LoneLady, Julie remarks on how much she’s learned from technical skills to the complexity of instrumentation. She smiles: “Everything’s a new adventure for me.”