THE genre-splicing LYR, comprised of Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, musician and vocalist Richard Walters, and producer and multi-instrumentalist Patrick J Pearson, fuse their three distinct but complimentary musical selves into an even more distinct project combining galvanic spoken word with textured ambient canopies and soaring, melodic vocals.
The trio released their debut album, Call In The Crash Team, last year and have since released a further two singles – “Winter Solstice” and, even more recently, the ethereal, “alt-folk” incandescence of “Redwings”.
Herein, Richard and Patrick discuss new track “Redwings”, pandemic and post-pandemic life, working with “genius” Armitage, the use of a watering can in their upcoming record, and more.
How have the lockdowns and the pandemic affected the music?
Richard: I think for us as a band, it’s been okay, because we’ve done so much stuff in a correspondence fashion form. And you know, we’re able to work remotely, we’ve got spaces that we can work in, then you do miss the kind of connection of being in a room together which, we’ve found, the couple of times we’ve been able to get together, is much more productive. And so yeah, it’s it’s been a massive challenge for life stuff and trying to launch an album. Without being able to do the real-world promo was hard, but you know, amazing opportunities like Zoom and being able to keep in touch that way and do interviews … it’s been okay for us. We’re lucky in that respect.
What was the evolution of “Redwings”?
Patrick: So the process of “Redwings” was probably unlike any other process that we’ve done with any other track. Simon presented the poem and we kind of felt we would just improvise around it, basically. So when we sat down to record it, we’d improvise that, when we did the shows this time last year, just live on stage, we didn’t really know what we were doing. But we just knew that we could create a world for the for the piece to sit in. When we came to record it, we felt that it needed another element. So Richard brought a kind of vocal motif in and so we had these elements, we didn’t really know what would happen. I think we had a mic, the drummer in one room, us in another and we just pressed play. And we kind of sculpted it from that initial improvisation in the studio, which is really refreshing to be honest. And to have gone that way and not had too much thought about it all.
What were your prior attachments/relationships with Armitage’s poetry?
Richard: For me, I was a big fan of Simon’s from when I was doing my A levels basically, and I’ve always followed his work and his poems and short stories and his nonfiction writing; and so for me […] I hold his work in a certain reverence. And I feel really lucky and privileged to get to work with those pieces … and it’s exciting to be doing something new with those words, and giving him a different platform to deliver those. It’s been a very collaborative experience… more so than I thought it would be when the project started, there’s input from all three of us in all directions… even if (Simon) hasn’t got the language, by his own admission, he’s as musically minded as Pat and I and knows exactly how he wants things to sound.
Patrick: I’ve read Simon at school, and I’d obviously heard heard his name. I mean, it’s hard not to, although it wasn’t until I think we weren’t like actually working together, until I actually met Simon, that everything for me just made so much sense. And I think in the context of any art that someone creates, if you get to know the person, that they are a part outside of their creations … if you watch interviews with artists, or musicians, and you’re like, I get why that person is making that, creating that thing, and you get the whole package. Everything made way more sense in that respect. So it’s hard to say what my attachment was to Simon before I actually met him. And I think obviously, he’s a genius, he’s an unquestionable genius.
Can you give an insight into working with Armitage, and the way he guides the music?
Patrick: Yeah, I think now, more than more than the first record, the first record we were finding our feet, we had poetry, we had music. We had an idea. Now, we know what that idea is. And I think we’re able to write into the project more. We’ve got these three elements, you’ve got Richard, you’ve got myself, you’ve got Simon, but we could do them in many different formats. So the first record, we had Simon’s poetry and we took that into the studio, Richard and myself, and then we create something; but now we’re able to send stuff to Simon or Richard send something to me. And then […] we’re still working, we’ve still been working remotely, but it’s been going in different ways. And that’s been an incredible insight into the process. We’re thinking about other elements, like all three of our voices joining together, and, you know, just really testing the boundaries for that.
Richard: Yeah, I think Simon’s obviously a huge music fan. And, you know, you’ve read that book, Gig. You know, he’s a frustrated rock star. So in the studio, Simon seems incredibly happy and excited all the time. And it’s great. It’s so nice to have that kind of input. In terms of our roles in the band, it does feel like it’s quite flexible. And, you know, we’ve talked about Simon taste and singing maybe at some point. So we were able to have fun with it, and just collaborate. It’s very, it feels like a really free artistic project in that respect.
How does LYR differ to other projects?
Patrick: I’m always working on very, very, very different projects anyway. And I think I had a project before this that, I guess it was one big experimentation. I was writing a lot on guitar, and for me, I think I took those production values of that project and brought them into certainly the first record and the ideas that I was kind of working with in that project came into this. I think it’s definitely from working with this and then where that takes me just as a writer and certainly producer, I think you’re inevitably going to find things within the process that you absolutely adore. And you want to make them like a sound for you as a producer. And also just meeting some amazing musicians, our drummer Mike and and our bass player guitarist Matt, he’s actually in studio at the moment, doing some work … incredible musicians that we get to work with as well … live and within the studio, and we’ve been so lucky to have amazing collaborations thus far with our music. That network of people really leads into my work from this.
Richard: Yeah, I’d say, for me, LYR is definitely, as part of my world, it’s the one thing I don’t compromise on artistically; I’d say, I do stuff for film and TV, and writing with other people and my solo project, and I feel like a lot of that is my bread and butter and otherwise, LYR is like my cake […] it’s something I really want to make sure it’s always perfect. And I’m really proud of what we’ve done. But it’s about artistic integrity with this project. It’s always got to be LYR standard.
How are you drawn to the more esoteric instrumentation on particular tracks such as the bouzouki on “Adam’s Apple”, or the kora on “Great Coat”?
Patrick: So “Adam’s Apple”, I couldn’t work out what that piece was supposed to be; so a lot of the process for that record was like, getting Simon’s piece, putting into the computer and kind of working out what it was supposed to be; you can’t tempo map these things, it doesn’t have verses and chorus is like, I don’t know what this is supposed to be! I spent a whole evening trying to work it out, kind of gave up and I picked the bouzouki and it was tuned in to a certain tuning and my water bottle hit it and it made this sound I thought sounded alright, that’s a pretty good sound actually, and that became the opening chords to that piece and then kind of built up from that one instance of like something hitting an instrument, it making the right sound and I mean, who knows, it could have been something completely different if I hadn’t done that. But in that instance I wasn’t trying to overthink it. It was more accidental than anything, say with the kora when that came into “Great Coat”. My friend Maddie, who plays cello on the record, I was at her’s: she has a kora in her living room and I was staying there, and I picked it up and I thought, ‘this is such an impressive instrument, it sounds fantastic’. It’s just kind of playing around with it, just getting some sounds and I had my phone with me, made a recording […] and then that became the sort of drone or impetus to build a track around. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m including these instruments for any other reason than they just have an amazing texture and sound. I think there’s certainly more bizarre stuff that we’ve been putting on record for sure. But I don’t do it out of trying to be wacky […], a lot of the time it just doesn’t work but sometimes it does, and I guess you’ve just got to have fun really,
Richard: (Patrick) played a watering can on a track on the new record.
Patrick: Two watering cans!
Richard: So the future’s bright, and exciting, and horticultural.
Considering the uniqueness of LYR, what were the stepping stones or influences which led it’s sound?
Richard: I don’t know, there was definitely when we started the project. And the three of us met, we did a lot of mixtapes, you know, passing stuff back that we were all enjoying. And I remember one thing that we kept on saying is it’s got to have this kind of consistent beauty. We want it to be really, really beautiful. And there was a point where Simon was sharing things like, kind of sacred music, basically. And we were talking about how it can be really affecting. But then, also, there’s a mutual love of the Cocteau Twins and The Fall, Joy Division and things like that; and it’s all these different elements that we love, they’ve gone in into the projects that make it unique. I hope so. Yeah, it’s a bit of a melting pot, I suppose if what everyone everyone’s been listening to and doing for years.
Patrick: Yeah, and I think we all grew up listening to different music, and I think we’ve been influenced in different ways, but there’s definitely records fit in the circle of three where we can all [agree]. I think Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock were massive, just touching points on where we want to go forwards – and those records are really important. And, you know, Blue Nile as well, we really meet in the middle on that; there’s so many avenues to explore with our tastes and what we can actually do, and we’re just doing that, we’re throwing in our influences and seeing what happens.
How are you feeling about returning to live music again?
Richard: It’s bit scary actually. You know, I haven’t even been in the room with more than ten people for 15 months – to be in a room with 200 people it’s going to be quite overwhelming, I think. But yeah, ultimately, we’re all super excited to be together. Yeah, when we get into a rehearsal room together again in a week and a half that’s that’s gonna be wild. So yeah, we can’t wait … and to play a sold out show in London, coming out of lockdown. It’s going to be emotional. I think for everybody, not just us but the audience themselves as well. So I’m nervously excited. Well, we’re gonna [play] front loaded with all the sad ones so that they cry and then we’re gonna go into hardcore. Get him crying.
Patrick: I’m emotionally mute nowadays. I think “Adam’s Apple” is a bit of a tearjerker. Yeah, when we did the live videos of that, I think most of the people performing said that they had tears. At the end of the performance, though, I guess that’s something to go on. But yeah, I think playing “Never Good With Horses” as well as the first single, that’s gonna feel pretty powerful as well. And, you know, we’ve come so far since that single came out in February last year, and it’s just been such a weird, weird time to launch a band. So yeah, it’s gonna be a really emotional evening in London, and then we’ll probably never speak to each other again.
What are you looking forward to the most, post-pandemic?
Patrick: I am going to go walk the South West Coast Path with my partner in the summer; very much looking forward to that. You know, it don’t think it’s like, I would, I would say, being in a room with loads of people, but that’s going to happen anyway. I think just generally, I like walking about …
Richard: I’m looking forward to kind of it not being such a rigmarole when we will all get together like my kids. You know, for them, I think it’s been really hard. Like we’ve seen my parents, their grandparents who are through this, but I think they just want to kind of get back to hugging and being free around people and being able to interact with people normally. And I’d like that as well. And also, alongside that, I’d like to go on a very long tour, so I don’t have to do quite as much childcare. So yeah, it’s a mixture of the two.
LYR’s Call In The Crash Team will be released by Mercury KX digitally, on CD and on vinyl on June 25th; you can order your copy here.