Folk band Lord Huron's musical adventure brings them to Milwaukee
Indie Americana folk band Lord Huron's musical reign may have originally started in Michigan, but it's slowly expanded far outside their home state. The group – whose warm, soaring sound, rich harmonies and lyrical odes to nature are reminiscent of fellow folk favorites Fleet Foxes – has been touring the country, including a recent performance on Jimmy Kimmel earlier this month.
Now, the up-and-coming folk group is heading back to the Midwest, including a show at the Pabst Theater on Wednesday, Jan. 29. OnMilwaukee got a chance to talk to Ben Schneider, the band's front man and forming member, about the origins of Lord Huron, their next album and his interest in old Americana adventure tales.
OnMilwaukee.com: When did you start getting into music?
Ben Schneider: Pretty early on, I guess. I remember being struck by it as a kid, just the stuff my parents would play around the house. I remember pretty clearly seeing my dad singing with his brothers or the band at church. I was always pretty interested in it. It captivated me.
OMC: What kind of music would they play?
BS: They had kind of broad tastes. I really liked a lot of church music. When I was a kid, I was struck by hymns and things like that. My folks were kind of American music fans. They loved Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen and all this great folk music and Bob Dylan.
I really enjoyed the stories of those songs. I remember early on being really drawn to the lyrics and imagining the lives of these people that these songs are about. I always liked film music as well. Even as a kid, I remember really loving to sing along to my favorite movies. It's just always been all around me. It wasn't even something I thought about. It's just sort of what I was most drawn to.
OMC: How did Lord Huron come together then?
BS: I'd been doing music casually throughout my whole life. I had bands in high school and in college. I was pursuing a career in art but still keeping music as a part of it, as a part of my projects. I was just kind of feeling frustrated creatively at the time, so I just kind of took a break and went back home to Michigan for a few weeks. My friends were getting married, so I just took the opportunity to go and stay there for a while.
I recorded a few songs and just kind of thought of it as a personal project for me and my friends. Never thought much would come of it. But my kid sister is kind of our first manager, and she really encouraged me to put it out there. So I put it online and handed it out at music festivals and whatnot.
Pretty soon, we were getting offers to play shows, so I called up some of my old friends. I didn't really know anybody in the music scene in L.A., so I called up the best musicians I knew, who were my friends from childhood who I played with. They were gracious enough to come join me, and we've been pretty much on the road ever since.
OMC: That's an interesting combination of both old and new techniques. You're handing out your recordings and EPs, but then also the Internet. Obviously, getting into the music industry has changed in the past ten years.
BS: Absolutely. Like I said, I hadn't really been in the music scene for many years, and when I was growing up, it was homemade tapes and CDs and stuff like that that you handed out at shows. I think those methods are still key. I mean, our first write-up was because someone picked up a CD that I had left on a merch table at a festival. That physical side of things really still can get things done.
It's amazing how after that, though, the polar vortex of the Internet takes over (laughs) and kind of swallows everything up. Hopefully, it can really expand your audience, but it's just amazing how much stuff is out there. There's so much luck and timing involved just to cut through the incredible cloud of information. It's sort of a blessing and a curse. I would've loved to have had that much music at my fingertips as a kid, but it's also daunting to me to think about wading through it all.
OMC: There's so much out there, it's easy for stuff to get lost.
BS: Yeah, it used to be that you'd buy a record, and you were kind of stuck with it for a while. Sometimes, that'd be a really interesting thing because it grows on you or it changes or you have time to really sink into it. Nowadays, hopefully people still do that as much as they can, but it's really easy to cast a thing aside after the first casual listen because there's so much else to get to.
OMC: What were kind of your musical inspirations that you looked to for your debut album, "Lonesome Dreams"?
BS: Well, I was listening to a lot of stuff that evokes that adventure tale era or that time and place. A lot of western music. I listened to country music and some of the more kitschy cowboy stuff like Marty Robbins and Gene Autry and Tex Ritter. Taking that, and then adapting that to my own taste and sensibilities.
I was interested in combining some of those traditional American styles, and combining those with some more exotic sounds. Indonesian gamelan music, Cambodian pop, Indian Bollywood music. All kinds of stuff.
OMC: What is it about that old rustic folk Americana vibe that really intrigues you? This album is pretty drenched in that sound and atmosphere. Even the way you guys dress has that vibe as well.
BS: I've always been drawn to that type of story. I was looking for the best way to kind of evoke that old dime novel feel. I just think there's something about pioneer adventure stories that's just a really pure form of storytelling. The human experience laid bare. It's man in a new place, working through all the emotional things that a man goes through, but also the physical, natural struggles as well. It's just a really good setting to tell a story.
OMC: Also, that era of pioneer stories, with America exploring the nation … we don't really have much of that anymore in 2014. That's of an era bygone. We pretty much know everything on the map, and exploration is kind of gone.
BS: I know. That's always been a real point of interest for me. Exploration – Arctic, Antarctic, Western expansion – is an interesting subject to me, and it's interesting that now we've kind of done it all on Earth, so now we gotta look elsewhere I guess. Maybe the next record will be about space travel (laughs).
OMC: Do you have any plans for a second album in the works?
BS: We're working on it now. I'm pretty far along on writing it, and we'll be digging into it more once we get back from this last tour. We're hoping to have it out sometime this year.
OMC: Do you know what kind of ideas and sounds you're trying to do for this second album?
BS: It definitely retains a lot of the style things that we've developed, but I guess we're sending it in more of a sort of rockabilly direction. We'll see what it becomes, but that's where it's at right now.
Lord Huron performs Wednesday, Jan. 29 at the Pabst Theater. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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