Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay on LUMP, How Things Have Changed, and the Freedom of Being Small

Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay on LUMP, How Things Have Changed, and the Freedom of Being Small
Photo by Steph Lindsay

Laura Marling and Tunng's Mike Lindsay make really intriguing music on their own, and as LUMP they continue that tradition together. I was happy to talk to them about their second album as a duo, Animal, which comes out at the end of this month—and we talked about a host of other things too, including what it's like to exist in this weird and perpetually unsettling plane of existence.

When was this new album put to bed?

Mike Lindsay: We started writing in summer of 2019 and finished most of it before COVID hit in the UK. We had big plans for 2020, but we put them on hold, and here we are with you now.

Laura, you put out a record last year in the meantime, and Tunng put out an album last year too.

Lindsay: Yeah, that was recorded during COVID. Laura, you were working on your record too. We were both trying to focus on those.

What was your separate experiences of releasing records in 2020?

Laura Marling: For me, it was a lot easier, because I just sat in this room for two weeks doing interviews. It was sort of good, because you get more focus on what you're actually talking about instead of just filling space, which is what I often do in interviews. Also, it was a lot more work and quite a lonely experience, because there was no one around. But it was nice. It felt more highly concentrated, which in the attention economy we're living in was a nice experience.

Lindsay: Laura set the mold for livestreaming in the UK, too. She broke some boundaries.

Marling: I had to get radio broadcasting software and hook it up to stations around the world. It was a lot of fun.

I've talked to a lot of musicians with varying opinions on livestreaming in general. A lot of them have bad internet connections, for starters. What have been the ups and downs of adjusting to this new live performance approach?

Marling: I started using Instagram during the pandemic, which I'd never done before—I was teaching guitar lessons. I guess I'm afraid of social media, just like everyone else is. But it was much less scary, and it was nice to engage with people—it was cute, and it was fine. There's a bit of the fact that we're all working harder than ever to generate content and we're not getting paid for it, but the experience is great.

With livestream gigs, I grew up in the early '90s when you could buy a VHS of Stop Making Sense or Radiohead live in Reading. You don't really get that anymore, so I thought it was an interesting possibility to do a thought-through livestreamed performance. The Perfume Genius one was amazing.

Lindsay: I used to come home from school and watch Led Zeppelin on VHS recorded off the telly—Live in Denmark, when the first record came out. It was in black and white and there's all these Danish people sitting cross-legged watching and freaking out. I watched it every day for two years. I don't do that anymore. In the '90s, there was The Word in the UK where all the cool bands came on, and that doesn't exist anymore either. So there's an element of bringing back quality to live performance onscreen. For me, though, it doesn't replace in any way the feeling of an audience and a loud soundsystem with social interactions.

Marling: There's something energetic about going to a gig. It's a mildly spiritual experience.

Are you planning on doing live shows around the new album in the future?

Marling: We have some dates in the UK, and we're trying to get over to the States as well, but as a small band it's hard to muscle in on the post-pandemic touring schedule.

It seems like a lot of UK bands and artists are facing a similar issue. Why is that?

Marling: When Trump was in, he changed the visa system. When I started touring in the States, I'd get a working visa from the embassy every three years, which is how I was able to live there for five years. Now, you have to go to the embassy with no guarantee of getting the visa, and you can only be there from the day of your first show to the day of your last show. If you're a small artist, it's even riskier now. It's really fucked up, actually.

Lindsay: $1500 per person. It's tricky. But we should still do it!

Marling: Yeah, the British are coming, don't worry.

LUMP is a side project of sorts for both of you, but making a second record really cements it as a real thing. Tell me about the evolution of your creative partnership.

Lindsay: After the first one—which was a complete accident, a chance meeting where the music turned into something we both thought was badass—after about ten live shows, it took it to another level. That album sounded really powerful live, so we figured one day we'd make another one. It was hard to know whether we'd lose some of the magic the second time around, though. But we didn't do that. It was all done in here [gestures in his room], in Margate, which is in the seaside of England. Because of that live show, this record is more bombastic. It was a more twisted journey.

Marling: I always wanted to be in a band, and now I'm in one, so it worked out really well for me.

Mike, this is a smaller band than Tunng, obviously. In terms of creative democracy, what's it like working with just one other person?

Lindsay: It's the dream, it's excellent. The pair of us have quite defined roles. It's amazing to be free like that. We're split down the middle old-school, and I love that. I use LUMP as a playground. As much as I love working with the six of us in Tunng, when there's lots of people it can become a bit diluted. This feels fresh and new, back to how I used to want to make music.

Tell me about using the Eventide harmonizer on this album.

Lindsay: I was in Berlin once, producing a record for somebody else, a studio called Golden Retriever Studios. They had the original H910, which David Bowie used on Low, and I fell in love with it. When I heard the alien wonk sounds—which is from 1977, the year of my launch into the planet—I thought it was a great tool to bring into LUMP. I knew there was a parallel universe of sound to incorporate in the project, and that was one of the tools. All the synths go through it to give it that spatial feel.

What was the last live experience you guys had before lockdown?

Marling: I was in Australia. It felt fairly exciting at the time. I was trying to get the last flight out of Australia because they were shutting the borders. I just got out, and I was on a plane with loads of people, and no one was wearing masks. Then I was in my house for the next year.

What have you guys been doing to keep busy over the last year?

Marling: I built an eight-foot marionette puppet in my living room. That's gonna be at the shows with us.

How long did that take?

Marling: About a month. I used dressmakers to do off-cuts. I ordered a bunch of tulle, which is what tutus are made of, and I built a skeleton and learned how to build a marionette. Hopefully it wasn't a waste of time.

Lindsay: I have a motorbike, which is a great thing to have when you can't do much socially, because it's just you and the steed. I live on the coast, so I can take rides and feel like I'm zen'ing out while burning some good old fossil fuels. [Laughs] Honestly, I was in here making music. My girlfriend lives upstairs and was painting pictures. We couldn't do much else. Just swimming in the sea.

What's the overall energy in your lives regarding everything that's taken place over the last few years? How do you feel?

Marling: Thanks for asking. [Laughs] I think it's quite a weird time in the UK for lots of reasons. There's a general tension that's built post-Brexit. The pandemic's been handled terribly and continues to be handled terribly. It's a fucking hard time to be a musician, it's a fucking hard time to be a journalist, it's all a bit scary and weird. Moving back into the world and trying to move like it was before doesn't feel right. Things are chugging back into existence but they're not running yet, so it feels odd. I've been touring since I was 18—it's been my life—and I'm just waiting to do that again.

Lindsay: It's worse now that things are opening up a bit more. [Laughs] When everything was defunct and you just had to deal with the close things around you, there was almost an element of calm and madness among the death. But nothing's opened up. Me and my girlfriend are getting married in two weeks in Scotland and trying to organize a wedding. So the past month has been pretty annoying with the push-pull. It definitely affects one's center. On the plus side, things are trying to wriggle through and we gotta wriggle along with it. I think that it's not gonna be easy for any kind of "back to what it was before" normality, and it won't be easy psychologically as well. But we'll get there.

Marling: I predict that in three years' time there'll be a great wave of British artists who suffered through this time during their development. It's been an incredibly difficult time for young people, and there'll be a Renaissance because of that.

Lindsay: Not just British.

Marling: Well, because I'm British, I'm thinking about it in those terms. With Brexit was the end of any semblance of us having any interesting thing about us as a nation. But peoples' identities will be affected by [the pandemic], maybe in an interesting way.

One thing I've been thinking about a lot is that I thought it would become a cliché to say that people would change over the last year. But as I'm seeing people more again, it's clear that everyone has changed in some way. Have you perceived change in your own lives?

Marling: I overthink a lot, and I've been studying psychoanalysis, so I've been thinking about interactions with people a lot. When the pandemic hit, psychoanalysts had to go online. Every psychoanalyst I know is in their late 70s and has never used a computer, but they suddenly had a moral responsibility to take their thing online and develop a whole new philosophy with how to deal with patients online. That was on my mind a lot. The way we were interacting people was basically looking at myself. I just realized that with my iPad, I don't have to look at myself, which is much better.

But there's intense self-reflection and that stunts conversation, and nothing spontaneous happens because you can't be spontaneous the same way. I've never suffered from social anxiety, but I've found social interactions really anxiety-inducing the last couple of weeks as things are opening up, because I've been unchanged by human hands the last year and a half. It'll be a radical shift. Maybe a good one.

Lindsay: Also, you have to wait until the other person stops talking now.

Marling: Yeah, you can't generate that kind of grit in conversation where you jam into each other.

Lindsay: One thing I think has changed for the better is table service in pubs.

Marling: I agree.

Lindsay: It's very civilized. They come to the table now and take your order just like they would in France or Spain. It's good.

Laura, in terms of studying psychoanalysis, how has that converged with your art?

Marling: For the first album, I was using stuff from the surrealist manifesto—styles of random thought processes that produced random imagery. This time, I was underlining things that I found sounded quite funny, but I was also writing in real time in front of Mike and saying whatever came into my mind, which is almost an analytical process and setup. I'm sitting there, he's not looking at me, and I'm spouting gibberish into a microphone.

I'm very attached to LUMP in a lot of ways because it's given me opportunities to do things I haven't before, but there's also this codified dream language that I'm using that is probably quite easy to interpret. I'm speaking in a slightly twisted language, but it's still quite personal. Psychoanalysis became part of the songwriting process, which is fun and interesting for me but perhaps not for everyone else.

Mike, was it fun for you?

Lindsay: Oh, it was fun for me. I love hearing the magic pour out somehow out of nowhere. It's quite an amazing feat to witness. I just sat back there with a pen and paper, pressing play and trying not to encourage or discourage anything, and then suddenly there's poetic dream parallel words. It's very exciting.

You guys recorded this pre-pandemic, and a lot of artists are having this experience of releasing an album now that's firmly situated in the past. Are you already thinking about another LUMP record as you promote this or is it a period of reflection?

Marling: If it had been my solo record, I would've been driven insane. I would've hated having to wait. I would've not wanted to hang out with that record for a long time. But LUMP is a different world, and I'm chomping at the fucking bit. Having an established career, it's hard for the people you work with to pay attention to this thing you love. We've started working on another album, and it solidifies the fact that we just really like it. Because it's such a small band, it's not like we're running a conglomerate touring stadiums, which is a nice freedom to have. I'm still writing LM stuff too. Everything's very separate in my brain.

Lindsay: We got together and started doing the new record live in a rehearsal room, filming us playing it, and it brought the record to life again. That felt pretty exciting. What's been nice about these records is that no one knows we're making them. We just start making them and tell somebody when they're done. There is stuff bubbling, and we should talk about when we're gonna start that.

Marling: We should actually get it done.

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Jamie Larson