Lucky Soul | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Lucky Soul

In the Studio Report

Jun 30, 2009 Web Exclusive
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Lucky Soul is currently in the studio finalizing its sophomore album, which has yet to be titled. Two years since the release of its '60s girl group and Motown soul inflected debut, The Great Unwanted, the British band is prepared to move things in a slightly different direction, adding some different flavors to its anachronistic sound, which will hopefully distance the band from the retro label with which it was tagged as a result of its last album. Songwriter and guitarist Andrew Laidlaw corresponded with Under the Radar via email in between trips to Sweden where he was recording with Stockholm Strings to give a little taste of what we will be in for come the fall.

When did the writing process begin for the new album?

Andrew Laidlaw: It started about three weeks before we came to do our New York shows in October, and it came together really quickly, particularly lyrically.

You recorded five songs with a string quartet in Sweden in April. Will you be returning to Sweden to work with them on the rest of the album's tracks

For sure. I recorded with the Stockholm Strings at a beautiful studio just outside Stockholm. They played on Brian Wilson's last two albums and toured with Love, amongst many others, so I was honoured to have them play. They're lovely. It's the first time I've worked with string players who have a real pop sensibility. They're really laid back and were very nice to me (I can't read music so my changes usually involve long explanations and similes) and the strings actually sound Swedish, which is impossible to explain but they do.

How do you see these songs as different from those on The Great Unwanted.

I think they're more accomplished in both songwriting and playing. We tried extra hard to trim all the fat off, so they're real lean and mean, structurally. Definitely a bit darker and they're probably more complicated but sound simpler. 'More direct' was a phrase we used.

Have there been any new influences, musical or otherwise, that have affected your songwriting this time around?

Let me see... Jim Ford, Timi Yuro, Neil Young, The Specials, Scott Walker (first four albums, Scott through 4), Serge Gainsbourg, Nina Simone, Edif Piaf, Dolly Parton, The Staple Singers, Fleetwood Mac, and still The Smiths, Stax, Dusty in Memphis, Love, Bacharach, old gospel stuff, Mike Leigh, Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, Salinger, Guillermo Del Toro, my friend Art, the bad stuff, ambition.

The title track sounds perhaps less delicate than the songs on the first album, and it includes that wonderful almost disco-esque synthesized line in its middle. Has there been an effort to move toward some different textures or approaches this time around?

Well, we definitely wanted a warmer, rougher sound and we've got a new rhythm section now and they're pretty powerful. Less horns on this lot and more strings. There's mandolins, flutes, more acoustic guitars. Some of it feels a bit more rock and roll and the guitars can be almost New Wave sometimes. We're trying to develop. I hate being labeled a retro band; it's more timeless classicism to me. There was a big effort to make sure the songs work just with a stripped down band though, and for the arrangements to be more complimentary. It feels like we fit in our own shoes this time.

Are "White Russian Doll," "That's When Trouble Begins," and "Upon Hilly Fields" still expected to make the final cut? I enjoyed your descriptions of these songs in your blog. It seems like there will be some nice variety to this album.

Wait and see! I always say it ain't over till it's getting pressed, but I think "Upon Hilly Fields" is one of the best I've written, so I'd be surprised if that doesn't make it. Lots of variety yes, but I think there's some central themes between the genres. I'd like it to be thought of as somewhere in between The Smiths and Southern soul, if that's possible. But there's a fair bit of country, gospel mixed with grander stuff like Edith Piaf and Scott Walker. I'd say it's much less girl-group orientated.

Do you feel that your songwriting has changed at all for this album, as far as the lyrical themes and concepts about which you are writing?

I hope it's got better for a start; I'm striving for brilliance. When I write, I want [the songs] to stand next to the greats and hold their head up high. Lyrically, it's much darker. I've had a few new rough experiences this time round which have influenced them a bit. There's a fair bit of angst and weary resignation. What I consciously tried to do though was make them less specific, in terms of situations, whereas The Great Unwanted I can go through and say, 'Oh yeah, that song's about this person and that songs about when this happened.' I got that from listening to After the Gold Rush a lot, because Neil Young is a master of making statements that are quite vague but totally loaded with emotion. I think it kind of involves the listener a little more if you're less specific and that's what it's all about. It's obviously working because a lot people think that "Woah Billy!" is a love song. Which it ain't

I read in one of your blog posts that the band has been performing a lot of these songs live. How important is testing these songs out in front of an audience to your deciding what makes it onto the album, what to tweak and/or change, and what to keep.

I suppose it's easy to tell if the faster songs work or not by seeing if people start dancing. We played a new one called "Ain't Nothing Like A Shame (To Bring It All back Home)" the other night and the instant reaction was fantastic, so it's easy to tell if you've got a good one. I think the most changes that happen after playing live are shortening of sections when you can feel interest waning slightly. It helps but you also need to be careful not to have over-evolved away from the plan too much by the time you come to record. I wish we could test out some more of the slow ones though.

Were you pleased with the response you got stateside to The Great Unwanted? Will there be a concerted effort with the new album to increase your profile in the U.S.? Is that even much of a concern at this point? I guess it points to a more business and less artistic/musical discussion

I was pleasantly surprised actually and we've had so much love for that record from the States, even though there's never been a U.S. release. We still get messages all the time telling us to come over and play. I was really touched at our New York show at Joe's Pub, one person had flown down from Canada and another from Florida, from all over America, for us! I would hesitantly say that people in the U.S. seem to get us straight away, more so than in the U.K., which is great because I always feared that we'd be to British for you! I think we'll be waiting until the album's finished before we do the big Stateside push, but we've not decided who we're gonna release it with yet, though we've had quite a few offers. We'll listen to others too though, the more the merrier

Finally, if you were asked to sum up the new album in one or two sentences to those who are so hotly anticipating it, what would you say

It's Lucky Soul with bigger muscles, like T. Rex with insecurities and a disco string section. Woah Billy, I got some doubts about myself...



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