Jul 13, 2016
Photography by James Loveday Issue # 57 - M83
When WU LYF finally collapsed in November of 2012, bringing to a close four years of breathless "next big thing" predictions and escalating disenchantment among the Manchester band's four members, vocalist Ellery James Roberts was ready to move on. Announcing the band's demise on their YouTube channel with a 200-word letter to his bandmates, he described the emptiness and irrelevance he felt had come to define his experience in the band. He needed to live a "life that was true," and that wouldn't include WU LYF.
Three years later, in the summer of 2015, after an aborted solo album and a stint working in his dad's construction business, Roberts had written a song that he realized was too quiet to fit with his raw-throated yowl. As his girlfriend, Dutch audio-visual artist Ebony Hoorn, had stopped by the studio that day, he asked her to try singing on the track. By the end of that day, Roberts had started his next band. They would be called LUH—an acronym for "Lost Under Heaven"—and Roberts would use it as a vehicle to reconnect with the wild and uncompromised spirit he had lost in WU LYF. The problem was, as he sat down to write the songs that would become Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, he realized he didn't know much about songwriting.
"In WU LYF we never really wrote songs," he says from a café in Amsterdam, not far from where he and Hoorn now live. "We sort of jammed and jammed and over time whittled them down to five-minute songs from 20 minutes. So after WU LYF, I wasn't starting from scratch, but I was working out how to write songs. I find that the best way for myself is this journalistic document on what I'm experiencing and feeling. And as me and Ebony were sharing quite a lot of experiences together and our lives got intertwined with each other, she was in the songs. So it made sense for her voice to be in the songs, because she was in them anyway."
Roberts and Hoorn exude a friendly and frantic energy, frequently interrupting and finishing each other's sentences and playfully asking each other questions that reveal the extent to which they are still getting to know each other. Having Hoorn as his collaborator seems to have transformed Roberts' approach to his songwriting, not only by adding a softer, female voice to act as a counterpoint to his own but by pushing him to write more melodically accessible material. Produced by Bobby Krlic (aka The Haxan Cloak) over two weeks on Osea Island in eastern England, the tracks alternate between the hauntingly meditative and the epically soul-purging, pulling in everything from atmospheric call-and-response singalongs ("I&I") and serenely hypnotic drones ("Future Blues") to plaintively homespun guitar-and-piano ballads ("The Great Longing"). From start to finish, it's aching, emotionally raw music, overflowing with the sorts of honest and chaotic moments he set out to create.
"I didn't want to reinvent myself, but I got very sick of myself and where I was coming from and was trying to escape that," Roberts admits. "I had the realization that what WU LYF had that was really exciting was there at the beginning, when we were 17 and 18, when it was very honest. And that honesty got lost over the inevitability of growing up and experience. I think that once [Ebony and I] started playing, that rose to the surface again," he says, his tone brightening. "And I think Ebony furthered that push."
[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]
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