Unlocked: Philly’s Lantern on collaboration, confidence and meeting itself for the first time

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intheparkWhen Philly’s Lantern first began to release music in 2010, singer and guitarist Zachary Devereux Fairbrother used the moniker to expunge a cache of lo-fi, home-recorded bluesy solo recordings. This was music he made in the wake of his previous band’s split (he fronted Montreal psych collective Omon Ra II), before he moved to Philly with partner Emily Robb to launch Lantern as a functioning band. Two and a half years and a handful of tours later, and it is releasing its debut long-player Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach – its first collection of music recorded collaboratively – next Tuesday on Sophomore Lounge Records. The release party happens tonight at Johnny Brenda’s, we’ve featured the album all week on The Key’s Unlocked series, and this afternoon, we check in with Robb and Fairbrother to chat about the growth, changes and adventures Lantern has seen in its lifespan so far.

The Key: A lot of what you’ve done up to this point has been either spit-cassette or 7”’s or EP’s – this is the longest thing you’ve released. What’s it like plotting out something of that scope versus something that’s only two or three songs?

Zachary Devereux Fairbrother: Before, it always sort of felt like we releasing sketches, almost. They were very rough recordings, and someone would be like “wanna put it on tape?” and we’d be like “yeah sure.” So we’re piecing things together, and there’s definitely more of a transparency – which is kind of interesting with tape culture, and lo-fi kind of stuff – transparency between where it’s created and when the people hear it. It’s very natural, like you’re getting the raw footage of something. For this, we wanted to branch out in a new direction, going into a studio, and challenging ourselves. The studio was a great eye-opener. We learned a lot about what we could do with sound. It was fun conceiving this record. A lot more was on the line, a lot more was at stake. We were paying to do it, and we wanted it to sound really good, and there was this added pressure.

Emily Robb: Also, because we had never recorded in a real studio before, we didn’t really know what to expect. I remember recording our first song and then going in and listening to it in the mixing room, and being like “whoa, this is what we sound like when we’re recorded well?” [laughs] It was like re-meeting ourselves. Also, with the LP, it was definitely a longer, more played out journey than the EPs are. Especially because with the EP previous to the album, Zach pretty much wrote all the music and did all the track-listing, whereas with the album, I wrote songs, we worked on some together, some separately. It was just a major collaboration. Deciding how to mix them and how to order them and all that was much more of collaboration, which I think probably takes longer than if one person just does it. I think it was just a bigger thing.

TK: Emily, your involvement is notable on “Evil Eye”, a song where you take lead. How did you come to take lead on more of these songs?

ER: I just wanted to. I wanted to write more, I wanted to play guitar more. Previously, on all our EP’s, I pretty much solely play bass. So I just wanted to do my thing more. Zach actually wrote “Evil Eye” and did a demo of it with himself singing.

ZDF: It was just sort of in the studio we we’re like “well, why don’t you try singing it?” and it was like “ok, that sounds cool.”

TK: Another thing about that song: when I interviewed you guys for City Paper a couple years ago, Zach, you had mentioned all these ideas you had in your head for the record. How you had found somebody who was going to play saxophone and it was going to be amazing. And I was thinking saxophone, how’s this going to play in? You were talking about Muscle Shoals, and Motown, and I’m still hearing this raw, blues-y kind of thing. And then, as soon as I heard that song, I thought okay, this is what he was talking about.

ZDF: The record is definitely an homage to rock n’ roll, in sort of a grand scheme. It verges from almost proto-metal and punk elements, psych rock, as well as garage rock, or blues, to some Patti Smith or Dylan type of things, to some noisier elements. It was just sort of all those old bands, like The Sonics, even the Stones use saxophone, The Stooges – notably a big influence on our music – I just always thought the sax was really cool. Especially on “Evil Eye”, I always notice that baritone sax has a very similar quality to a very fuzzy guitar sound. So as opposed to doubling up the guitars, let’s throw a bari and it’ll play parallel with the guitar. It was just another element to add to the mix. I think we’ll definitely use more horns in the future. It would be really awesome if we could get it together to have a full horn section – maybe not on every song, but in certain cases. It just sounds awesome. We love all that old soul. Like Otis Redding or Ike and Tina Turner. You can’t get anymore rockin’ than that, and they have a horn section.

TK: Emily, to your comment about listening back to the song in the mix and being like “oh my god, this is what we sound like.” The first show I saw Lantern play after the record was finished, was when you opened for Pissed Jeans. At that show, you both had this huge amount of confidence on stage. Which, you’ve always been a good live band, but that show was next level. Do you think going through the process of recording, and hearing your music in that way affected the way you performed it?

ER: Definitely. I feel like for me, there have been huge changes in our live performance. Now we switch it up and I play guitar sometimes, Zach plays bass, I sing more. That’s definitely in my journey, been the biggest thing. I definitely remember playing guitar live for the first time with Lantern. I was really nervous, it was really scary – I only played one song. I had never really played guitar live that much, even though I’ve been playing guitar for longer than I’ve been playing bass. Since that first time, we’ve toured a lot, and I’ve gotten to play a lot more, so I’ve definitely become a lot more confident in that way. But now it’s a matter of when we do change around, finding, as a group, the comfort level we have in the way of our original lineup. It’s really fun, though, because our drummer, Christian, who’s an incredible musician, is always down to change things up and push things in different directions. We keep things loose, too, and still do a lot of improvising, which I think is the most important thing with feeling comfortable on stage.

TK: One of my favorite recordings of you guys along those lines is that live free-form show you did with Dirty Beaches at Glasslands. Has there been anything more recent than that where there was also a lot of collaboration and improv?

ZDF: Well we had a weird show in Macon, Georgia, at a loft party. Macon was an interesting city. The people we were staying with we were really friendly, they made this barbecue brisket and had this whole block of the street that no one seemed to live on. We did a show there, and all the bands kind of ended up melding into one band. But it was nothing as focused as the Dirty Beaches set, though. I’d like to try and do something like that again someday, when the situation is right. We’ve talked about doing it again with Dirty Beaches, but somehow it seemed appropriate to do it that one time. It was very thrown together. He had a lot of hype – still does – but it was when he was first breaking. I think people were pretty confused when we came on, because they were expecting him to play “True Blue” or “God Only Knows” , and then we came on and people were like “what is this?” There was a lot of energy in the room, though. There was a lot of press there, so it added to the whole excitement of it. We felt a little bit a part of it. But it seemed only appropriate to do it once.

EM: Maybe in another country.

ZDF: Maybe every four years or something. When the stars collide.

TK: It’s not something you can force, it just has to happen.

ZDF: That’s what was so good about it, and I think it really came across in the recording. And touching on the record, speaking about the collaborative thing, it was a very conscious effort that we wanted to make this a very collaborative record, as oppose to the other thing. In a way, it kind of feels like a rebirth, because we had added a new drummer, went to a studio, Emily was collaborating a lot more on the tracks. It wasn’t like it come out of nowhere, but we’re just really finding our sound now.

TK: If I remember, a lot of those tape EP’s just had stuff that you had recorded on your own, Zach. You were releasing these singles through this massive amount of music you had recorded. And you were first beginning to record as a band maybe two years ago.

ZDF: Yeah.

ER: I have a question for Zach, actually. How was that?

ZDF: It kind of feels better. It’s nice when you can be your band, and it strokes your ego, and you can realize the full potential of your ego. I read an interview where Kim Gordon was talking about what it was like being in Sonic Youth versus doing your own thing. That was a quote that she said that I thought was kind of interesting. She’s exploring her own music now, and she likes that her ego can explore that now. But being in a band, a collaborative thing, it’s a different experience. It’s better in a way. It seems cooler. I mean, we both of work really really hard, so it was just sort of a thing where, if this is going to be both of our thing, it really has to be both of our thing. So it was, how do we make that work? There’s always hurdles and things, but that’s part of what makes it a dynamic experience.

ER: We argue a lot.

ZDF: It’s always a battle, but at the end of the day, you have a product, and it’s through that process that it comes out.

Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach is the featured album in this week’s edition of Unlocked. Hear the spotlighted single “Evil Eye” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, watch a roundup of live videos in Wednesday’s post and check back later today as we explore some essential selections from Lantern’s back-catalogue.

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