Lord Huron’s folk forges a pioneer’s path
The way Lord Huron presents itself in photos is not unlike the music the band makes. It’s rare to find a standard image of Ben Schneider, the group’s singer and songwriter. He often shows up in pictures that look more like watercolor paintings, all soft focus and grainy texture.
“I’ve had to fight for that,” Schneider says. “Between the label and press outlets, they’re like, ‘Can you send us a straightforward photo?’ and I don’t want really to do that. I have to explain that and say, ‘Sorry, that’s just how it is.’ ”
“It supports the narrative of the whole project, just creating this universe it all exists in,” adds Schneider. “Part of that universe is a haze, a mystery that hangs over everything. It’s important for me to maintain that.”
Schneider, who’s 29 and on the cusp of fame, is not being precious. He’s right. Lord Huron’s music is so impressionistic, it sometimes sounds like it emanates from a dream. Rub your eyes, and the whole thing just might be a mirage.
That’s the lasting impression of Lord Huron’s luminous new debut, “Lonesome Dreams,” which will be released on Tuesday. (The band, which is based in Los Angeles, comes to Great Scott on Thursday.)
The album is rooted in folk and country, but there’s always a disorienting undercurrent that gives the music more depth and nuance. Rhythm, the kind you’d find in a raging river, courses through the songs. Even when the time signature slows down to a waltz (“The Ghost on the Shore”), the music is forever in flux.
“I think the basis of it all is a folk and country core. That’s the stuff I grew up listening to, and it influenced me a lot,” Schneider says. “As I got older, I got more into world music. A lot of that came from getting into Indian and Japanese movies. I’d always notice the music, and that would lead me somewhere else and I’d find a record. I let that stuff influence me a bit. I see it as layers on top of this American folk core.”
Calypso, Bollywood, and spaghetti Western soundtracks were also touchstones. The true star of “Lonesome Dreams,” though, is the alternate world Schneider created for the songs.
“I approached them like they’re frontier songs telling these stories from the West,” he says. “That theme and aesthetic guided the record. I was really focused on storytelling, not just lyrically but also with the sonic choices. I tried to do stuff that was evocative of movie soundtracks and spaces and places. I was trying to create those environments and then tell a story with the lyrics.”
The album is told almost exclusively from the perspective of adventure. Schneider fixates on landscapes, from deserts and lakes to rivers and inland coasts. He lays out his journey on the opening “Ends of the Earth”:
Oh, there’s a river that winds on
I’m a-gonna see where it leads
Oh, there’s a mountain that no man
I’m a-gonna stand on the peak
“Landscape has been important to me. Growing up where I did in Michigan, and spending a lot of time by the lake and on the lake, I have a real connection with being outside,” Schneider says. “As a kid I would wander off by myself a lot. I even kind of half-heartedly ran away from home a couple of times, trying to get my kicks on the adventure trail. I’ve always had a bit of wanderlust.”
Experienced as a whole from start to stop, which it truly should be, the album unfolds like a series of way-out-West short stories. It’s a sensibility somewhere between Willa Cather and Fleet Foxes. Songs deliberately transition from one another, as if each continues the narrative.
“I definitely like to give songs space,” Schneider says. “When we were looking for a label, we really wanted to find somebody who would let us do our thing. To be honest, there was still some pushback about some of the spaces we have on the record, about taking too long for things to resolve. It was really important for me to maintain that because I think sometimes a song needs space.”
Take “Time to Run.” Released as the first single, it has the hallmarks of an earworm — a brisk melody that gallops like a pack of horses, an infectious chorus, a story line about someone who’s on the lam. “It’s time to run/ They’ll string me up for all that I’ve done,” goes the first line. Then, after 2½ minutes, the song suddenly shifts downward into what Schneider describes as a “fever dream.” It creeps and crawls for another minute before gaining full steam again. Not exactly the stuff of a hit single, but the interlude is completely in service to the song’s story arc.
Schneider’s vocals also lend the album an air of mystery. Shrouded with effects — “a good, healthy amount of reverb,” as Schneider calls it — his voice is warm and celestial but also remote.
“Lonesome Dreams” marked the first time Schneider had recorded with other people. Originally a solo project, the lineup eventually swelled to five members, most of whom were childhood friends with Schneider in Michigan. Disillusioned after college, Schneider followed a girl out to Los Angeles seven years ago and launched Lord Huron in 2010; he recorded the first two EPs by himself.
“Music has always played a supporting role in my life,” he says. “I was frustrated and not getting anywhere with my art career. I just decided I was going to try this again. I had been developing an idea for several years about what kind of music I wanted to make. I think I finally found it.”