Simon Says #35: Returning To The Road
The Bella Union founder ponders the wisdom of a return to the road, as his band, Lost Horizons, prepare to release album number two…
So I started recording a new Lost Horizons album last March with my partner-in-grime Richie Thomas. For those of you who don’t know the story, Richie was the drummer of Dif Juz, one of the most underrated of 4AD bands; like a dubby post-rock math band before either existed. Richie was so good in fact, that at 15 he auditioned to be the original drummer for John Lydon’s PiL and would have got the job, except he didn’t have a passport and couldn’t get one in time for the upcoming dates.
He plays drums and the saxophone like no one else, and has that punk spirit mixed with the soul of a New Orleans jazzer. Early Cocteaus fans will have noticed his name on a few of our records performing sax. He also moves in mysterious ways, literally. Rarely when I speak to him is he ‘home’. Home is Queens Park in London and where he’s been since I first met him in 1983. It is a spot located somewhere in the middle if you drew a triangle shape from Hampstead Heath to Marble Arch, then Kensal Green and back.
Naturally, he’s a die-hard Queens Park Rangers fan and since I’ve known him he has been going to as many games as his mysterious life allows him to. We support different teams, but we share a love of being ‘at the match’. In fact, he used to park his beloved Saab 900 outside my flat in Shepherds Bush on Saturdays before the games back in the 80s, and take the short walk to QPR’s ground. Richie is something of a butterfly. He loves taking off and then settling, breathing deeply, moving off again and then settling once more for a moment before that itch returns and he’s away. He travels constantly, all for the love of meeting people and experiencing new language, food, culture and wide open spaces. We are very different people, and yet our friendship is deep. Our language of communication is mostly music, and when we began our journey with Lost Horizons in 2017, it was just a selfish desire for both of us to indulge ourselves in making music again.
The only rules were that the initial recordings had to be improvised and then if nothing came of them, we would still have had that magical time together. And so starved were we both of the chance to let loose in a room and make a noise with no other egos to satisfy, it was an utter joy that bore unexpected fruit. It became something out of nothing with no plan, and everything was just all about letting the music inform us what to do with it.
Once we were finished with the debut, Ojalá, Richie was keen for us to play out live, but because of the nature of its original composition – typically him drumming and me playing a hastily tuned guitar, or an uncertain piano, followed by me returning home to layer bass, pianos, more guitars, flutes, strings and then a different featured vocalist on each piece – it was NOT that easy to recreate live.
‘The only thing that can inform who should sing on each track is the music’
But for 18 months, we somehow played a whole host of festivals and cities around Europe with a band of seven, an adorable collection of young Brighton musicians, with Richie and I, and our great friend Chris Anderson from Crayola Lectern. Richie was in his element, connecting with people doing what he loved to do the most. I kept the whole thing going as best I could, but it was pretty exhausting and as I am closing in on the last section of mixing the second album, I am unsure if I will want to tour the band again.
The first album was recorded partly at the Bella Union studios in London and Brighton and the rest in my living room at home with headphones on! This time, it was pretty much the same, except at home I built a small studio in the garden, and that has made a huge difference. As well as the tracks we improvised together, in the same way as on Ojalá, we have both written more songs alone and then added to each other’s skeletal beginnings.
There are some new featured vocalists on the second record, who have added an extra dimension, including an incredible 80-year-old soul singer from the US! Some of our treasured friends from before make a welcome return, such as Karen Peris from The Innocence Mission and Beth Cannon from LibraLibra.
The only thing that can inform who should sing on each track is the music, and I feel blessed that pretty much whenever I’ve sent music to a singer, it’s come back better than I could have dreamed. It’s not been an easy album to make. As some of you will know, I lost my mum recently, but out of that profound sadness has come a sense of purpose.
The other big change is that I decided I had to mix the album as well. Ojalá was mixed by my great friend Paul from Lanterns On The Lake, and it was tempting to have him mix this new one, too, but I felt I needed to do it myself. Paul gave me great encouragement throughout. Whenever I had doubts he reassured me, and that’s a sign of what a great man he is.
So you can now say you heard about it here first, and it will be out later this year on Bella Union (naturally enough), and published by the amazing people at Faber Alt.