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W. H. Lung on taking their debut album Incidental Music from studio to stage

8 May 19 interview: Becky Timmins

Hotly-tipped, supposedly 'enigmatic' Manchester band W. H. Lung had been causing quite a stir on the scene, long before their debut album was released. It dropped last month, has been yielding critical acclaim, and has got everyone eagerly awaiting their first full UK tour. We chatted to the not-so-mysterious Joseph E, Tom P and Tom S ahead of their show at The Bodega next week...

Photo Rosie Butcher

Are we right in thinking that you are named after a supermarket in your native Manchester?
That’s right. We were driving past it one day, and Tom had the idea for it. Trying to find a band name is just the worst. So it was on the cards for a while and none of us really liked it at first, but we then went back to it and decided to release Inspiration under that name. We liked that it kind of sounds like one person, like W. H. Auden, J. D. Salinger, that kind of thing. But it’s really just a supermarket; it sounds a lot more serious than it actually is.

How did the three of you come to make music together?
We came together as W. H. Lung when we all moved back to Manchester, but we’ve known each other for ages. Tom P and Tom S played in bands together when they were growing up. We all went off to university and afterwards formed a band in Leeds. After a while we decided that we wanted a fresh start; we became a little bogged down in the drudgeries of performing live all the time, and not really knowing if we had a sound. We did Inspiration, spent three months trying to find a name, and then when we found the name, we released the track.

For people who haven’t listened to you before, how would you describe your sound?
Our sound has changed quite a lot over the course of writing the album. Inspiration is the first song that we wrote, and at that stage we were much more guitar-based. We then started working with Matt Peel, who produced the record, and he got us more and more into the electronic side of things.

Your debut album, Incidental Music, came out last month and has been yielding critical acclaim. How does it feel to have it out in the world?
Good, but it’s strange seeing your music being written about. The good stuff you read, you don’t believe, and the bad stuff you take on too strongly. At the moment we’re just focusing on continuing to write. This album was the accumulation of everything we had done since we formed as W. H. Lung, so it’s interesting that it has come across as a cohesive whole. We never imagined it as such, never set out with the intention of writing an album. It will be interesting to see what happens when we do approach it like that. We don’t necessarily have a strict plan; we aren’t enforcing anything on ourselves. But it will be different now we have more of an idea of ourselves – now we’re out in the world and people know about us.

Six of the eight tracks on the album come in at well over five minutes each in length. Can you tell us a bit about how you approach writing and recording music?
We lived together until very recently - for the duration of recording the album - and we had a room in the house set up to go and write in. So apart from Inspiration, it was all done in a way where we’d start with an initial idea, or sequence, and it would build from there. We were writing into the computer a lot, then going into the studio, stripping things right back and then building on those recordings. So that’s maybe why the tracks are quite layered and sprawling. We hadn’t necessarily intended to have such long songs, but stuff evolves. For whatever reason, it’s harder for us to write a song under five minutes than it is to write a song over five minutes.

The album cover painting is made by you, Joseph E. Is there a strong connection between your music and visual art practice, or is this more informed by your interests in blurring the lines between high and low art forms?
We were in discussions about who we might want to do the album cover – there was an idea at one point to have an artist’s impression of an Ikea catalogue, which was almost carried through. But then we decided “we’ll let Joe do it”, which was nice, but a little torturous. The place where I have ideas isn’t necessarily visual; it’s a very different process. Whilst I’m not entirely cut off from the visual arts, it isn’t my go-to creative field. Tom’s big into film - he does all our filming - and so I guess there’s a natural cross-pollination. The album cover actually took a lot of inspiration from a David Hockney exhibition I went to see, so rather than having my own original idea I was just furiously copying everyone else – that’s how that happened!

The album has prompted comparisons to LCD Soundsystem and Hookworms, amongst others. Which bands and genres are you most influenced by?
In terms of influences it’s really difficult to pinpoint. We all listen to a big variety of music, and so we take from anything that can imprint itself on the album musically. Structural ideas can also come from stuff within Hip Hop or more Art-Pop music. Obviously there’s a big Kraut influence as well, which I think comes from a more natural place; that’s what we were listening to a lot when we were first starting to write music together. You mentioned LCD Soundsystem, and they are certainly a band we all listen to and like. When we were starting this new project, we were home studio-based, and remember seeing something James Murphy had said about how he approaches writing music: when the live band would come to play, it was almost like having a cover band – almost a completely different thing to what was made when first writing in the studio. So that process and that band have been an influence on us, definitely. But we listen to an even wider variety of stuff now than at the beginning.

Your live performances had been getting attention long before you released the album. Having original intentions for W. H. Lung to be solely a studio-based project, what made you change your mind about playing this album live?
In our last band, we’d been playing loads of gigs, and got to a point where we thought maybe we should do things differently, and focus more on writing. It was just the three of us at that stage, we didn’t have a live drummer or anything like that. So until we did the live video for Nothing Is, we couldn’t really go about doing things live. And then we met our management, and started to get bookings. When you’re a small band, you get told not to say no to gigs; or you feel pressure to never say no, with people telling you “this could be the show that someone important is at”. We’d had enough of that mentality, and just wanted to efface ourselves from that whole mind-set. But then we met Melodic, and actually got some good shows - that important people were going to be at - so it kind of worked out in our favour.

You have been described as an 'enigmatic three-piece', perhaps due to being fairly quiet on social media and in the press. Is that deliberate?
We have often been branded as "mysterious individuals", with people saying that you couldn’t find out anything about us. But in terms of not doing interviews initially, it’s really because we didn’t have all that much to say as a new band. You read a lot of interviews with new bands, and it often feels like it was unnecessary.

What can the people of Nottingham expect from your upcoming show at The Bodega?
Our approach is about how to best translate those recorded songs into live performances. There’ll be a lot of synths, but not necessarily all the sounds you hear on the album – but playing live brings a different element to those individual tracks. As much as possible we try to make the live performance one whole experience, and within that we’ll find different areas and sounds, maybe even ones which we didn’t expect before. This is the first extended run of shows we’ve ever done, so it will actually be quite an interesting and investigative experience for us.

W. H. Lung play The Bodega on Tuesday 14 May 

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