“It can be simple and still rock.”
Lantern are rock & roll. You can slice and dice that Philly cheese grit and riff, come to find a steady job hitting the tail pipe and popping shooters — swatting flies — behind the dumpster for dice money. Then it rips your ears into the sound of Zach Fairbrother and Emily Robb, backed by Christian Simmons on drums, tossing out beer cans/bottles into a heavy-fisted crowd of cut-offs and nose rings. Lantern: sear your mind mechanics.
Having undergone two tours in the spring, played at TMT and Northern Spy’s Unisex Earplug SXSW event, and snagged a spot on Sophomore Lounge’s summer LP lineup, Lantern are pretty unstoppable. Like, they’re axing you to say-it-to-their-face. Lantern are probably in your town right now. Look it up, dive in a hole, and bend an ear to ‘em live already.
We catch up with Lantern to talk about touring, their new album Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach — out July 9 on Sophomore Lounge — and Insane Clown Posse.
So y’all are just now coming down off a SEASON-long tour and resting in Connecticut, yeah?
Robb: We toured around SXSW time, which was a pretty long tour. Then we were asked to go on tour with this band called The Veils right after that. Since [then], we have been in Philly working. Right now we are just relaxing, visiting my mother.
How was having Elliott Sharp alongside your first tour?
R: It was really awesome. I pretty much just watched him eat burgers every day and drink a lot of beer.
Fairbrother: He kept jotting down little notes the whole time.
R: Yeah, I kinda want to read his journal about it all. It was good to have someone on tour with us who was coming from a different perspective in music. For instance, he was really surprised at how many bands wanted to play SXSW and make the trip down there, even though most of them don’t get paid. But he got a really good impression of what it takes to be on tour and on the road. Played a lot of darts.
What was the best show you played during these past bits of touring?
F: Well, we had a really good time in Detroit.
R: For SXSW, we were touring with our friends Sheer Agony, from Montreal. So, it was fun to just be on tour with friends.
F: We were booked at a loft called 1213 Griswold, which is right in the middle of downtown Detroit. Detroit feels like a skeleton. It’s almost like a ruin, but very modern and American. It’s very cool and unique, but very tragic as well. We played our set and people were moshing, screaming, and going nuts. It was great! Towards the end of our set, people started throwing drums and cymbals into the audience and started taking away our instruments and playing them. The whole place just turned into this rave-noise-drum jam for like… We played for a half hour, but the rave-noise set went on for like another half hour, and then DJs started coming on, and people started playing drums to them. It was a blast; Detroit ruled. A very special show for us. It was great because we love so much music that comes from there.
Now, you said that Connecticut is your mom’s place? I think it was Jon Hency who told me you were from a little island off the coast of Maine called Mount Desert Island?
R: Yes, it is my mom’s place, but I was born on Mount Desert Island. In my family’s house, actually. And I lived there until I was 10, then my mom moved to Connecticut, but my father stayed around there. Mount Desert Island is really, really beautiful… It’s an island off the coast of Maine, and two-thirds of the island is national park called the Acadia national park. Most of the land is preserved, which is amazing, cause there’s mountains, and you’re also surrounded by the ocean.
And, Zach, Shawn Reed told me I should ask about your beginnings in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This is where you grew up?
F: Yes. Outside of Halifax. In a small town called Musquodoboit Harbour.
Is there a lotta rock & roll out there in Halifax?
F: There’s some really cool stuff! Cool labels like Divorce and Electric Voice Records, who put out our first cassette. There is also this really incredible music festival called Obey, which was last [month] Pissed Jeans, PC Worship, Mac DeMarco, Grouper, Tonstartssbandht, and many more all played…
R: Yes, we are, actually. You should come.
F: PC Worship is our favorite.
How has touring been as a couple?
F: I think we’ve gotten better at it.
R: I feel like Christian, our drummer, should be the one to answer that question. Like how it has been for him touring with us… But honestly we’ve never toured without each other, except for one time Zach went on a mini-tour without me. So, I think we’re pretty used to it at this point.
We’re a rock & roll band. We’re not a garage rock band. We don’t draw from pop-punk references. It’s just not where we come from. So, I’m a little confused maybe on where we fit in, but in a way we want to forge our own path.
How long have you two known each other?
R: We met in 2008 in a music class in school. I actually went to college in Halifax at the same college as Zach, and we took a music class together. It’s really funny because we didn’t talk for the whole year we were in class until the very end, and by then I was graduating. It wasn’t until I had moved away to Philly that we started talking. Then we both moved to Montreal for a year, where we started Omon Ra II, and then together made the migration back to Philly.
Has music been easy to make together as a couple too? Considering your prior project together as Omon Ra II…
F: Most of the writing on [our new album] Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach has been collaborative. It’s not always easy, cause even though we’re always together, we have different personalities, and we want to be individuals. The biggest collaboration, rather than listening habits or interests, is forging a direction together, and then figuring things out in a larger aesthetic or image, not just about the band, but the overall idea of the project. We’re constantly talking about it; eventually we’ll come up with something.
R: I think that for the most part we will usually patch ideas separately, and then bring them together, whether it’s just a thought or the full song.
I suppose that’s better than couples therapy…
F: Way better! It sort of works well with Christian (Simmons, aforementioned Lanterns drummer) too. Emily and I can kind of butt heads cause we are always so close to it, but he can be our eyes on the other side. And he can sort out the details of what WE aren’t seeing. The big picture. And he’s a great guy to work with, fitting well within the puzzle.
R: He’s also not shy about interpreting songs. Which is something that’s really amazing.
F: He has a lot of great ideas on how to arrange things.
But y’all have had different drummers over the years, right? When did Simmons start working with Lantern?
R: Actually, the recording of Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach was the first thing we did together. We’ve known him for awhile, and have been friends. Zach and Christian had played music together before, and his old band played live with our old band.
Aside from the split cassette with Dirty Beaches, and Omon Ra II, were there any other project between y’all and Alex from Dirty Beaches?
R: We backed him up at Glasslands once as Lantern. We got together maybe the day before that show, and came up with a few ideas, but other than that it was largely a collaborative improvised set, which the crowd wanted more of, so we continued, making up another song on the spot.
People wanting you to play more seems to be a pretty big trend for Lantern, such was the case at Unisex Earplug.
F: We love to play!
Whatever happened to Omon Ra II?
F: We just wanted to do something new. It was an interesting line-up. Chris D’eon was playing keyboard with us at the time. Who goes by d’Eon. But it just ran its course. I started not having the ear to write for it, and gaining the ear for something else.
Where did the name Lantern come from, then?
F: Initially, I wanted to name it Magic Lantern, after the Kenneth Anger production company, but upon Googling the name, I realized that’s the band [Cameron Stallones] came from, so we couldn’t do that. Dropped the Magic, and just called it Lantern, cause there’s a lot of “Magic” bands out there. We thought it sounded mysterious and spooky. Lanterns give light in darkness, so we liked the imagery and meaning of the word.
Then I found out there’s like three other Lantern bands out there, but by that time the we didn’t care, and I believe we can all co-exist. There’s this Finnish death metal band named Lantern, too. Which also makes it tricky ‘cause our logo is sort of metal-ish. An Italian HC band, too. There’s probably a few others.
The Lantern EP Deliver Me From Nowhere does that sort of minimal, but rock- and blues-inspired beats and melodies, yeah? Where’d inspiration for that begin?
R: So, to add a bit of Lantern backstory: Lantern formed after Omon Ra II disbanded. [Zach] would record these songs on four-track and send them to me, asking for my opinion. We were both into blues at the time — myself being a huge blues and Americana fan — but those songs are how Lantern started, and were turned into the Deliver Me From Nowhere EP.
F: We both got into a lot of folk and rock & roll, and Alex of Dirty Beaches was a big inspiration too, he was doing this cool re-visioning of rock & roll. It was rock & roll but there was a log of other things in there too. Borrowing from narratives and the lexicon of myth in rock & blues but presenting them in a different way — very spooky and minimal. Deliver Me From Nowhere… has ended up being my favorite Lantern release, aside from the new record, because I was doing these sort-of blues songs, and it kind of felt like I shouldn’t be doing them ‘cause I wasn’t an old blues guy. Like it felt out of place…
Maybe it was because you and Robb were apart at the time?
F: Hah — yeah, maybe I was feeling a little… blue. But the challenge was putting it out, cause it was scary. I was thinking, Is anyone going like this? It felt like I was challenging myself, which is a great place to be artistically because that’s when you get the best results.
There’s some hard harmonica on that EP, too. Who does that?
R: I think Zach does everything on that tape. Maybe I played drums on maybe one or two tracks.
People were moshing, screaming, and going nuts. It was great! Towards the end of our set, people started throwing drums and cymbals into the audience and started taking away our instruments and playing them. The whole place just turned into this rave-noise-drum jam.
Deliver Me From Nowhere is much more bluesy than most of the Lantern discography, how did Burned Youth come about?
R: Burned Youth was more like a compilation of songs from the beginning of Lantern.
F: Even before Lantern. Even before Omon Ra II. It goes way back. We have a slightly confusing discography. It’s really not a Lantern release, but got pegged as such.
R: Yeah, it was like a stew or pot of just all our songs, which we originally released as a tape for our first tours, just to have some things to sell. And Shawn wanted to put it out again as a Night People tape. So he re-released it. Which, understandably, people have misunderstood, but it’s just a compilation. Some of the songs we recorded here in Connecticut, at my mom’s house, some were by Zach in Nova Scotia, a few were made in our studio in Kensington — in Philadelphia, Montreal, so it comes from all over.
Then Dream Mine was recorded 2011?
R: Yes. And that was ALL recorded in Philadelphia.
Where was your inspiration for the sounds on that?
F: Well, the fuzz-guitar parts were really inspired by Japanese psyche rock like High Rise, Main Liner, Acid Mothers… just taking that lo-fi/fuzzed-out sound. The jam space we recorded Dream Mine in is kind of a rough neighborhood, lots of abandoned buildings, so at night it feels very spooky. The EP was more-or-less inspired by the city, like the bleakness of the city. And our jam space was always freezing. So we were recoding these songs when it was cold, and always late…
R: And a lot of time, when we just started jamming on something, Sophia and I sort of went into these metal sounds, which was fun to play around with…
F: We also did some fun stuff like, on the track “Fool’s Gold.” We just recorded our voices chanting in this small jam space, and then slowing the tape way down to a dirge-y crawl…
R: It’s super spooky.
F: We all just did this improv jam one time… And I took those tapes and played ‘em backward and warped ‘em into a sort of sound collage. Then there’s that synth jam on Dream Mine that I made while I was watching a lot of John Carpenter movies, and I just made it one afternoon because I wanted to do a cyber-punk theme song. I had no plans to release it. But when I was putting the EP together, I said to myself, “I dunno, this record is sort of cyber punk-ish” like The Warriors or something, future-primitive, and thought maybe this could fit.
How about your bass lines, Emily? Where do you draw/find inspiration?
R: I listen to a lot of Motown. I was experimenting a lot during the writing of Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach, but I usually come back to what’s simple. I think John Paul Jones is really awesome and I’ve been geek-ily learning a lot of his bass lines, which is kind of hard to do because he does so much stuff, so fast, you can’t even hear the lower registers well… It’s cool to learn, cause every musician has these little unique things they do, which they may not even consider, like a run or a fill, whatever, and those little exchanges can be exciting to learn, and become influential.
Do you feel like the sound between Dream Mine and Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach is different because of the switch in drummers?
R: That’s definitely a big part of it, although Zach and I had been writing songs for it before we knew we’d be working with Christian. I just think it was sort of a period where we wanted to move forward and try new things, especially the thought of working in a real studio and having a real engineer. Previously, we’ve recorded everything ourselves. So we wanted [Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach] to be not as lo-fi. Inevitably, that brings an entirely new sound. And previous to Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach, Zach was usually the only one writing the songs, so now me coming in more as a writer, new things unfolded. We quickly recognized the difference between writing for a studio and writing for a four-track. Now we play less punk and more straight-up rock and roll.
Did Sophomore Lounge pay for the studio time?
F: We paid for it. Got it mastered, and just shopped around labels, really.
How did y’all end up finding Sophomore Lounge?
R: We played a festival called Cropped Out, which Ryan (Davis, of Sophomore Lounge) and one other person organize annually. And we met there. Eventually, Ryan just offered to put out our music, cause he knew we had a record ready.
Nice. Prior to Ryan, outta curiosity, how’d y’all meet Shawn Reed?
F: There’s this other label called Sweat Lodge Guru, where our pal Cough Cool put a tape out on. We were looking for someone to release a tape and we gave it to them but they thought that Night People would be a better fit and so they gave it to Shawn and he was into the release.
F: Yeah, we were initially going to be a part of a singles series he used to do on tapes. Like a one sided Cough Cool/Lantern single tape, but it got too costly. So I kept asking Jon, ‘Hey, man, let’s do something else’ and eventually he agreed to put out a tape.
Jon actually told me to mention something about your love for ICP [Insane Clown Posse], Zach?
F: Haha, I think they’re DIY warriors. You gotta respect ‘em. They’ve created a world where nothing matters; they’ll always have their fans. They got their own record label. You look on Wikipedia and they have a staff of 20 people, making $10 million a year. Just, whoever thought that rapping clowns could make it? I use that as inspiration, like, “I can make it!”
The biggest collaboration, rather than listening habits or interests, is forging a direction together, and then figuring things out in a larger aesthetic or image, not just about the band, but the overall idea of the project.
So, y’all seem familiar with underground “weirdo” music, like Sweat Lodge, Bathetic, Night People, have a good understanding of off-shoots of genres like ICP’s work, and see the workings of older rock & roll and blues in modern musics, but where do y’all see Lantern fitting within the spectrum of everything?
R: Well, it’s hard to say because this is our first LP, but I hope our music is accessible to people. I don’t foresee us being terribly mainstream. I just imagine there’s a following that fucking loves rock & roll. And so they’d want to listen to us.
F: I mean, we’ve played with a lot of different bands. But I always think about that: where we fit in. We’re not quiet experimental, but we know the vernacular of that. We’re a rock & roll band. We’re not a garage rock band. We don’t draw from pop-punk references. It’s just not where we come from. So, I’m a little confused maybe on where we fit in, but in a way we want to forge our own path. As I was saying, it’s important to have friends along the way who’ll support so that others will too.
Emily, you were saying the music is a little more accessible this time around. I suppose there’s a kid on the front cover of Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach. Whose kid is that?
R: That is actually Rennie, our manager’s kid, who’s adorable, and her name is Pepper.
Who’s that behind her?
R: Those are our friends: a musician who lives in Philly, and the other is my sister’s boyfriend.
Where’s Simmons in the picture?
F: You’ll have to get the LP to find him.
R: Christian lives in Montreal, and we live in Philly. He couldn’t make it for the shoot so we had to think of a way to get him on there. So when y’all get the album, you’ll see the magic!
Where was the general inspiration for the cover art?
R: I had written a song called “The Conjurer” for the new album, and was watching a documentary about Hieronymus Bosch, who has a painting of the same name, which I didn’t know of until after the song was written. So I checked out the painting thought it was really cool ‘cause it has elements of magic in it as well as defeat. And I also like Fleetwood Mac covers, like the Rumours cover, where they’re fantastical and intriguing, like there’s a scene going on of some kind. So it’s slightly dark and fun. It can be many different things. We kind of wanted the story telling effect on our cover. And in light of the Hieronymus Bosch painting, we portrayed our cover the same sort of way.
F: Even with the title of Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach, there’s no real meaning, phonetically it just sounds great. In a Rorschach: people have to interpret it in their certain way, also the cover art work is a mish-mash of symbols, which helps jars people’s thinking on what’s happening. I was listening to this interview with Tav Falco, and he was talking about a voodoo ritual where a shaman would talk in tongues, putting together sentences that don’t make sense, and the idea is that the listener is supposed to escape language, which changes the logical thought paths of the brain, opening up one’s perception in a way. Sort of like the dissonance of free-jazz or noise that’s supposed to be confusing that allows people to reach a different level of thinking, which is what we went for with our title and cover art.
Following with the notion of interpretation, Lantern reinterprets a few songs, like “I Don’t Know” and “Out of My Mind.” Why has there been a continuation of these songs throughout your work?
F: Well, songs just change over time. If you saw us live over a bit of time, like Elliott was privy to, you’d notice that all our songs evolve in their own sort of way. I like to look at classical composers like Bach. They would go back 20 years sometimes, combing through their art, always changing, revising, and referencing it. Building a narrative within the larger scope of your art — creating a life’s work.
Where did the inspiration for “Heart In Your Tongue” come from?
R: We were really interested in working with a sax player. We love The Rolling Stones, The Sonics, The Stooges, Chuck Berry, Little Richard… I think the Southern rock vibe that Rolling Stones brings is something I’ve loved since childhood. Around the time we were recoding Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach, we were listening to Exile on Main Street, so when we got a sax player, David Fishkin, we wanted something like Bobby Keys meets Albert Ayler. And David was like, “Alright,” and he did it, and it was awesome.
You wrote “She’s a Rebel,” right, Emily? Are you singing about yourself, mocking those who see you this way, OR was there a harlot out for your man, and this was your musical retaliation?
R: I DID write it. But it definitely wasn’t mocking anyone. I think as a female musician playing rock & roll, I’m definitely outnumbered. And I don’t feel like I’m taken as seriously as my male peers. Throughout history, I think women have experienced the same kind of thing. It was slightly about myself, but more-so about females in general being bad-ass, and people should know it!
Where do y’all see yourselves in music post-Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach? New tour, or is it too soon to ask?
R: We’re going to tour again in the fall, we have our record release shows in Philly and NYC. But we’ll see after that. We’re actually starting to write already for our next album…
F: …it’s very loose, sort of just recording demos here and there.
R: There’s also a Lantern 7-inch coming out on an Italian label called Goodbye Boozy Records.
Any dream bands you’d LOVE to tour with in the future?
F: ZZ Top!
R: Tom Petty.
Then again, you mentioned before that there’s a certain aesthetic Lantern constantly strives to achieve. What exactly does the spirit of rock & roll mean to Lantern?
R: I think that rock & roll is a music that has always spoken to me in a really direct way. It’s extremely accessible, and you can dance and sing to it, usually. And like Bo Diddley, the king of making beats you can dance to, it’s just really simple. I like that a lot about rock & roll. It can be simple and still rock.
[Photos: Matt Marlin]