Release Date 01/18/2019
(Mute Records) NACC
Lost Under Heaven are Ebony Hoorn and Ellery James Roberts.
After eloping to Amsterdam on 21st December 2012, Ebony and Ellery began to experiment with form and approach on a collaborative life work, the basis for their critically acclaimed debut album, “Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing” in May 2016.
Now, after a period spent in an embryonic retreat, Lost Under Heaven return with “Love Hates What You Become”, a startling, thought-provoking record shot full of incisive social commentary that captures the couple at their most musically raw and visceral.
The album was written in the year of 2017 following the couple’s relocation to Manchester, England, Ellery’s home town. They took on an apartment in the city’s Northern Quarter overlooking a bustling junction, which Ebony soon christened: “a crossroads of desolation.” She adds: “upon moving here I was a taken back by the real desperate (drinking) culture; a wake-work-drink-sleep repeat existence that seems so void of any purpose, When we lived in that place, every weekend was like watching over some circus of Dickensian squalor. With the live band off the road, it became like being stuck in some relentless purgatory.”
Through the gates of that purgatory came songs which address the world’s multitude of obstacles and dares to dream of an ascendant path beyond…
The genesis of “Love Hates What You Become” began in the summer of 2016 with ‘Black Sun Rising’, Hoorn’s ecologically focused graduation work at Amsterdam’s prestigious Rietveld Art Academy. “It was an immersive installation,” she explains. “Presenting a potential future where pollution and the collapse of the ecosphere has got to such a point that humanity are forced to exist in detached synthetic enclosures; where all is an imitation of the real, watching the shadows of the black sun”
The original work took the form of a prose poem that Ellery later repurposed as lyrics for the song that now appears as the centrepiece to the new record. “By a creepin’ coincidence,” Ellery adds, “whilst we were recording the album in Los Angeles, those alt-right actions in Charlottesville were all over the news, we found that the black sun also was a prominent Nazi symbol, a crest that is currently used as a more palatable version of a swastika. So the song found this added poignancy, with the black sun rising referring to the unsettling return of fascism in the public consciousness. There’s an inescapable ominous shadow cast over these strange days we find ourselves.”
The band had travelled to America to record with producer John Congleton, known for his Grammy-winning work with St. Vincent, Swans, Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Rós.
“We heard rumour that John likes to keep it raw, strip things back and allow the song to speak for itself,” Ellery says. “After the long, meticulous process of our first record I was drawn to the idea of returning to something direct, working fast and committing to ideas: I wanted to be pushed, made uncomfortable, strip away any lofty pretensions. We felt he was the man to do it.”
Congleton introduced the band to Swans drummer Thor Harris, who plays on the record. “We were without a drummer or a real band,” explains Ellery. “It was just me and Ebony, I’d written mostly on guitar and piano in order to limit the number of things I had to play around with. I just concentrated on writing the songs rather than making a sound. We turned up in LA with that as our starting point, this collection of demos that I’d sent through”
Those demos included some of the most accomplished song writing of his career to date, such as momentous album closer ‘For the Wild’. “I started writing that song years ago almost as a pastiche of trying to write real this rock’n’roll saviour,” he reminisces. “The rock’n’roll revolutionary feels such a culturally irrelevant cliché now, we’re living in a mechanised world seemingly indifferent to the longings of the human soul, and the chaos eyed depths of nature. I was playing with those thoughts, trying to embody some Dionysian affirmation of life; I grew up loving Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix; In my heart I always wanted to make music that moved me in this way. Certainly on our first record I had ended up almost rejecting this urge, trying to aspire to something more conceptual, more about the intellect rather than the heartfelt experience of life. ‘For the Wild’ became a talisman of this return”
Another striking difference since their debut record is the prominence of Ebony’s vocals, notable on the formidable ‘Bunny’s Blues’, where she takes the lead. “With that song I present an alter ego,” she explains. “Creating this character of Bunny began with a performance piece I did back in Amsterdam. She became a playful tool to confront how male-dominated society attempts to control both women and nature without having any real understanding or respect for their being and innate power.” The scream-along chorus lyric, “you don’t understand me!” is at once imbued with adolescent angst, whilst addressing the arrogant ignorance of patriarchal society.
The album was recorded at Sargent Recorders, in Los Angeles’ Historic Fillipinotown over three molten weeks in July 2017. The session began with “desert dry tequila hangovers hidden beneath stars and stripes shades” courtesy of the previous night’s Independence Day celebrations. “We had just landed, so were still in a slight backwards state from jet lag,” Ebony recollects. “We decided to break the ice diving straight into improvised takes of ‘Savage Messiah.’”
Quickly bonding with Thor’s idiosyncratic approach to rhythm, they managed to capture a coherent take within the first few hours. “I love the atmosphere John captured for this song,” Ellery laughs. “It feels like its living on the demented edge of its narrator’s world-view; the trials and tribulations of an absurd self-righteous megalomaniac- who of course has no reflection in me.”
“We spent the following weeks living in close quarters; sleeping above the studio, working long days then slipping out into the endless Los Angeles nights,” Ebony explains. “I enjoy this level of intense living but it takes its toll- I think you can hear the exhaustion in Ellery’s voice on ‘Post-Millennial Tension’ which in its way fits the world weary sentiment of the song.” A sprawling ballad that continually evolves from sparse piano to full blown orchestration, ‘Post-Millennium Tension’ takes inspiration for its title from Pre-Millennium Tension, the 1996 LP from Tricky - an artist whom the band note as a primary influence. “The song was written on the frustrations of our times – particularly those of the younger generation,” Ellery continues. “Through the internet people have gained an awareness of possibility but remain entrapped in the limitations of old. In my understanding, solutions to the world’s problems seem plentiful, yet we remain entrapped by our inability to act; held down by those manmade manacles - thus the lyric: “we couldn’t work it out, we’d sooner live in doubt.” There’s a futility to all.”
The band pause to insist that this record is not all doom and gloom; suggesting the bombastic opening track ‘Come’ is an electrifying mission statement. “The track deals with separation and unity; this duality is a recurrent theme to much of our work; and is most obviously symbolised by masculine and feminine energy coiling around each other in sexual embrace,” Ellery explains. “I have been a long-time admirer of everything Genesis Breyer P’ Orridge has created, and this song was directly inspired by her early work with COUM and then the later Pandrogyne with Lady Jaye… the desire to unite entirely with your lover into infinite bliss. I am interested in the androgynous nature of the Elohim; and certainly, writing and recording after Prince passed there was this desire to invocate the Purple one back into the world!”
After an intense period of work, the couple left Congleton in LA to mix the record, and set out on a contemplative experience in the desert. “We drove out to Joshua Tree for a few days,” remembers Roberts. “Driving endlessly into the middle of nowhere during a great thunderstorm. It’s an incredible landscape to be in the midst of a storm. It was a beautiful moment to just disconnect from everything and take a step back. We could not escape the feeling of Los Angeles as this fictitious city, dreamt into existence in a barren desert, slowly drying up, returning into the dust from which it came. Our time there was filled with all the glitter amongst dirt that entices the ego’s magpie eye; this sense of self-creation as a suit of armour to navigate an indifferent world, a multiplying hall of mirrors that reflects nothing but falsehood. It was this on this trip that we decided to title the record “Love Hates What You Become.”
Having returned to Manchester, the band are now preparing to play their new music live. “We’re essentially trying to keep it as straight up as possible, whilst maintaining the sonic ambition of the productions,” says Ellery. “Since we last toured, Ebony, along with singing, learnt to play bass. Allowing us to play as a three-piece.” They are now joined by drummer and Ableton-manipulator Ben Kelly.
Ebony goes further to discuss her blossoming role as Director of the band’s visuals: “Over the past year I have had some perfect opportunities to begin realising ideas I have had from the outset of the project; from developing a VR work to capturing my beloved gialio aesthetic on 16mm. The dream was always to create audio/visual experiences. The early live shows ended up being more traditional for the sake of functionality; but now we have the made the right connections and collaborators to really start to explore the visual possibilities.”
Ellery adds, “this has always been the aspiration. I don't really see the album as important, just ammunition for the live show. We are making things happen on our own, and working in a self-reliant way. In a way, that’s all I ever aspire to, the life of an actualized artist.”
With “Love Hates What You Become”, Lost Under Heaven continue to establish themselves as courageous and innovative young band, hungry to create and perform their art.