By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Carlos Detres.
It’s a rare and noteworthy phenomenon when a band comes around that can channel the personalities, the stories, and circumstances that comprise it into a sound that completely embodies all of these characteristics with clarity. When you listen to LODRO, you can hear the wind howling through the winter desolation of abandoned factories and warehouses. You can feel a night without heat, where the dim lights and cold water aren’t enough to nourish or transport, and imagination must take the reins.
So it does. We are ushered into a world of darkness, of dirge-like progressions through distortion and languid melancholy. But there is much light too. The Brooklyn trio makes use of their pop backgrounds to lilt beautiful melodies out of the mire, creating “something pretty that hurts.” We chat with bassist and vocalist Lesley Hann about leaving her successful group Friends to form LODRO, and about letting the music manifest what comes from within–despite all odds.
When did it all begin for you?
I guess it was about three years ago. I was in a band called Friends, and Jeremy and our founding drummer Jigmae were in a band called Royal Baths and just moved to New York from San Francisco. Both bands were practicing and making music videos at this warehouse space in Brooklyn called the Market Hotel. I hadn’t heard them but I heard them writing and practicing there, and I was pretty struck by their music; by Jeremy’s guitar playing. It was very aware.
We all became really good friends, and then before long both bands were touring all over the world. We’d meet up and hang in Europe and managed to stay in touch. Sort of around the same time, almost two years ago, I quit Friends and Jeremy’s band went on an indefinite hiatus. I’d always wanted to be in a band with these guys. We all found ourselves back in New York together at the beginning of a long winter, and took it from there.
Did you guys end up living together when you came back to New York?
Yeah, we actually all ended up living together at Market Hotel… again (laughs).
Nice, on familiar ground once more.
Exactly. To be honest though, our bands wouldn’t even have met if it wasn’t for Ric Leichtung.
He ran 285 Kent before it was closed, right?
He did. He also runs the blog Adhoc, and the Market Hotel too. He was always a big encouragement towards our music, towards helping us discover our sound.
You describe your sound as “neo-noir punk.” You probably get this question a lot, but what do you mean by this?
I think that it’s not just a sonic description—it’s an attitude, a mood. At this point in time, genre definition is kind of a fucking farce. It’s such a hard question when someone asks you “what does your band sound like?” Do you compare yourself to other bands? Or do you use these terms that have been recycled and redefined for decades? So many bands define themselves as these really abstract, multiple adjective things. And it’s like, what the fuck are you talking about?
Our intention was to create a name for the mood that we were creating, before someone else came along and did it for us. If you don’t take the initiative to create those descriptors, and someone else does it for you and you don’t like it, then, well, that sucks.
All it takes is one shitty journalist…
Pretty much. (Laughs).
So this wasn’t a preconceived concept you sought to shape, it was more so the result of discovering your sound together?
It was very organic. We knew that we wanted to start something together. Me and Jeremy and Jigme have written a lot together, but can all be pretty private people. I think we all had some ideas that we were kicking around in our own heads for a while, before we brought them together. There was one night, or I guess morning since it was so early outside–we were at Market Hotel, maybe 15 people living there. Everyone was gone, and this night it was just the three of us. We were alone with an ’80s model cassette recorder, an old 8-track. Jigmae was bouncing around the idea of trying to do a cover of the Townes Van Zandt song, “Snake Song”. We just stayed up all night re-hashing it into something that felt like our personalities.
That cover has everything to do with the inspiration for those adjectives. We like a dark aesthetic, and are drawn to an American sound, but definitely a dark one. Something that sounds like nighttime; something that sounds like the middle of nowhere.
What are some of your biggest creative influences?
Musically, we’re all over the map. Definitely the Velvet Underground; they’re huge for all of us. Jigmae, Jeremy, myself, and our current drummer Tyler–you could make a pretty solid Venn diagram out of our musical tastes. But honestly we all draw a lot of inspiration from stories and people. In our own way we’ve each had pretty colorful–and I’d venture to say fucked up–lives. They can’t exist without a bank of stories rising out of them. I think we all romanticize it, because after a certain point that’s the only thing left to do about it, if you want to make something out of it.
What experiences have you brought with you from your last band, Friends, to your current one?
That’s a hard question. That experience was so different from this one. I think I was sacrificing a lot of myself while I was in Friends. That band got far enough, fast enough, over the course of only a couple of months I went from being homeless in NYC—sleeping on couches, doing odd jobs—to travelling all over Europe for ten months straight. It was a crazy experience, but after a while it stopped making me happy. And I love travelling, playing shows, and touring. The music I was making wasn’t representative of how I feel, who I am, or what my life is like.
With LODRO, the opposite is true. I wouldn’t trade my experience in Friends for anything, but it’s harder for a rock band to go that far so fast. It takes longer for a rock band to be successful enough to not have a day job. I prefer this.
Do you think LODRO is moving at a much more comfortable pace?
I don’t know, it’s hard to set the pace because luck and opportunity come into play. But I like the speed at which we’re writing our music. We’re taking our time to pay attention to everyone’s wants, and that really should be the most important thing. When outside distractions get thrown at you too soon it can become easy to lose sight of what you were trying to do in the first place.
Album art for Big Sleep for Alice.
Speaking to the writing process, what kind of creative headspace were you in during the making of Big Sleep for Alice?
Oh, man (laughs). We were living in Market Hotel—I guess I should clarify this. Market Hotel is a giant warehouse in Bushwick, with no heat, and fifteen people were living there. There was only one shower, and the hot water really didn’t work. It was winter. I don’t do well with winter personally. I get depressed, anxious…
New York can get pretty bad…
It sucked. It was dark as fuck. We were broke, and… cold (laughs). We were staying up nights and working on that song, in the main space of that place. We had to take breaks from playing to go to our rooms and warm our hands in front of the space heaters because our fingers were to numb too keep playing.
You have a way of playing dirge-like, doomed-sounding music that manages to sound hauntingly beautiful. Do you discover a lot of balance in your music?
I think in a way it almost naturally happens. Just as I said I’m finally making music that reflects my life, I think balance goes hand in hand with that. We’re dancing around defining melancholy. That’s always a constant theme for me, an organic thing that occurs to anyone who’s complicated. To have that darkness and unease be accompanied by beauty, but almost in an uncomfortable way, for something pretty to hurt a little bit—seems natural for me.
You’ve been making music in Brooklyn for a while now. How do you see the DIY music scene changing, especially with all of the movement eastward and out of Williamsburg?
The DIY scene is in a funny space right now in Brooklyn. When I first moved here six and a half years ago, there was something already going on, and the movement was at its pinnacle at 285 Kent. Different spaces have opened up since then to sort of encompass and take over where the old venue left off, but I wouldn’t say that there’s been any one venue or space to come in and fill that gap. I live in Bushwick near the Myrtle/Broadway stop–around there the venues are coming up everywhere.
I live there too actually. It’s true, there are these little venues sprouting out of the woodwork.
Seriously, it’s crazy. I think it’s interesting; we’re in a space right now where these venues are popping up with frequency, and a lot of them with really nice intentions. It’s leaving space for there to be a lot of weirder, smaller shows again, but in a good way. There needs to be room for stuff to get weird. I think it’ll open up the path for the scene to go back to the underground. The DIY scene sort of had a mainstream cross-over… my hope is that these spaces will allow the scene to be more artful and under the radar.
What are your musical plans for 2015?
We’re done recording our record, and are firming up plans to release it. We recorded and mixed it ourselves, all that’s left is mastering. It was a very personal project. But I’d just love for us to tour as much as possible, because that’s my favorite part of it all. If we lose money whatever, we just have to do it.