Lou Rhodes [Lamb]: Time to Bloom

Its been a busy year for former Lamb front woman Lou Rhodes. Her newest solo effort, Bloom, was released at the end of last year to quiet acclaim, while tours have taken her both to Glastonbury and across Western Europe.

However, it has also been a year punctuated with sadness for Lou, with a split from her long-term partner and the death of her sister last April causing her to cancel her much-anticipated UK tour. Appropriately, Bloom chronicles the many bittersweet faces of love, from the post-coital bliss of Never Loved a Man (Like You) to wistful abandonment in They Say.

Liberation Frequency caught up with the reflective former trip-hopper (though don’t tell her we said that) for a chat about life, love and why modern chart music is crap.

Congratulations on your second album, Bloom. How did making the CD differ from your debut Beloved One? Did you feel under more pressure considering that Beloved One was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize?

I think if you start worrying about external pressures, its a real mistake; its all about doing what feels right creatively and that’s been the guiding force with both albums. The difference between the two albums was that firstly [with Bloom], I was more established as a solo artist whereas with Beloved One it was quite scary, having been with a band for so long. However, its usually a very open-ended experience in the studio and I don’t like going in with any set ideas about what its going to sound like.

On the title song of the new CD, you sing “there’s a time when independence feels a lot like loneliness”. Do you ever miss the companionship of being in a band?

Yes and no: with my solo projects, there have been several musicians who’ve worked with me. When recording Bloom, I worked with Emre Ramazanoglu again who was on the first album and also Stephen Junior, who played guitar in a lot of the record, was in the studio so there was a sense of camaraderie. Its funny, I always seem to end up in these spaces with a load of guys! In fact, I just did a tour completely solo but with Oddur Runarsson who was supporting, so it was nice to have someone to hang out with.

That was your tour in Europe, wasn’t it?

It was great. I was worried about it beforehand because it was the first time I’d done that so it was a challenge I needed to rise to really. For any singer songwriter, [playing live] is the epitome of what we do; I guess that’s just the ultimate test of a song.

Do you feel that European audiences respond to your music differently to UK ones?

The UK is a weird place for music I find. I can’t listen to daytime radio in the UK because it just depresses me. I think European audiences are a lot more open, whereas British audiences always seem to be dictated to on what they’re supposed to like. If you write music that doesn’t fit into the very narrow categories of what is played on the radio, its very difficult to be heard. However, I do have a strong core following over here.

Do you ever find it frustrating that your work tends to be categorised as folk music, for example, in CD shops?

I don’t like categories at all, but you do need them to know where to look. With Lamb, it always used to bug me how we were linked with the trip-hop scene because I didn’t think we were trip-hop at all. As a songwriter, it used to bother me how trip-hop was just about a groove with someone putting random lyrics over it, and I’ve always been a songwriter first and foremost.

You’ve used a lot of ethnic instruments, such as Chinese violins and Tuvan guitars in your music, particularly in Beloved One. Are there any other instruments that you’d like to use, or any you currently own and would like to incorporate?

I’ve got a collection of old zithers, which I think are originally eastern European instruments, but they’re all out of tune. I have a real love of string instruments: I’m actually thinking of buying a banjo at the moment, partly because I think recently the banjo has been reclaimed. You think of country & western but actually its a really beautiful instrument. It sounds really gentle and emotive. I’m into the reclaiming of instruments and taking them out of the context that they’ve been saddled with.

Do you find that stripped down acoustic music is more effective for conveying your emotions, particularly compared to the electronic music you were previously involved with?

I’ve just got to a point where I’m really revelling in acoustic music. Then again, I was listening to Four Tet last night and they’re one of those bands that do manage to convey emotion through electronic music.

You listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin growing up. Have you ever been tempted to venture into rock n’ roll?

No, not really. I’m not much of a rock chick. There’s a real cliche element in rock music, but I do love a lot of music on what you could class as the edge of rock like Rage Against the Machine, Tool and A Perfect Circle, less conventional rock. Led Zeppelin are really the forerunners of that: they always defied categorisation.

Bloom begins with the uplifting, cathartic song The Rain, but concludes on quite a sombre note with the melancholy title track. Is this an indication of what’s to come for your next album?

I’m writing for the album right now actually, which is going to be a mixture I hope. A big part of my year was my sister’s death last April and I’ve been grieving a lot for her, and then my relationship broke down soon after that. I’ve been suffering a lot of heartbreak so I’ve just started to find my joy again after a lot of darkness. I have to carry these songs with me so I’d like to write more positive songs. I tend to have quite a philosophical attitude to life, which has been really challenged this past year, but I do see both sides of the story and I think that’s important to convey in the songs. When people say my music is melancholy I think its because it doesn’t just skim over the surface, which a lot of modern music does. I like digging into the depths of the joy and the sorrow.

Is there anything about the south-west that you feel has been beneficial to your music in a way that London couldn’t? [Lou now lives in Wiltshire with her two children]

I was living in the countryside before this in a community in the south-east. I’ve been here [in the south-west] for a year and I’m enjoying it but there’s part of me that craves the city again, but not London. Right now I’m thinking either New York or San Francisco but who knows? There’s a great quote in the book Into the Wild about the wandering spirit in us all – always go west and that’s what I’ve been doing.

Do you have much input in the videos for your songs? You worked as a photographer before joining Lamb – what impact did that have?

Yes, in Lamb I worked quite closely with the directors. I’m very into visual art and I suppose I’m a bit of a control freak creatively: I want to be a part of each bit of the process. I also worked closely with the artist for the cover of the album, who paints from a similar place to where I write songs. The cover painting really sums up the mood of the album.

Finally, do you think its ever possible to get tired of singing about love?

Recently, my whole idea of love has been challenged. I don’t think human beings will ever get tired of singing or writing about love because it continues to be a complete mystery and it exists on so many different levels. As human beings, all there is to do is be guided by love otherwise what else is there?

Originally published on Liberation Frequency, 2008.