Ghost Stories: Hungry Lucy

The name Hungry Lucy may recall past eras, but these darkwavers are very much children of the 21st century. Band members Christa Belle and War-N have built a small but loyal online following thanks to word of mouth and file sharing, on which they have a refreshingly progressive attitude.

Unlike recent internet sensations this side of the Atlantic like Kate Nash, Hungry Lucy have been cultivating their haunting electronic ministrations for almost a decade, swapping the mellow trip-hop sound of their debut, Apparitions, for more subtly gothic melodies. The band’s latest release, The Teatime Sessions, is a new breed of live CD that collects recordings from their podcast including Neil Gaiman tribute “We Won’t Go” and a quietly emotive cover of New Order’s war homecoming tale “Love Vigilantes”.

LF spoke to the duo across time zones and space (the Atlantic Ocean) to ponder myth and music downloading.

How did the band name “Hungry Lucy” come about? Were there any alternatives you considered?

Christa Belle: The name came from an old ghost story written by Hanz Holzer. I read the story and fell in love with the characters Lucy and Alfred. I loved that they still longed for each other even after death and tried to find one another. So, I asked War-N if that name would be good for him if we formed a band after recording “Blue Dress”. We’ve been fond of it from the beginning and never wanted to be called anything else.

What do you think about music downloading? Should more artists should make their music available online for free?

War-N: Some artists could benefit from letting go and realise that giving away free music is a great way to gain exposure. The fact is that the box is open now: free music is everywhere and cannot be stopped. The sooner the music industry accepts that fact and figures out how to work within the new system, the better. For Hungry Lucy, online music sharing has been the #1 promotional mechanism. I can’t tell you how many times people have told us, after buying our music, that “I heard it from a friend” or “I heard it online”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard, “I saw your tiny ad in a music magazine”.

Do you think signing a traditional record contract would have any detrimental effect on Hungry Lucy?

WN: It really depends on what you want out of a career in music. If you are looking for ways to create marketable music and need help doing that, signing with a label can be a great thing. They often know what sells, and how to sell it. If you are just looking to create music and make no compromises, you’re probably better off going the DIY route. We believe that creative expression cannot, and should not, be tied to release schedules and marketing plans. All of that is important when it comes to selling music, but we’ve realized over the years what is, and is not, important to us. For both of us, Hungry Lucy is simply about creativity and expression. We have been fortunate enough to connect with some wonderful, like-minded people through our music. That has been a great and unexpected bonus for us.

You contributed to the Neil Gaiman tribute album, Where’s Neil When You Need Him?, in 2006. What does Neil Gaiman mean to you and how did you go about writing and recording a song based on his work?

CB: Well, as many other people decided to do, I originally wanted to write about Coraline [one of Gaiman’s stories for children about a girl who discovers the door to an unsettling parallel universe in her home]. Patrick (of Dancing Ferret Discs), who was putting the album together, suggested that I write about something else since so many other contributors were writing about her. I knew instantly that I wanted to write about “The Wolves in the Walls.” I think Neil, and Dave McKean, make a very rich world that is very easy to make into a song.

What influences, aside from music, have you taken from history, film, literature or art in general?

CB: One painting in particular has always haunted, and taunted, me to make it sing. I had gone to an art gallery with friends many years ago in California and saw a painting by Francis Bacon. I don’t remember the name of the painting, but I can still see it in my mind. It was dark, cold and so frail to me. I have never been able to get that painting out into song form, or lyrics for that matter. In general, I write from life and my own experiences, but I always get inspired by other films, photography and books. Lately, I have been submerged in Roman and Tudor history. I’ve already killed the King. Who knows what happened to the Queen? Hmmm…

Hungry Lucy’s music is often described as trip-hop. Have you been inspired by the UK nineties trip-hop scene?

WN: I think our earliest material was influenced by elements of the 90’s trip hop scene as well as darkwave music. We’ve still have the musical label applied to us, but I’m not sure we fit that anymore. Truth be told, we vary our musical styles a lot, so it’s hard to pin a certain genre on us. This is another reason that working with a record label could never work for us… they wouldn’t know how to market us. These days we’re influenced by everything we hear, which is reflected in the music. Some songs have that trip hop feel, while others are more traditional pop songs. Diversity is the spice of life.

Any plans to perform in Europe?

WN: We would love to at some point. It just has not been financially feasible for us so far.

Which do you prefer: the recording process or performing live?

WN: Both are enjoyable for different reasons, I think. The recording process, for me, is a very controlled, orderly process that allows you to finesse details to get the precise result you want. Performing live, on the other hand, is more about the pure expression of the moment. There is a natural feedback loop between the performer and audience (on a good night) that you can never get in the studio. That is simply magical! I love both processes, but really like that fact that we can do either to scratch a different itch.

CB: I prefer recording to performing. I can’t convey all the nuances live that I can while recording, which makes me less relaxed than I am on stage. I’ll take either one and love it!

Many of your songs read like narratives: “To Kill A King”, for example, sounds like it could have been influenced by King Lear. How important is it for you to have a story behind your songs rather than just focusing on the music itself?

CB: I don’t think you can have one without the other for Hungry Lucy’s music to work. It’s often the story that dictates the music or the music that dictates where the story should go. So either way, it has a story. I don’t like “fluffy” songs that have no backbone and float around like a jellyfish. If I listen to music, I want to learn something from it and I want to offer the same to our listeners. I feel you can use music as a teaching device and a platform to educate and help heal in a way that isn’t intrusive, condemning or harsh. If I can help someone else through a bad time because of what I went through, it’s all justified. So yes, I feel a story is very important to our songs.

Hungry Lucy keeps a regularly updated blog. Do you think it’s important for bands to maintain that visibility to fans or is it sometimes better to remain more mysterious?

WN: Hungry Lucy songs tend to be about very introspective and personal matters. We get a lot of email & feedback telling us how people connect with our music on a very personal level. Given the importance of that connection, I think it’s important for us to remain up front with our audience. I can see where the element of mystery could be more useful for some artists, but not for us. We believe in honesty and openness. Yes, we’re a couple of hippies!

CB: Yes. We are hippies in one sense. Free music = Love! Being stingy in life gets you nowhere but alone.

When can we look forward to your next full-length album and what can we expect from it?

WN: We have actually just digitally released “The Teatime Session” via iTunes, Amazon MP3, Rhapsody, etc. This is a collection of live performances from our “Tea with Hungry Lucy” podcast. I can’t give a specific date for the next “all new” album, but I can tell you that we have some very interesting songs in the works. Given our addiction to diversity, you can expect some familiar Hungry Lucy sounds, but also some surprises. I’m always disappointed when one of my favourite artists releases a new album that sounds just as they’ve done before. With that in mind, I always strive to achieve something new and exciting with each release. Hopefully our audience will like what they hear. We do know that the next release will be called “The Standing Ones”.

CB: Lyrically, I have pulled a lot of my lyrics/stories from nature and much deeper places than before. My voice is constantly changing and getting better, so I am very excited to sing in different ways and try new things. I’m just as anxious for the new album to come out as the next guy. So, believe us, we are awaiting its release, too!

Originally published on Liberation Frequency, 2008.

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