Interview: Lutine

You had your album launch gig the other week for your debut, White Flowers. From the videos I’ve seen, St Laurence Church seemed like a great venue for it. How did it go? 

Heather: It went really well! The audience were lovely, Bela Emerson’s set was incredible and it felt so special to perform there as it’s where we recorded the album. We love St Laurence Church and Falmer, it’s so peaceful there. The church warden saw us after the set and said she felt the music and the building fitted together perfectly, which is how we feel. In a way it feels like the songs and the place belong together.

How did you both originally meet, and how did Lutine begin? Sounds like everything came together quite quickly. 

Emma: Actually Lutine came together very slowly and over a few years, but then things started to happen quickly once we started playing our music to people. Heather is a music tutor, so we met quite a few years ago when I was having lessons. We became friends, and our lessons were more about making music together, which is when we decided we should just meet up and do that for fun. We spent a long time making up songs, drinking tea and getting distracted by other things as we have a lot in common. We like to let things evolve naturally, and not rush anything.

Traditional folk music feels like a particularly prominent reference point for your music. Where does your interest in traditional music stem from? 

Emma: I wasn’t really brought up with folk music, but as soon as I discovered it I felt an immediate connection to it. I really enjoy singing traditional folk songs and it feels very natural to me. There are so many inspiring folk singers that I admire, such as Shirley Collins, Maddie Prior and Anne Briggs.

Heather: I grew up with lots of different folk music – my Dad loves Steeleye Span and Planxty so he was playing their records a lot. As far as traditional music’s concerned my Mum’s a music teacher and had me singing folk music from all over the world. She spent some time in Africa so has a passion for African music but I can also remember singing Aboriginal and Sri Lankan songs, as well as traditional British folk music.

That said, Lutine is clearly the product of a really exploratory palette of influences. I hear the Twilight Zone was an inspiration! Was there any conscious deliberation on how to draw your influences together?

Emma: We didn’t really decide where we would draw our influences from, or what our sound should be, it just developed quite instinctively. We both have very similar tastes and interests, so our song writing is mainly a combination of many of the things that we love. The songs often develop from either an idea that we’ve had separately or together, and we never really expected anyone else to like them! We’ve been really lucky with the responses to our album and live performances.

There’s a beautiful “microtonal tension” at many points on the record, in which the instruments feel very slightly out of tune with eachother. That piano on “Died Of Love” sounds well worn and marginally off-key, for example. Does this stem from an interest in microtonal sound?

Heather: The inspiration for some of our songs has come from microtonal music, particularly Indian, Balinese and Japanese music – it’s definitely an influence. With our own songs it’s not so much that we deliberately try to create microtonal tension but seems to naturally emerge. I think it’s partly the types of instruments we choose; the autoharp has a twang that makes it sound slightly off key, which bothers some people! If just one of the strings is slightly out of tune the whole thing is thrown off balance but we both like that and feel it adds an eerie and strange sound to our music. It’s also down to the way we play the instruments and the effect we’re going for. In Died of Love the piano is meant to sound like a drowned bell, a bit like the piano in Debussy’s piece “The Sunken Cathedral”. We used the lowest octaves on the piano, where it tends to be a bit out of tune, and the sustain pedal so you can hear the notes swimming around.

How did the recording process work for White Flowers? I understand it was partially recorded in a church? 

Heather: We recorded the whole album live in St Laurence church. We did go to a friend’s studio and record a couple of tracks but we didn’t feel comfortable and felt like the songs needed more space. We’d never recorded anything before so it was quite difficult and involved a lot of learning on the job, but we feel so glad that we stuck with it and have the natural acoustic of the church on the recordings.

Your voices work together so elegantly in harmony. Is it as effortless as it sounds to negotiate vocal duties between you?

Heather: Thank you! We genuinely love singing together, it feels very natural and easy. As far as vocal duties are concerned much of the music on White Flowers was written for, and based around, Emma’s vocal. It’s very delicate and pure – which is part of the reason the instrumentation is sparse – and my harmonies were written to give texture, weight, or dissonance. There are some songs, such as “White Flowers”, which I feel wouldn’t suit many voices; on the recording we chose to use only Emma’s voice, with the harmonies and the lead, to keep it light and airy. There’s a quote we like “Love art in yourself, and not yourself in art” (Konstantin Stanislavski) because it really doesn’t matter who’s singing or playing which part, we just enjoy making music we like together.

What we’ve come to realise though, through playing live and the reactions to the album, is that the people love and respond strongly to the harmonies and the interaction between the two vocals. It’s something we’ll be playing around with and exploring more as we write new music.

I see that you played a gig in support of Stephen O’Malley and Aluk Todolo earlier this year. How did it go? Was it strange to play alongside two artists that are arguably the polar opposite of yourselves, in terms of their relationship with volume? 

Emma: We were both a little nervous about that show, because we wondered how our music would be received! The promoter, Tatty Seaside Town, was confident it would work though, and he turned out to be right. Stephen O Malley and Aluk Todolo were both so lovely and very enthusiastic about our performance on the night, and Stephen has been a huge support to us since the show. There was obviously quite a contrast in volume, and Stephen even made a joke about putting the autoharp through his wall of amps! The audience were really respectful and quiet throughout our set and it went really well overall.

What’s on the horizon for Lutine? 

Emma: For now, we’re quite busy with promoting the album but we’re working on new ideas and collaborations which we’re really excited about. We’re thinking about touring again in the Spring, possibly more around the North of Britain. Our label, Front and Follow, are based in Manchester so it’d be nice to play there. We really love creating music together, so we’re looking forward to more song writing.

Heather: I’m really looking forward to being more creative again. People have asked us about whether we’ll use more/different instruments in future songs. I think we’ll take the same approach that we always have and let things develop naturally. It’s exciting to think where it might take us.

 

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