It’s a rare feat when a band emerges fully formed. On the group’s 2012 debut, Lonesome Dreams, Lord Huron made a big impact with its sound, which mixed classic guitar rock, open-road folk harmonies, and a slightly Eastern palette into an evocative and rumbling mix of new Americana — but that was only the beginning. The music also gave way to a swirling world of visuals and storytelling and laid the foundation for a new band that seemed to really understand the music they were starting to make.
Two years and some monstrous tours later, Lord Huron reemerged this week with Strange Trails. The 14-song follow-up to Lonesome Dreams builds on the lush, pastoral feel of its predecessor and injects a brooding, ominous element into the mix. This Monday, the Los Angeles–based quartet heads north for a show at the Lobero Theatre. Prior to the event, I spoke by phone with frontman Ben Schneider about touring, traveling, and comic books.
You guys toured pretty extensively behind Lonesome Dreams. How was the band feeling when you finally landed at home? There was definitely a natural exhaustion from being out that long, but we had breaks here and there, too, which was nice. I think we were all feeling good. We’re all best friends, so spending a lot of time together isn’t hard for us. We’ve known each other since we were kids, so it’s easy for us to operate like a family. We know when to give each other space. I think a lot of people come off the road feeling burnt out because of relationship stuff with people they’re traveling with, but we’re lucky to have it pretty easy on that front. We also have lovely people to come back to when we come home, which makes a big difference. I think mostly we were just feeling good about what we had done and just wanted to do it again but better. We pretty much dug right into recording the next record when we came home, and now we’re refreshed and totally ready to do it again.
Do you tend to work on new music while you’re touring, or hunker down when you’re not playing shows? I guess it’s sort of a mix. I do write on the road, but it’s more like gathering pieces. For us, it’s more than just sitting down with a guitar; it’s thinking about the stories and the vision and the whole package. A lot of times we create a bunch of scraps while we’re touring and collect pieces of things, and then when I get back home, I’ll hole up and try to stitch them all together.
It seems like you draw a good deal of inspiration from being on the move. Did touring on a larger scale impact your songwriting at all? Yeah, definitely. The nature of that kind of travel is interesting because it’s not like you get to spend a lot of time in any of the places you’re going. You cover a lot of ground and see a lot of new things, but you don’t get much of an intimate familiarity with any of it. It’s very fleeting, which is interesting in a way because you just get these impressions. Part of that, too, is going back to these places a second or third time and remembering what happened to you the time before, which adds this new layer to it. It’s kind of cool. You learn to love cities you might not have thought you would.
What are some places that have surprised you? I really love Tucson. We’ve always had really interesting times there. Birmingham, Alabama, is another one; it’s been a pleasant place to go every time we’ve been. It’s weird. Even the places that you know about, like New York or Chicago, we try to see a new facet of it every time we go back.
How do you feel like the last two years helped inform Strange Trails? It can be hard to pin down exactly where everything comes from. For me, the songs are a mix of things I experience, things that people who are close to me experience, and things I consume, whether it’s books or music or something else. I think as far as the mix of experiences I’ve had and places I’ve visited, a couple of the bigger ones were that I took a long trip to Japan and I took a long trip to Iceland. They were both really inspiring places, and they both had this ancient mystical darkness running through them. I think that definitely found its way onto the record. Some of the themes and ideas from Lonesome Dreams have carried over and evolved, too, but I think overall there’s this underlying unease that’s beneath it all, and I definitely think some of my life experiences this year played into that. [Laughs.]
How was Japan? It was beautiful. I had a kind of interesting way of doing it; I didn’t go to Tokyo at all. I was in the countryside visiting temples and more sort of natural parts of the country. It was amazing. It’s a beautiful place with a really interesting history, but there’s also this ultra-modern layer that’s been superimposed over this super ancient stuff, which I thought was really cool.
You made artwork for every track on Strange Trails. How does the visual element fit into your writing process? Do the songs tend to come first or vice versa? The order is really not set, and it can come any way, honestly. Sometimes the melody comes first, and sometimes it’s a story idea or a visual. Sometimes it will be a lyric, but I tend to develop them together. In terms of making an album cover for every song, it was more that I tend to create artwork that goes with each song anyway. We had this idea to do a seven-inch for each song — they’re all one-of-a-kind, and we hid all 14 of them at record stores around the country for people to find. That was really fun and, I think, a fun thing for fans. Some people were kind of angry that we only made one of each, but that was what I thought made it special.
Kind of like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Yes, totally!
What were you reading or listening to when you were writing? I was definitely reading a lot more comic books than I normally read when we were on tour. [Laughs.] I was a big comic book fan when I was a kid, so I started getting back into some of it. I was also reading a lot of fiction anthologies — weird fiction and sci-fi, which definitely informed some of the themes on the record. You tend to get through a lot of books on the road. That’s kind of my refuge — that and Netflix. But when we’re in the middle of nowhere with no service, I love having a lot of books.
What was the last great thing you read? There was this short story collection by Raymond Carver that I thought was really great. I’ve always admired him, but this was the first time I sat down and read through a lot of his stories in a row. I think I was interested in reading short stuff because of the way I approached the album. The songs are short, and I think of them each as a short story. Reading him and appreciating his economy and the way he writes things that are super concise yet evocative was really informative for me.
Club Mercy and KCRW present Lord Huron at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Monday, April 13, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.