“I been thinking a lot about the past again. I guess if you know me, that’s nothing new,” Mr Tubbs Tarbell writes in an open letter. Mr Tarbell is a character that Lord Huron fans met early on in the album campaign for Long Lost, the band’s fourth studio record. He's the embodiment of the days of yesteryear: his beat-up boots and cowboy hat have marvellous stories to tell. Introduced via Lord Huron’s Alive From Whispering Pines series, Tarbell’s character has spent his years working with artists through his studio. After a mythical recording session with the band, Mr Tarbell felt compelled to share his experience with Lord Huron fans via Reddit.
But Tarbell wasn’t the only one looking to the past. With Long Lost, Lord Huron have created a collection of songs that takes you on a nostalgic trip to days you didn’t even exist in. It’s a cinematic cowboy journey from Los Angeles to the great American plains, through a cosmic window that throws you straight back to gunslingin’ times. Baritone riffs run through the record, evoking the kind of feelings spurred when watching the iconic final duel between Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, whilst string sections transcend the record to an entirely ethereal realm.
Though it’s been a tough year, Ben Schneider, the band’s frontman, is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel following the record’s release. Even on the other end of our Zoom call, he looks visibly hopeful, as he shares with Holler the inside scoop on Long Lost - an ambitious collection of music that has truly paid off.
Congratulations on the release! I’ve been listening to the record a lot and thoroughly enjoying it. How are you feeling about having album four out in the world?
It’s been a long time coming but I’m feeling really good about it. Everyone’s been waiting for something throughout this pandemic - we had just finished the main tracking when lockdown happened here, and that was over a year ago now. We’d been sitting around waiting for this thing that we made to be put out into the world, and now we can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s weird though, it was written before the pandemic, but I think that mindset everyone is in is kind of covered in the themes of Long Lost, those feelings of nostalgia for a time before. Hopefully, that adds to the record.
Had much changed in the writing process between Long Lost and previous records?
I’m not sure. All the songs that I’ve written recently have started from something personal and then spun off into fiction - I use something that’s happened to me and then take it in a fictional direction to get different angles. With this record in particular, I was trying to stay more grounded. Our last record was full of extremely cosmic themes or mentally internal themes, two equally vast worlds: the one out in space and the one inside your head. This record feels that it lives more in the real world. I think there’s a bit more realism to the writing than on Vide Noir, say.
When the album campaign started, you posted obscure videos that really got people talking. Some of the early comments on Instagram were fans doing detective work, putting references together from what they were seeing in the videos. We also met a character called Mr Tubbs Tarbell - would you say Mr Tubbs personifies the spirit of Long Lost?
Yeah, I think so. We wanted to create something that sounded like a long-lost classic – something that sounds familiar, but you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s nostalgic. All the songs channel the different artists that have been through Whispering Pines - our studio here in L.A. It has an obscure history - we’re having a hard time finding out who has worked here in the past, so instead, we just invented these characters who had recorded or worked there over the years, and their ghosts still inhabit the space. Tubbs is the head of the record label, the patriarch, I guess. He’s good-natured and he really believes in the power of music. That’s a really big theme on the record.
“We are big believers in the album format. A lot of people say that it’s on its way out, but I think it’s a beautiful art form”
So would you say Long Lost is a concept record? There are moments – like the first meeting of Mr Tubbs Tarbell - that would qualify it to be, but all the tracks could also easily hold their own weight as stand-alone tunes.
That was the idea in my mind. I love having a record that’s tied together with a concept, but also love when each of the songs can stand on their own - that’s the challenge that we set for ourselves as a band. We are big believers in the album format. A lot of people say that it’s on its way out, but I think it’s a beautiful art form. To me, building a cohesive group of songs is a great mode of expression. Each song allows for variety and different perspectives, but if there’s a theme that ties them together, it just adds to the impact of songs working together to tell a story. So yeah, I definitely consider it a concept album.
When you were writing these songs, you were consciously trying to evoke feelings of nostalgia; did you find yourself looking into your own personal past to achieve this?
Because of the way I go about writing, that often naturally happens. Sometimes I have to go way back - to things that happened to me as a child that I hadn’t thought about in a long time or hadn’t reckoned on how it affected me. I’ve drawn inspiration recently from observing adult relationships from when I was a child. You always think adults have it all figured out, but now reflecting on things I saw or what my relatives were going through from the perspective of an adult, I see things totally differently. They seem a lot more serious or more intense than I thought when I was a kid. So I guess I did plummet to the depths of my own history somewhat.
I love the overriding western sound of the guitars on Long Lost. The baritone riffs sound like an Ennio Morricone composition. It’s a sound heard in the background of past Lord Huron records, but on Long Lost, it’s right at the forefront. Did you set out to take this particular direction?
We consciously chose the tones and sounds on this record to bolster that nostalgia idea. We’ve always really believed in borrowing tones, chord progressions and sounds from music of the past – in doing so, you also bring with it their intrinsic emotions. You don’t have to write the whole song: if you can play a riff that evokes an emotion, you get to color your music that way. I love doing that.
Over the last year or so, it’s been hard for artists and fans to feel connected. You’ve been doing these Alive From Whispering Pines streams as a way of giving something to your listeners. How have you found the experience of trying to stay connected this way?
It’s been one of the most rewarding things we’ve ever done, honestly. It took us a while to get into the stream thing, just because we wanted to do it the right way. We aren’t the kind of band that can sit in a bedroom and play through a webcam. We wanted to do something more immersive and with a considered narrative, so it took us a little while to figure out what to do. But like you said, we just wanted to figure out a way to connect to our fans, and the response has been heartwarming. We opened up a phone line that you could call to request songs for us to play, and we expected to get a few calls but ended up getting thousands. Some were requests but some were people telling stories, asking weird questions or just thanking us. It’s been just as much as a lifeline for us, I think. We’ve been very insular, so it’s been a fun way to reach back out into the world.
Lord Huron's new album, Long Lost, is out now via Whispering Pines / Republic Records. Watch the video for new single 'Time's Blur' below.
Photography by Anthony Wilson.