What do you when you’ve played in a band so intense it played itself into a hiatus and even your solo records have grown more and more raucous on you? If you’re Steven Lambke of Constantines and Baby Eagle fame you do a 180 and a write a record cloaked in the intimacy and hushed wonder of the midnight hour. On October 30 Lambke released Days of Heaven that’s paradoxically very intimate and small yet rich with layers of guitars, vocals and strings.
Lambke says the change of sound was a case of following the muse. “It’s very different from the last Baby Eagle record which we did as a band record. That was purposely and pointedly loud, a punk rock- inspired record made by dudes in their thirties. At the end of that touring I was really enjoying playing with everybody and I was like ‘oh, I need more of that, that was so fun’ but it just didn’t happen that way. You have to follow the muse and the muse asked for something else.”
Lambke whose previous four solo albums were released under the pseudonym Baby Eagle says the decision to put his name on this one also came intuitively. “When the record was all finished I just looked at the songs, looked at myself in the mirror and said I don’t want to put this out as a Baby Eagle record. It’s so different and it just felt right to put my own name on it.”
Describing the album’s intimate sound Steve says “I’m whispering in your ear and the sounds are all very close and warm.” There’s also an easy unhurried feeling to the sound that comes when friends gather around to make a record. When speaking about the recording process Steve’s affection for his collaborators is clear, his talk full of nicknames and praises for their talents. When it came time to pull together the songs he’d been writing, Lambke called in friends Ian Kehoe (Marine Dreams) and Tamara Lindeman (The Weather Station) to collaborate on shaping the album’s sound. Lindeman’s vocals are heard throughout as are the string arrangements she wrote with violinist Mika Posen (Timber Timbre). Darcy Hanock (Ladyhawk) and Richard Laviolette also appear on some tracks. “I was drawing on that community. These are my friends, these are people I try to surround myself with.”
Lambke is currently on tour opening for Daniel Romano (Attack in Black, City & Colour) whose old-school country and western recall Hank Williams and Buck Owens, complete with Stetsons and Nudie suits. The two musicians who run You’ve Changed Records together play the fourth stage on Friday November 6 as part of the NAC Presents Canadian music series.
Here’s an excerpt from my interview with Steve on bowing guitars, Lhasa de Sela, and baseball analogies.
On making the record
I’ve made records in the past including my last couple records as Baby Eagle that were for all intents and purposes kind of live in the studio setting up and playing. This one was more crafted and taken piece by piece, so we had Darcy (Hanock) playing guitar on a couple of tunes, then when I went back into that song at home it was like this is cool, it’s not done yet but it’s cool so then this thing that I do responds to the thing that Darcy’s done. It’s a weird, quiet little record but there is quite a lot of stuff going on in there, a lot of guitars and a lot of singing.
Mika Posen (Timber Timbre, Agnes Obel) plays violin on a few tunes. On the first song “Days of Heaven” there’s what sounds like strings but it’s actually a guitar being bowed but the other stuff that sounds like strings is actual strings. That was really cool. I’d never used strings on a record before. Once you start doing strings, they start doing layers of them and harmonies and stuff and it gets really rich and really thick pretty fast. Some of the ideas for arrangements of the strings were ideas that Tamara had and she sang them and we mixed the vocal in with the strings. It’s actually a pretty layered and rich as much as it a very personal and quiet intimate thing too.
Were there certain artists you looked to as pillars for that sound and feel?
In retrospect I’ve said oh, it’s like Tim Hardin where the songs are very short but they’re very intimate and very personal and kind of fragile, frail and tender but once the guitar is in hand you don’t necessarily think I`m gonna try to write like Tim Hardin.
In all honesty the record that I probably listened to the most through the couple of years I was working towards this record was the last record by Lhasa de Sela of Montreal. Obviously, I don’t sound anything like Lhasa and I never will though I would dearly love to. I mean all her records were amazing the last one in particular, part of it is that a lot of the songs are in English so I have more access to the lyrics. She was such a fantastic writer, the songs are fairly spare at points, incredibly moving and also so completely not based on rock, or North American folk country kind of rhythms which is something I wanted to move away from as well so it’s like insane to claim that as an influence because I don’t have the gift that she did, but it was something I was listening to a lot.
Influences filter in strange ways. Sometimes it’s something as intangible as a mood.
Absolutely. That record, like I say I dug pretty deep into it for sure. I came about it through a very direct recommendation from somebody about a very particular emotional experience I was describing to him and he quoted Lhasa lyrics at me and I was like what’s that? He told me and I was like I’m going to check that out and kind of fell completely in love with this record.
On the lyrics
Some of them started out as wordier, more elaborate public voice songs and they weren’t working for me, they weren’t feeling exciting, they weren’t feeling right so a lot of the writing of the songs involved paring them down and getting closer and closer and closer. Even though some of the songs don’t have a lot of lyrics in terms of word count they took a long time to write, there were a lot of baby steps in this one in moving towards that thing the songs wanted to be.
Some artists come up with these mission statements for why they make music. If you had to come up with one what would you say?
I’m trying to make something beautiful in its own way with the tools that I have and the skills that I have and the life that I’ve lived.
A song is such a mysterious thing. I love writing them and songs that engage me and help me think through different things. The idea of performing songs is really different in that you have a song and you can sing it again and again through your life so there’s this constant re-enactment. I don’t mean in the sense that its empty and it’s just going through motions. I mean the exact opposite of that. You have this thing that you are doing again like it’s alive and you’re going through the process of that song every night when you’re on tour. That’s super interesting.
You relive the experience you wrote about?
Yeah, but even that is simplified. The song is not a dead thing, it’s not like you’re just reading the script. It’s more like you’re a baseball player and you go play baseball every day and every day you try to hit a home run or whatever but each pitch is different and each swing is different even though you have the same bat in your hand. This is hilarious. I’m making baseball metaphors and I don’t know if it’s really working. I really don’t give a shit about a baseball but I did watch the game yesterday and it was pretty fucking exciting and now I’m an expert.
Steve Lambke just released a video for “Memory Forever”. View it below:
Steven Lambke opens for Daniel Romano at the NAC Fourth Stage on Friday, November 6, 2015. Showtime is 7:30 pm. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online.