Manchester duo Lamb, comprising producer Andy Barlow and singer-songwriter Lou Rhodes, achieved commercial success in the late nineties with the top 30 UK single Górecki, and a number one hit in Portugal several years later.
In 2004, the duo disbanded to focus on solo careers, but Lamb would bless us one more with their distinctive mix of downtempo electronica, including the particularly well-received Backspace Unwind (2014).
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Lamb’s conception. Plans to celebrate include a repackage of their self-titled debut album and live shows later this year.
But before that, Lamb return to the stage for the Convergence Festival on 17 March, where music and art meet technology with eclectic contributions from the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, Kwabs, Nurse with Wound and Factory Floor.
September sees the 20th anniversary since Lamb’s debut album – are you going to celebrate?
“You're not going to believe this but the meeting that I've just come from now was discussing just that. I can't really say too much about that yet because we've yet to decide, but we're absolutely going to mark it with something.
“I had this whole panic a couple of days ago, because in 1996 stems weren't very common at all - no bands did them, but we insisted on them when we were making our second album Fear of Fours. But from the first album there's nothing, so we've been literally rooting through floppy drives and Akai S1000 data dumps trying to find all the parts.
“In theory, we want to look at doing a repackage and touring the first album, but it's still being discussed.”
How has your use of technology changed over the past two decades?
“Our first album was pre computers being able to record audio. We had a four track - it was actually New Order's that they lent to us, but we only had three channels and one of them didn’t work so we had to bounce stuff down.
“Going from two channels to unlimited channels is obviously a massive change, but our first album was probably the quickest to make. We had one effects unit, one compressor and two channels of audio, so having unlimited track counts is not actually that great for creativity, especially if you've got unlimited time as well because there’s nothing to work against to bring the creativity out."
So having more gear, and therefore choice, doesn't necessarily make the creative process any quicker?
“I think it's how you use it. On our last album, we didn't care what we used gear-wise we just wanted to do it quickly. That was the mission statement. We went in with the idea of going in fresh and not overthinking it, the beginner’s mind theory where your first idea is exactly the right idea and you don't have to pick it apart or try a thousand sounds. And that worked really well.
“My two favourite Lamb albums are the first and last one, and they were both the quickest to do and finished in six months.”
What's your current setup based around?
“It's awesome, I love my studio. I've just got a pair of new PMC monitors, with the big sub - I really love subs, and I've got a set of Genelecs and KRKs as well. I actually have them in different rooms. The PMCs are in the controller room, KRKs in the library and Genelecs in the kitchen - and again, all with subs.
“I know the rooms pretty intimately now, so if I listen to stuff in three rooms, on my laptop speakers and in my car, I get the full spectrum of how people will be listening to the music.”
What DAW are you using?
“Ableton - I've been using it since version 2. That was before it did MIDI or anything and I just loved it. I can use Pro Tools, because I produce for loads of other acts as well, but I always tell them I want to do the project on Ableton, and within a few minutes of seeing what I can do with it they're like, Oh Fuck.
“Pro Tools is like visiting an ex-girlfriend now, it's so slow. For me, everything's up to grabs until the last mix, and every track I do usually has a tempo rise in it. If I want to change the whole thing up a BPM in Ableton it only takes 30 seconds whereas on everything else it seems to take hours.”
I’ve heard you’re a big fan of Universal Audio?
“I've got a huge UA rig, four Apollos, two OCTA interfaces and an Apollo Twin as well. I just love Universal Audio, and I've basically got every single plugin. I try to keep my plugins quite minimal and ask my clients to buy those plugins so they can load everything without any messing around.
“For virtual instruments I have Native Instruments Komplete 10 Ultimate, Soundtoys and a few more bespoke synths like the impOSCar, which I love. I have a real Oscar too, but it kept going wrong all the time. I also use a Mellotron VST, the GForce M-Tron Pro, and the Lounge Lizard soft synth is great too.”
Are you a fan of hardware synths?
“I've got an amazing customised Yamaha upright piano, a Rhodes which has been modded with some extra filters.
“In terms of playing I’ve got a Nord Lead and the Korg SV-1, which is what I use on stage with Lamb. I pretty much use it as a controller, but if you want a piano part or any keyboard part and you're in mixing mode and have high latency I'll use the sound from that and refine the part using a Native Instruments soft synth.”
Anything else that’s unusual?
“I really like controllers, so I've got a Push 1 and the Push 2, a 16-channel Mackie Control Pro and the new Seaboard GRAND, which is really awesome. It's a latex keyboard, so you can do glissandos and vibratos. On a normal piano you've got velocity and note, that's it, but this has got six different ways of playing , which takes a lot of getting used to, but ROLI gave me one a couple of months ago and it's pretty spectacular.”
Do Lou and you write all the songs together?
“Who comes in with what is usually 50/50. The only rule is to do it quickly, and when I'm originating an idea with Lou, I don’t want too much because she writes best to a hi-hat and a bass line. Fleshing it out with too much melodic information never sounds as good.
“Likewise, if I've got a beat idea then even if she just hums a top line melody I can see the shape of it, and that allows me to sandwich the song within the production.”
What are you using for Lou’s vocals?
“The vocal chain is really important. I've gone through hundreds, so if you haven't got time to faff around with different microphones I'd recommend the Neumann M149, powered by a UA 6176 channel strip going over one side of a Manley mic pre.
“I think that's the perfect vocal chain, because there’s enough colour but not too much, so you can still do plenty to it.”
From studio to stage
How do you go about transferring your music productions to the live stage?
“Again, it's all done on Ableton. Everything comes to me so I can do effects on them. I’ve got a Kaoss Pad and a Space Echo, so I can mess around with stems or modulate the live synths, and I've got an Akai APC as well, which I use to modulate the internal effects.
“Each time the arrangements are completely different, so we'll just use lots of visual clues to tell Lou and Jonny, the bass player, when to change section.”
And your love of UA reaches the stage as well?
“We used to take a whole rack of gear from front of house but one day I thought, this is ridiculous, we're flying around festivals doing one show in each country and it's not making any sense. So we just went into production with the UAD Apollo and dialled up a Neve mic pre put over a UA 1176 and an LA-2A compressor, a bit of mastering EQ, and it just sounded amazing. All the UA stuff is just remarkable.”
Do you have any plans for future Lamb releases?
“Lou's putting out a solo record in the summer and I'm halfway through a huge production job, so once I come out of that I'll have a lot more energy to think about doing more Lamb stuff.
“I love doing Lamb, we play around the world and have an amazing fan base, so we'd be crazy not to. Without sounding to New Age about it, it really opens people's hearts and we get lots of amazing feedback from doing it. So yeah, I think at some point we'd love to do another EP or an album.”