LostAlone's Steven Battelle talks Shapes Of Screams and Star Wars
Few bands today can claim to be as genuinely epic as Derby's LostAlone.
It's not just the trio's sound, a glorious Biffy-meets-Queen assault with a dose of Led Zep on the side, that makes them so ludicrously grand. No, there's plenty more to these Britrock upstarts than histrionics.
We caught up with frontman Steven Battelle the band's new album, Shapes of Screams, one string guitars and shooting riffs from Han Solo's gun...
How did you approach the writing of Shapes of Screams?
"I write a song every day. It's never with an instrument, it's just while I'm walking around and I'll get to my laptop and demo something. I have a constant collection in my iTunes. When we got sorted with Dan Weller producing I gave him 100 demos and he said any of them could be on the record so we had to get them down to 12. We got them down to 20 in the studio on day one and really whittled it down. There's always plenty of songs around."
How do you go about whittling down such a huge amount of material?
"Some songs, instantly we said, 'Well that's going on the record.' There's usually a core of five that will make the basis of the record. When I know we're scheduled to record it excites me, so despite having all of these demos I tend to write most of the record in the three weeks prior to recording. A lot of the stuff ends up being just rubbish demos on my iTunes forever."
You mentioned Dan Weller producing, was that a good fit for the band?
"It was a brilliant fit. We didn't approach Dan, he heard a single off our last album and Tweeted that he loved it. We had just watched him in a documentary that came with the Enter Shikari album and he seemed like a good guy. A year later we were in the studio together. He fit in with the band, he was the fourth member.
"The humour level was the same, and that is so important. You've got to be on the same page about what makes you laugh. And Dan joins me on the thought that if you have a bowl of cereal, it is essential that you have a second bowl. That was a bonding experience between us. I've never been able to have one bowl of cornflakes. I have to go straight back. So yeah, it was a great fit, mainly because of the cornflakes."
Where were you recording?
"We did it in a 300-year-old house in Hampshire. We wanted that '70s Queen, Led Zeppelin countryside retreat kind of thing. We hired in a lot of cool gear and did most of the tracking there. We did some in a place in Brixton and some in Vale Studio and we did one day in Snug in our home town. Dan had gone home by then so I thought, 'Great, let's add 200 harmonies to that song!'"
Recording in a huge Led Zep-esque manor house seems to fit the album's epic theme quite well...
"The way that we sound, there is zero effort in sounding like that, that is just what we are. A lot of people say, and they're very positive in the way they say it, but they say we're trying to push the boundaries.
"I just love musicals, Queen and heavy guitar bands, and that is how I hear it in my head. I have never been in the studio and said, 'Guys, let's try and push this further than anyone else ever has.' The demos sounded like this with hundreds of vocals everywhere. This is the first time we've managed to get on a record what I hear in my head."
It might take zero effort but it must eat up a lot of hours?
"I think we could have recorded double the amount of songs that we did. There are a lot of harmonies, but I know them all in my head. I could stand in the vocal booth for a day and multi track the same parts and the harmonies again and again. That's enjoyable to me. I prefer that to doing my lead vocal, I find that stressful where as the backing vocals are really fun. It probably is all quite time consuming but it just feels like fun to me. Maybe ask Dan Weller that question, he probably thought it was the most tiresome time of his life to listening to the same parts for two weeks!"
We hear that you had a very special guitar built for one track
"On the first track I've had a guitar built just for that one song. We've got a great guy that loves our band and is a great luthier, this guy called Nigel. I rang him up one night and told him I overdubbed a Drop B riff while I was playing a chord at the same time, I've tried playing it on a seven string and I'm rubbish, it makes me like am amateur guitar player.
"I told him I wanted a neck the width of a single string penetrating my SG that I can play it at the same time as the chord. Three months later he presented me with this incredible guitar. I use it for one song and it's an amazing piece of engineering. I'm proud of the level of ridiculousness that had to occur for that riff to happen."
What else were you using?
"I love vintage stuff. I've got a 1964 SG Junior which is my main guitar. The sound on the album came from that guitar mixed with a BB King Custom Lucille which Gibson very kindly lent us. I've got 1968 Hoyer, which is like a Les Paul copy, those three were amazing. In the studio I wanted one of every kind of iconic guitar, so I had a Strat, a Tele, I had nine guitars, basically. On the song Crusaders, the verses are a tribute to guitar and if you listen to it, it has Hank Marvin on the Strat, then BB King, then Brian May, there's Slash in the middle, we tied to do a little tribute."
What amps were you running through?
"The amp rig was a 1974 JMP, which is amazing, and I used that through an 8x10 Marshall cab from the '70s. I've got two Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifiers from 94. Some of the Mesas have so many switches on them but those ones are to the point. We had a Joe Satriani JVM Marshall as well."
And, of course, you have your pedals...
"I've got these Star Wars effects pedals (we check out Steven's pedal board here) and they were all fully deployed. It's such a pleasure to press Han Solo's gun and have it fire out a riff."
It's been a slog for you guys to get to album three. What would you see as a successful 2014?
"We like the trajectory we're on. It's not overnight, but we can feel things getting bigger. We would like to be selling out the next level up of venues. This band has had to fight it's whole career, with amazing things happening but then comedy things that bring it to a standstill. We're in good hands now with the people we're working with and we want to be secure that we're making a next record. I crave a schedule."
That certainty is becoming harder to find thanks to the state of the industry
"I'm not a huge fan of the fact that being in a band at our level now you almost have to be a salesmen to people who already like you. A lot of our fans don't know it's wrong to get music for free because they weren't born when you had to go out and pay for a CD. When you see figures that 800 people a week downloaded our last album, that would have put us in a Top 40 chart position if they had all bought it, when you combine it with the people that did. The hope is that people will support us in the correct way."
Shape Of Screams is out now.
For more information visit the official LostAlone website, or connect with the band on Twitter and Facebook.