Lost Under Heaven Interview

“What I wanna do on a songwriting level is really try and encapsulate something of the timeless human experience. So the themes of the new songs are relevant to the world right now, but are also relevant to the past of human history.”

It’s the beginning of February and I find myself in the flat of Ellery Roberts and Ebony Hoorn of Lost Under Heaven. The walls of their home feature various forms of art and photography, which lends to the creativity that is projecting off of the pair. However, despite this aura of artistry, there’s a sense dysphoria in the world. President Trump has just been inaugurated and millions of people worldwide have joined the Women’s March in response, becoming the largest worldwide protest in history.

Lost Under Heaven, or LUH for short, find themselves a part of this protest. Tweeting ‘Not sure how I feel after this week..’ a few days before we meet, we discuss how recent events are sculpting their new music.”There’s always been people like Trump, there’s always been people like Brexit. It’s just at this moment, it has reached a critical mass” says Ellery. “In the past couple of weeks when I’ve been doing the vocals for the new tracks, I’ve been looking at news stories and I’ve had this real sense of not wanting to make gloomy music but really powerful music” he continues. “I never really got into Radiohead because it’s this very post-modern sort of angst. I appreciate their music, I think they’re incredibly talented, but on that level it always gave me a sense of hopelessness rather than overcoming. So that’s definitely something I’ve tried to reinforce in the new music.”

Last year, Ellery and Ebony released their debut record Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing. An album that echoes the mindset of young lost souls trying to navigate through the mundane sea of modernity, Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing is a beautiful and inspiring reflection of the world in which we all currently inhabit. Acting as Roberts’ first project since his departure from WU LYF in 2012, he is already looking back in retrospect at this record. “It’s not an issue, but the thing of the first record was that it was a transition record for me. I guess I wrote the majority of the tracks on my own, with the sense of making an Ellery Roberts record. But I didn’t really have the desire to do that, to actually make a solo record. Then having Ebony around during the process, with her singing more and more, I was like ‘okay, I’m going to make this into something else.’ I feel like Unites was the first song I wrote where it felt like LUH. We’ve now got like 12 new tracks that we’ve been finishing off in the past month and I feel like in a way that they are the first proper LUH album because this is actually what it is now.”

Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing is an album that is crammed full of different musical ideas and concepts. A collage of Ellery’s psyche during the album’s fruition, it managed to cause problems for LUH’s live show. “That was the state of mind I was in at the time and I was just pursuing every idea. It was an interesting exercise, but it resulted in an album that was impossible to do live because every song was different. Every song had different instruments and, other than having a backing track, you’d need a 15 piece band to recreate it properly.”

This has resulted in the next LUH project taking a slightly different approach. “When writing the new songs, we starting writing them with the idea not to overcomplicate them.” says Ebony. Ellery goes on to say that this requires “stripping it all back and being like, ‘okay, how can we make it the most dynamic effect of things with just three people.’ This time round, I’ve just written the songs purely on guitar and piano. So all these new songs we’ve got, they are demoed to that level of guitar, piano and vocal. I wanted to do that, to put them in a neutral place.”

This third person that LUH are referring to is Oliver Cooper, who has been providing the synths during their live shows. However in recent months, Cooper has started to have a more involved role within the band. “It’s nice working with Ollie” says Ellery. “It’s like he’s becoming a permanent member of the band, rather than just being brought in to play the songs.”

Back on the conversation of new music, we continue to discuss the benefits of LUH’s new songwriting approach. “Going back to just writing from beginning to finish on a guitar or piano means that I have to consider the whole track. I feel like there is a lot of contemporary music that is so focused on a ‘nice’ sound, that it gets a bit boring after a minute. All the ideas are in the first minute and a half, then it doesn’t really go anywhere. And I think that comes from working on computers so much because you’re so compartmentalised. Your focus is just in that area then that area.”

Lost Under Heaven is more than just a musical outlet for Ebony and Ellery. Lost Under Heaven is an idea, an ideology. So whilst the music does take the forefront, LUH are constantly working on the various manifestations in which their message blossoms. Ebony, who recently graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam after studying audio visual, begins to muse over this. “It’s like trying to get a message across without just using one medium. I think we live in times where everything crosses over and it’s really interesting. There are so many opportunities to just DIY, with incredibly cheap ways of doing it.” Ellery continues the train of thought. “Since the release of the album, it’s all been about the music. Which is cool and is necessary, but it did mean that all the other things – which to us are just as important and interesting – were sort of pushed to the side of the frame. Whereas now, with all the new stuff, we’re actually doing all these things. Particularly with the audio visual kinda element.”

A thread that seems to carry through all of Ellery’s work so far is this sense of community. Beginning with WU LYF and their cult status, the most recent example is the Congregation of Young Dissent night that Ebony and Ellery both organised. A self-promoted event, Congregation of Young Dissent took place at The White Hotel in Salford at the end of last year. Here, a mass of people who found solace within Lost Under Heaven gathered and it resulted in possibly LUH’s best show to date. Is this something that they want to build on? “We’re just trying to work out how to make it the most genuine I guess” ponders Ellery. “I feel like the sense of community is used in marketing everywhere. Even from these recent army posters where it’s like ‘This Is Belonging’. I feel like in this world of alienation, trying to create this genuine sense of community is really important.” Ebony elaborates, “we’re reaching a moment where people are realising that they have to break out of their echo-chamber and their self-contained bubbles.”

Towards the end of 2016, Ellery and Ebony decided to move back to Ellery’s native Manchester. Leaving behind the picturesque sites of Amsterdam for the perceptual grey of Mancunia, how has this transition been? “Since moving back to Manchester, for me, it’s been sort of refreshing on a certain level” says Ellery. “In Amsterdam, we had our little community of friends that was really around [Ebony’s] art school. But I particularly was very isolated, like I only sort of saw Ebony and her group of friends that she already had – then I had my studio area. But I basically spent a lot of my time on my own, not really interacting with people in the wider community. Whereas being back in Manchester, maybe because of the familiarity, I have a greater sense of being able to make something happen.”

Back in August last year, Lost Under Heaven tweeted the following – ‘so tired of reading LUH is a “challenging listen”:challenging?perhaps only to the luke warm piss of indie culture ‘. Ellery begins to clarify what he meant by this. “When we were making the record, the mentality was like ‘This is exactly what the world needs right now’. Which I guess is probably what every person making a record says. We were listening to Amnesia Scanner and a lot of these progressive electronic artists. We were thinking of fusing this with more classic rock songwriting. I don’t really know what is considered ‘relevant culture’ but I keep seeing these things that were maybe interesting and relevant in 2007. That was ten years ago, but people are still churning it out. So we were trying to do something new. So seeing the reaction, for me, was surprising. I just thought people were further ahead in their reference points and their ideas.”

Ellery goes on to explain how their image in the music press was also impeding on what they were trying to achieve. “We were getting frustrated for a while because we kept seeing these things that were presenting me and Ebony as this very twee and indie romance. And sure you can pull that out of it because we are together and happy, but it was just that we made a record which was dealing with a lot of things other than us being in a relationship. It felt like it was trying to dilute what we were doing.”

Chatter then turned to which current acts and genres that LUH themselves are finding intriguing. “I have a lot of respect for Elias Bender Rønnenfelt [of Ice Age and Marching Church] because he’s one of the more interesting songwriters of our generation. I also feel like the progressive electronica world is making sonically interesting work” says Ellery after a moment of deliberation. Ebony then chooses sludgy hardcore NYC trio Show Me The Body, “They’ve been very politically and community engaging.” “I also think the same for Princess Nokia because of the way she’s self-releasing, independent and is just doing it. She’s out there and is actually creating interesting and connecting music. Then obviously there’s Kendrick Lamar” says Ebony. After a moment of silence, Ellery adds “There’s a bunch of MCs making interesting stuff, I think Denzel Curry is really good.”

As our conversation came to it’s natural close, we began to discuss what Lost Under Heaven means to LUH. ” For me at least, Lost Under Heaven is about exploring the duality, looking towards unity” says Ellery. “Unity being this notion of heaven and the world we’re living in being of opposition of duality. Even with me and Ebony working together on it, seeing how the male and female energies react and counterbalance each other. It’s an opportunity or a vehicle in which we can explore, experiment and develop as human beings. The work that we create is sort of the documentation of them experiments. Patti Smith talks about keepers of the flame. That throughout culture and human history there’s been artists that light this fire of human spirit and pass it down through generation and generation. So in that sense, you’re doing a custodian of human spirit. You’re enforcing and looking out for something that hopefully inspires people to do the same. I think that’s the most beautiful thing that comes out of what we do…”

Liam Egan

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