I attacked this profile from every angle, I symbolized, I mythologized, I literalized and still I could not boil the essence of what LAKE is or what LAKE means to me, down to something simple and compact.
By the mid 1990‘s the boom of the Grunge years had begun to decay, and by the late 90‘s we were reading it’s obituary. The great tradition of music in the Northwest didn’t die, it was simply struggling to find it’s place in a post grunge world. In the mid 2000‘s a new generation of artists living and working in the PNW emerged, finding their way to a new and hungry audience.
In 2009 I was living in Los Angeles and had been removed from the burgeoning music scene of the PNW. It was sheer accident that I stumbled upon the song On The Swing, a hauntingly beautiful fantasy of a song by LAKE. Soon after I took a trip to Amoeba records, and as if placed their by the hand of fate, I found LAKE’s catalog of music waiting for me. A year and a half later when I decided to move back to Seattle, one of my first thoughts was how much closer to their music I would be. Who were these people that made this music that so easily destroyed me?
LAKE: Lindsay Schief, Ashley Eriksson, Kenny Tarantino, Eli Moore. That these disparate artists would find each other in the same city, let alone the same band, is so serendipitous that it sounds like I made it up. Lindsay was a recent transplant to Los Angeles from Michigan, when through a friend of a friend she met Ashley. Through Ashley she would meet Kenny, Markly Morrison, and Andrew Dorsett who was a transplant from Florida. It was on a whim that Lindsay would move to Olympia Washington, where she met and collaborated with Eli Moore who was originally from Whidbey Island. When Eli took a trip to California to visit an uncle, Lindsay suggested that he meet up with Ashley, and miraculously he did. Soon after Ashley would move to Olympia, and not long after that, everyone else would follow.
By 2006 LAKE had recorded and self-released their first album the self titled, LAKE. Recorded by Karl Blau in Anacortes at the now defunct Department of Safety, it would be the first of many albums and collaborations with Karl who is like the Neil Young to Crosby Stills and Nash. Their second album simply referred to as Cassette (after the fact, because until recently it was available only on cassette) was recorded with members of the Portland band Typhoon. Originally these recordings were seen as raw demos to be polished and refined later, but in the end they contained too much “spontaneous magic,” and the album was left as is.
Their next album was Oh The Places We’ll Go, originally self-released, before Calvin Johnson founder of the infamous K-Records expressed interest in re-releasing the album under K. They would release two more albums for K in the coming years, Let’s Build A Roof and Giving and Receiving. This past year the band recorded two more albums both of which are in the process of being completed.
Magic is a word that I often think of in reference to LAKE, whether it’s their unlikely formation, the sound of their music, or their glaring passion and talent. I find myself at a loss for words when it comes to meaningfully describing the music of LAKE, one part the jazzy softness of Steely Dan, one part the endlessly addictive melodies of Fleetwood Mac, and one part R. Stevie Moore quirk, the rest? As banal as it sounds… magic.
If there is a cradle for that magic you could say it’s in the band’s ability to collaborate. There are no defined roles in LAKE, songs are constructed by exploiting members strongest attributes. It’s birthed in the writing process and continues all the way through to live performance. A song could be written, played, and sung by anyone on any instrument. This can be challenging for live performances, as song beaks become Chinese fire drills, wherein everyone dashes to find the instrument needed for the next song.
LAKE is at their best when they work in conjunction to one another, alone they are all amazing musicians, each of have appeared in other music, Baby Island, Skrill Meadow, Solid Home Life, among others, but something happens when they come together to write music. I often think of their album titles as being perfect representations of what the band stands for, Oh, The Places We’ll Go, Let’s Build a Roof, Giving and Receiving, it’s obvious. It’s possible to imagine that the emotions I feel when listening to LAKE pales in comparison to the emotions the band feels when they finish writing a song together.
I originally contacted Eli about an interview back in February of 2012, at the time the band was just beginning to work on the first of the two albums recorded last year, and Lindsay was still a member. By April the band would have moved on to a second recording in Phil Elverum’s Unknown studio, and Lindsay would step away from the band to attend Evergreen State college. I interviewed Lindsay in the midst of all this transitioning, it was a bittersweet time for everyone it seemed, the first LAKE album not to feature Lindsay would turn out to be improvisational(esque), thrown together in just a matter of days. Even in a changing landscape LAKE took their collaborative efforts to new heights.
When finally I caught up with Ashley, Eli, and Markly (Andrew couldn’t make the taping) it was mid November and much had changed since my original email. I’ve come accustomed to taking the trip down I-5 south to interview artists, coincidentally Ashley and Eli’s house was just blocks from where Lindsay and Angelo Spencer live.
It was a surreal experience to be sitting there talking to a band that just a few years earlier I had only envisioned in my head. What wonderful and delightful people, I interview artists because I’m fascinated to hear what they have to say about music and get a small peek into their artistic process. I keep interviewing artists because they have all been such welcoming and generous people. An enormous thanks to everyone for taking the time to sit down with me and talk about themselves, without question, every artists least favorite topic.
As always, what follows is just a slice of what you’ll hear in the full podcast interview. So take a listen to the podcast here or in itunes. And don’t forget to “like” us in facebook and subscribe to us in itunes.
When I interviewed Lindsay Schief, she was in the process of playing her last few shows with the band, before moving on to attend Evergreen state college. What has it been like moving on without her?
She’s an element that we miss. It’s a tough void to fill, but it’s forcing us to think more creatively.
We did an album without her in Anacortes with Paul Benson (Ever Ending Kicks) filling in. The feeling was different for a multitude of reasons, but it was more experimental, it was very therapeutic to do something and hear it, and still have it sound like LAKE but be different.
We Kind of Pulled it all out of thin air. We went into the studio with next to nothing, and largely made it up as we went along.
It felt really healing to do it at that time, instead of moping. It was fun. They [Eli, Andrew, & Markly] would sometimes just record the songs and I would be outside working on lyrics.
A third of that album is music that we wrote collaboratively, including lyrics.
You recorded the first LAKE album in Anacortes with Karl Blau, and at this point you’ve worked with him so often that I see him almost as a member of the band. What about his process keeps you going back to work with him?
We really connect with his aesthetic and admire his openness. He’s really into finding the beauty in first takes. He tries to keep this raw element and not over-producing, even though that’s our tendency. It’s nice to have him to balance that out.
Karl has a really good ear for spontaneity. I’m always surprised by the things he singles out and wants to focus on. He’ll come up with ideas for our songs and he’s back there at the controls. Captain Karl wants us to try something and we’ll go for it, whether it flies or not.
It’s real faith based, if there’s a mistake he’ll trust that it was supposed to happen, and rather than try and correct it, he’ll try and bring it out. There’s one song we did where on the very last note, someone played this note that wasn’t in the key of the song. We were like, “let’s just punch in that note.” And he was like, “I think that’s supposed to happen.” So we ended up all punching in, and the song had this outro that’s in this really bizarre key.
During live shows it’s fun to watch you all shift instruments. I assume that has to do with how the song was written, and who played what. Is there a reason you don’t have defined roles?
We’re all multi-instrumentalists and we really enjoy playing different things, and get bored playing the same instrument all the time.
When we’re working on something new, one person will be like, “I hear a keyboard, or I hear a good bass line.” And that person does it.
Sometimes someone will write a part on an instrument and then decide to switch. It’s also skill, some people can play certain things on guitars that others can’t. Some people can play a certain funkiness on the bass, some songs Andrew’s better on drums…
It takes a long time to switch between songs, so it’s not totally idea from an entertainment aspect. We’re not doing it as a gimmick. Sometimes it’s frustrating.
It gives people a chance to look at their iphones.
After you finished recording Giving and Receiving you found that the tape it was recorded on began to disintegrate.
We had to save it, so we transferred all the tracks to the computer. We ended up adding more tracks because we had more available to us. It led to the album, maybe being over-produced. We probably never would have transferred it to the computer. We would have finished it on tape, and it would have been slightly rawer. The reason I prefer tape has more to do with process. I think projects go faster, I like the limits of tape, it’s a creative limit. But with digital the possibilities. The first album [the album recorded at K with lindsay in 2012] is all on the computer at this point. It’s the first album we’ve made where we’ve been able to try every idea we’ve thought of. It’s been a cool freedom.
After you finished Oh, The Places We’ll Go, you were approached by K-Records about releasing it. What was it like back then to have a storied label like K want to release your music, and then more of your music in the future?
I was really excited. When I moved up here that was a goal I had envisioned. Wouldn’t it be cool, specifically if K wanted to put this stuff out.
When I was first making music in Santa Clarita, I had barely any idea of what indie record labels were. I knew two, K-records and Saddle Creek. I moved to Olympia not ever thinking that I would end up having music on K-Records. That was really cool when that happened.
When I moved to Olympia in 2002, I was a huge K-Records fan, I felt awkward when I saw people associated with the label at the co-op. It was a very natural progression for them to ask us. It wasn’t like it came out of nowhere, because we’d been collaborating with Karl, and we played as the backup band for Adrian Orange. Not to say that we deserved it, or that we knew it would happen. K is very community oriented, we were a part of the community at that point. I think Calvin [Johnson] appreciates people who are a part of the community and not just passing through.
Did you look at the band different after that, that this wouldn’t just be something you do for a few years, that there was a real vision for the future?
It’s hard to end a band and start again. Once you have a name and an identity, it feels so good to have that and keep going.***
Oh, The Places We’ll Go, Let’s Build a Roof, Giving and Receiving, as well as some special singles and b-sides are available through k-records. You can download LAKE’s earliest albums through their bandcamp page, at laketheband.bandcamp.com. They’ll be performing live at The Shakedown in Bellingham Feb. 22, The Waldorf Hotel in Vancouver BC on Feb. 23, and the Treefort Music Fest March 24. And keep a look out for two new albums later in the year.
Back in mid 2011 when I decided I wanted to conduct podcast interviews I did so with LAKE in mind. In fact I came up with the website after I did a review of Giving and Receiving, it’s safe to say that without LAKE I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. There’s so much I could thank them for, but what I thank them for the most is the unending inspiration they have given me. A big thanks to everyone in LAKE, past and present members. Don’t forget to listen to the full audio podcast of our interview here or in itunes.