photo by lindsay, taken at Dead Goat, Whidbey Island
The more I thought about Lindsay Schief and her career, a pair of words continued to reverberate in my brain, coincidence and fate. Generally these words are mutually exclusive and while in the presence of a fated event one cannot call it coincidental. Had she not left her home in Michigan and moved to Los Angeles she might never have met Ashley Eriksson, and Andrew Dorsett who she would later form LAKE with. Had a friend of hers from Michigan not moved to Olympia, she might not have found herself in the PNW. Had she not met Eli Moore, who was also a founding member of LAKE, she might not have encouraged him to give Ashely a phone call while he was visiting LA. Lastly had she not then left Olympia for Portland, she might not have collaborated with Greg Olin to make one of my favorite albums, Solid Home Life.
Sure anyone’s life is full of these “if you hadn’t” moments, what makes Lindsay’s special is that it seems to have happened so many times and resulted in such beautiful music.
Lindsay Schief had been on my radar for a few years, LAKE (this won’t shock anyone) quickly became my favorite band. I’d been hoping to interview them for some time (we’re still working on that) but in the mean time I stumbled across something called Solid Home Life, a recently released album for PIAPTK records. It featured Lindsay and Greg Olin, known mostly for the band Graves, and a who’s who of other Northwest artists such as Karl Blau and Nate Ashley. This deceptively simple and sweet album was in effect a musical journal for their lives for about two years. I don’t think I’d even finished listening to the album preview on Bandcamp before I sent her an email asking for an interview.
There’s no question that she grew up musically inclined. Her Dad was a professional musician, and now plays in Eddie and the Breakers. Her sister’s followed in Lindsay’s footsteps and found themselves in bands such as The Mona Reels, and The Family Stoned. Her sisters Steph and April also appear as back up singers on Solid Home Life. It would seem that Lindsay was fated to become a musician, yet were it not for a series of coincidental meetings, it’s anyones guess as to where she would be today.
Early on Lindsay began playing in Lyrebird with Kanako Wynkoop and then later in the intriguingly named Encyclopedia of Fun. She’s worked with past secretly-important person Karl Blau both as his touring band and on his album, Nature’s Got Away. And has also collaborated with Adrian Orange (of the secretly-importantcast theme song) and Greg Olin, Solid Home Life. She found her place however in LAKE, a relationship that spanned over six years and five albums. As the band prepares to go out on tour this Summer, Lindsay will not be joining them, instead focusing on school (she’s attending Evergreen in the Fall) and her own solo projects. I wouldn’t count her out of LAKE entirely, I’m sure she’ll appear with them again at some point. Now she is stretching her musical prowess by playing bass in the very different Angelo Spencer et les hauts Sommets.
Lindsey’s songs not surprisingly are full of heavy and catchy beats, with soft and sultry vocals that often take little unexpected twists and turns in a pleasing way the hits you right in the gut. LAKE’s 2009 release Let’s Build a Roof featured the dark and elegiac Gravel, written by Lindsay. It was one of the stand out songs on the album and last year received one of k-records highest honors, a Dub Narcotic remix. There is a neglected myspace page under the name Islindz that features a number of her solo works that are true works of art, as well as demos for songs that would later be recorded by LAKE, I highly suggest a visit.
I made the hour drive from my home down to Olympia, the unlikely hotbed of northwest music still twenty years after the hight of grunge. In reality Seattle music is rarely born out of the metropolis, it comes from places like Anacortes and Olympia. Home to k-records and Evergreen state college, Olympia was mini-Portland before Portland was well, Portland. The art scene is quirky, unique, and thriving, it helps assist the massive subculture of crunchy artists, organic farmers, and lost souls. It’s almost too easy to forget that this is also the state capitol of Washington.
I met Lindsay at the little house she shares on the west side of town with her boyfriend and fellow musician Angelo Spencer. The plan had been to record outside in their garden, but as is the case even on a nice day in the PNW, the rain can come out of nowhere an it did. Instead we settled for the kitchen, where we were watched over by a papier-mâché fox, and I was treated to a fresh homemade coffee cake.
The first thing you might notice upon meeting Lindsay are her eyes. I want to call them gray, but then I’m the guy who thought my wife’s eyes were brown for almost two years (they’re green) so they are probably some variety of blue. They look like the kind of eyes that would write her music, clandestine and full of emotion. We talked about gardening, and making a dandelion cordial, before finally settling in and talking about music.
I want to mention just how welcoming Lindsay was to me, and I want to give a big thanks for taking the time to talk, it was an absolute delight, and proof that the PNW not only has the best artists but also the nicest. Once again what follows is just a very small excerpt from our entire conversation, to hear the full interview which is much longer and more in-depth, check out the podcast available in itunes or right here.
You’re From Michigan. How did you end up in the Pacific Northwest?
When I was about 22 or so, I was having a real tough time in Michigan. I was feeling like things were adding up in a way that were signs letting me know that I needed to get out of there and do something else. So like a naive young person, I just sold all my things, and bought a train ticket to Southern California. This was sort of before the internet was popular and I just had a friend of a friend who I’d never met who lived in Northridge in the Valley. I didn’t know anything about it. I thought that Northridge sounded like a beautiful country town in the Golden State. I got there and it was horrible. I had a hard time admitting it to myself that it wasn’t what I expected or wanted. I ended up staying for a year and a half, and that’s where I met some of my band mates, Ashley (Eriksson) and Andrew (Dorsett). Then I ended up moving up to Olympia, because a friend of mine from Michigan had just moved there. I went up to visit him and just loved it. So I went back to LA and got my stuff and just left.
You’re a founding member and also the “L” in LAKE. How did that band come together?
When I was in LA, my first friend that I made was Ashley. She was a friend of my roommate and she called the house looking for him one day, I picked up the phone and we ended up talking for three hours. She was 17 and I was 23. Then we made a plan to hang out. She was a budding songwriter at the time, she would have me play parts and learn singing parts for her songs. She was going to some kind of arts high school, and that’s where she met Andrew Dorsett, so the three of us started playing music together. Then when I decided to leave LA it was sad to leave them behind but I needed to do it.
Then, about a year later, Ashley decided to move up here [Olympia] with her boyfriend at the time, Kenny, he’s the “K” in LAKE. I’d been up here for a year and met Eli [Moore] and I really looked up to Eli, and liked his music so much, and I always wanted to play with him, but I didn’t think it would ever happen. Then eventually Andrew also moved up. But before that it was me the L, Ashley, Kenny, and Eli. That was the four founding members of LAKE. As time went on Kenny moved back home to LA and Adam Oelsner joined the band, and so did Andrew. Late Adam left and Markly Morrison joined the band, there was an overlap, at one point we were a six piece.
How do you feel your role in LAKE has changed since the band was founded in 2006?
At the beginning I was very timid, I started off just playing drums. But over the years I’ve learned how to play some bass lines and started singing lead on a couple songs, getting out from behind the drum kit. Something has really changed in the last week, which is that I’m stepping away from LAKE. I used to be a committed member of the band- things have been changing for LAKE very recently, and I’m going to be going to school in the Fall, so I’m not really in the band. It’s not like anything bad happened and I quit the band, I’ll still probably end up playing with those guys here and there, I just couldn’t be so committed to the project anymore. I really wanted to shift my focus over to school and also my own music. It’s been like a relationship. It felt sad to admit that I was ready to move on. I feel like it’s a positive thing, for everyone involved, because in a way I felt like because I was ready to move on but wasn’t ready to admit that, I started to feel like I was holding things back, because I was so reluctant to move forward and commit.
You come from a musical family. Just about everyone in your family is involved with music.
My dad is a full time musician. Since I was little he’s always been the piano player for every church we went to, he was always the bandleader. My dad grew up playing organ for a baptist church since he was 5- he started playing when he was five. He’s in a band now, a surf band called Eddie and the Breakers, my dad’s name is Ed. My Mom was the lead praise and worship singer at the church, she was a beautiful singer. And I have four younger sisters and all of us grew up singing together a lot in the kitchen harmonizing. I was the first one to start picking up instruments. Sometimes I think of myself as the Brian Wilson of my family, really in my head and concerned with composing and recording. Looking back I wish I had pulled a Brian and forced them to sing with me and do parts, like Brian Wilson did with his brothers. He’d make them sing parts he’d written. I moved out here and one by one my sisters followed me, in the order of age, and now a couple still live out here and a couple live near our home town. The youngest two were in a band called the Mona Reels with Peter Connelly. My sister April keeps collecting instruments and is multi-tracking. She puts out a Christmas album every year. She does covers and writes her own Christmas songs. My sister Steph just moved back to Michigan to pursue music, because she wanted to take lessons from our dad. We didn’t take lessons even though we were a real musical family. So each of us had to forge our own path with that. Playing with LAKE was a huge learning experience for me, playing with other people.
You just recently put out an album with Greg Olin of Graves, called Solid Home Life. And it’s probably one of the sweetest albums I’ve heard in a long time. It also has an interesting story attached to it. Can you explain the origins of that record?
I first met [Greg Olin] in Olympia. Then about a year later we played together on Karl Blau’s Nature’s Got Away. Then I moved to Portland, and I ran into Greg and there was this vibe there. There was some sort of attraction to each other, we just made a plan to hang out, and right away he was like, “hey, I was working on this song, do you think you could play the drums for it?” It just sort of built up, he had a couple songs he’d written, and then I started writing a couple songs. I was really inspired by him-his way of so easily writing a song, playing a couple of chords, and improvising lyrics and we’d come up with ideas. We’d just record everything we did, and people would come over and our friends would end up playing on those songs. Over the course of a year or two we ended up having a collection. We never played out, it wasn’t a ‘let’s go and play a show,’ type of band. It was just for us in a way. I think both of us were looking for a solid home life. We both really love domesticity and the idea of simple things, and a nice time at home. [Greg] was always really good about keeping it going, he was the driving force. He basically did all the foot work to get this put out, and I really appreciate that about him, because I don’t know the first thing about putting an album out.
So there was no structure to it necessarily, it was more loose?
He’d be like, “here’s the song that I’ve been thinking about, here’s the chorus.” And he’d just play it over and over so relaxed, laid back. And I’d be like, “what if we did this… or changed that… or added this.” It was so easy, it’s almost like there was no effort involved, not that we weren’t trying. It just came to us so easily.
When you listen to that album now, does it feel like a slice of time right out of your life?
Definitely, it brings back a lot to listen to it. It was such a nice time. The album took years of casually recording and doing overdubs. It spans quite a bit of time, and each song reminds me of things that we were doing or ways it felt to hang out together. It feels good to look back on that time and have it all condensed down to this album. It’s like a journal.
How is it that you didn’t feel defined as a drummer and began to branch out and play other things like bass or keyboards?
I’ve never felt like a very good drummer, I haven’t taken very many lessons, I don’t ever practice, I just go to band practice and do my best. Sometimes I’m in the mood and it’s awesome, sometimes we’ll play a show and I would leave feeling terrible. I’ve never personally defined myself as a drummer, even though I know I am one. Because Andrew [Dorsett] is a really good drummer there were certain types of LAKE songs that Andrew was good at and I had a harder time with. So he would play drums on a couple songs, and I was like “what am I going to play?” A lot of the time I would just play tambourine, then Adam [Oelsner] left the band and it left a couple of bass parts open, so I expressed interest in learning bass. I felt that it was rounding out my musicianship, to get out from behind the drums and play something else. I didn’t set out to just be a drummer, I want to get back to my roots playing other instruments.*
I still don’t know which word to use, coincidence or fate. Was this a case of a remarkable sequence of circumstances that had no apparent connection? Or were these chance meetings and life changes the work of some supernatural being? Lindsay was fated to find a life in music, but could you chalk up her phone call with Ashley, her friend who moved to Olympia, or collaboration with Greg Olin, as coincidental, happy accidents that led to wonderful music. Is Apollo looking down from mount Olympus maneuvering people around, pushing them together, and ensuring that the right people find one another to give us the fruits of their labor.
Though Lindsay is stepping away from LAKE, we can look forward to what will without question, be some wonderful solo work. And then there’s the latest incarnation of the ever evolving Angelo Spencer et les hauts Sommets. I think that the essence and energy of this band will be very good for her, I look forward to seeing them in action. You can catch her performing with Angelo Spencer this Friday at Folklife in Seattle. LAKE’s albums are all available at krecs.com. And finally, Solid Home Life is available on Cassette and a limited pressing of blue vinyl with digital download through PIAPTK records. You can stream the entire album at solidhomelife.bandcamp.com.
Please don’t forget to check out the full podcast interview right here or in itunes. There’s so much great stuff you’ll miss if you don’t give it a listen.