Formerly known as Lulu and The Lampshades, Luisa Gerstein, Jemma Freeman, Heloise Tunstall-Behrens and Dan Blackett have just released their second album as Landshapes. We caught up with lead singer Luisa to hear how secret sculptures and an art installation about moon-dwelling geese inspired the crepuscular psychedelia of Heyoon.

Can you tell us more about the significance of the title ‘Heyoon’? It’s named after a secret pavilion in south-east Michigan, right?

Yeah. So, I heard it about it through a podcast. I did a cross-country bike ride across America last summer, and I just happened to listen to that [podcast] as I was riding through south-east Michigan, which was a bit creepy. I just loved the story; that it was this sacred place for teenagers to escape to. So I guess the way that it resonates is just that it was a sacred place and that’s how we feel about our music. In terms of how we write together, it’s very much a collaborative process: we’ll all come together and jam for hours, and the songs are born out of that.

That physical place is also something that we want to explore further, so we’ve built our own sculpture to take to different places, and record other people’s secret stories and make those into little podcasts. That’s something we’re working on at the moment.

There are lots of unusual reference points, and allusions on Heyoon. For example, ‘Moongee’ was inspired by an installation by Agnes Meyer Brandis, which in turn was inspired by a story by a 17th century bishop called Francis Godwin. Can you tell us more, please?

It was a touring exhibition and I went to it when it came to London. I think the thing that I absolutely adored about it was that someone could take something that was so fantastical and magical, and apply this quite clinical, very serious, scientific methodology. In the exhibition, there were all these photographs of the artist training up these geese, and there was a space station and these little control rooms where you could see live feeds from the moon of these geese being trained. Obviously, they weren’t real live feeds! It was all quite bizarre, but I really loved the story of it.

I mean, it doesn’t necessarily completely go with the music but we’d been playing that song for a while and I just started to write words around that. There’s probably a bit of a disparity there between the heavy, dark, almost metal tune and this story about geese. (Laughs)

How soon after releasing your debut did you begin working on material for Heyoon?

Almost immediately. Because the process of putting a record out takes a really long time, I think we’d probably already started writing a lot of these songs by the time Rambutan even came out. We’re already writing lots of new songs that we want to play and record.

A lot of Heyoon was written in Cornwall. We went away for a week – quite soon after Rambutan came out – and just had the freedom of spending full days writing, playing music, and then running off and doing nice stuff like swimming. ‘Moongee’, ‘Red Kite’ and ‘Red Electric Love Fern’ we definitely started down there, and then we took them back to London and turned them into songs.

Heyoon has a crepuscular, almost magical feel to it. Were you consciously trying to create a certain atmosphere, or was it more spontaneous than that?

I think it was a bit of both. We wanted to restrict ourselves to a palette of a few sounds, so when we came to recording it we’d use the same sort of reverb throughout all the tracks. I think there is certainly a unified sound to the whole album. But then, at the same time, the songs are all written in a spontaneous way, and then we finesse them.

So when was Heyoon recorded?

The first session was in April/May last year, and then I went away to America for two and a half months. When I got back in September, we recorded a couple more songs.

And you worked with David Holmes and Giles Barrett. What attracted you to pick them as producers?

Well, they run Soup Studios in Limehouse, where we recorded Heyoon. But the studio was initially recommended to us by a friend. So I think we tried a couple of tracks out and, as they’re the engineers, we just built a relationship with them. Within a couple of days, they realised they really liked what we were doing, and so the dynamic shifted from them just recording the songs to them getting super-involved in things like what bass sound we should have. So it suddenly became this quite collaborative thing, and it just seemed natural for them to then produce as well.

Usually when you choose a producer, there’s this back-and-forth process where you send the tracks off and then somebody mixes it and sends it back to you. We wanted to be there the whole time to make those decisions, to jump in and change stuff, or add stuff, and to record and mix at the same time. But at the same time, we wanted to have another pair of ears with us. You get kinda lost in [recording], so it’s so, so important to have somebody there with you, and somebody whose opinions you trust.

How do you feel you’ve progressed artistically since Rambutan?

With Rambutan it felt like we were ready to go record an album and, as much as a lot of the songs were songs that we’d been playing a long time, we weren’t ready at all. We didn’t know the tempos of the songs, and some of the structures weren’t completely solidified. With this [album] we were just a lot better at knowing at what point we’d be ready to take the song into the studio, and we were a bit less precious about getting things absolutely perfect.

I don’t know, there’s so much energy to a song when you first write it, and I for one absolutely adore the recordings we have from our practice room when we’re just figuring stuff out. When you then take those songs to the studio, it can be quite easy to lose that energy. And as much as we really liked the way the first record sounded, I think it lost a bit of that energy. We were less precious this time. It’s about understanding the process a lot more too; knowing what’s going on, and being a lot more involved.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

It constantly shifts. Personally, ‘Fire’ has always been one of my favourites. I just really love the bassline and the weird breakdown in the middle. Also, I really like playing it live. We haven’t played ‘Red Electric Love Fern’ live yet, and we’d like to. ‘Lone Wolf’ as well. ‘Lone Wolf’ we wrote in about seven minutes and then just decided to record it, and I do like those songs that seem to require the least amount of effort. I think that’s when you know that something’s working organically.

Speaking about playing live, you recently had a live residency in East London. Residencies aren’t something you see that often. What inspired you to organise it?

Well, there’s the thing of just wanting to play live lots! And I quite like being in control of that stuff. Sometimes it feels like you’re at the whim of bookers, in terms of who they want to put you with, how it looks and how it sounds; you just show up and play. We wanted to be involved in everything, from booking the bands to deciding where it was.

Also, it’s nice to feel like there’s community [between bands]. That can be quite hard in London, because there are so many bands. I mean, maybe there is one and I’m just not aware of it, but it feels like there’s a lack of a scene or a place where you can just go and always see good bands. So that was the idea behind it, and we invited bands that we really liked, and that we were friends with, or wanted to play with. I’d like to do it again, and in different cities as well. That would be really fun.

The Deep Throat choir played the residency, and you’ve since done a split release with them. Do you have plans to collaborate with others artists from the residency too, like Tirzah or The Invisible?

That would be cool, but no current plans. We’re doing a fun project at the moment with one song that we didn’t put on the record, which doesn’t have vocals. We’re doing a Chinese whispers kind of thing, where we send it to one person, and they do a remix or a reinterpretation or just add something, and then they send it back and we send it to someone else. I think we’re on the fifth person at the moment.

So what’s the plan for the rest of 2015?

We’ll be playing a few festivals in the summer, including Green Man, plus a couple of European dates. And around autumn we’ll probably tour in the UK and go to America as well. Playing live is definitely really fun with the new material, because we get to play loud. Also, we used to switch around instruments on stage, and now it’s a lot more streamlined in the sense that we’re all doing one thing the whole time.

Will you be carrying on putting out more new material too?

Yeah, I think we might record some more... We might put out another couple of tracks, or an EP maybe. I like the idea of doing things quite quickly. I mean, it would be nice just to write songs, record them and put them out. It never is quick, though. (Laughs)

May 2015