Members: Simon Armitage, Richard Walters, Patrick Pearson
Occupation: Poet (Simon Armitage), musician (Richard Walters), multi-instrumentalist (Patrick Pearson)
Interviewee: Richard Walters
Current release: LYR have announced their new EP – Cascade Theory - which will be out on 12th November via MKX. Their new single "Cascade Theory" is out now.
If you enjoyed this interview with LYR and would like to find out more about this unique cross-disciplinary project, visit her official homepage. Or head over to their accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter for current updates.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
LYR is a collaborative writing process, so we feed off each other's ideas to get to the final place. With the first record, the first stop on the journey was always Simon’s spoken word piece, that formula has switched since on occasion …
Something like ‘Country Club’ started life as an instrumental, played on my harmonium, then Pat picked it up and found the saxophone lines, and Simon took that almost baked idea and delivered his words. For me, as a writer, everything around me ends up in the song, be it personal or out in the bigger world.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I think best laid plans often lead nowhere … we work best under uncertain circumstances and enjoy the process. It doesn't always work everytime, but sometimes trusting your instincts leads to diamonds.
A track like ‘Redwings’ grew from something quite loose and improvised on stage, into a bigger piece … it just needed time to happen.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
We always record with the hope that some element, if not more, will remain in the final version. It’s important to assume anything, any mistake or unfinished part, could be part of the bigger picture.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
For me personally, I just need my head to be in the right place … so removing any other life issues from view always helps, focussing on the moment. Coffee is also a great, great help.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I find it’s often the first mind blurt or attempted melody that I eventually come back to. I know if it’s not going to be a fruitful day of writing, if I don’t get some feeling from the first thing I try.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
For LYR, the songs are so often rooted in Simon’s words … that’s the jumping off point.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I want to hear the real world in words. I love recognising my world in a song lyric.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Bit by bit; it goes through the machine and back again, from Simon to Pat to Me, then back. We know when it’s ready, and it’s quite often a case of overbuilding then taking things down.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
Absolutely, I think in all forms of writing, the plot goes where it wants to go and we just guide it.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
So important to go with those diversions. Nothing is finished until it’s finished, so not being precious is vital. If a song is 95% there and a better chorus line, or rhythm or string part jumps out, go with it.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
For me, when I’m in the right head space and zoning in on something, it’s very meditative and very dreamlike. It’s a good feeling to be lost in something and re-emerge with some treasure.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Sometimes it’s best to let it be taken out of your hands … a deadline helps.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
Again, I think following your initial feelings and gut reaction is so important. With music, it’s so easy to over-listen and get stuck … best to get it to a place it speaks to you and then revisit it a week later, see if it’s still pushing the buttons.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Pat is the in-band producer, engineer and mixer. We’re very lucky to have that, because it’s immediately part of the process …
There’s no gap between the writing and the studio, it’s always on our minds.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Very much so … releasing music can be such an anticlimax! You want the world to stop and listen to the things you’ve invested everything in, and of course it’s a slower burn.
Playing the song live is the way to get creativity flowing again, seeing real-world responses to what you’ve made.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
The principles are the same; you learn from others, you find your routine or ideal formula, you keep on trying to improve it, you share it.
I think songwriting is a very pure and reactive form of art, and it’s good to keep trying new techniques and approaches to dig deeper.