Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Loch Lomond Find Their Niche

Written by Darla Musick
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The visual equivalent of listening to Loch Lomond’s most recent album, Little Me Will Start A Storm (released late February of this year on Tender Loving Empire) would be watching unperturbed croquet players in a thunderstorm. That is to say, you are overcome by inklings of whimsy strung together through the commotion of nature. In other words, this music draws you in. The band blends lingering ever-present vocal stylings with out of the ordinary instrumentation to create indie chamber pop that makes you wish you never forewent those mandolin lessons as a child.
  

Photos by Jonathan Ratcliff

The visual equivalent of listening to Loch Lomond’s most recent album, Little Me Will Start A Storm (released late February of this year on Tender Loving Empire) would be watching unperturbed croquet players in a thunderstorm. That is to say, you are overcome by inklings of whimsy strung together through the commotion of nature. In other words, this music draws you in. The band blends lingering ever-present vocal stylings without the ordinary instrumentation to create indie chamber pop that makes you wish you never forewent those mandolin lessons as a child.

This cohesion is quite a feat for a band that has had a running total of about thirty-six members. Based out of Portland, Oregon, Loch Lomond now consists of six members who have come together through the various incarnations the band has gone through since its lead singer and instrumentalist, Ritchie Young, began playing music under the name in 2003. 


Sitting down with the band before the last show of their September Pacific Northwest tour at The Hotel Utah Saloon in San Francisco, I get the sense that camaraderie and collaboration is what gives Loch Lomond their distinct sound. Young explains that “The band started out as friends rotating in and out, but a couple of years ago around when Jason and Jade joined the band we all decided that it should be more of a real band instead of rotating people. It’s much better now and we have this feeling of solidarity. Everyone is pulling weight. Now if good things happen, like going to Europe, you’ve worked for those doors to open and you’ve worked on it together. It feels like a band; it is a band now.” He pauses and adds, “But I take all the money,” and laughter issues from around the table. These are people who love playing music, and more importantly, love playing music together. There is an utter lack of tension as they joke with one another and a sense of support over everyone’s efforts in the band. Brooke Parrott, one of two females in the band (and the only one to join them for this tour), describes being stuck in a van with four guys as “fun for the first few days but after that . . .” As she trails off, the band laughs and she explains, “They’re very accommodating. They gave me my own hotel room last night. If I have to be cooped up in a van with a bunch of boys, I’d pick these guys.”

When asked about the songwriting process this tight-knit quality shows again. Jason Leonard, who plays various instruments in the band, describes how the band has changed. “I’ve been playing with the band for four years, and we’ve had a lot of changes recently. So it’s sort of a new entity now. We’ve worked on new songs, but mostly the recording process has been sort of a different entity. When it does come time to collaborate, Ritchie has the seed of the song, and it is fleshed out by the band.” Young chimes in, “For example, I wrote this really slow, loungey piano song and brought it to these guys, and by the end of practice it went from slow to a more fun, faster song. I like to think about it like a quick sketch in black and white, and then when I hand it to these guys it’s painted.”

If their songs are like paintings, then their stock of brushes is about as varied as it gets. Using everything from traditional instruments like guitar and bass, to taking a bow to a vibraphone and even implementing wine glasses to create the haunting lilt characteristic of many of their songs, the band is not short on finding a distinct way to captivate their audience. Young describes Leonard’s house as “filled with weird instruments” that the band just grabs and experiments with during practice. He looks at Leonard and says, “You collect weird stuff,” to which Leonard responds, “Yeah, that’s my contribution.”


Sure enough, at the show later that night as they play “Elephants and Little Girls,” the first single off of Little Me, Leonard takes a violin bow to a vibraphone to add an ethereal undercurrent to an already otherworldly composition. In another song, they seamlessly change time signatures three times as if it were completely natural. Young makes note of this, “On the very first album I count off one, two, three, four and it’s actually three/four. When I write the structure I don’t think in musical theory terms at all.” Brooke adds, “There are some practices where we are like, "What chords are these? Oh, it’s this . . .’” But the band appreciates this fluidity in the structure of the music. Leonard says, “It actually creates a really cool thing when you’re writing a song because a lot of Ritchie’s ideas can be sort of ambiguous and be interpreted.”

Chock up this willingness to experiment to knowing what they want to give the audience. Young describes what he strives for in music by saying, “I’m turned on by giving people chills and shivers.” While aiming for this emotional effect, he avoids giving concrete meaning to the lyrics or dictating how their songs should be interpreted. He likens it to Doug Martsch of Built to Spill, saying that if he gave away the meanings of his songs, they wouldn’t mean as much to you. “I relate to that. I wish I could be a more dark and interesting person, but I’m kind of just a goofball. I think that’s the side of me that’s not a goofball, though.” Having this similar vision has also drawn some of the members into the band. Young explains that the reason why they play music together is because they all share a similar goal. He recounts, “Perry and Dan were in this band together, and Brooke and I went to go watch them play in Portland, and I was just shocked by the way they connected. They gave me the tingles, so I asked if I could yank them away for a while.” He pauses and notes, “Then I made them sign a blood contract.”

Dan Galucki and Perry Pfister, who as Young notes, “have played in about nine hundred bands,” talk to me about the Portland music scene and whether or not there is a distinct Portland sound. Pfister suggests that it’s less of a characteristic sound and more that “you get away with different things in Portland.” “Yeah,” Galucki adds, “I think [many] Portland bands over the years have had a lot of interesting instrumentation. The whole chamber pop aspect of Portland got popular for a while, but it’s kind of grown up now.” Leonard points out that any sound that may exist comes out of all the collaboration that occurs in the music scene. “A lot of bands play together, so one person ends up on a bunch of records. Everyone hangs out and goes to shows and people then record together.” This is exactly how the band ended up touring with bands like the Decemberists and Blitzen Trapper, also based out of Portland. Members of the respective bands saw them at shows, liked what they heard, and a tour was hatched.

Touring has offered the band a chance to play around with different dynamics to their songs. Young explains: “We can take each song and either make it quiet and delicate, or we can make it more energetic. When we started playing shows it was living rooms and smaller places, so we were super delicate, but once we got to larger venues, you can’t do that feather light touch because people will start talking and drown you out. So, we kind of learned how to raise the dynamics and get louder. My favorite moment in the history of this band is right now because we can get really delicate and quiet and then get loud . . . and this band has never been loud.” At the show later that night this is evident. The band opens with “Blue Lead Fences,” the opening track on Little Me, which is arguably the most driving song on the album, but live it is noticeably more so. The tempo is sped up, and the vocals are delivered with more punch than the folksy cadence of their other songs. Leonard talks about the evolution of a song as something pivotal to any touring band. “I think this evolution just kind of happens if you’re open to it. By the end of the tour you’re playing the same song every night, and you’re playing it in a different space every night, so sometimes you just let loose and play really loud because the space allows it. You can play around with it, and it makes the song change. It keeps evolving and gets better. When you’re doing a hometown show you can get wrapped up playing that one show and making it perfect.”

Anticipate further evolution and progression from the band as they embark on their European tour starting in late November.

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