Interview

Lawrence Arabia

Lawrence Arabia

Monday 6th December, 2010 8:30AM

James Milne AKA Lawrence Arabia has recently returned to New Zealand after an overseas extravaganza of intercontinental touring, press and the general wheeling of debut album Chant Darling. UTR catch up with Milne to find out how it all went, what went down, and what he's up to now he's back in Aotearoa.

You're back in New Zealand! Do you get a summer holiday?

I thought it was going to be a holiday or that there would more time to record, but it's turned out to be a lot of pre-tour preparation.

And you've just been touring on-and-off for a year. Tell me about that:

We were touring from January to the end of April and then a little bit in June, and then from July to September.

The whole year was a huge eye opener. We started in the UK immediately after the album had been released and we went straight into the coldest winter theyíd had in 25 years so it was quite crazy. It was a strange atmosphere for England and pretty awesome. We were all really excited Ė getting to the BBC and doing live-to-airs and it was snowing! And then we did a few shows, like a show for Mojo magazine with Midlake in an old music hall.

Then in February we went on tour with Beach House around Europe and in March we did a tour with this Welsh singer Cate le Bon which was a double headline tour. So those were our first proper shows.

And tell me about the Visa debacle that prevented you from attending SxSW:

Yeah, our Visas didnít come through! We had to get all these extra lawyers that was incredibly expensive and they all thought that one of our names triggered another name that was on the ĎNo Fly Listí and so we had to go to the FBI and we had to get lawyers who had contacts at the FBI. It was a desperate scramble to get us to South by Southwest, which didn't happen, but we started a couple of weeks later.

So, tell me about the tour when you finally got to the States:

It was this band Fanfarlo and theyíre on Atlantic Records so it had label money behind it but also label pressure. They were pushing them through the middle of the country as opposed to the market they werenít doing so well in. I canít remember what the radio format is but we did this weird Modern Rock radio show in Ohio and it was not what weíd normally do and we were playing after this guy called Robert Francis who was kind of like a cross between John Mayer and Jonny Lang or something - a solo-ing pretty boy - and he had all his tour support and flash gear and stuff and so it was kind of funny. We went through Indiana and Kansas and went back up and hit Minneapolis and Toronto and Chiciago and stuff, and then we felt good again!

How do you think it went overall?

Overall good Ė we were playing really well as a band. It wasnít incredibly fashionable or credible crowd, but to be honest as a general rule I donít think crowds in the States are particularly critical or fashionable. They tend to be out for a good times so if youíre a good live band youíre at least gonna get some people coming up buying some tees and saying they had a good night. It's an encouraging place to play because if you play well people will come up and tell you so.

What have you learnt about Lawrence Arabia, and I guess the industry, in the past twelve months?

So many things! I think I learned that as a touring band itís so much more expensive than you could even dream of and if I did it again Iíd be more frugal or something. You want to make people comfortable but even with funding and tour support and things Iím still totally broke now. Anyone thatís touring, even if theyíve got lots of stuff going on, they're gonna have to try and stay on people floors if they can. There's also so many bands - it's just so busy out there now. Maybe the market for music is a little bit bigger (not record buyers but people going to shows). Especially in the States thereís just 20 times more bands touring because there's so many more with a profile of some kind.

So do you think the theory that touring would save bands financially, with the drop in album sales, is untrue?

I donno, I think in some ways the same amount of money is there Ė maybe even more. Where the money is going is shifting drastically and weíre still learning about. People are taking about all these models about how touring and merch are going to make you money and all that but so many bands that have releases now that it actually reduces the amount of money each person gets. The argument is 'sure people are ripping off my album but Iím going to tour and make my money back that way because theyíre creating the exposure I need' but there are so many bands touring that it kind of nullifies that. Thereís the same amount of money there but itís spread thinner.

Itís just shifting in a very interesting way. People want music, weíre just waiting to see what the new model is going to be. Musicians are useless anyway so thereís always going to be a place for gatekeepers, itís not like weíre all going to be these little functioning entities. The whole point is to opt out and be a child, really. I donít wanna be a small business owner. Ultimately I want to be flaky and weird.

So how long are you back in New Zealand for?

Iím working on a new albim so a little while and it will take a while to set up our release for the next album because itíll be a world wide release. You can't release immediately before summer because all the press becomes about festivals and the major bands that are touring on those festivals. Iím pretty sure the record labels just take a holiday during that period. So itíll either be released in April or September but more likely September.

Did you decide to come back to New Zealand to record it?

I didnít necessarily itís just there were a few factors that brought me back here. I did start recording in the UK in a studio in Surrey Ė a house with a lot of nice equipment with Connan (Mockasin) playing bass. That was a great set up. I would have liked to have kept working there but I had a flat to come back to and a tour and summer and those thingsÖ

What are you exploring musically on the album?

Itís sort of a step away from pop I think. Itís still taking shape a little bit Ė Iím still not entirely sure what itís going to be. It will feel quite minor key and quite strange. Itís definitely not the sort of busy pop music that I imagine Chant Darling being. Itís looser and I hope weirder. I really enjoyed aspects to the music of Chant Darling and Iím proud of it as an album but at the time I was struggling with the frustration of recording in a bedroom and acting robotically. I wanted to have the possibility of strange direction happening and I just couldnít coax it out of there, so I want to allow more chance for weird direction on this album. Thatís what Iím exploring anyway.

Most of the Li'l Chiefer's are back in the country. It must be great to catch up with everyone from that scene?

Yeah itís really exciting. We had a game of cricket the other day at the Li'l Chief headquarters and then we got together and had a Disciples of Maca practice which is a Paul McCartney covers band with me and Ryan (McPhun) and Jonathan (Bree) so itís great to be with all those people again. The other day me and my girlfriend went down to Wellington with Ryan - basically just for the chance to swim in Lake Taupo. Itís nice to have that freedom that you can have in New Zealand!




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