Interview: A Chat with W. H. Lung at Iceland Airwaves 2019

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

It's not often that you hear a 'one more song' chant at a showcase festival, but that's exactly what UK band W. H. Lung got after their incredible set on the last day of Iceland Airwaves. With their album Incidental Music being heralded as one of the best debut releases of the year, it's been quite the year for them. Before they close out the year with a UK tour and make their way back into the studio, we spoke to Joseph E. and Tom S. of W. H. Lung on their time in Iceland, Incidental Music, and what they've got planned for their sophomore record.

How has your time in Iceland been so far?

Tom S: Rushed, brief. We only arrived today at about two, I think.

Joseph E: Yeah, probably about two.

Tom S: We got to the hotel, had a shower and then had a walk around...Have you seen the massive naval ship?

I had a look at it just before, it’s huge.

Tom S: We looked at that for a while – got some nice pictures. We also did a soundcheck, which was very strictly monitored.

Joseph E: It was a bit. They're still nice there, everyone's nicer at venues outside of the UK, it seems. The engineers and the reps, everyone's just more friendly, I think. The hotel is pretty decent too.

Tom S: The hotel is gorgeous. We've got sash windows with a view of the mountains. Everything looks so nice.

How long are you guys here for?

Joseph E: Until Tuesday.

Tom S: We'll get to have a bit of an explore.

Joseph E: Yeah, and probably finish some recording quite soon, so we're going to try and finish some ideas whilst we're here as well. And yeah, for sure try and get some of the touristy stuff in.

Tom S: We're going to sit in a lagoon and write some music. Naked from the neck down.

Joseph E: Just holding the laptops.

And you guys are from Manchester, which is a big music city. Would you say it's a competitive environment or that it can be overwhelming?

Tom S: We've actually moved very recently. It's still pretty close by though. It's sort of just on the boundary of Lancashire and Yorkshire and it's just a really small, old, market town. So we're still pretty close to Manchester, but I think we really wanted to move. Where we are now is a strange place because it is very much another working-class town, but then there are little pockets of stuff going on. There's a venue there where they'll have DJs like Andrew Weatherall. It's really random. We've got two people from our label over there too. But to grow up in Manchester, it was really good.

Joseph E: I feel the historical weight of the city rather than the current scene. Obviously growing up in Manchester, you know about bands like The Fall, The Smiths, Joy Division, New Order, etc. Big musical moments. It's a great place to live though. I love Manchester. But we moved into the countryside for some space, some walks too. I got a nice little flat for work. We just set up a little studio room because we're getting our hands down to write music

I read that for the first album you guys lived together when working on it, will you take that approach with the next one?

Joseph E: Me and Tom are living together now. It was previously three of us living together. We had moved around quite a lot with the last house, so the songs were written cumulatively in three houses. So we went to Leeds and then we were in Leeds for a year then we went back to Manchester.

Tom S: It will be similar in the sense that we write together. With the last album, we wrote everything before playing it with the band and that's how it sort of started. Whereas now we'll still write things completely at home to take into the studio. A song we've been working on this week, we've sort of taken that into the rehearsal room. I think our other members will play a much bigger role this time. There's three of us currently, but I think we're very much becoming a whole five-piece band now. Which is good I think, we need to make it different from the last one, but also not think about it too much. I think our two new members are really good musicians.

Joseph E: We might as well use the resources that we have at our disposal. A lot of the last one was written into the computer, wasn't it?

Tom S: Yeah.

Joseph E: Now we'll have an idea, let's say we've been working through it, we'll then take it into the studio and then into the live room to see if it makes sense.

Tom S: It's like with our drummer – there's quite a lot of electronics on the first album and that's why we're going more in that direction – but he'll be able to do a lot more than we would be able to come up with by ourselves. Number one is to just get them involved a lot more in the writing side of stuff.

What are you hoping to experiment with that you didn't do on Incidental Music?

Joseph E: I think with the last one, I think it'd be very easy to repeat that and I think what we're really pushing ourselves to do now is something that we haven't done before. I've been listening to more and more electronic music. We want to incorporate elements of that it into our sound without just using the same synths that we always use. Like Björk for instance, uses a lot of natural electronic sounds. It might sound familiar, but it isn't anything you've heard before as it's something she's taken the time to make. I think we want to incorporate that into our music more – spend much more time on the finer details. It's hard to get your head around how you want to make this one different. It also varies when you start writing another album, which is a process which is still new to us, it might be a natural instinct to do what you did last time.

Tom S: We had some pre-production days in the studio. When talking to the producer. there was a moment where he says, "Okay, so what do you actually want this album to be then?" It was at that point, after two days of being in the studio that we decided on an overarching direction. It's really helpful to have an overarching theme. Having that overarching idea helps you channel your own thoughts when writing, this direction is the way we're wanting to write now. It's quite hard to talk about it without referencing the songs. We slightly have more of a direction now where before we were working out our sound and now we're working on the sound.

Joseph E: Yeah, definitely. It's very different from the last single as well. It's a bit of a detour.

Tom S: A red herring if you will. We put 'Symmetry' out because It was in our live set and we wanted to release it, so we decided to do it for charity.

Your debut album was incredible, and the response I saw when it was released was amazing, especially with the reviews it got. Are you guys feeling any pressure from that positive response the first time around?

Tom S: I don't think so. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

Joseph E: People don't want you to make bad music. There's an expectation, but there's not anything in the way of negative pressure. It's about transferring the feeling you get from doing well from the first album into something good in the next one. I think we're in a good space. Writing the music is happening quickly, much quicker than the first time.

Tom S: The biggest thing is to just not repeat yourself. Keep it moving. I think it's one of those things where if you think too much about it you'll probably second guess yourself. But yeah, we definitely don't feel any pressure about how it would be received. As long as we like it and it's what we want to make, that's all that matters.

Joseph E: It was the first body of work we put out into the musical world and the process was new to us . So reading the really good reviews, it was interesting to figure out how to deal with that. Say you read a really good review and you find yourself saying, "I don't believe you, I don't believe you." And then you read a scathing review and you think, "Oh god, they're right, I'm awful." It was a lesson. I think it's best to ignore it, you know yourself if it's good.

Tom S: This British comedian, he was just saying on this podcast on how he deals with reviews, and it's kind of what you just said. If he knows it's good then he doesn't really care about the bad ones. He only gets affected by them if he knows deep down that it's not actually that good. And I think you do know if it isn't. We're feeling excited for people to hear the music.

After not being a band for very long, why did you decide to dive into an album first instead of an EP or something smaller?

Joseph E: I don't know. We didn't really discuss it. We were talking about this the other day actually, I think an EP is sort of...

Tom S: Oh yeah, we did discuss this, didn't we?

Joseph E: Yeah. But the EP that has a couple of singles is something artists do because they feel like they have to. We didn't want to create a few songs and stop, there were more songs to finish. So it was like, why would we stop now? But we were saying the other day, it feels like now you've released an album, that's what you do.

What's coming up for you guys when you finish up in Iceland?

Joseph E: Just writing, we'll be in the studio.

Tom S: We're going on tour.It's for five days. We're doing London and Manchester, also Newcastle, Brighton and Bath.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)
Photos by Kristy Smolcic (folio)

Tour dates:
22nd November – Riverside, Newcastle
23rd November – Moles, Bath
24th November – Patterns, Brighton
25th November – Rich Mix, London
26th November – Academy 3, Manchester

Follow W. H. Lung: