It’s a scorching hot day when I sit down with Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay – collectively LUMP – in a cafe garden in Stoke Newington. It’s also the day after ‘Freedom Day’, when the UK government has decided to lift almost all restrictions in an attempt to return to ‘normality’ post-pandemic.
“It’s like a big moral conflict,” Marling muses when I ask how they’re feeling about it. “I really don’t want gigs to be cancelled, but that’s my selfishness.” Lindsay agrees: “I don’t want gigs to be cancelled either, but it’s a strange time to lift rules when things are still going up and are crazy and twisted…”
“It’s a shit show on the government’s part to offload all responsibility on the individual,” Marling cuts across. “That’s a little Stoke Newington line.”
However, with the sun beating down, the smell of flowers in the air, and berry smoothies on hand (tea for Lindsay), it’s hard to get too vexed about the situation. And, with the duo’s superb new album Animal being “music that exists in a parallel universe” according to Lindsay, there could be no better way to take our minds off the shortcomings of our current government than to invest ourselves in discussing it.
In fact, Lindsay has zipped up from his home in Margate via motorbike for the interview, enjoying the weather and being “badass” – a descriptor he rightfully bestows upon himself as he sits in his linen suit, looking completely unruffled from the journey. Marling, on the other hand, has just strolled around the corner from her home, casually dressed in a baggy brown t-shirt. It’s the first of many interesting polarities that are noticeable in observing the partnership; Marling the self-possessed, contemplative character as she ponders her answers, Lindsay all hand gestures and gregarious descriptions as he delves into the sonic complexities of Animal.
It’s this dichotomy that sparked the fire that would become LUMP; Lindsay creating synth-based sound worlds, Marling adding the words, their two practices rarely, if ever, overlapping. What started as an exercise became an album, and in turn became a live show – all of it fairly unexpected, the two just following the whims of the mythical monster that is LUMP, seeing where it would lead – up to and including Animal.
“There was no discussion of making another LUMP album,” Lindsay reflects. “But we did enjoy doing the shows, and I think that gave us some energy to think about something extra.” Marling concurs: “The live shows really brought it to life for us, because we didn’t know if it was going to work, and then it was so magical.”
“It evolved into something more bombastic and shoegaze-y and sweaty and leaping and you with your power stances,” Lindsay excitedly adds, indicating his comrade. Marling’s “power stances” were the enduring image of LUMP as a live spectacle. Wielding her instrument like a battering ram, she seemed possessed as she draped her hair over her face and played guitar with the kind of authority and presence of a death metal soloist – a radical departure from her usual sedate stage persona.
“The event of ‘Laura Marling’ is really uptight,” she says. “It’s part of my personality – not being uptight, but being contained. With LUMP, I’ve never been in that kind of band before, and you get caught up in everybody’s energy. You’ve got some strong energy” – “a bit overpowering in places, right?” Lindsay laughs – “and it’s infectious,” Marling continues. “You’re locked in together and part of one thing. That’s really wonderful. And I get to play electric guitar, which is always good.”
Having fully unleashed the beast on stage, it was unlikely that LUMP would stay dormant for long. Lindsay’s always toying around with his arsenal of synths and other gizmos, just as Marling is always reading and writing, and with the wind of their live successes in their sails, they felt they could go bigger and better on album two – and they could take their sound anywhere.
“I knew that there was a kind of fantasy world that exists where I can write anything and blame it all on the LUMP character,” Lindsay says of the early ideas for a second record. “So I’d be trying to find sounds on 70s synths and things like that, which could bring an element of squidgy sci-fi into it.” His living by the seaside in Margate also played a role, as the tides’ movement in cycles of seven began to seep into his work. “I started making music in 7/4, and that was difficult for Laura.”
“I’m never consciously working in a time signature,” Marling explains. “I’m not musically literate, so deciphering it is quite a thing.” Never one to shy away from a challenge, and looking for a way to get out of the headspace of Song For Our Daughter, which she was writing concurrently, she found herself venturing down new neural avenues. “Writing in uncommon time signatures is really good for lyrics because you have to find uncommon phrasing to make the most of it.”
And make the most of it she does. Throughout Animal she draws on her studies in psychoanalysis and adjacent fields, referencing the works of Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, French psychological pioneer Jacques Lacan, and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, to name a few. If you want to get deeper into it, Marling recommends the latter’s documentaries The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.
On the other hand, you could just enjoy her words on a surface level for their playful tone and abstract imagery. Curios abound in the lyric sheet, from the mystifying “My object of choice is the oil that forms on a well-strung voice,” or the cartoonish “Their grief was warped, they danced and sung / As bells were wrung and watchers gawped,” which is Lindsay’s favourite line on the record. The timbre in which she delivers them, like a standoffish deity simply observing humans’ folly, leaves plenty of scope for each listener’s imagination to take hold and interpret them in their own way.
Growing from these psychoanalytical seeds, a recurrent theme that emerges on Animal is hedonism. “Studying psychoanalysis is all about the intense, instinctual urges that are really driving everyone, and how society molds you into a contained system,” Marling explains. “But if society lifted those restrictions on our behaviour, we would just be sucking, fucking, whatever. So, I’m interested in that.”
Quizzed about whether they’ve ever had a hedonistic phase themselves, Marling turns the question on Lindsay: “is it fair to say that you’re still in that phase?”
“I like that phase to continue,” Lindsay laughs. “I have a hedonistic lifestyle, not necessarily full of substances and gubbins, but I am a joyous person and I like to party.”
“I don’t like to party,” Marling deadpans in response. Although she is proud to mention that she has thrown “one good party in [her] life”, and Lindsay was there.
While perhaps she might not make the most exciting person to get stuck in a corner with at a gathering, Marling is a bottomless vat of strong opinions and interesting insights, some of which have made their way into Animal. Most would take a lot of untangling to yield a cut and dry meaning, but there are certainly reflections on modern life tucked in there. “There’s a lot on this album about how peeved I get with the false dimension of social media,” she admits. “It’s so dull to talk about that I wouldn’t dare bore you with it, but the acceptability of narcissism I find really grotesque.”
More interesting to her – and more in line with LUMP’s abstract aims – are her dreams, which filtered their way into some tracks. Marling is “very diligent about remembering them”, ensuring she has a notebook on hand to scribble them down. “Don’t try to make sense of them,” she advises. “Just write down the headlines.”
One of the songs that seeped from a dream is the emotional core of the record, ‘Red Snakes’. A stark, piano-based slow-burner that stands out amidst the propulsive art-pop on either side, it features imagery from a recurrent dream Marling has about her mother standing at the side of a lake at night, and borrows from Rilke as she sings of “the mount of ancient song / where you grieve for what is gone.” On the flip side, the lighthearted ‘Paradise’ stemmed from a dream where Marling was on the top deck of a bus with her therapist, who gave her a cucumber sandwich and asked her on a date. “I think it was something to do with childhood,” she muses. “I really liked cucumber sandwiches when I was little.”
While Marling’s presence and unique lyricism might be what initially draws people to Animal, it is Lindsay’s mastery of this tactile sonic world that will keep them returning. “I’ve always liked texture within production,” he says. “Where you can almost touch the sounds and bring out the dirt and embrace it.” His fingerprints are on every sound LUMP have released, and he describes the new album as a “conceptual journey” that has to be listened to in totality. “When you pluck the songs out individually they don’t really make as much sense,” he believes.
Across the album, ears and minds are treated to many sounds that continually spark the imagination, putting you in mind of airlocks opening, anti-gravity spaceships coming into land, alarms ringing in a highly-guarded sky palace, a choir of flowers uniting voices – there is no boundary to where your mind may be led. One of my favourites is a rasping, rattling sound that inhabits ‘Animal’, something like an extra-terrestrial respiratory system. “That’s the Eventide H949 Harmonizer,” Lindsay announces proudly when I try to describe it. “You put little bits of percussion through it, pitch shift and delay and you get this kind of rising alien gurgle” – he then approximates the sound with his mouth – “I think they used the same machine to create the sound for the Predator movie.” Elsewhere, he plays Mellotron, Juno 60, Modular Moogs, OP-1, electric guitar, bass guitar, piano and more – not to mention all the textures and effects applied to the vocals, flutes and drums – cultivating a vivid, breathable environment throughout.
Marling, for her part, did play one instrument on the record: a bass clarinet. “I used to play baritone saxophone, and then a couple of years ago I bought a bass clarinet just because I like the sound of it,” she says. “But I think I got one clean note out of it.” That one note was enough for Lindsay though, who samples and re-uses it throughout the record. “It’s kind of more of a drone,” he says. “Just kind of wibbly, but lower than that.”
Lindsay’s love of gear and sound is infectious. As he describes the textures, reaching for onomatopoeic words to find the right description, air-playing the keys or revolving his hands as he does so, it’s easy to picture him like a bearded Willy Wonka in his sound factory, testing out marvellous new modulations for listeners to enjoy. His enthusiasm inevitably rubbed off on Marling, who bought a Moog Grandmother after the first LUMP album – although she swiftly gave up on it and donated it to Lindsay’s studio. “I like having them to fiddle with but I don’t totally understand how they work,” she admits. “I think I’m fine with just being good at acoustic guitar.”
“You don’t really need to understand,” Lindsay enthusiastically interjects. “I don’t really understand how they work in terms of physics, but, you know, they’re just fun and you can really get some wonk out of it and stick it on a record.”
He’ll also be bringing that “wonk” to LUMP’s next run of shows. “I’ve turned into Rick Wakeman,” he says of his stage presence. “I’ve got a whole stack of synths, and we’ll be trying to maintain that journey aspect from the albums.” Aiding in the curation of their fantastical venture is a seven-foot, home-made yeti that Marling has been creating, which will loom over them. “I’m planning to rig up a very complicated string system that’s attached to me and Mike,” she reveals – though she has no idea how it’s going to work.
“We’re going to be well worth watching,” Lindsay asserts with mischievous glee.