Music/Interviews

Lord Huron figured out how to balance fame with focus

Ben Schneider talks abandoning labels, why food is the best metaphor and how he learned to appreciate the process.

July 24, 2018

Conflict as a vessel for inspiration is nothing new in the creation of music. Musically, Ben Schneider, the driving creative force behind the Los Angeles indie outfit Lord Huron, has always occupied these pockets of creative conflict. He sinks into the universal challenges most artists face, often twisting them to his own experience. “I think most people struggle with really feeling like you’re present moment to moment. It’s definitely something I’ve tried to improve on in the recent years, because you can get so hung up on dwelling about things on the horizon, he explains over the phone from Seattle.

In conversation, Schneider comes across relaxed, with natural bouts of laughter punctuating the contemplative air of his responses. It’s the same rhythm that’s found throughout Lord Huron’s music, the easy going cadence that’s carried the Los Angeles band from one creative giser to the next. Known for their reimagination of Americana, with surf rock influences thrown in for good measure, there’s a quiet intensity to Lord Huron that has always distinguished them from the floor stompin’ twang that’s dominated the folk rock charts. 

Released this past Spring, Vide Noir saw the artist looking internally more than ever before. By looking for the threshold where truth encounters fiction Schneider is able to ask questions in earnest, about himself. Beneath the turmoil of bumpy guitars, Schneider meticulously ties his vocals to the melody of each song. By occupying an ethereal space full of echoes, quaint strings and experimentation with synths, he spins a lyrical web that spreads confidently in a chosen direction. The guitars are there of course, but on Vide Noir their softer and fused at the tips, pivoting round in an intricate dance. Lyrically, Schneider wades deeper into established territory. His inventive narratives is prevalent, but Vide Noir feels far more personal.

While other artists might have prioritized looking for inspiration in uncharted territories, onVide Noir Schneider seems content looking more intimately. The album lacks the awkward soul searching of a musician dredging new experiences to feed a creative drip. Here, he sounds comfortable poking the veins that sustained his career thus far.We sat down with Ben Schneider to talk learning how to appreciate the process, using donuts as metaphors and how he ultimately discovered his own lane.

A. Side:What’s the first thing you gave significant thought to this morning?

Ben Schneider: To be honest, it was making sure I had time to have breakfast with my family before doing these interviews.

Fair enough. To me, the act of creating art is inherently selfish. We produce something we love before releasing it to the public and hopefully they connect with it. How do you contextualize the push and pull of creating work for yourself while balancing audience expectation?

You’re right that it’s initially a selfish endeavor, but in thinking about it, that’s the test. Your taste is the only thing you can know and you’re the only audience you have on hand. If it comes from some place real, it passes that test and you can hand it off to the rest of the world. Hopefully they see that thing you saw in it and then it becomes, in the best cases, a generous act. I think that’s the thing anybody who creates something is striving for: to feel like they’ve given something of value to the world.

There’s a sense of authenticity in the work you create, and it’s easy to tell that you guys enjoy what you do. I was wondering if you ever think about presenting authenticity to the point of it becoming an affectation? More schticky than genuine?

That’s interesting…I don’t think you can worry too much about how people are going to receive your work. All you can do is come at it from as honest a place as possible. I write fiction a lot of the time, but it always start someplace true before spiraling off on these other tendrils. There’s certainly a lot of me in the work, but at the same time there’s an understanding that a lot of this is fictional.

I want the things I create to be known, but I don’t want fame for myself. And it’s not even so much that I approach it in my work, It’s just on my mind. It scares the shit out of me.

Ben Schneider

I want to talk about conflict in relation to career paths, and not in the pejorative sense. What did you wrestle with internally early on in your career, and what does it feel like six years after your first album, now that you have a third record released?

A lot of it has remained the same to be honest. Since the beginning it’s been dealing with the two sides of myself. An extreme desire to create and share things with people versus my need for anonymity and my fear of fame. I want the things I create to be known, but I don’t want fame for myself. And it’s not even so much that I approach it in my work, It’s just on my mind. It scares the shit out of me.

…That’s it though right? One of the essential dilemmas in response to creating work is that two sided desire. You’ll often hear stand-up comedians tell jokes in conjunction with their experience resorting to airport one-liners and stories about hotel banality since that’s currently the bulk of their lives. How do you balance having experiences as a catalyst for new music, without forcing a situation in search of a creative spark?

I really like getting out into the world and experiencing things, but not everything bares fruit and I don’t claim to have an endless well of inspiration. Certainly being on the road you’re going to have new experiences whether you like it or not, so that’s been a big thing for me. But lately, and it might seem kind of odd, but I’ve gotten more into internal exploration and what’s going on in my head. It definitely shows on Vide Noir quite a bit.

You mention the road and I’m curious about how you reconcile the sweet sentiment that people push about living in the moment, with the fact that life usually gets in the way and you catch yourself focusing on things to come?

I think most people struggle with really feeling like you’re present moment to moment. It’s definitely something I’ve tried to improve on in the recent years, because you can get so hung up on dwelling about things on the horizon. I’ve reached the understanding that like you said, life happens and what comes will come. Shit happen to so fast in a business like this, the old sentiment of stopping to smell the roses, you don’t think to do that, you’re always looking to the next thing. It’s a struggle to be honest.

Building off that last question, when you’re always looking ahead with your focus on the next achievement, there can be a lingering sense of disappointment when the goal is met because it’s gone and it’s onto the next thing. Do ever have a sense that these are just signposts you’re hitting? As if the achievement evaporates while you’re trying to hold onto it.

Yeah we all know this, but fail to fully verbalize or appreciate it. The joy really comes from the anticipation and journey towards that goal. It’s exactly what I’m talking about in terms of trying to change the way I appreciate each moment as it happens. When you reach that goal, there is often a strange sense of disappointment and food is a simple analogue for this. I’m always excited when I think about eating a doughnut, the lead up to that first bite is everything but the doughnut itself is whatever.

I hope you know I’m stealing that one from you. Now do you ever find yourself compartmentalizing inspiration? I know there’s no turning off the tap, but when you’re working on a project, what do you with the ideas that are tugging you in a different direction from what you’re working on?

Occasionally I’ll do that but I’m a pretty firm believer in following whatever you’re feeling. You might be surprised about how it fits into the project in the end. Or maybe if you’re going a different way, you have to change an aspect of whatever you’re working on, which has happened to me many times.

What happens when you’re almost finished a project but get hit with dose of inspiration that might send you down a different path, it’s hard to back up at that point right? To do something different after sinking so much time and effort into an almost finished product.

Definitely, I think once you’re almost finished with something it’s important see it through in terms of what the project is. You can hold onto those new ideas for something else. I’ve always thought that just because new ideas come from one creation, doesn’t mean they can’t be moulded into something else entirely.

Whenever I listen to The Man Who Lives Forever, I always think about the nature of leaving a legacy, and what the impact will look like long after we’re gone. Do you give a lot of thought to your legacy? And I don’t mean in a structured, “here’s what I’ll be known for way,” but just how people might see you when you’re not here anymore.

I think that song is an interesting one to reference because a lot of what that’s about is two sided. The narrator thinks he wants to live forever, but the other character, she asks why would you want that? It seems like a nightmare. And I’m in agreement with her, because we have limited time here and when it’s over it’s over. Hopefully we can do something good while we’re here, but I don’t see a point in dwelling too much about it. It relates to the idea we were talking about, just do what you can with the moment you’re in.

In a community where there’s a tiny thousand islands making up different bands, singers, artists and projects, where do you see Lord Huron? I’d never want to pigeonhole you, but where do you think you stand amongst the indie folk rock landscape?

That’s something a lot of media has had a problem with when talking with or about us. I don’t really see the need for labels, I think that limits the space you can work within consciously or not. It’s always just been Lord Huron in terms of music, and the island thing is good- we’re just off on our own trying to make music we enjoy. There’s something to be said for working at arms length from everyone else, obviously we have our peers but I don’t need comparisons to bolster our work.

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