Mancunian duo Lamb have been roaming the wild spaces of trip-hop, jazz-glitch, drum and bass and classical music since 1996 and are soon to release their sixth studio album, Backspace Unwind. The release of this latest addition to a stunning collection of work will be celebrated with a tour across Europe and Australia, including a homecoming gig at the iconic Albert Hall in Manchester.

Lamb has always skilfully balanced a tech-heavy soundscape of digital complexity and experimentation with a melodic clarity rarely found in the electronica scene. Herein lies their unique universal appeal. The combined energy of vocalist Lou Rhodes and the compositional wizardry of Andy Barlow is a rare and heady mix that leapfrogs between genres and intensity, never letting a track sound anything like its musical siblings. I chatted to one half of the Lamb mind, Lou Rhodes, about the new album, the writing process and the second lives of the songs themselves.

First, how do you define the Lamb sound?

To be honest we don’t. People try and say, “You’re trip-hop,” or, “You’re drum and bass,” but we don’t buy into those definitions. It’s just Lamb. Once you draw a box around something it stops people from thinking outside of that box and Lamb has always been about pushing boundaries. Why would we put a boundary around ourselves?

Did the space theme on the new album come naturally or was it pre-planned?

No, it was strange because it wasn’t conscious. I just kept noticing the theme coming in. For me it’s about space as in planets and stars et cetera, but it’s also about space in music, as in the space between notes and lyrics. Our thinking with this record was ‘less is more’ in terms of sound, leaving plenty of space. So it’s space in all its definitions.

There’s a beautiful moment in ‘Nobody Else’ when your voice is layered with electronic sampling, the perfect blend between nature and technology.

That’s what we’ve been honing in on this record. We started it with 5 and we’ve gone even further, cutting it down to the essence of Lamb which is Andy’s electronics and my voice, the yin and yang of the whole picture.

Your vocal range seems more varied on this album. Was that intentional?

Yeah, I like trying out new personas. In ‘Nobody Else’, my voice is bluesy and soulful whilst in ‘Doves and Ravens’ I sing in a very high range. That was what the song needed as it’s about being vulnerable and letting someone go in the hope that they’re going to come back to you. When I was recording it I kept getting really emotional and not being able to sing it, so it’s appropriate that the vocals sound like they’re going to break any minute.

Do you have a favourite song from Backspace Unwind?

It’s difficult to answer because different songs do different things. ‘Doves and Ravens’ is a special one. It’s so emotional. We’ve been doing a lot of radio recently, playing ‘As Satellites Go By’, and that’s really powerful. Andy gets quite tearful when we play that.

Does the song writing process get easier or harder when you’ve got six albums under your belt?

It has evolved, definitely. I’ve written hundreds of songs and eventually you start thinking, “Oh my God, what have I got left to say?” With this album I decided I’d experiment with free association song writing, getting into a meditative state where words come in free flow. Our minds are terrible controllers, telling us, “No, that’s no good,” or, “You shouldn’t be writing about this”. This method is like when people do abstract drawings then realise they’ve formed something that they recognise. Songs like ‘In Binary’ and ‘Shines Like This’ are good examples of this. When I listen to them they have meaning, but it’s a meaning that I didn’t think about at the time. There’s a magic in that.

What did you work on whilst Andy was producing David Gray’s album?

I took that time to record a new solo album that I’d already half-written. I’ll have to wait to release it until after the tour, but it’s parked and ready to go. It’s called Theyesandeye and it’s acoustic psychedelic with harp and piano. It’s a bit more transcontinental than Beloved One, mixed by Noah Georgeson with a Californian feel.

Your lyrics are very Zen, about finding stillness in motion and perfection in our imperfections. Are these ideals you live by?

You’ve always got to have a guiding principle and for me that whole Zen approach to life is mine. When I need something to guide me, it’s what I turn to.

Last time you played here you were in Manchester Cathedral. Does playing in a spiritual space affect your performance?

It’s more a case of the scale of the building that affects me, as I’m not Christian, but obviously it’s a sacred space and you have to respect that. With Lamb music that’s difficult because we’re really loud. The people in the Cathedral were worried as it’s a very old building and the paintwork was falling from the ceiling while we were playing. You could see it coming down like snow.

Have you visited the Albert Hall yet?

No, I haven’t. We’re actually rehearsing in a space down in London to get all the lighting cues right, because we start off in Bristol, but I’ve heard great things about the Albert Hall. The gig in Manchester is actually on my birthday and we’ve got a day off the day before, so I’m looking forward to walking round the city and seeing how much of it I recognise. Things change so quickly there.

Did you have any idea how much of a powerful effect your song ‘Gorecki’ would have on people when you wrote it?

‘Gorecki’ is a special song. It always has been. It was written about a very special moment and it’s got its own life. Songs do that. They take on their own life force and the meaning changes through time. ‘Gabriel’ is another one that’s had a huge impact. When I wrote that song, I didn’t know anyone called Gabriel. It was based on a Rumi poem about being jealous of someone’s wings or the way they flew in life, and it was an ideal for me then about perfect love. Then three years ago I met my soul mate and he’s called Gabriel. I had to go all the way to Australia to find him. We regularly get emails saying, “I just played ‘Gorecki’ or ‘Gabriel’ at my wedding,” and it’s a powerful thing to have a song be so meaningful for people. It’s such an honour. If people say, “What kind of reward do you want for doing what you do?” that’s it.

Lamb perform at Albert Hall on Saturday 1 November. Backspace Unwind was released in October.
lambofficial.com

stefanie elrick