Lonelady’s latest album, Hinterland, was released on Warp Records earlier this year. This is her second LP for the stalwart label, which is known for nurturing the world’s best electronic talent, and it does their reputation proud.

Born out of solitary jam sessions, the songs are crafted around drum machine patterns and have the rare ability to entrance your head and your hips. The beats are repetitive, intoxicating grooves layered with sonic riffs to elevate the spirit with space to explore and get lost in. No rhythm or melody is superfluous. Although indebted to an era of white label 12” records that brought many a loved-up crowd to their feet, Julie Campbell’s writing process is steered more by introspection, giving these anthemic tracks a personal quality, the secret ingredient to all great pop songs that exude universal appeal.

In preparation for an autumn headline tour which takes in Britain and Europe, we caught up with her to talk about the new material and her approaches as a recording artist.

 

It’s been almost four years since you last had a record out, which is considered a long time by a lot of record labels. How supportive were Warp during this time?

I spent too long on collaborations and should have contained them more, rather than allowing them to sprawl. During that time I didn’t really have management and my communications with Warp were sporadic. There was no structure or timeline at all. I was left in the wilderness really, too inexperienced to sort it or see the bigger picture.

I’m extremely unhappy about the gap between Nerve Up and Hinterland. I’ve learned the hard way to ensure that I now have timelines and structures in place, and effective management is crucial in order to keep things moving forward. If that sounds a bit dry and dull, that’s the reality. I wasn’t swanning around waiting for ‘the muse’. Some of Hinterland was written in sketch form just after Nerve Up. I’d say it took around 18 months of pretty intensive solitary work to fully realise Hinterland. It was finished a year before it came out.

Did collaborating with Jah Wobble and Keith Levene [2011’s Psychic Life] influence your writing with this new record?

No. They were separate projects and the process for that record was very different to the process for Lonelady. I don’t multitask, really. I remember Scott Walker saying in 30 Century Man, “I can only really work on one thing at a time,” and I thought, “Yep”. I only did vocals on that record. I find the collaborative process alien to my nature.

Tell us a bit about your newest album, Hinterland.

In terms of inspiration, landscapes are the obsession of this record – the landscapes of my childhood in Audenshaw, conjuring the places I used to play, the elegiac nature of suburbs, the tower block and motorway I’ve spent years living in and next to, my obsession with concrete and brutalist architecture. Also, interior landscapes, as I spend a great deal of time sort of living in my head.

Musically, the songs are longer and more groove-oriented, the arrangements fuller and more playful. Simple machine beats are at the core of it all, and the influence of 12’’ extended dance mix and funk elements are more to the fore. I see it as a more colourful, kaleidoscopic record, whereas Nerve Up was more monochrome and stark.

How did working with Bill Skibbe change the finished product?

I wrote, mixed and produced the album in my home studio. Real drums were the only thing I couldn’t do myself. I went to work with Bill to do drums and a little finishing off. Slightly unusual to add drums last. We added a layer of Linn drums as well as recording live, real drums, and the rest was a process of subtle touches to add power and depth to an essentially finished record.

Bill has a great analogue studio out in Michigan. It was great to have access to this equipment as I feel it added tone and warmth to the sound, and Bill was great to work with. He was totally sensitive to what the record already was, and didn’t disrupt the character that was already there. Travelling to Michigan was a great adventure too. Driving past giant rusting silos and decaying industrial machinery made me feel right at home.

 

You’ve rehearsed in many of Manchester’s rundown practice spaces that over the years have housed many bands who’ve then opted for luxury when they got more recognition. How important is your physical environment when writing? Do you think there’s a correlation with good art and decaying spaces?

It’s a financial necessity that drives artists of all kinds to gravitate to old mill spaces and similar. Often there’s an element of exploitation. Some absentee landlords know artists will work in dilapidated conditions because they can’t afford anything else, then when they decide to up the rent or convert for a more lucrative demographic, out go the artists. Luckily, there are still some supportive individuals who help facilitate creativity.

There is also something more irrational or ritualistic that drives me towards these crumbling spaces on the outskirts. They seem to exist in marginal zones. The utilitarian, cell-like nature of the kind of rooms I’ve inhabited over the years resonates with me. I’ve often thought I would be unable to work in plush surroundings. This often reaches perverse levels, particularly in winter, when you can see your own breath. The orange electric heater has been a crucial part of the creative process. I don’t know if it’s as simple as ‘decaying spaces = good art’, but raw mill spaces have always been a part of my adult life, and are conducive to the creative process.

Are you enjoying playing the new material live?

It’s a different headspace. It took a good couple of months to figure out the jigsaw of how I was going to present it live. I had to pull the album apart to its component pieces and think about how, who, why. I knew I wanted to bring the fuller arrangements to life for this record.

Lonelady live is a four-piece. Rather than opt for the playback from a laptop route, I wanted people onstage, moving dials and hitting drum pads in a more organic and visually energetic way. This seems to be more energising for audiences and it’s certainly more enjoyable for me to have more company and movement onstage. I’ve purposely – and perversely, some might say – used older gear, which, to many people’s chagrin, including mine, can mean eccentricities occur. We have an old Simmons drum pad that misfires and often has a life of its own. But it’s all part of the aesthetic. You have to choose an approach that’s right for you, not just take the easiest route.

How has playing with a band changed the way you approach gigs?

For this album I want to keep things groove-oriented, the feeling onstage and with the audience being that we’re all in a club together. I’m much happier in murky rooms. Playing sunny festivals in fields has been a challenge for me.

Has the way you write and play changed since Nerve Up?

Not really. I write alone in my home studio. I play all the instruments except real drums – they come later – and writing and producing are processes that occur in tandem for me. I don’t tend to see the songs as demos to be recorded ‘properly’ later. I try to capture atmospheres and shape the sound as I go along. I build up the detail of the song gradually until it’s finished. The starting point is usually a skeletal sketch and I nearly always use the drum machine to get things going, sometimes just playing for hours along to a never-ending beat. It’s very immersive, and no one else is a part of this process.

Is there anything you’ll do differently next time you record?

I can’t see my process being dramatically different. I have some new studio equipment which will hopefully inform the next phase in a positive way. I would certainly appreciate a more stable studio environment, such as not moving gear round all the time, and that’s what I’m aiming for, so there are as few obstacles between getting up in the morning and being in the studio and starting work. I do, very broadly speaking, have an idea of what I’m after, and I would like to integrate writing into daily life more, make other tasks fit around the writing rather than vice versa.

Do you have a philosophy as an artist?

No, but I do feel quite certain about some things. Call it an inner drive or compulsion. I couldn’t quite articulate what that is, which is why I do music I guess, but it’s there 24/7.

Lonelady performs at Gorilla on 1 October.
lonelady.co.uk

Nathan McIlroy & Tasha Franek