With this year’s Sensoria Festival almost in sight, excitement is building around the myriad of acts that will be gracing the streets and stages of Sheffield. At the architectural delight that is the Abbeydale Picture House, a neighbouring native takes the spotlight.

Manchester born and bred, Julie Campbell, otherwise known as Lonelady, seems the perfect act to support Factory Floor at such an unorthodox venue, her background in fine art only furthering her compatibility with this festival of the arts. Having released her latest album, Hinterland, on Warp back in March, we caught up with her to talk about the new material and her approaches as a recording artist.

Are you looking forward to playing Sheffield again?

Sheffield has a resonance for me, both in terms of Warp’s history and in terms of its musical history. As a bit of a tower block aficionado, it’s always pleasing to see Park Hill looming over the city, and always a joy to play the North and hear some Northern accents, especially as I find myself in London a lot, which I also love, for different reasons. So yes, playing Sheffield always has a glimmer of something special for me.

How did Tramlines go for you?

We were Neneh Cherry’s replacement, sandwiched between Sugar Hill Gang and Martha Reeves. Quite a slot. I’m not sure the audience were quite having it. Then again, backstage some of Martha Reeves’ band felt the same way about their own set, which made me feel a bit better.

Had you heard much about Sensoria before you were approached about playing?

I saw Wrangler and Chris & Cosey play last year at Abbeydale Picture House. Both gigs were brilliant, the visuals striking and the whole atmosphere of a slightly crumbling old picture house was a joy. As a Cabaret Voltaire fan, it’s an honour to be asked to play.

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.

There are certain comparisons between your work and that of St Vincent. Do you think you have shared influences?

Well, I had to go and listen to her last album to answer this as I’ve only heard ‘Digital Witness’ on the radio. I think this album at least is coming from a more rock and psychedelic place almost, quite processed sounding. My stuff is leaner, more brittle and lo-fi, and I don’t really see parallels. I guess at a push there’s some meeting of something slightly angular and funky. Maybe.

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 supports Factory Floor at Abbeydale Picture House on 2 October as part of Sensoria.

lonelady.co.uk
2015.sensoria.org.uk

Tasha Franek