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Lamb: Manchester duo find the secret of carrying on

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It was over 20 years ago that Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow brought out their first self-titled album in 1996. Like many great duos, they're proof that opposites attract, but it's this same quality that has brought Lamb to the brink of destruction.

Sure, Lou's folk-tinged, airy vocals work in harmony with stripped-back ballads like 'Gabriel', but they can also become deeper and huskier as they compete against an electronic wall of sound on songs like 'We Fall In Love'. It's this special hybrid of sound that's given birth to Lamb's unique music and has ensured they stand the test of time.

About to embark on a European tour to showcase their seventh studio album, The Secret of Letting Go, we caught up with Lou ahead of Lamb's gig at The Leadmill later this month.

Back in 2004, it looked like the end for Lamb. But then in 2011, you came back with a fifth album and have continued ever since. Will Lamb ever retire?

Very probably! Lamb is always on a knife edge. The dynamic of me and Andy has always been one of creative friction and we always promised ourselves that Lamb would only continue if we could continue to bring an edge. I see that as a positive thing. The question is more, 'Is this still working?' When we came to do this most recent album, that was very much what we asked ourselves. We're very proud of this record.

It's a special kind of alchemy of throwing these disparate elements together and something comes out, quite often, that even me and Andy are surprised at. The title track, 'The Secret of Letting Go', is a good example. It's probably the weirdest track on the album.

We were literally about to finish the band again, and we were like, "Screw this! But for the hell of it, let's write this track where we go into separate rooms and we just write something, and then bring it together." 'The Secret of Letting Go' is what came out and I think it's one of our favourite tracks on the album because it's so unpredictable.

The lyrics are about how mad Andy was making me feel and his music being like a bucking bronco trying to get rid of my vocals. And then there's this beautiful string piece in the middle, which is a total tearjerker [laughs]. Peace ensues!

[The label] asked us to be more like Dido, which to me was the ultimate insult

The Secret of Letting Go was written and recorded in the South Downs, India and Ibiza. How has this influenced the album?

We started the whole process in Goa. I'd just come out of a seven-year relationship. I definitely didn't want it to be a breakup album, but I think Goa is a great place to find yourself again if you've been through a bit of a difficult time because there's such a sense of freedom and it's just beautiful.

It's a different way of living and that feeds into the creative process. One reviewer hit the nail on the head when she said: "It would be very easy to be suspicious of an album that was started in Goa. But there's not one hint of psytrance or hippy trousers on this record."

You left your record company when Lamb split in 2004. What've been the greatest challenges and gifts?

The map of the music industry had changed in the years we were apart, so self-releasing felt like the best option. We'd had a mixed experience being with a label and a lot of it had been quite negative, and about them wanting to limit us and to be more commercial. At one point, they asked us to be more like Dido, which to me was the ultimate insult.

The challenges were that after so many years of having everything done for you, you suddenly find you've got to do it all, down to all the marketing and the budgets. We were in our manager's house putting CDs in envelopes and stuff like that. It's a more hand-to-mouth approach, but it's the best way to go because it's a more honest approach and we have a much more direct relationship with our fan base, so you can get their input and that's quite rewarding.

How did you and Andy start making music together?

People often assume that because I'm from a folk background, I'm all about acoustic music and Andy's all about techno, but we cross over in many ways. It was me that pushed for us to do drum'n'bass and breakbeat programming because I was listening to a lot of pirate stations back in the day in Manchester.

I was looking for a producer, but the ones I met thought it was a mad idea, and then a DJ friend of mine said: "There's this guy. I think he's brilliant. He's unconventional. I think you guys would get on." So I called him up. We had a meeting and decided that we'd just go into the studio and write a song and see what happened and that's been the template ever since.

Who were your influences coming up in nineties Manchester?

I got really into that A Guy Called Gerald album, Black Secret Technology, which was very early drum'n'bass and was very experimental for its time. That was a really big influence on our first album and I remember showing that to Andy and him going, "Jesus, how do you program that?" But he was up for the challenge and I think the way he did it was so interesting because he was doing it from scratch.

We had such limiting technology as well. It was like old Cubase and samplers, and the technology now is unrecognisable to when we were making music then. A lot of our influence was what the technology could do. The limitations of the technology were a big part of the writing process.

The Leadmill [has] got its own special vibe

Your 21st anniversary gig was at Manchester Cathedral. Is the kind of venue you play important to you?

We'd played Manchester Cathedral before. It had been a really positive experience, so we knew we could handle any issues. Sometimes those gritty venues can have such an amazing vibe, so you trade off the beauty for the grit.

The Leadmill is gritty, but it's got its own special vibe. We haven't been there for a while, so it'll be lovely to come back to Sheffield.

Phoebe Seymour

Lamb play at The Leadmill on 25 October.

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