The Lonelyhearts are wrapping up a busy year this weekend with a mini-tour through Iowa and Illinois, which are set to be their final Midwest shows of the year. Having released their third full-length, Years in the Great Interior, just over a year ago on Maximum Ames Records, and another album soon to be finished, the two-piece, made up of Andre Perry (keyboard, vocals) and John Lindenbaum (guitars, vocals), have been kicking up quite a bit of dust lately.
Perry and Lindenbaum answered some questions via email, talking about the early days of the band, their new album and how embracing obscurity can be freeing. Catch up with the duo and consider checking out one of their shows this weekend — they’re opening for Low tonight in Ames and opening for Owen in Champaign, before heading back to Gabe’s on Sunday to play with B Star.
Little Village: With Years in the Great Interior out for a bit over a year now, a new album on the way, and beginning on yet another album, you guys are releasing music at a pretty rapid pace. What do you attribute this artistic flowering to?
Andre Perry: I think it’s all related to timing. As we were mixing and mastering Years we had already begun writing and recording the new album. We were lucky that the mixing and mastering engineers for Years both lived in Iowa City. And the guy (Colin Ritchie) who mastered Years had also signed on to record our new album. The new album is called Age of Man.
John Lindenbaum: The pace seems more rapid than it actually is. Many of the songs on Years in the Great Interior were a few years old by the time the album was completed, we were already recording our fourth full-length, Age of Man, before YITGI was released, and we have written and performed four new songs while Age of Man is being mastered. Because we live in different places, we need to spend our tours and songwriting sessions in a very focused manner, thus the output. But we’re not at the Ryan Adams or mixtape-era Lil’ Wayne level yet.
Last summer, an essay Andre wrote about a West Coast Lonelyhearts tour was published on the Rumpus. Do you two still think you’re “making gnomes”? Have the ideas discussed in that essay freed you two up creatively?
AP: That was an East Coast tour; I only point that out because it’s been so long since we’ve actually played shows out West. We have been primarily focused on the Frontier (Colorado and Wyoming), the Midwest and the East Coast. We really need to get back to California. I think that essay expressed some of the artistic frustration of spending so much time making an album, writing a book, or creating a series of paintings and then only having an audience of two or three people.
But I think the ultimate realization is that we always feel so lucky to actually have the time and privilege to make music even if it’s difficult to schedule between all of our other life commitments. Furthermore, as much as it is an accomplishment to finish a song or have an album recorded, it’s just as important to appreciate the process it took to get there. Every time we work on a song, it’s like building a tiny house. We have lots of tiny houses. I am sure that people who actually work in construction would not appreciate that metaphor.
JL: For me, the band member who gets much more twisted up about life paths and such, the conversation that sparked that essay really did free me up. We have the same creative process, but I am much less concerned about the viability of making art for break-even money and then teaching for paying-bills money. I have come to terms with making music as art and perhaps reaching very few ears with it. That said, playing great shows like we are this weekend certainly helps make this whole musical project feel legitimate.
How did the band form? What was the Bay Area like when you started playing music together? What made you guys stick together despite moving?
AP: John and I played in different bands in San Francisco — Rust Belt Music and the Kuffs. We ran into each other a lot, shared quite a few bills, and we frequently went to other shows together. We grew up in that early 2000s Bay Area scene together. We started Lonelyhearts as our other bands began the dismantling process. I remember the Kuffs had just come back from a three and a half week tour and we played this show at the Make-Out Room with Bishop Allen.
The place was packed — everyone was drunk and didn’t want to go home after the show so we invited them back to our apartment. My roommate had this petite guitar and John, myself, and the guys from Bishop Allen were standing in a room singing each other songs on this little guitar. John and I played some songs that we didn’t do with our bands. I think at least a couple of those became the first Lonelyhearts songs.
When we started — and this might sound crazy — we had a drummer; Gavin Haag who worked with the Blacks and A Place to Bury Strangers for a long time. The Bay Area was awesome in those days. I am sure the Bay Area will always be awesome for people in their twenties who want to make art. It’s a gold rush town: there are always these spectators coming in and making insane amounts of money and driving the prices up and then it crashes and then it eventually builds up again. It’s tough to live there, it’s just so expensive but it’s alive. I don’t know. I am old now and where I live and what I eat is more important to me so it might be tough for me to hack it there — my tech skills are low-budget so Twitter’s probably not looking to hire me. We stuck together because we want to see this project through. On some level I think we have always been chasing this odd middle ground between the Mountain Goats and Grandaddy, synthesizers and Neil Young, lyricism and atmospherics. It’s a lot of fun even if you have to get on a plane or dive a thousand miles to do it.
How does distance affect your songwriting?
JL: We have been a long-distance band for nine years now, give or take a few. For the most part, we each write songs on our own and then finish them up and arrange them we are together. A few songs have been written when we just start playing something new and messing around with tones and ideas during a band practice, but this is rare.
When we started, the Postal Service and Faith No More were the only long-distance bands I was familiar with; now it seems much more common, since bands can rehearse over Skype and demo songs remotely. We aren’t luddites, but we still do the finishing stages of songwriting and all of the arranging work when we are in the same place.
This year alone, you’ll have opened for The Mountain Goats, Low, Kishi Bashi and Deer Tick (among others) — what other artists would you most like to share a bill with?
AP: We feel deeply honored to have played with those bands who are all so different and all so awesome. Though, we are actually happy for our next show in Iowa City with our buddies B Star. It means we can play all of our new songs. When you play those big shows you have to be on your toes the whole time and putting forth the songs you can play in your sleep. There’s less room for experimenting, less room for the song with atonal synth and guitar noise — Mountain Goats fans aren’t trying to hear that.
JL: Wow, it has been a good year for us! The list of bands I would want to share a bill with is quite long, but Neutral Milk Hotel, Jason Isbell, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Boduf Songs, Strand of Oaks, Withered Hand, Frightened Rabbit, Fruit Bats (now EDJ) and Pusha T would be on it. Don’t hold your breath for any of those to happen, though.