Video Premiere: The Lonelyhearts explore the ‘Cumberland Gap’

Split-city duo the Lonelyhearts (guitarist John Lindenbaum is based in Fort Collins, Colorado; keyboardist Andre Perry in Iowa City) have given Little Village the pleasure of premiering their new video for “Cumberland Gap,” a track from their as-yet-unfinished forthcoming album. They also took time to share some thoughts about what fans can expect from the new record.

Fresh off a summer tour, including dates supporting the Mountain Goats, the Lonelyhearts jumped straight into working on the new album. “Cumberland Gap” is the result of this. The video is part of the After Hours series, a long-running project from local filmmaker Ben Handler. After Hours specializes in live takes of bands playing music in Iowa City, both Iowa acts and touring musicians.

“Cumberland Gap” is an entrancing track. It has both the clean, startling feel and the sense of vertigo of the mountain experience it captures. It’s simplicity is the perfect vehicle for the tightly woven melodies (neither vocal line is dominant; it would be misleading to call either a harmony to the other). The lyrics spin an intriguing tale, with some memorable turns of phrase, but of course a great story often takes more than just text to be told. The Lonelyhearts clearly know this.

As writers who focus a lot on story, how do you keep balance? How do you ensure that, when necessary, the story serves the music instead of the other way around? How do you know when it’s time for the lyrics to get out of the way and let the music tell the story?

Andre Perry: We are often very focused on both the music and lyrics. Sometimes the music comes first and other times the lyrical conceit might be the initial spark. The melodic pattern and the length of our phrases are perhaps the most crucial determinants of how a song will turn out. It’s less about what we’re going to say than how we say it — will we use open structures that allow for an onslaught of words or we will employ shorter, clipped phrasing that only allows for a few words per verse. At the end of the day we were still going to tell the story about someone escaping from a city ruled by radioactive bats or someone deciding to stay in the same city and perish under the bat regime.

John Lindenbaum: Usually Andre will put his foot down in the interest of retaining the musical framework of a song. I am prone to writing too many lyrics. On “Cumberland Gap,” we had a musical structure already established, which necessitated the sparse lyricism.

Whose stories will you be telling this time around? Do you expect a single, overarching narrative like on Age of Man, or are you not far enough into the writing process to know?

AP: The new album will not approach the novel-esque posturing of Age of Man. We are attempting to etch out a handful of short stories that shift between sketches of the real and harrowing world that we live in and a supernatural world that isn’t that different from the actual world we live in. There might be nine songs, maybe 10, maybe 12. We are working on it; almost there.

JL: We have finalized the lyrics of nine songs in contention for the next record, and two more songs are almost finished. Each narrator on the album will be different: an African-American ghost haunting an old Confederate bar in Tennessee, an Icarus-like investment banker, an early-first century apostle, a Korean vampire sex worker in the Bakken Fields of North Dakota, a woman simultaneously mourning a deceased lover while making contact with intelligent life from beyond — those stories and more to come.

What sonic differences should we listen for between this upcoming album and Age of Man?

JL: Age of Man was a huge project, with drums, electric bass, and a narrative stretching through the entire album. Our next record will be less bombastic, and will sound more like our two-person live show. We hope.

AP: As always there will be a lot of guitars and synths and harmonies. I saw the Dandy Warhols a couple of years ago and their use of synth bass via a Korg MS-20 inspired me — the way they blended it into their psych-folk/late-’90s rock sound was seamless. We used a lot of synth bass in our early years and on our third record. I think we’ll be bringing that back. We will also get some beats — like programmed beats — onto some of the tracks. As John said, some of the songs will offer the intimate, but not necessarily quiet, presentation of our live set.

What lessons did you bring from your time on the road this summer into the studio?

JL: On this tour we had the privilege of opening for the Mountain Goats, who were playing as a four-person band even though some of their earlier records are sonically sparse. For me, that experience taught me that focused listeners will hear the underlying song regardless of the arrangement.

AP: Playing with the Mountain Goats was an amazing experience. They were super kind and supportive. Furthermore, their audience embraced and engaged us perhaps more than we ever deserved. That humbled me — talking with old Mountain Goats fans/new Lonelyhearts fans for 60 minutes at the merch booth after the shows. Perhaps the most poignant moments were when Lonelyhearts fans who we’ve never met came up to us to talk about our music — albums that have been out for eight or 10 years. That floored me. It reminded me that it is important to keep creating, to keep collaborating, to keep reflecting this world through songs and stories, to keep pushing forward.

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