There’s more than a pinch of truth in the idea that to prove yourself, you need to get a little distance from those closest to you. Win over strangers and you might just convince the doubters back home that you’re worthy of some attention. In the wake of last year’s Compulsion Songs – an album that picked up plaudits from the likes of The Observer as well as finding listeners from around the world – it finally seemed like Cumbria was ready to admit that The Lucid Dream belonged.
Tracing a dark vein of psychedelia that starts with ‘Sister Ray’ via Suicide through to Spacemen 3 and beyond, the Carlisle four piece continue to expand beyond that initial premise, embracing the repetition of 70s Euro rock and the space of dub to create something all-encompassing, all consuming. Their bullshit-free approach extends to an indifference to many of their supposed scene contemporaries, and a frills-free live presentation where they’re just as likely to keep their coats on than try and win audiences over with with fake bonhomie.
As a warm-up for a series of dates that begin at London’s Victoria on 1st March, before moving on to Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels, they played a small hometown show which sold out in 24 hours, suggesting hard-to-impress locals had softened a little in their attitude towards the band. Those who managed to snaffle tickets – including sizable numbers of travelling support – were treated to a relentless set showcasing their strengths, not least an emphasis on the rhythm section of Mike Denton (bass) and Luke Anderson (drums), which absolutely underpins the melodic – and noise – explorations of guitarists Mark Emmerson and Wayne Jefferson. Unshakable in their faith in hypnotic bass and Gatling gun drums (best exemplified by the swirl of ‘Mona Lisa’ from 2015’s self-titled album), even when there’s a danger of disappearing down the rabbit hole of endless freakout-ery, the bass manages to keep things centred and on track, leaving no room for the mind to wander. On paper, the formula seems familiar; in execution, it’s exemplary.
We caught up with Mark Emmerson a few days prior to that warm-up show, starting with some memories of their early days.
This gig at The Source is a return to the scene of some of your very early gigs I believe?
Mark: Yeah, it would be about 2008. We did some back-to-back gigs in Porthmadog and Leeds and then played there. We were probably a bit emotional – if you know what I mean. And then we played again in the New Year. Still one of the best gigs we’ve ever done. We got an ovation – which was weird – and there was this group of lads who came down to the early gigs who said it changed their lives. We got them into Spacemen 3 and so on.
So had you played together as a band prior to all this?
Me, Wayne and Luke had been playing together for about 10 years. Since we were 12 or so. We were pretty awful, just doing covers but it was an apprenticeship.
When you were putting The Lucid Dream together, how was it different to what you’d done before?
With the other bands, I knew deep down they weren’t very good. I had a batch of songs and knew it was only a matter of time before someone would take note. We’d spent six months rehearsing and we kept saying to each other, “This is pretty good!” In retrospect it wasn’t very original and we don’t play those songs any more but when you’re 21 or 22 it’s pretty exciting.
We didn’t even have plans to even get out of Carlisle but during the soundcheck to our first gig, one of the bands we were playing with phoned their label and I was like “Bloody hell, you’ve not heard the rest of our set yet!” So by our second or third gig, we had a label behind us and that allowed us to get some gigs further afield.
And here you are with three albums under your belt.
I hadn’t even sung onstage before! But at every gig, someone would come up to us and say we were the most exciting thing they’d seen in ages. People were maybe a little fooled because we’re into our clothes and the football casual thing and we don’t look like we sound. They’re expecting an Oasis tribute band and then we come on and play one chord for 25 minutes.
Has much changed in terms of how you approach new material?
You obviously mature, you get into different music. I don’t write on a guitar any more. I tend to write on a keyboard or work out the bass line first.
Most of what I listen to now is dub reggae and that’s really the blueprint for what we do. There will be a house track on the next record. That’s where we’re going.
I think our first album sounds like a band getting some songs together but the second had a bigger range of influences – like Krautrock – and to us, you’ve got to change on every record. We’ll not tread water.
What I liked about Compulsion Songs was the feeling that said “Look, this is what we do. We can turn our hands to all this different music. Moving forward, we can go off in any of these directions and it won’t sound forced. It will still be The Lucid Dream.”
Yeah, because I produce all the records and have an idea of how I want everything to sound, it’s going to have that Lucid Dream feel.
We actually offered our last album to a couple of labels and they just said “Nah, it’s not good enough.” A year on and we’re outselling them, wiping the floor with them.
I know you’ve talked in the past about the double-edged nature of being a Carlisle band. On one hand, it’s hard to get noticed or taken seriously; but you’ve also been allowed to do your own thing and not worry about being part of a scene or clique.
I definitely have my frustrations with people who don’t see us anything more than a ‘local band’. We can go anywhere in Europe and get flattering offers from promoters all over. I want other bands to break out; I want to help with that and not have other bands from Carlisle face the same ignorance we’ve had.
I suspect if we came from Manchester or Liverpool we’d have quit our day jobs by now but I couldn’t care in the slightest.
I just saw something from The Damned’s Captain Sensible on Facebook about when he had a record label in the 80s. He ran out of money and the label folded but the two demo tapes he’d planned to do something with were Carlisle’s The Twiggs and The Stone Roses.
We definitely pay our dues to The Twiggs, even though I’m too young to have known them back then. They toured with The Bunnymen. Jamie from the band comes to our gigs all over the country.
This week’s gig will be interesting because about half the tickets have gone to people from outside Carlisle who want to see us play our home town. It’ll be something special that people will remember.
What kind of reception do you get overseas?
It can vary. When we played Paris we had to tell people to calm down! Eindhoven was mental. Switzerland was a little more reserved.
Are you thinking much beyond these next set of dates?
We have bookings until the end of the year. Our agent is having to turn down offers all the time because we can’t fit them in. We have a new album written but we’re not going to rush into recording it. We want to give it a bit more attention.
You do quite a few festivals – if you got to conjour up your dream bill, who’d be on it?
Just new bands or classic bands too?
Let’s go crazy – anyone you want.
Can. Spiritualized from 1992. Oh, this is tough! Early Verve was important in us getting together. Funkadelic. Problem is you’re going to get shown up!
Just to wrap up, is there an album you want to recommend. Something new or something you’ve just picked up on.
The album I’ve been listening to most recently is Horace Andy’s Dance Hall Style. People might know him through his work with Massive Attack. It’s dub, but it has different elements to it that a lot of people would find appealing.
Find out more about The Lucid Dream via their Facebook page.