Mark Rolfe of Lorna

Mark Rolfe of Lorna

by Brent

Lorna is a fantastic pop band from England that writes and records earthy yet dreamy sounding compositions of music that are pristine and beautiful. Hot on the heels of their stellar 2005 release, Static Patterns and Souvenirs, Lorna was kind enough to answer some questions we had for them. In the following interview, front-man Mark Rolfe ruminates on crafting music, the English music scene, and more:

How did Lorna form?

It didn’t really form.  It kind of became.  There was never a grand plan for Lorna to form a band and release albums and do shows, not to say I was never hugely passionate proactive and focused about my music, I was from a very early age.  Basically I spent the mid to late 90’s playing in various melodic noisy indie rock bands with a great bunch of guys over here and I formed Lorna as a more sensitive side projects as my taste was beginning to change from the typical noisy Matador bands I was discovering more beautiful music and sounds.  I just recorded a bunch of songs on a four track around 1999-2000 and put them on the internet during the birth of and discovered people actually wanted to listen to them, I really had no idea, Lorna was just my personal outpouring, it was my rainy Sunday afternoons.  Within a few months a local label had approached us to put out a single and they wanted us to play live, so I though…shit, better get a band together then!  It’s just evolved with the years.

As a band, how do you write songs?

We usually don’t, but I’d never rule it out.  We’ve only stood in a practice room once in a our entire life and wrote a song together and that was a very enjoyable moment but that rarely ever happens.   Songs are written in our home studio, usually quite late at night when I feel most inspired usually by myself and Sharon.  It’s not a dictatorship it’s just how it happens and it’s how it works.  Matt is a core element to the success of our songs too and ideas are ran by him and his input is invaluable.   We stalked Matt for ages in his old band and made an evil play for him when he wasn’t looking, he’s been our best signing ever.   I write lyrics extremely unconventionally, I basically carry a note book with me and just write down everything and anything that comes to me then when I’ve got a piece of music (always the music first) I see which bits I like from what I have written and pick the best bits and burn the old bits (not literally, but I should!!!)

How important are lyrics in your songwriting?

What kinds of things do you like to write songs about? – Incredibly, I’m a devoted auralist first and foremost, I love sounds, I’ve always loved sounds, but lyrics should always be special too. Every single element you choose to put into your music should be there because you mean it and lyrics are no less important.  What we write about, (this is starting to make me sound like a pretentious artist or something which hopefully I’m really not) but we only really write about emotions, it’s just what moves us.  Love, Loss, Happiness, Sorrow are all common factors of our everyday life no matter who we think we are, it’s what we feel so it’s what come natural in the recording process, why try and cover it up with something cool?  I like to think our lyrics are imaginative, open yet extremely honest, I can truly say every single word means something to me.    I do find it easier to write lately about sad things which is a problem as I’m so happy lately, in the last year we’ve found the label of our dreams in Words On Music, myself and Sharon got married a month ago after 6 years together and everything is wonderful so I’ve been trying to write about other peoples misfortunes and sorrow – ha!

Describe for us the recording process for Static Patterns and Souvenirs.

It was the most structured and focused music we’ve made, it was best executed plan to date.  Everything was planned out in terms of the song titles before the songs, the track listing order before I recorded it…I’d be thinking one night, ok so track 8 is going to be like this and it’s going to go into track 9 like that and it will answer some elements of track 4.  Physically we recorded 99% of the record in our home studio and engineered and produced it ourselves. I’ve also love recording process, it’s my favourite thing about being a band and it’s the number 1 priority ahead of any live shows/practices.  I’ve mostly learned engineering and producing from the 4 track upwards and Sharon is just completing a degree in production so between us we have enough knowledge on how to get a pretty decent sound.   On this album we tried our hardest to pull every resource, favours and bribes we could to borrow as much organic instruments as we could and bring in some wonderfully talented and lovely musicians to do the orchestration.  In the last album we still had to use a lot of samples for things like horns, vibraphones, timpani’s, grand pianos but this time we recorded pretty much everything organic and if we couldn’t borrow or buy something we’d take our system out on location and record.  We started the album on April 6th last year and it was finished in the first week of January, that’s pretty good going for us.

It seems to us that the music on Static Patterns and Souvenirs is especially sophisticated and intelligent. What kind of fan is drawn to your music, and what kind of niche has Lorna carved out for itself?

I’m really not sure I can answer this too well as I don’t really see much of the fan interaction.  We don’t play a great deal of shows, not a 1/4 of as many as I’d love to play, again, hopefully this will change.   We get e-mails from all over, mostly the far east, the states and we do particularly well in Spain and France.  I have yet to see a pattern to our fanbase but I guess I would say the majority of our fans are male and a little older than us, which is cool. We’ve made some really great friends from fans.

Is there a specific message or theme that you were conveying with Static Patterns and Souvenirs? What is that theme?

Nothing specific, we certainly are not trying to preach and get any persuasive message across.  I guess if there is a consistent lyrical context it would be along the lines of how to handle ghost correctly. Like the past, remember it but love the future.  Lately I’m obsessed with Venn Diagrams and showing how everything in your life can co-exist happily and peacefully.  When I was thinking about Static Patterns and Souvenirs I was thinking that the Static Patterns represented lyrically and musically a progressive forward motion and souvenirs shows a more, this is the past, I’m proud of it, but I’m here now.  I originally titled it Static Patterns and Reminders but I decided that reminders could still be conceived negatively and without end.  For me a souvenir is conclusive.

How has it been playing live the songs from Static Patterns and Souvenirs. How do you bring such intricate and complex music into a live setting?

We haven’t played yet, we’ve got a month left to stress ourselves silly but it’s going quite well. The band has changed a little since This time, each year half due to the new songs and half because a lot of musicians use Lorna as a stop gap to gain experience, get some contacts and move on, I’m fine with this we are doing each other a service.  Our original bass player from day 1 is back with us again and we’ve got a different drummer.  For the first time I’ve conceded and taking backing tapes live (alongside live guitars, basses, drums, vocals, keys, flute, banjo, theremin) , it’s been a hard decision and I’m really not a fan of this, we’ve tried to do as much live as possible but the electronic beats/samples/noises/atmospheres and SOME orchestral have had be sampled.  We tried it without but it just sounding TOO different from the record, it sounded like an indie rock band covering Lorna.  I like live shows to show a slightly different perspective from the recorded works and I like the live versions to have lives of their own but at the end of the day it still has to feel like and have the vibe of the band who made the records.

Who are some bands/artists that you admire, and what CD’s are Lorna band members listening to these days?

We listen to so much.  First and foremost, my hero is Neil Young. Neil Young is so special to me in so many ways I can’t begin to describe, for me he’s everything that is wonderful about music.  He’s passionate, he’s real, he’s honest, he’s emotive yet not pretentious and arty.  The guy is a legend, I love the way he still comes on stage in that same fucking Route 66 shirt year after years closes his eyes puts down his head and gets lost.  I love the way how when he finishes a tour he has a few weeks off with Peggi and the kids and then goes back to the studio and makes another record of fresh original music.  I love the way he’s about music not image, or fashion or a rock and roll life style. He makes a phenomenal amount of records and is still incredibly focused and dynamic, to me, that’s a hero.  Aside from that favourite all time band are Teenage Fanclub.  I still have a love for Sebadoh, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur, Pavement.  I’m excited about some of the bands coming out of the states these days such as Death Cab For Cutie, The Postal Service, Bright Eyes, The American Analog Set.   I adore purified classical music both classic and contemporary, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Erik Satie, Arvo Part, Henryk Gorecki.  Last of all I think that Will Oldham, Jim O Rourke and David Pajo collectively possess enough power and talent to take over the entire world and pretty much do what they want with it. Does that answer your question?  Now I’ve self-indulged I can report that lately Sharon has been reveling in The Postal Service and Midlake.  Matt has been making noises about Bright Eyes, Wilco, The Aphex Twin, Brian Eno and For Stars.  We are all loving the new Teenage Fanclub album.

How did you get in touch with Coastal, and what was it like working on some songs with them?

When I first saw this question I racked my brains so hard trying to remember how we got in touch with Coastal originally and how our friendship has got so strong.  I think it must of come from the absurdly talented Aaron Jasinski from Seatle who produced their debut.  We had been e-mailing each other since he heard the first few Lorna songs and I heard his first few Moya songs.   He popped over to England a few times on vacation and we hung out…I guess he just introduced me to Coastal who it turned out really liked Lorna.  I spent quite a while bouncing e-mails and music back and forth with Jason and they inspired me so much as an artist and as a human being.   I can honestly say that the hype is true, Coastal are the nicest people on the entire planet.  Working with them has always been a pleasure and Jason has never been anything short of generous, kind and appreciative.  I can’t wait to get over the states this summer and play shows with them again, it’s just going to be one big party and reunion.

What is the independent music scene in Europe like, compared with what you know of the North American scene?

First of all, there’s Europe which is great, open minded and about music not fashion, then there’s England which is a huge pile of vomit.  I’m probably doing myself little favours here but the music scene in England is absolutely dire at the moment, I’ve never known it so terrible not even during Britpop or “Noelrock”.   I think If I was to talk about how unoriginal the scene was here in England right now it could get very negative so I’ll just say that there are some great underrated bands in the UK whose time will surely come such as The Clientele, The Zephyrs, We Show Up On Radar, Western Suburb.   As for North America, I’ve never played there but most of my favourite bands of all time happen to be North American, it’s just the way it goes.

What is in the future for Lorna?

Taking static patterns live and working on our new album.  We don’t have a great deal sorted out live wise yet, as usual the UK is slow but we’ve got a gem of a guy working our press here so I’m hoping we’ll get some good shows out of that.  In the summer we play a few west coast shows with Coastal which is just going to be great. In October we hope to return to mainland Europe. I’m already hard at work on album no.3. Myself and Sharon have got 6-7 songs in various stages of progress and Matt has got some great ideas he’s just submitted only today. After mixing the album we had a month off and then got married, had a week off then started rehearsing for taking Static Patterns live.  On the nights we won’t be rehearsing for Static Patterns we’ll be working on the new album, life is short and there’s so much music to make.   I have no idea how it will end up at the moment except to say a little theme I am working on is adding a little more “groove” to the records, not a shit jazz/funk way just more shakers, more answering rhythms and off beat parts I guess slightly into the realms of early Stereolab and inspirators such as Neu and The Silver Apples.  Just add a bit of that to strange dreamy nostalgic pop music and I think we’ve got a core for no.3.

Any other comments?

We really appreciate you guys taking the time out to ask these questions, it’s been a lot of fun doing them, I sincerely appreciate it.  I hope you get the NHL back next year, I think I’d die without hockey.

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