Neil Lord is the mastermind behind the Future Museums project. Think of him as the Robert Smith of the group, with rotating artists working with him to help craft incredibly beautiful ambient sound-pieces. But, that’s not all Lord is involved in. He’s also a member of the fabulous Thousand Foot Whale Claw, the Austin gaze-band Single Lash, a collaborator with numerous artists, and a member of the Holodeck Records crew. Lord is prolific and, quite frankly, everything he seems to be involved in just soars. Lord was gracious enough to take some time and answer my question about his various projects, Future Museums, Holodeck Records, and much more. Check out the interview and listen to some of his works at the bandcamp links at the bottom of the page!
Hello Neil. Thanks for answering some of my questions. I guess let’s start with an origin story. How did you get into music and how long ago did you form and start recording as “Future Museums”?
I first began exploring ideas that would eventually become Future Museums in 2009. I was living in Fayetteville, Arkansas going to college and was very bored and discontent with most of the “pop” music I was involved with (although that music in retrospect was still really freaky and noisy). I became exposed to more textural, atmospheric zones and wanted to explore them myself, so I would record these tracks in the backseat of my Nissan Maxima in between classes, which would themselves become the first album A Solar Gold which i put out myself in 2011.
Where there other bands or projects you were involved in before Future Museums? Are there others you currently are involved in?
I played in this amazing psych rock collective called Voyageurs for a couple years that put out some still stellar releases which I’m pretty sure are still available on bandcamp. I had a solo lo-fi pop project called Niall which became a full band for a little while. My friend Jimmy Spice (Liquid Skulls) and I had a long distance collaboration between Memphis and Austin called Low Praises that put out 3 albums and I learned the most production wise from working with. I don’t know, there’s half a dozen more that were really great and formative years, and I learned a lot from all of them.
I’m currently playing in a dark shoegaze/goth project called Single Lash that I’ve been with for about 6 years, our 3rd LP will be coming later this year. Thousand Foot Whale Claw which is a heavy motorik kosmiche/krautrock project that’s had multiple formations over the past decade. And most recently I’ve become a touring member of Jess Williamson’s band who just put out an amazing LP on Mexican Summer. So that’s been an interesting experience retraining my brain to more structured arrangements. Her songs and compositions are so classic and beautiful, it’s been really fun contributing to that.
Can you talk a little bit about your approach to composing a piece and how you understand music in general as a sound form when constructing songs?
For Future Museums, my biggest compositional tool is trusting my intuition. If I’m working on the core of an idea and not immediately having an emotional reaction to it, I know it’s moving in the wrong direction. If I can land an idea while tracking on the first take, I know it was meant to be, and the process moves very quickly from there. I tend to not be a person to overthink the recording process and will get a dozen ideas moving before even mixing or eq’ing, it would honestly probably frustrate most engineers to see how wreckless my process is. My understanding of music is very self-informed and not from an academic approach. I tend to rely on the truth of an environment letting you know if the modes are right. I’ve recorded a lot of material outside in my yard or on a porch or sidewalk to receive the quickest answer possible as to if anyone would enjoy listening to this in nature (which is where I intend for most people to hear these songs).
Since you began recording as Future Museums, what have you learned about writing music and the process of recording it? Also, and I know this is one of those odd questions sometimes for artists, but what predisposes you to think that a track is finished and ready to be heard by fans?
I’ve honestly learned everything I know about recording from this project, and as I said, I’m not a person to overthink this process. I truly just know immediately when a track is being honest with itself, and if it’s beginning to frustrate me with no solution as to what is making it not work, it’s not something I will even bother with. I’ll abandon it completely and start on an idea that finds its place in the world naturally. Sometimes beauty is something that is beyond me as an artist and can’t be forced; it just needs to be something using my skills as a translator.
It’s my impression that you have other artists often join you on albums. Who are your fellow collaborators and is there anyone you would want to work with that you haven’t yet?
There are so many and they are all so amazing and have amazing projects. most recently:
Marcus Maurice (More Eaze) whose output on amazing labels like Orange Milk and Never Anything continues to push so many boundaries.
Peter Tran (Curved Light) who is pretty much the champion of the modular synth game right now.
I’ll be working on duo collaborations with both of them in the very near future.
Justin Goers, Adam Jones & Amber Goers all from Troller have joined me in a live setting, in talks to work on a collaborative album with Michael C Sharp from Sungod. Nicolas Nadeau from Single Lash has been a constant member for a few years now through multiple line-ups and I absolutely love that guy’s guitar playing. Jared Marshall from Primary Mystical Experience has provided drum and synth work, would love to go into the studio with him, probably one of the best drummers in Texas. Rodolfo Villareall (Carry Illinois) and Liz Perlman have been playing drums and bass with me during our heavier sets. Justin Sweatt (Xander Harris), Max Parrott (TV Honest), and Scott Squires were a version of the band for a couple years, so that was an insane time. The list goes on and on and I’ve loved every version of it.
What is your role at Holodeck and how did you get involved with the label?
There are only 4 of us in the office, so duties are shared depending on the task. I do a lot of warehouse management, so chances are when you a receive an order with a thank you note, it’s from me. I was running a tiny tape label a while back with Jenni Kaye (Hyperreal Film Club) called Pleasure Cruise Press and Adam was reformatting the labels approach and asked to come on board to assist and I’ve been working with him closely ever since.
Rosewater Ceremony is a gorgeous piece of work. Was there anything you did different when approaching this album than from prior releases? What part did Xander Harris play on the album?
I had been playing with Thousand Foot Whale Claw for about a year when I started working on RC. Justin Goers had introduced me to so many new synth techniques I hadn’t previously understood, so i took those into my home studio, borrowing pieces of gear from various friends (especially the amazing Melissa Cha from LaChane). I had sent Justin Sweatt (Xander) a couple demos and he had some constructive ideas and sent back pieces for me to include/work in and it ended up working seamlessly with the vibe of the album.
I like to ask artists about a few songs on their most recent release to get a more intimate answer about the song writing process and perhaps what a track might mean to the artist themselves. So, could you talk a bit about the writing and recording of “Orbit Collapse” and “Rebirth of Empathy”?
“Orbit Collapse” is essentially an ode to Michael Rother and his production style on his first 2 solo records after Kraftwerk. I love the raw DI guitar tone and epic arrangements without being heavy or loud. I wanted to make a track that had that arc and that ended up being “Orbit Collapse” (as well as “Rage into Progress”).
“Rebirth of Empathy” comes from listening to way to many New Age records. I had bought Jordan de la Sierra’s Numero Group reissue and it never really left my record player. I was absolutely obsessed with it, so I think those tones of icy digital processing mixed with naturalistic/acoustic compositions really had an effect on me. The new age anthology ‘I Am the Center’ really had an impact on me at that time too, so i think i was just being turned into a vessel for wanting to provide some form of relaxation, not only for an audience, but also myself.
What equipment do you use both live and in the studio?
It really varies. It never stays the same. A series of electric and acoustic guitars, midi controllers and soft synths, used a lot of electribe for beat programming. Most of the lead synths on Rosewater were played on a Minilogue. Some drones from the King Korg. Lots of pedals, Time Factor, Moogerfooger Phaser, Echorec, sometimes I’ll just grab a random of assortment of things and base a track around the tone itself more than the notes.
What’s up next for Future Museums?
Lots of records/recordings. I have 3 done, with 2 more in the works. Have a tape coming out on the wonderful Aural Canyon, and more Holodeck stuff I cant really announce yet, but I’m very excited. Working on a duo album with More Eaze, and looking to go into the studio with Curved Light for a duo album as well. Doing a soundbath at St Elmo Brewery on June 27th featuring Curved Light/More Eaze/Troller as collaborators, so that’ll be an interesting formation. Really looking forward to doing some more full band krautrock recordings as well which will be happening very soon.
Thanks so much Neil for answering my questions.