Ben Schneider comes off as the shy, literary type. Visual artist and musician, he is devilishly handsome, but probably doesn’t care about such things.
As the creative force behind jangly, indie folk outfit Lord Huron, Schneider pens songs that celebrate the joys of wandering lonesome over dreamy landscapes and, of course, falling in love. Compared to everyone from Fleet Foxes to My Morning Jacket, the band puts on a fiery show bursting with crescendos and gorgeous harmonies.
We caught up with Schneider by phone from his hometown of Los Angeles days before the band’s new tour, which kicks off at Friday Cheers on Brown’s Island in Richmond, VA this week. We got the skinny on the band’s follow up to their acclaimed full-length album “Lonesome Dreams,” discussed his favorite storytellers and what is clearly an obsession with the Wild West.
Lord Huron started as a solo project. Was it difficult to bring in other players?
It was a little challenging. The main thing was when I recorded this stuff I didn’t have anything in mind as far as playing live. I looked at it as sort of a recording project. Pretty quickly, we got asked to play shows. I didn’t know many musicians out here in L.A. The only guys I knew were the ones I grew up with, so I gave them a call and they came out here. We thought it would just be for a couple of shows, but they’ve been out here ever since. It was great to get the ol’ gang back together.
“Lonesome Dreams” came out in 2012 and you are still releasing singles from it. Was it a conscious decision to put something out there and let it settle in with folks, versus giving in to non-stop release cycles with EPs and one off, digital singles?
We didn’t really think about it. We made the record we wanted to make and put it out there. Thankfully, it’s been sort of this slow burn. We’ve been able to keep touring behind it, our audience continues to grow and we still sell copies. It’s been really nice and really natural. Nothing felt forced or over planned. We’re going with it to see where it takes us. Because of our touring schedule, it’s been hard to get in the studio but we’re finally taking the time to record. We’ve got a new record that’s pretty far along and it should finish it up this summer.
Is there anything you can share about where you guys are headed directionally with the new material?
People can expect a pretty robust film component. The visuals will be the most important part of the creative output. That’s definitely becoming more intertwined with the music this time around. We’re very excited.
Speaking of your audience growing, I saw you all play at Newport Folk Festival to one of the biggest crowds all day. Folk is clearly an influence on your sound. What’s your definition of it?
It’s hard to define. It’s such a strong, rich tradition with so many variants. As you go from country to country, there’s a unique definition as well. In terms of American music, it’s about a strong storytelling component. While I think our music veers stylistically from the folk genre, traditionally speaking, we definitely have the storytelling element and an appreciation for the natural world that seems to go with folk. These days, genres are so blurry, which is kind of a good thing.
My understanding is that you were also really into calypso and Trinidadian carnival music when making the album as well.
You mentioned the importance of a storyteller. Who are some of your favorites, musical or otherwise?
I love all kinds of stories. It’s not that I necessarily love good music, movies, or books. I love good stories and there are so many ways to communicate them. In music, I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. I think they have a real knack of it. Terrence Malick and Quentin Tarantino have interesting ways of telling stories. Books are all over the place, everything from Western novels like “Diamond Dick” to more highfalutin’ sorts of stuff. “Moby Dick” is one of my favorites. Right now, I’m reading Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes a Great Notion,” which is really great. Back to music, Wu Tang Clan has always been a huge inspiration.
Did you see the infographic that just came out declaring those guys have a bigger vocabulary than Shakespeare?
Yeah, I did see that. Really interesting.
You touched on the Western thing early and it has been incorporated into your general aesthetic, to the point where it almost precedes you in the press. What’s the deal?
It was really just the mode we were in when we were writing this record. I always start from some place personal when writing songs, but this time I did so through the lens of an old adventure novel. I thought that was an interesting way to get myself into a different mindset, which is what I do whenever I set out to make something. It gives me a very clear vision for what I want to do. Putting myself in that aesthetic helped flesh things out. I’ve also been interested in that since I was a kid. It’s a compelling setting for a story, kind of the human experience laid bare on the frontier. At the same time, it’s just a mode. For the next record, you’ll see us in a different headspace.
There are also romantic undertones running throughout the songs. Do you consider yourself a romantic, in the textbook sense?
Yes, I would. I definitely fulfill the textbook definition pretty well.
How did a romantic originally from Michigan end up in Los Angeles?
I had finished school and like anyone, was trying new things to find my place in the world. I was seeing a girl at the time that I followed out here. Something about this place just worked for me. The creative landscape is open and experimental which was good for me as I tried to figure out how to tell all of these stories. I love it here, it’s my new home.
A few years back, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes educated me about the music coming out of Laurel Canyon. I had always written off the L.A. music scene as kind of glam and contrived before talking with him.
I had the wrong idea of this place too. I moved there thinking it would be very temporary, but lo and behold as with many things, I was wrong.
I came out here as a visual artist, so was running in those circles. There’s definitely crossover. It still feels like the Wild West here creatively. You have great access to things like any big city, but the artistic communities feel more accessible. For someone just starting out, it takes that kind of nurturing environment.