the AU interview: Julie Campbell aka Lonelady (Manchester, UK)


With her debut album Nerve Up now available in Australia, Manchester’s Julie Campbell, aka Lonelady, took time out of her busy European touring schedule to chat to the AU review! She provides us with some insight into the “Mancurian Sound”, recording in a concrete box and expectations of the European audiences.

Hey Julia thanks for taking the time to speak with us! Where abouts am I speaking with you?

I’m in Brussels actually.

I understand you’re coming to the end of your European tour?

Yeah we’ve been all around France, Germany, Amsterdam and Brussels, and now I’ve got a couple of days off before our last gig in Rotterdam. 

How’s the tour gone so far?

It’s my first tour, so I’m sitting in my hotel room reflecting on it really. I think it went well. But I think we felt a certain amount of pressure. So it was good to play a solid set every night and not buckle under that pressure. I think we did do that so it’s gone well!

How have the crowds compared to those in the UK?

It’s a totally different culture, a big culture shock. They’re a lot more patient and they expect you to play a lot longer sets. In the UK, we play for about half an hour, and it feels like that’s a really nice length of time to play. I really like that brevity of it. Here, I can almost feel an expectation coming off the audience where they’re like “…and…?” 

They’ve got a lot more attention span that UK audiences I think. After every single gig, so that’s 14 gigs in a row, people would come up to us and they’d be genuinely baffled. They wouldn’t be angry, but they’re more “why on earth did you play such a short set?”. It just became a bit of a mantra, so maybe, I mean it’s not like I want to change what we do and become a prog rock band, but for the sake of not being asked that question, next time I might play a slightly longer set. Maybe two more songs. 

They’re so less self concious the audiences here, they dance and make more noise – UK audiences pretty much just stand there.

Who’s in the band you’re touring with?

Well there’s Andrew Cheetman who played drums on the album, and I’ve been playing with him for about 2 or 3 years now. And then the third role is Gareth Smith, he’s the new member. 

In the past 3 months or so, I got some new equipment, and I’ve been learning how to use this old AKAI sampler. So this lineup, and this equipment the way we’re doing things, is very new. So we’ve been working really hard before we came on tour, learning the new equipment, learning to be a band with this new lineup.

Are you enjoying the changes? I imagine the new toys change the landscape of your live performance?

Yeah, well we desperately needed to find the right pieces of equipment. I considered a laptop at one point, but that seemed too dry and overly sophisticated – and didn’t really fit with the aesthetic. And I wanted to use equipment that was still physical, you have to turn dials or hit something. So the equipment that I chose turned out to be this old sampler which you have to load with floppy discs. It seems so hilariously outdated, but it’s been working really well. 

Also, Gareth plays the electronic drum parts – so there’s this really nice dynamic between Andrew playing the real drums, and Gareth playing the synthetic drums. I think live I just wanted to it to be a bit more dynamic, a bit more physical. 

It was quite difficult for me to learn this AKAI sampler, because I had a deadline. I mean I can use it now, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy having to learn it. It’s like learning a piece of complicated video recorder or something. It’s a good piece of equipment though. 

And you’ll be taking the sampler with you when you’re on tour with These New Puritans next month. I’m guessing that will be an exciting stint around the UK?

You probably won’t believe me but I’ve actually never heard their music! So when I get home for a few days I’m going to listen to the music and get to know their vibe. Apparently they were keen to have us (on the tour)! Initially I was like, “oh my God, I’m going to get home from this really tiring tour and go out again!” But we are going to, and it’ll be really different for a UK tour. 

Thankfully the crowds will only expect half hour sets…

Yeah that’ll be a good thing! *laughs*

And of course you’re touring your debut album Nerve Up, which was just released in Australia. Can you tell us a bit about recording this album? I understand it was recorded in your hometown of Manchester…

Yeah, it was clear to me that it was going to be recorded in my hometown, because I felt it should have a geographical relevance and meaning, a location. But I didn’t really want to record in a proper recording studio. I wanted to record somewhere that just had more atmosphere. It’s quite hard to be clear about why that was, I just knew it was the right approach, to find an alternative space. 

So I found a crumbling building on the outskirts of Manchester, and renovated a room in this building, in an isolated area. And so we basically built a concrete square in this building, and we had to make it really secure because it is a bit of a rough area. There were endless challenges and difficulties, and it was quite a rudimentary, bleak space that we recorded it in. But it just felt really right to do it in there. 

Arguably it didn’t affect the sound of the record much. I mean there were certain issues – like we didn’t have the proper separation and so on that you would have in a normal recording studio, so it made it rather difficult. But I don’t regret it, because aesthetically it felt like the right thing to do. 

A lot of people have written that there is indeed something about the album that fits it in to a conceived notion of the “unique Mancurian Sound” – would you agree with that? Or has such a conception become a label overused by outsiders?

I think both in a way. I think outsiders of Manchester and the UK, you have more of a reduced idea of what a city is like, if you haven’t been there or lived there. I was born there and have lived there all my life, so it’s a lot more merky for me, what Manchester is. 

But I didn’t really plug into the music from my own city until my early 20s really, and before that I was listening to American music. It was almost like I was ignoring my own cities musical history. So I think on the record, there are older songs and newer songs – and on the older songs they’re much less “Mancurian”, whatever that means. There’s more R.E.M. in there, who are pretty far away from Manchester. I think in the song “Nerve Up” itself, there’s a sense of the New York late 70’s scene to it. So while clearly there are similarities between us and other Manchester bands, I don’t think it’s exclusive. 

You worked with Producer Guy Fixen (The Breeders / My Bloody Valentine) on the new album, what was it like working with him?

I think my manager Jason suggested Guy, and the key thing was that I could find someone to work with who wouldn’t try to put his vision on it. Rather, he’d be able to enable me to create mine. I’m very controlling about the sound and everything, so we needed to find someone with the right temperament to match my temperament. 

I think it worked really well with Guy. We both share a need for attention to detail, and he was open to the challenges of this unconventional recording space. He dealt with that in a way that I think others wouldn’t have been able to. I researched a lot of the sounds before we even went in there, so I went in with a lot of notes, and was very controlling about the sound. But I think (the album has) definitely got Guy’s musical personality in there as well. When two people work together on a record, it is going to sound like both of them. You hear his contribution to it. 

And while I’m sure you don’t even want to begin thinking about more tours right now, we just have to know – is there an Australian tour in the works? 

My manager suggested it to me the other day actually! It seems so far away and bizarre – I thought “what, Australia!?” But he seems to think it’s doable, so who knows! 

Well your first ever show outside of Manchester was in Austin, Texas, so I think the only place you could get further away from home would indeed be Australia!

Yeah, probably *laughs*

Thanks so much for your time Julie!

Lonelady’s debut album Nerve Up is in stores now!

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.