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Lantern: Rituals of Rock.

July 22, 2014
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LanternMB02Text by Brittany Thomas. Images by Michael Bucher.

While speaking of songs with references to black leather and conjuring spirits, Emily Robb and Zachary Devereux Fairbrother sip tea in a sunny South Philly rowhome adorned in earthy tones, rustic wood and sleepy cats napping. It is an unexpectedly soothing home environment for the couple, better known as the songwriting duo behind local psych rock band Lantern.

“Losing yourself in the music and maybe borrowing from the magical and mystical language that the blues and rock ‘n‘ roll took on,” says Fairbrother of the lyrical inspiration for their most recent album, Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach. “Rock ‘n’ roll as a ritualistic thing – costumes, leather, the ecstatic, lose yourself kind of experience.”

The album was recorded over the course of three days but what is in the works is deliberately slowly unfolding. Expect some of the softest pop and also some of the heaviest, most psychedelic stuff they’ve done, along with a lot of straight-up soul.

This is a band that certainly cannot be taken at face value, or for its bluesy Stooges vibe. Beneath the long dark hair and spooky punk sounding surface, you find layers and layers of intricate arrangements and developed intent – rock music that also incorporates a complimentary palette of genres.

Robb and Fairbrother swap roles on guitar, bass, vocals and songwriting. Philly drummer Chris Wilson, from Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, has been filling in for local shows while their permanent percussionist, Christian Simmons, works on producing Lantern’s records from his home in Montreal. Robb and Fairbrother have been collaborating with Simmons for the past four years.

Fairbrother gets lost in conversation about his hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he met Robb when they were in college. He talks everything from its annual music festival, OBEY Convention, to the local surf scene. Not a surfer, Fairbrother remains satisfied with his decision to move to Philly more than five years ago. He and Robb, who is originally from Maine, agree that it is a city that has proven to be encouraging, cozy and affordable.

“It’s a really great city, and it’s grown a lot since we’ve been here,” says Fairbrother. “A lot of new venues have come up and cool bands are coming to play from out of town. It’s small and you can pretty easily get to know the organizers behind the scenes.”

You may know Lantern from the band’s frequent Kung Fu Necktie and Johnny Brenda’s appearances, more recent performance at Boot & Saddle, or from back in their early days when they performed with Alex Zhang Hungtai, a.k.a. Dirty Beaches, who played bass on some of Lantern’s early cassettes.

Despite the “financially unadvisable” trickiness to making frequent trips to Montreal without owning a vehicle, Lantern happily accepts the arguably more affordable alternative of renting cars, and very simply just love working with Simmons. Together they’ve put out several EPs, cassettes, a full-length and soon their second, to be released toward the end of this year.

“The last record we did with Jeff Zeigler from Uniform Recordings was a 16-track one-inch,” says Fairbrother. “We did all the bed tracks to tape and then those were bounced to digital and we did the overdubs digitally. What we’re doing now is not doing any overdubs and just mixing it and arranging it solely on the eight tracks of the tape recorder, so you really have to plan your arrangement a lot more. It’s also more physical because you have to work with what you physically can do.”

They are self-admittedly “going back a bit,” technologically speaking. But getting more physical, sometimes even literally getting their hands dirty with recording, has made the endeavor more special. Inspired by the likes of Beatles recording studio engineer Geoff Emerick and several reads on quirky analog recording techniques, Lantern is getting creative with everything from slicing tape with magnets and scissors to executing handmade phasers and tape flanging.

“You’re kind of more stuck with what you have, which in a way is good because of the way that I work,” says Robb. “I tend to drive myself crazy thinking I should try changing parts of songs and then I get so far from what I originally heard in my head. But then I’ll always go back to the first thing and trash every other thing I did. With tape, I personally love the process because you really have to live with your sound. You can’t go off on some tangent.”

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