Since the last time we spoke to Josh Mackenzie – frontman and songwriter for Inverness noir-pop stalwarts Lional – back in 2015, he and the band have been busy to say the least. They’ve played at music expos in LA, Sweden and Netherlands, and recorded with the Mercury-nominated producer Colin Elliot. Now ahead of the band’s headline gig at the Ironworks on Saturday, December 23 as part of the IMOUT Records Showcase, and a solo gig at the Market Bar the night after, he tells us what he’s been up to, the overseas trips, and everything in between...
It’s been two and a half years since our last proper catch-up with you (discounting that Blend chat that got spiked but let’s play along here), jeez – where do we start? This weekend Lional have their first hometown gig in six months with the headline slot at the IMOUT showcase on Saturday, and you’re following it up with a solo gig at the Market Bar on Christmas Eve. Looking forward to returning as hometown heroes?
We are genuinely really looking forward to this one. Iain (IMOUT Records boss) asked us about doing it way back at the start of the year, so it’s been a long time in the making.
It’s also the first IMOUT Records event to take place at the Ironworks so it’s a big occasion and a real honour to headline given the calibre of acts on the label. We have such a good set ready for it. Loads of fresh songs and just the right amount of golden oldies.
It’s been a (relatively, at least) quiet year for Lional, gig-wise – but there’s been murmurings of recordings with Mercury-nominated producer Colin Elliot. How was that as a recording and a learning experience for you and the band? What was it like working with Colin? What did you take away from it?
Yes, after three years of pretty much constantly playing gigs and releasing stuff we definitely wanted to take it a bit easier on the gig front this year and focus fully on getting a good batch of songs perfected with no time constraints.
Working with Colin was above all a total joy. He’s produced and played with Richard Hawley for almost 20 years and he’s worked with a host of other big names from Duane Eddy to Jarvis Cocker to Kylie Minogue, so you can go in feeling a bit overwhelmed by someones CV but from the off he was so incredibly down to earth and made it such a relaxing session.
He showed us some production tips he’s picked up along the way, tidied up some things in the songs without totally redesigning them and he was great at adding in little things like percussion to give the songs a more dynamic quality.
All in all it was an invaluable experience we can reference going forward in any future recording session and we have come away with a batch of really great songs that surpass anything we have previously done. Some of which will get an airing at the gig!
Since we last chatted, Lional went global! You’ve had dates at Musexpo in LA, Freezefest in the Netherlands, and EXCITE in Sweden. What’s it been like playing these dates? What did you take away from the experience? Any good stories from your travels?
All of these trips away have been very weird and wonderful and travelling further afield as a band has been a good learning curve and experience as well. Musexpo in LA was an eye opener.
The first night we arrived we were playing a showcase at SIR Studios in Hollywood and down the hall backstage from where we were playing Zara Larsson was in a studio room rehearsing her tune Lush Life. She popped out to get a drink from a vending machine and smiled and casually said “Hey” to us.
I had absolutely no idea who she was and had never heard the song before. When we got back to the UK, every single day that summer I heard it on the radio and it was number one for about three months.
We also bumped into Johnny Depp on Hollywood Boulevard the next day on our way to pick up our guitars. We didn’t want to bother him, but in spite of there being people dressed up as Edward Scissorhands and Jack Sparrow every 10 yards on that street, this was really him – we could tell because of how homeless he looked.
The sound engineer at SIR, a lovely chap named Garan, later confirmed that it was indeed him. He lives just round the corner from SIR and was going there later on to rehearse with his band The Hollywood Vampires.
Narrowing the viewpoint from the global stage to the relative myopia of Inverness, it’s been just over two years since Season of Salt was released as IMOUT’s first release. It’s been a good two years for Iain and the label since then – and it’s great to see a local label get a showcase at the Ironworks. How has it been for yourselves working with the label over the last few years, being kind of the first ones to jump on board? Apart from yourselves (of course) who playing at the showcase on Saturday are you most looking forward to seeing?
It’s been good. It’s still very much a DIY set up but Iain has been a great helping hand in taking on roles in organising and promoting that have allowed us to just concentrate on being musicians. Genuinely looking forward to seeing everyone for totally different reasons.
I’m yet to see The Strives play, but I’ve heard bits of recordings and have been mightily impressed. They seem head and shoulders above anything else thats come out of the Inverness area in recent years as far as indie or rock bands go so I’m excited to see them play.
The Little Mill of Happiness have been my favourite local band for some time, I love how they carry themselves on stage, just no messing, good, gritty rock songs with visceral lyrics.
Obviously having a record label such as IMOUT reflects well on Inverness’s music scene and local talent to an extent. Yet gig attendances in this city continue to be pretty horrid outside weekends, and we miss out on quite a few bands who are playing just a few hours away in Aberdeen. As somebody who’s embroiled in music here, and somebody quite well known for being so (you’ve been in the Herald and everything) why do you think there’s not as, shall we say, dynamic a scene as there is in places like Aberdeen/Dundee/Glasgow/Edinburgh? What do you think – or what would you like to see – be done to increase engagement with music in Inverness and the Highlands?
This is going to sound terribly cynical but I’m afraid it’s down to the fact Inverness just doesn’t have a big alternative gig going culture. You can promote Glasgow’s latest hotly tipped, hip indie band to the hills (literally if you want) and back but it just doesn’t interest the wider population of Inverness. The customer just isn’t there.
For a gig to sell out here it normally has to be an act with celebrity status to entice fringe music fans who can make a family event of it. For example, Olly Murs or Brian Adams at the Bught park.
Outwith that, there is probably a loyal gig going circle of 400 that are willing to check out up and coming bands, but you can’t wear them out and expect at least 50 of them to go to gigs week week in, week out, through the week and at weekends.
It’s normally students that attend indie gigs in places like Glasgow and Edinburgh, they are the ones interested in checking out the latest buzz bands but Inverness has virtually zero student population, so we can’t rely on that audience up here.
With all that said, the only solution I can offer is to actually decrease the volume of gigs and be smarter with when the gigs take place so that the maximum amount of said gig-goers pencil it in their diaries and you see a larger collective of them on the night.
Inverness also suffers from the fact there’s the choice of a couple of pubs or a 1000 capacity arena that smaller bands can play. A venue in the middle of say 200-300 would be ideal for bands at the same level as ourselves.
Back on the good, fun stuff – you’re going solo! You’ve been doing a fair few more solo dates this year – with slots at Belladrum, the Market, and an upcoming one at the Beaufort on Hogmanay too (you’re not going full Robbie Williams on us, are you?). How have you been enjoying the solo gigs? What’s been the advantages/challenges of doing them? What song do you most enjoy playing solo that you wouldn’t play with Lional?
It’s definitely a totally different ball game being up there on your own, but it’s really given me a newfound confidence when it comes to going on stage with the band because you realise how much easier it is to have three of your mates up there with you!
Doing the solo gig thing is something I fell into by accident when I was asked one week to fill in for a cancellation at the Market Bar and I thought why not. I do enjoy it, there’s a lot more spontaneity to it and I can play some covers of songs I love, but it’s not something I intend to persue much more than the odd gig here and there.
My favourite Lional tune to do is Lonely So Long. For whatever reason I just think that song really comes to life being stripped right back.
I was looking back over our archive, and came across an interview with you back when you were doing Music Plus four and a half years ago – Lional were only a year old, tops, and you were talking about playing music before you could walk, being starstruck at playing King Tut’s and recording 5am Light. Just under half a decade on, you’ve played dates around the world, you’ve had songs featured in the Herald, and you’ve recorded with award-nominated producers – can you quite believe it yourself?
I remember that interview quite vividly and I can’t quite believe it’s been half a decade! But then, applying a bit more thought and reflection and it does feel like a lifetime ago.
I would say that myself and Lional’s milestones have been gradual and well worked towards in advance. No opportunity we have been afforded was granted overnight, our fan base and popularity has increased in direct accordance with how much time and effort we have put in. So because it’s all been gradual, and not to get all Van Morrison on you, it hasn’t been surprising.
Having said that, I recall being a young teenager at Belladrum 2006 and sharing a bottle of really manky cheap white Cider with a friend in the campsite before going to see The Now, Shutter, Theater Fall and later in the evening the Jyrojets. All really great bands at the time and the tents were packed out.
I remember thinking how amazing it must feel to be in a local band and be able attract a tent full of people to come and hear your own songs. It’s quite amazing to think that 10 years later we are one of those bands, it would be great if there are young loons coming along to see us and thinking the same thing.
Above everything else, what I can’t quite believe is how much we’ve managed to build a big loyal fan base.
After these gigs are through, what’s next on the cards for you and Lional. 2018’s just round the corner – what plans have you got? Any good resolutions?
Well, after the January blues have passed and we get closer to spring we are going to get the ball rolling on the next phase of Lional. That means release some new music and organise a tour to coincide. I really have a lot of faith that the new music we have recorded is really going to get a good reaction.
In the bigger picture we have been seen as a great live band with lots of potential and great ideas that hadn’t quite been executed to perfection yet with our recorded output. I have every confidence that’s changed now.
Lional headline the IMOUT Records showcase at the Ironworks on Saturday (doors 7pm, £10), and Josh himself plays solo at the Market Bar on Sunday (10.30pm, free entry). For showcase tickets, go to www.ironworksvenue.com