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"It Felt Like Being In A New Band Again": Lower Than Atlantis' Mike Duce Talks 'Safe In Sound'

Thursday, 02 February 2017 Written by Laura Johnson

Lower Than Atlantis have been through the ringer.

A few years ago they were signed to a major label, fulfilling a dream, only for the relationship to dissolve after a single album. But their response was to graft their way towards what would become their most successful record to date, 2014’s self-titled LP.

Until now, perhaps. ‘Safe In Sound’ is an album that frontman Mike Duce believes can take the band to the next level. It sees Lower Than Atlantis indulge their pop leanings while remaining true to their rock roots. Candid lyrics and choruses are rife throughout, with the album picking up where past highlights Criminal and Here We Go left off.

We spoke with Duce about the band’s approach to the LP, creative control and the lessons learnt in the last five years.

You released your last album over two years ago. Have you used all that time to write or did you decide to take a break?

Between ‘Changing Tune’ and the self-titled we had two years off, but we didn’t. We were still doing band stuff behind the scenes trying to figure out what the fuck we were going to do with no label and no management. But after the whole self-titled period - at the end of last year we did our biggest headline tour to date back then, so we played Roundhouse and stuff like that - we all took a very well deserved few months off, which was lovely. Everyone went on holiday, saw their girlfriends and family, which was nice. God, it’s probably nearly fucking six months we had off I think, or just under, which is unheard of.

Then the writing started, but it was still enough time. It was still chilled. For the first time ever we knew what the next album was going to be like. We knew what we didn’t like about the self-titled and we knew what had worked really well song-wise. We were all in agreement that when we came to do the next album it was going to sound like ‘this’ but without ‘this’ kind of vibe. So it was fairly straightforward. And we’re all fucking brilliant musicians aswell so we nailed it straight away (laughs).

How was the album recorded, did you hole yourselves up the studio for weeks at a time?

We wrote two or three [tracks], then recorded them, and then wrote another two and recorded them, we did it that way. Because it becomes like a production line thing. We’re very lucky that we have our own recording studio. With a lot of bands they’ll book into a studio and you’re working under time constraints. First of all you have to book studio time, which is very stressful. It’s like: ‘Oh my God the album has to be written by this point.’ And then when you get in the studio it’s like: ‘We’ve only got this amount of time’. Which, with the money the label spend on it, you’re probably not going to recoup anyway.

So when you get in there it’s like record ALL of the drums and ALL of the bass and then ALL of the guitars, and it’s just not a very creative experience. So for us we decided to record it in groups of two or three so we could really give our full attention to those two songs at a time and make them sound as good as possible. Some of them are quite minimal to be fair, but some of them are quite production heavy, so it takes a long time in order to get it right.

It was more fun. It was like when we started the band and everyone would save up a couple of hundred from working and we’d be able to go and record one song. It was really exciting to go in and make that song sound as good as you possibly can and then can’t you wait to write the next song. It felt like that. It felt like being in a new band again.

Did you record everything in house? Who was in charge of production?

With this album we recorded the drums in a studio called The Pool in East London, solely because our studio is a control room, a live room and gear storage. So our room is probably slightly too small to get a big room sound, a big strong sound. It’s great for close mic stuff but not so good for big room drums, which is what our band sounds like, basically. So we recorded the two albums [self-titled and ‘Safe In Sound’] there.

‘Safe In Sound’ was produced by Dan Lancaster and Ben [Sansom - guitarist] engineered some of it, so he was recording us playing the guitars in our own studio. The way it worked was that Dan sat in on the drum recordings and then we went off to our own studio and recorded all the guitars and bass stuff. Then I went off to Dan’s house or my flat and just recorded vocals. It was done everywhere really. The only reason I went to Dan’s to record vocals was because he couldn’t be bothered to come to ours. It was so fucking chilled, man.

Tell us more about your studio at Titan in Watford. You built it from the payout when leaving your previous label Island, correct?

Titan is owned by our friend Steve Sears, who is a producer, a great producer, and we own a fifth of it. He has about a fifth of it as well, for his recording studio, then there’s a few rehearsal rooms, a drum tutor has a room there and he has students. There’s a tattoo studio in there. It’s like a complex, basically, that our friend Steve owns. We pay him rent on our studio which we built from the termination of the Island contract, which was hilarious. It was so funny.

I don’t know why they [Island] fucking signed us to be honest. They thought we were going to be the next Beatles, which is the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. So anyway, they signed us, and we didn’t sell a million records. Obviously. Anyway, the first album [‘Changing Tune’], they weren’t happy with it. We were well fucking happy, we thought it was amazing. And then second album, they picked up the option and our manager went in to talk to them about where we were going to record and who was going to produce it and they said they didn’t want to do it. Our manager was like: ‘OK, fair enough, but you picked up the option’. They were like: ‘No we haven’t.’ She was like: ‘You fucking have, mate!” They didn’t even realise.

The option they gave us was: ‘Alright, because we’re legally obliged we’ll put out the album, but no-one wants to do it and there’ll be no marketing spend.’ All of this ‘we’re not wasting any more money on them’. Or... ‘They can take their full advance and leave.’ She put it to us and we were like: ‘Give us the money, obviously.’ So we built ourselves our own recording studio and rehearsal studio, which is the dream for any artist, and then we split the rest of it. So we were able to have that two years off to work on the studio and get it up to scratch, and then write and record our most successful album afterwards. It’s like the biggest fuck you, hilariously. We invited them all to the Roundhouse as well, they came.

Is it fair to say ‘Safe In Sound’ picks up where Criminal left off?

Yeah, definitely. Songs like Here We Go and Criminal, the heavier ones, are what people seem to want from our band and we love playing those songs live. And then songs like I Would and Could Be Worse are more reminiscent of our fan-favourite album, ‘World Record’, so it’s like the best bits of our band, and then a couple of new things. There’s a track Boomerang, which is very heavily produced. We were like: ‘Fuck it, let’s just do one of them because we can for a laugh.’ Do a pop track and see what comes out.

There seems to be themes of defiance and perseverance running through the record. Is this a middle finger to those who are unsupportive?

It’s more to do with me personally, because I’m the biggest Lower Than Atlantis fan there is. Songs like Could Be Worse and Work For It, the songs with messages, are more for me to listen to and be reminded. Obviously they help other people as well, but I’m a selfish wanker, so…

With Ben engineering a large part of the album and drummer Eddy Thrower being responsible for the creative aspects of its campaign, is it fair to say that creative control is important to the band?

What we learned from signing to a major label was that, because we’d been a band for six years when we signed, we were like: ‘Oh fuck, that’s it, we’ve made it, we’ve done it!’ And we just sat back and the label sat back as well. Nothing really happened. It sort of all went to shit. But we saw that as the end goal, getting signed, whereas the reality is that’s when the hard work starts.

We still are essentially an independent band, we do everything ourselves. It’s that old saying: ‘If you want something done properly do it yourself.’ You can sit there reading emails and someone sends you something back and forth all day long for weeks until you get it right, or you can just do it yourself and it’s exactly how you want it when you want it.

We enjoy it as well. I think we’re more like a real band now. It feels like that to us anyway. We’re heavily involved in every aspect. There are two guys at the label we deal with, and we use them for the capital, like an investment essentially, to do stuff. And then we don’t know anything about marketing so they deal with that. That’s it, we do everything else ourselves.

You’ve said your upcoming tour is going to be the “biggest, boldest and most ambitious” you’ve ever done. What can we expect?

It’s going to be bigger everything. Dec [Hart - bassist] normally deals with the live show. We all have different roles in the band. Ben records demos and stuff for us, Eddy deals with the aesthetic, the artwork and stuff, I do the writing and Dec does the live show.

This sounds really awful, and I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but for every tour before this one we would rehearse for a day, literally one day, and then go on tour, which is awful. But we take it a lot more seriously now. We’ve been rehearsing at least once a week, maybe twice a week, for a few weeks now and the tour’s still not for a while. We haven’t talked about it, but I think that subconsciously it’s because we’re all like: ‘OK, this is real now. We need to fucking take it seriously.’

So we’re going to sound better for one, and there’s been a lot more thought gone into the set as a cohesive piece of music itself. And I guess production wise you have to step up the game for those big venues to make it more of a show. So it’s just going to be all round the best fucking show we’ve ever put on in terms of performance, production, the set, just everything. It’s going to be great.

'Safe In Sound' is out on February 3 through Easy Life Records.

Lower Than Atlantis Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Thu March 09 2017 - NORWICH Norwich Nick Rayns LCR UEA
Fri March 10 2017 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Sat March 11 2017 - MANCHESTER Academy
Mon March 13 2017 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Tue March 14 2017 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy Newcastle
Wed March 15 2017 - GLASGOW O2 ABC Glasgow
Fri March 17 2017 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sat March 18 2017 - CARDIFF Cardiff University Students Union

Click here to compare & buy Lower Than Atlantis Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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