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Surprise Surprise: Lemuria Talk Dismissing Expectations and 'Recreational Hate'

Friday, 02 February 2018 Written by Huw Baines

A good surprise requires planning, because it doesn’t take long to see through one that’s been hastily assembled. That must have been playing on Lemuria’s mind as they put the finishing touches to ‘Recreational Hate’.

Back at the tail end of last summer, 700 hands went to pockets to buy the indie-rock band’s latest ‘secret LP’ package. Unlike previous editions, though, this time fans weren’t going to be handed b-sides and rarities. In December, they were the first to get hold of physical copies of their fourth album.

When this plan was revealed to the rest of us, Lemuria also shared Wanted to Be Yours online. The single, a sunny pop song laden with teetering harmonies, made it clear that the surprises wouldn’t be limited to the manner of the record’s release. In the four years since ‘The Distance is So Big’ was released, plenty had changed.

“We definitely knew that people's expectations were low. It was a surprise release and it was our third one,” drummer Alex Kerns says. “There was excitement that the people [who] are going to get this record, they're going to be surprised that it's all new material. But it's also a big leap from everything else we've ever done.”

‘Recreational Hate’ is a sparkling record, but Kerns isn’t wrong about it being a leap. Lemuria always felt like a square peg on Bridge Nine, the hardcore label that put out ‘Pebble’ and ‘The Distance is So Big’, but they had enough guitar chug on their side to make it work. Here, that element of their sound only makes it off the bench fleetingly.

This time they’re far more concerned with complex melodies and wrangling several tonal shifts into a cohesive whole. It helps that Kerns and bassist Max Gregor are a well-oiled unit these days, providing a solid base for Sheena Ozzella’s sinuous riffs and left-field hooks. So, while the soaring More Tunnel will hit the spot for ‘Pebble’ fans, there are also forays into chamber pop (Timber Together) and Fountains of Wayne-style Americana (Kicking In).

Long-time collaborator J. Robbins (an undoubted influence on Kerns’ stop-start time-keeping) returned briefly during recording, but this time around the production reins were largely in the hands of Chris Shaw, who ticked the eclecticism box thanks to a resume featuring classic records by Weezer, Nada Surf, Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest.

“People might think it's too produced,” Kerns admits. “People might think 'my God, this doesn't even sound like Lemuria to me'. I think it still sounds like us, but I think it is, it sounds like us in our 30s as opposed to the stuff that we're known for our from our early 20s.”

‘Recreational Hate’ came together through years of demos sent across timezones by Kerns, Gregor and Ozzella, while they set up their own label to put it out. The final mix was handled by Shaw, even on tracks recorded with Robbins, and designed to smooth out the transitions. It had to feel like one single piece, and it had to play by its own rules. It had to represent who Lemuria are now, not who they were in the past.

“With Chris, before he ever even heard of our band, we gave him the demos for the album,” Kerns says. “We kind of put it to him: ‘We'd really like you to, if possible, not go back and listen to anything else we've done. Just listen to these songs and think about how you would do them.’

“And I think that's what he did. I don't think he ever even went back and listened to anything else. Sometimes, when you go to an engineer or producer, they'll be like, ‘Where's this band coming from? What do they want?’ And what we wanted with this record was something completely different. We didn't want anyone to go in with any kind of bias on what we're supposed to sound like.”

The album’s title is taken from a song that didn’t eventually make the cut. It’s a catch-all for the tossed off bigotry and violence that has become the norm in the US (and beyond) that sets time and place. ‘Recreational Hate’ isn’t a political record in the traditional sense, but it is an album about the here and now.

It’s a look at what it’s like to have a roadmap in front of you that you don’t necessarily want to follow. It’s about confronting that reality, whether you want to or not, and accepting the confusion or, hopefully, satisfaction that follows. “Closer I get, less I see,” an uncertain Kerns sings on the eventually triumphant More Tunnel.

“Even though we are getting older we still don't really know who we are. We're always changing,” he says. “A lot of people, by the time they're 35, they're gonna have this solid job, they might have two or three kids, you know. All these things that make you kind of a normal adult. But none of us really have any of those things. We still keep the band going even though we all live so far from each other.

“It's been like that for eight or nine years, and for all of us we really can't imagine not doing it. A big part of "Closer I get, less I see" is that I don't know what we're working towards, you know? What are we doing? We're all working our day jobs when we're home, we're all struggling to still make payments on everything and yet we still just dump everything into this band.”

Expectation, of course, bridges your private and public lives when you’re in a band that’s built a loyal following. But ‘Recreational Hate’ isn’t really concerned with that. The songs are different. They sound different. They sound confident. As Kerns puts it, it’s a record that refuses to “dig its own hole” when it comes to what others think it should achieve.

“At this point people have expectations and we, you know, really don't want to have to deal with that,” he says. “If we're always doing what's expected of us, whether it's what our listeners expect or what our family expect, like having kids or whatever, you're not even being yourself anymore. You're just kind of doing stuff and trying to please everybody else instead of doing something that's honest.”

‘Recreational Hate’ is out now.

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