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One Step Back, Two Steps Forward: Mike Lindsay On Rekindling the Magic of Tunng

Wednesday, 17 October 2018 Written by Helen Payne

“Progressive folk… acid wonk pop?"

Mike Lindsay is trying to pin down a term to best describe the sound of Tunng, his long-running, free-roaming band, who recently released their sixth LP, ‘Songs You Make At Night’ and have an exciting live tour just around the corner. It’s not a task that musicians usually relish, or even countenance. But it’s fine. “I’m down with genre defining,” he muses over the phone from his home in Margate. “Back in the day it was useful to pigeonhole, to put people in a box.”

The nature of Tunng’s music is a factor: they’re your archetypal ‘genre-defying’ band. Formed in 2004, the experimental nature of their sound was the catalyst for an entirely new sphere: folktronica. “We were written about a lot,” Lindsay says. “And we were used as sort of championing the scene.” With foundations in several folk spheres - paganistic touches, traditional structures, and the British new wave of the ‘60s - they set about building contemporary elements. Their debut release, 2004's ‘Mothers Daughter and Other Tales’, took that to an extreme with acoustic fingerpicking, wacky samples and synths. The folktronica title felt apt. “Not everybody likes it,” Lindsay laughs. “And I can understand why.”

It’s important to go back to the start when discussing ‘Songs You Make At Night’. It’s been over a decade since Tunng released material in their original formation, with  co-founder Sam Genders leaving in 2007 to focus on other things, following the release of ‘Good Arrows’. Prior to his exit the six-piece line up rolled out a trio of excellent sonic landscapes that pushed the boundaries of traditional acoustic folk and electronic innovation.

Tunng were left to figure out what was next. They unveiled two more lovely albums, ‘...And Then We Saw Land’ and ‘Turbines’, allowing other members to take the spotlight more, and various side projects materialised. Out on his own, Genders formed the indie-pop band Diagrams. Lindsay moved to Reykjavik and started Cheek Mountain Thief, and released an LP as LUMP, a superb collaboration with indie-folk treasure Laura Marling, earlier in 2018. Electronics wizard Phil Winter plays in Wrangler and Creep Show with John Grant.

​There were several other groups and amalgamations, but a turning point arrived in 2016 when Lindsay and Genders joined forces once again for the post-rock-synth-pop group Throws, which brings us back to the here and now. “Throws was the first time we’d written together, or jumped around the stage together, or even been in the same room together, for a really long time,” he says. “It felt pretty good.”

A few years later, Genders and Lindsay teamed up again for what was intended to be a second Throws album, but their plans were almost immediately halted. “Within about two songs it just felt so very Tunng,” he says. “Both of us independently, without speaking to each other, thought ‘if this was Tunng, it would make much more sense’.” So they started writing for a Tunng record. “We got everyone involved, and it was an organic, natural way of being. Suddenly we were all back together.”

Sometimes a step back to your roots is what’s required to be able to move forward. For Lindsay, it was a cathartic process. He hadn't listened to those early Tunng records for years. “We had to remind ourselves of how we used to write, and where that magic - we felt like it was magic back in the day - where that came from,” he says. “At this point, 15 years on almost, it was time to regroup from where we came in order to take it to a new direction.”

If Genders and Lindsay bonding together again, sonically and lyrically, was a return to the old ways, the recording process for ‘Songs you Make At Night’ was entirely new. The band - completed by Ashley Bates, Phil Winter, Becky Jacobs and Martin Smith - laid down their parts remotely and they were later reassembled. “Everyone kind of reacted to that,” Lindsay says. “Ashley [Bates] would send in these nylon string guitar parts from his home studio in Somerset, which would take the tune in a totally different direction. Then we would kind of react back to that. People were hearing things and recording things, and sending those back to me.”

The six members were only in the same room together perhaps two or three times throughout the entire recording process. It’s a very modern way of doing things, but it’s also a simpler, more creative way of going about making a record according to Lindsay. “Less heated debate,” he admits, “And more in their own time. Maybe with a couple of bottles of wine to figure out their own parts, then send it in.”

And those creative juices really have overflowed on the new album. From the sticky synths and ‘70s erotica samples (“a strange gift” from a girlfriend, jokes Lindsay) on ABOP to the beat-driven groove of Dark Heart and the other-worldliness of Evaporate, ‘Songs You Make At Night’ is Tunng at their most refined, yet still utilising those off-kilter elements that made the band so unique.

While harking back to an earlier time, the album also delves deep into lush new themes. Imagery of water, dreams, sleepwalking and the beauty of light and dark invade each song. “Sam had had this feeling since the beginning. He was trying to write songs that used water as a metaphor for the subconscious,” Lindsay recalls. “As the record started to develop, we tried to think of the whole thing as a sleep cycle. Each tune is a different part of your dream.”

Sounding like his eyes have grown wider, ignited by intrigue, Lindsay adds: “Or in fact, maybe a different part of Jenny’s dream.” That’s a nod towards their second release, ‘Comments Of The Inner Chorus’, where Jenny is a troubled character who kills her husband because she’s in love with his brother. Lindsay reveals that they didn’t have a choice about her coming back in 2018, thanks to a coincidence that freaked everyone out.

“She came to us,” Lindsay says. “It was a strange time. I’d recently moved to Margate. Sam came round to a flat we were renting where we had everything set up, trying to finish the record. But I’d never met the person we were renting it from.” The landlord, it turns out, is a woman named Amber, who was once in one of their videos. Excitedly, Lindsay exclaims: “The girl we’re renting the flat from is Jenny! From our Jenny Again video.”

You can’t ignore that kind of sign. Jenny was back. “The whole thing is her sleep cycle,” Lindsay says. “A character with a chequered past is now a few years on. She’s moved to the seaside and is trying to sort out her life, but has problems sleeping.” Twelve years on, Jenny has got away with killing her husband, split up with the brother, and is trying to figure out her time by the sea. “It’s quite loose, but it’s a way of getting into the textures of the sounds and understanding how to weave the record,” Lindsay says.

Tunng plan to take things one step further with their upcoming UK tour. There’s been a call for attendees at the live shows to send in recordings of stories from their own dreams. Ever elusive, when asked to divulge how they will be incorporated into the performance, Lindsay simply says: “ Well… you’ll just have to come to the show.”

It’s an exciting new chapter for the band. Lindsay wasn’t sure if people would be ready for it, or even care about Tunng anymore. “But they do,” he says. “And they like it! It feels really great to come back with a strong record and a strong feeling of togetherness. I think we’re definitely gonna do more.”

‘Songs You Make At Night’ is out now.

Tunng Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Wed October 17 2018 - BIRMINGHAM Hare and Hounds
Thu October 18 2018 - MANCHESTER Gorilla
Fri October 19 2018 - HEBDEN BRIDGE Trades Club
Tue October 23 2018 - BRIGHTON Komedia
Wed October 24 2018 - BRISTOL Fiddlers Club
Thu October 25 2018 - LONDON Islington Assembly Hall

Click here to compare & buy Tunng Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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