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'It Seemed To Come From Somewhere Outside of Us': Jonathan Meiburg Talks Loma's Sublime Debut

Thursday, 06 December 2018 Written by Helen Payne

Photo: Bryan C. Parker
We’re rarely short of a collaboration to get excited about, but 2018 nevertheless stands out as a banner year. Whether they were born out of a desire for blockbuster streaming figures, an attempt to reinvent an artist’s image, or simply the itch to work with one of your closest musical mates, this year’s best and worst tie ups spanned genres, countries and cultures. At the time of writing, nine of the top 20 songs on the Billboard chart are collabs. Working together, it seems, has never been so fruitful.
Yet among the extensive list of joint ventures—and there’s more than enough to be said about Kanye and Cudi’s Kids See Ghosts, the god-tier indie-rock supergroup Boygenius, Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner’s Big Red Machine project or Mike Lindsay and Laura Marling’s cyclical Lump—you’ll find one of the year’s finest collaborative albums has been a little overlooked.
Loma is a trio made up of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg along with Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski of the indie-folk band Cross Record. Their debut self-titled LP was released by Sub Pop back in February, and its rich, encompassing sound has stuck around with those who took it to heart. But why did they decide to team up and, in the process, step outside their comfort zones to create something entirely new? Meiburg’s answer is simple: “Why not?”
From the ethereal opener Who is Speaking? through the heart-wrenching I Don’t Want Children and the grounded, laid back synth-pop of Relay Runner, Loma crafted an understated masterpiece by transcending any kind of expectations or formalities. “There’s something very special about the album,” Meiburg says. “It seemed to come from somewhere outside the three of us.”

Shearwater and Cross Record toured together across America together in 2016, and after sharing close quarters on the road, Meiburg believes they “instantly developed a musical crush on one another.” It then felt natural for them to join forces, setting in motion another musical journey that took them to Duszynski’s studio, a house in the countryside near Austin, Texas.

Where some of the more headline-grabbing collaborations of 2018 have seen two solo artists team up as a half-and-half formation, the mechanical workings of Loma were built from a married couple, Cross and Duszynski, with Meiburg playing the role of third wheel. He would primarily take on songwriting duties, crafting lyrics and a main melody before working on a rough arrangement with Duszynski, who helmed the production side of things. Then the blueprints would pass to Cross, who would change them again ahead of providing her hauntingly delicate vocals.

“We all contributed the seeds of songs,” Meiburg says, noting that these seeds could be as simple as a field recording from around the studio—the croak of frogs and the whooshing of leaves outside, or the drumbeat clang of a cast-iron cooking pot breakfast was made in one morning. There were no rules in the making of ‘Loma’, with no designated drummer, bass player, or guitarist, rather everyone chipping in with sounds they found lying around the place. Inspiration there was rife. “I loved the sound that Emily and Dan were able to make as a duo—surprising, enveloping, dark and mysterious—and I loved the challenge of writing for someone else to sing, which I’d never done,” Meiburg says.

The result is an impeccable, tranquil record that explores themes of growth and reflection. Across 10 songs, ‘Loma’ contemplates ideas of self through intricate sonic textures. It’s easy to get lost in the echoing soundscapes, experimental percussion, subtle beats and electronic motifs that invade its canvas. “The albums I like most feel almost as if they’re listening to you,” Meiburg says. “I think this album does that in its best moments.”

Dan and Emily parted ways as a couple during the making of the album, which released a certain energy into it and really drove home the motif of change. “They both put all they had into finishing the record, which amazed me,” Meiburg admits. “I’m still kind of in awe of them for having the courage to do that. Lyrically I didn’t want to take that head-on, but it’s certainly there if you want to look for it.”

Cross’s evocative expressions work seamlessly with the clean cut production of her former husband, with both supporting the other’s role to propel Loma’s sound. There is one distinct theme that takes over: the necessity of destroying parts of yourself in order to grow new ones. As a result the LP is a stunning, bittersweet thing that cannot be extricated from the destruction of Cross and Duszynski’s relationship.

Meiburg is as proud of this record as anything he’s ever made, but like many projects, ‘Loma’ is yet another case of being beloved by a few, and ignored by many. “I think more people would fall under its spell if they knew about it,” he says. “But it’s really hard to get anyone to pay attention to anything these days in the media onslaught we’re all awash in.” There isn’t too much time to wait to get on board with Loma, though, as their second album is already in the works, with a tentative release date of late next year or perhaps early 2020. “You can expect the same sense of adventure, but with a different palette,” Meiburg says.

The answer then, is clear. Despite big-name artists working together for chart-topping singles, ticket sales and stacks on stacks on stacks, it is the love of the craft, the desire for new inspiration, and a ravenous appetite to produce something meaningful that underpinned one of the year’s most affecting collaborative works. Meiburg agrees, calling ‘Loma’ the “most satisfying musical experience I’ve had.”

Helen Payne is a staff writer at Stereoboard. She's on Twitter.

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