Interview by Isabella Eastwood - April 2020
In the first of a virtual set of Isolation Interviews, I speak to Robin of Deer Leader, one of LNFG’s more recent recruits. Resentfully eyeing up the garden he is sitting in, the conversation rolls out easily – isolation makes friends out of all of us – and Robin explains why Deer Leader didn’t cover his favourite track off the Lemon Drink EP, jigsaw puzzles, and “the need to be the shiniest hamster on the wheel”.
Needless to say, a lockdown will impact everybody differently, with some finding a more space to breathe, while others will feel the physicality of the walls around them more than before. The sudden change of rhythm throws into relief how we tend to live our lives nowadays, constantly, as Robin remarks, “needing to fill an invisible timetable”.
At the same time, it has been in the act of defining projects and setting deadlines that he has been able to keep sane. “It helps to make time feel more linear when you think ‘I want to get this done’, and organise it day by day.”
And in terms of how the drastic reversal of all usual habits and schedules has affected his ability to be creative, Robin finds that, if anything, he has been more focused and productive than before.
“A big advantage of this is that the idea of FOMO doesn’t really exist anymore. You’re not getting distracted by having to go to this thing or that thing, and in terms of my creative work rate I’ve been a lot better.”
Turning to the Isolation Sessions, Robin explains why they chose to cover Lemon Drink’s “Pull Your House Down”. Or rather, he explains why they didn’t go with “Manic”, his favourite song off the EP: “I did wonder if a white man in his thirties would somewhat take away from the sincerity… I don’t think the lyrics would have been quite as cutting” he muses.
“The song we went for is quite poppy but it does have a darkness to it, and we had a lot of fun with developing that and bringing it out,” he continues, “I roughly came up with an arrangement, put the keyboard in, messed about with some vocals, added some samples, and then sent it over to Ross and told him to go a bit nuts, and he added some bits and went darker in some places.”
“I also spliced up the original recording and reinserted some of the vocals into our version so it still refers back to the original,” he adds, “we do hope that the Lemon Drink folks love it. Or at least think “We didn’t go down that road, that was a good idea”. We could have laboured over it for weeks but we tried not to overthink it too much.”
I ask if this is a balance he struggles with often: working on something enough versus overworking it. “Oooh my god. Oh yes. Oh god yes,” his exhalation betrays exasperation. “I’m the worst for it. Ross and Stuart are better at that, and our former producer Andy Miller was also really good at saying “You’re over-egging the pudding. Stop it.”
“If we don’t draw a line under what we’ve done, we risk always returning to it. Not doing this full-time means you have more space for creativity but it also means you need to be more strict with yourself.”
Working with other people however has made this overthinking a little easier: “You realise you need to leave space for other people to add something, to let them fit their piece into the jigsaw puzzle. We got good at really listening and saying to someone ‘I think something is missing here, what do you think that is’ instead of going in and working on it yourself.”
When it comes to working together, it again seems like the lockdown has contributed to productivity rather than taken away from it. But their methods had already made the digital migration before then
“Before we used to meet in the pub, which would often end up being … rather unproductive. We had to become really organised because we do this outside our own jobs and if you don’t do this it just fizzles out, which has happens to a lot of people I know, and you really need to prioritise.”
The current situation is then something of an extension of what they were doing before, when they realised that in order to progress, they had to shift their habits into another gear. As concerns “Pull The House Down” specifically, Robin describes the process: “We set up a digital workspace, and there was a wee bit of back and forth. There was some discussion of percussion, and as Stuart was unwell, Ross was able to pick some of his drumming from other tracks so he was still involved.”
Working collaboratively and being creative means being open to just about anything, Robin goes on to say: “You’ve got to throw as much against the wall as you can, then go back and start taking things out. That’s what I’ve learned. You’ve got to try it, and when you finish, you need to really consider the different elements: are they adding to the song? If not, take them away. Will they sit in the background to add more texture?”
But he is wary of this habit of excessively looking at past music or focusing on the next step. So I will leave you with this last little nugget of wisdom:
“I’ve come to realise that any good thing in music is always just a big bonus: finishing the album, working with Andy, people coming to your gigs who aren’t your mates is a massive, massive bonus. And it’s easy to keep on looking for the next thing, and it’s good for ambition. But you need to really enjoy and appreciate what’s happening moment to moment because otherwise you’ll look back and realise you didn’t notice because you were always looking somewhere else. There’s always this desperate need to be the shiniest hamster on the wheel.”