LV feat. Joshua Idehen – ‘Northern Line’
There is nothing quite like Routes, LV and Joshua Idehen’s new album.
Released at the start of this month through Keysound, it’s an expansion on last year’s 38 EP from Lv & Idehen, but that description only tells half the story.
It might be the greatest London album you’ll hear this year – a breath of fresh air in the face of the pastel-tinged dance music that’s started to taint more and more of the London underground in the past twelve months, full of diversity, colour, fun and poignancy. Vocalist Josh Idehen might appear Marmite at first, but after a few rides on Routes, only the most cold-hearted listeners could object to him.
At times inescapable, but ultimately inseparable from the music – where many dance acts justify their debut albums with generic guest vocalists, LV’s here fourth member makes this record totally unique. The production is no less special, ranging from smoky summer garage to life-affirming rave on the cruelly short ‘Primary Colours’. FACT caught up with the four of them to discuss how the album came about.
Obviously Routes is a follow-up to 38 in many ways – it’s a London-inspired record by the four of you with many of the same reference points as the EP. Did you always have an collaborative album in mind when you were working together, or was it something you realised you wanted to do after 38 had been out a while?
Will Horrocks: “No, we hadn’t even thought about doing this album until Martin asked us to do it early on in 2010. The EP hadn’t been out long when he did that so I think it was a request based on an interest in hearing what an album might sound like rather than any commercial motive. As LV we’d been thinking about doing a more extended project at the time so this seemed like a good way to provide a focus for that.”
Josh Idehen: “Yeah, it was pretty much a Martin led project – both of them. The guys were busy, and I was doing my band Benin City, far as I know Martin suggested following up with an album, we had a chat, thought it could be fun, quick and easy and got to it. Oh were we wrong!”
Gervase Gordon: “Well in some ways 38 felt more like a short album than a long single… when we were putting it together we even joked about releasing it as one audio file. but yeah around that time in 2010 we were starting to think about doing something a bit longer so when Martin encouraged us to imagine what an LV & Josh album could be like, it seemed like quite a natural progression. And we have alot of respect for what Dusk and Blackdown are doing with Keysound so it felt like a natural progression with that as well.”
Simon Williams: “Not much I can add to that, Martin asked us to do it and we were happy to oblige!”
How long did it take to make the album? And were they any particular obstacles along the way, or memorable moments that shaped it?
WH: “It took about a year from Martin asking the question to delivering it. The first six months was us sending stuff to Josh and him writing to it. In about May last year we started recording Josh and then from June/July onwards we produced the album into its current state. We had the usual obstacles of finding the time when we could all focus on the project and inevitably when something takes a while to do it’s hard to stay objective about the material. Each of the tracks went through numerous stages in development, and lots just got thrown away. Memorable moment might be Josh recording ‘Northern Line’ after having chanted it at us for what seemed like months.”
SW: “It definitely took longer than we were expecting. The mixing stage lasted for several months, during which time we seemed to always be two weeks away from finishing… it was great getting to that stage though, when we realised we had enough raw material to make the album and could concentrate of making it all as good as it could be.”
JI: “I’d never done an album before, plus I’d been sent about 40 beats which was an undertaking. To say I had a bit of a block is an understatement. But Gerv, Wil and Si were understanding, as well as busy themselves. Meeting up was an issue, ’cause everyone was busy, so when we had to record, I had to do 20+ poems in a day. Recording ‘Northern Line’ was particularly memorable: I didn’t have any lyrics, other than the chorus and “Morden Morden, High Barnet” and a few ideas, someone said “just freestyle it”, and away we went.”
GG: “That ‘Northern Line’ session was great, he’d been recording some other stuff and it came to the end of the session and he just blazed down a couple of semi-improvised takes. Thinking about it now there were a few memorable moments. like I remember Will singing the bassline for ‘Melt’ at me and that track suddenly growing some balls. and I remember when ‘Murkish Delights’ came together out of a cool studio jam, and I remember Si and Will playing me ‘Tough’ after they’d added the slap bass. It is quite strange though to think now of all the scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor and all the other places Routes could’ve gone. It’s gonna sound well geeky, but one of the memorable things about this album for me is the synth we were using quite alot at the time… A crackly old Korg MS-10 that belongs to Untold – totally volatile, fucked-up and noisy but so much fun.”
How did you – Josh and LV – meet, anyway? Were you aware of each other’s work?
WH: “We met in 2007 through Musa Okongwa who is an old friend of my girlfriend’s brother. I met Josh at a night they were running [A Poem Inbetween People] and decided to give something a go. We recorded various things over a few weeks including versions of ‘Early Mob’ and ‘Face of God’ from the 38 EP.”
JI: “I vaguely knew them before then from their work with Yungun.”
GG: “Yeah, I remember him as the loudest of these three guys who turned up one day to record poems, with loads of banter and mad energy. ‘Loud’ was pretty much my first impression of him. I’ve since seen him do his spoken word thing, it’s disarmingly sincere, I’m a fan. I like what he does with us though, I think because he’s freer to say less. He is still quite loud though.”
SW: “That first studio session was memorable for sure! It was the first time I’d heard Josh’s words and voice and I remember thinking that the tone of his voice was pleasing to my ears.”
Josh, what’s your background? A quick google brings up your work with A Poem Inbetween People.
JI: “I’m a writer/poet. Started Poejazzi, a very good successful poetry/music night the whole world should know about, poetry collective PiP and alt-hop band Benin City. I’ve worked with Dan le Sac, have been published in an anthology alongside Linton Kwesi Johnson and have a bunch of stuff I’m doing elsewhere.”
The LV guys said when I interviewed them before that whereas 38 was quite straight in its process – they made the beats and Josh vocalled them – this was more back-and-forth, like there’s manipulation on Josh’s voice at points and so forth. Were you guys constantly in the studio together when making the record together, or was it more sending bits each other’s way? I’m always interested as to how different MC/producer combination approach this sort of thing – I think on a lot of Cannibal Ox’s Cold Vein the MCs did their stuff acapella and El-P built the beats up around them from scratch, for instance.
WH: “We initially sent Josh about 40-50 beats to work with. He wrote to most of them and recorded them all in a fairly short period of time over last summer. After that point we took all his words away and pretty much wrote the album to them. We treated his vocals as a source of noise and rhythm as much as a source of linguistic images and meaning so we were glad that when we sent him the finished album 4 or 5 months later that he was happy with what we had done. In some ways it might seem like an odd way of collaborating but Josh’s absence for this period gave us a lot of freedom to do things that, although he might have been happy with them, we might not have done if he’d been sitting behind us at the time.”
GG: “Josh wrote a huge amount of material for this thing, he’d send these epic emails… and he’d write so many drafts sometimes it was hard keeping track of them. There was definitely a fair bit of chat and editing of things down and stuff would be changing right up until and during the recording sessions. but as Will said, once we had definitive versions of the poems recorded it was almost like we could think again about it from a sonic perspective. There was never a single decision to process or manipulate all the vocals tho, that was more about making each individual tune cool and trying to bring the voice and the music closer together.”
SW: “Absolutely, we started off working in a fairly standard way but ended up rebuilding the vast majority of the tracks. Apart from this process helping to bring the voice and music closer, I felt we needed to do it in order to make the tracks sit well together in an album context. When you’re trying to create a group of tunes it’s important to think about context. A tune that works well on its own may not play well with others…”
It’s an album that musically and lyrically seems to work in two halves – you have the more summery, garage-y first half, then it turns on ‘Primary Colours” axis into quite a subtly dark record. Is there some sort of – pardon the phrase – conceptual intent with that, or did it just seem like a natural way to divide the material you made?
WH: “No. We really only wanted to make an album that had some contour and dynamics to it. Rather than sticking to one mood or BPM or genre or theory we wanted a piece that worked in a similar way to some of our favourite albums - Entroducing and Madvillainy were my two album benchmarks. Once we had most of the album tracks done we started to think about the way they would work together in terms of a running order; it was at this stage that we started to look at the project not as a collection of tracks but as a single piece. There was no particular concept or reason for the way the album flows it just felt right for it to unfold in the way it does.”
GG: “Actually it’s interesting that a couple of people have said that to me now, like the album has these two sides to it or two distinct moods… with ‘Primary Colours’ as some kind of weird tuning point… but as Will said, i think that probably came more from trying to make it all flow than any conceptual approach to it as an album”
SW: “We did experiment with the track order a lot in order to get the flow of the album right but can’t claim that we consciously split the album into two halves.”
Is there any particular place, or places that you were coming from with the production on this album? Obviously there are links to previous LV work but there’s also a lot of uncharted territory – that we’ve seen on the released LV stuff, anyway.
WH: “Not really – one of the reasons for the title of the record is that it describes the process of moving through rather than towards or away from any one location. We didn’t set out to make a record that sounded like anything in particular but we didn’t shy away from things we liked just because we could hear a particular reference in there. It would have been boring for us to make a record full of ‘Boomslang’ clones using Josh’s voice, or if we’d tried to do with Josh what we did with Dandelion or Errol Bellot. And since we hadn’t specifically intended any of those records to sound like they do either it would have been a bit disingenuous to do so. What keeps music exciting to make is creating something new, and while we don’t make any claims to be redefining music-as-we-know-it, at least we’re keeping ourselves entertained.”
GG: “I totally agree with that. I suppose it comes down to not wanting external preconceptions of us to affect what we do too much. Then again i fight that contrary impulse, it’s probably quite self-defeating to always be trying to contradict people’s preconceptions.”
SW: “We’ve always produced in a variety of styles and tempos but when you’re releasing singles the variety only shows accross releases. It seemed quite natural to include this variety in the production of the album.”