Over the past few years, The Lighthouse and the Whaler have transformed from a folk-leaning group into the expansive, genre-blurring band it is today. Fresh off the heels of the release of their new album Mount Royal – featuring a dynamic collection of feel good tunes showcasing the bands growth – we had to interview them.
LYFSTYL’s Editor (Mwinyi Topping) had a chance to speak with two of the band members (Michael and Mark) for a quick interview: where we discuss their new album, writing process, challenges and their upcoming show on October 10, at The Drake Hotel in Toronto.
Did you grow up in a musical household?
Michael: Sort of. My mom sang at the Church we went to every Sunday and that was really the extent of my tangible musical interaction with my parents, mainly they really pushed my brothers and I to pursue at least one instrument and learn it to the best of our abilities.
Mark: Yes. Mainly just my mother. My mom has always played piano and sang. I remember falling asleep many nights hearing her playing in the other room.
What is your song writing process like? Are you a music first writer? And do you need complete silence when coming up with lyrics?
Mark: Michaels answer would probably be different than mine. I am primarily a music first writer, but sometimes lyrics or themes have influenced the melodies and chord structure for me. I do like silence when thinking through lyrics but it is not always a necessity.
Michael: I would say I come up with the music first 95% of the time. I really feel that knowing the emotion of the song and where it’s going is important to my lyrical process. I want to feel the lyrics in the music to the point that sometimes during writing sessions I sing things off the cuff that find their way permanently into a song. That spontaneous emotion can be catalyzing.
Do you have a favorite track that you’ve written?
Michael: The song Under is a track I wrote a lot of the parts for and I really love that song. To date it’s one of the few songs I’ve ever really felt made it from my head to the final product the way I envisioned it.
Mark: On this new record my favorite song is one called “We Aren’t Who We Thought We Were.” I think everyone in the band did a really good job of keeping it simple with out
How long and how hard was it to get to the point where you are now?
Michael: It’s been a grueling process, sometimes it seemed impossible but I think it’s built an inertia in us that keeps us driving ahead and finds us where we are now. It’s a process of refinement, constantly knowing you’re only as good as your last album or song and realizing that there is no arrival, just constant reinvention. It’s maddening sometimes but there’s beauty in all that instability so it’s worth it.
Mark: No road is easy. In the past we’ve slept in parking lots, traveled the country without the financial means to, and have risked what feels like a lot to be doing this. Truth be told, we still aren’t making a great means to live on by social standards, but success is different for everyone. We are happy knowing we’ve given this our best shot. I’m happy to say I’m still doing it.
Were you all on the same page in terms of where you wanted to go with Mount Royal?
Michael: I think more than any other album Mont Royal was an album where we really came together and had a cohesive vision as a group from start to finish. It was a fun album to make.
Mark: I think so. There are always moments of disagreement and moments of inspiration that may or may not lead to something we end up going with. However, we would always work it out and talk through it which allowed us to be on the same page in the end. The vision of the record was always something we talked about.
When did you first realize that you guys had something special?
Michael: As a band it happened years ago when I was just starting out. I was working on our first EP and we kind of spontaneously wrote this song called “The Field Song”. A few months later Paste Magazine selected the song to be on its sampler that went out with each magazine. I didn’t really realize it was that big of a deal until our very close friends, now our managers, who had contacts there told me how important it was and not to take it lightly. That was the moment I knew I was onto something and it’s really the moment I decided this is what I was going to do for the long-term.
Mark: I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about that. I have, however, always thought that everyone who has been apart of this band has had a unique spirit to them. It’s always been a unique collection of people who makes the music pretty interesting I think.
To you, what does your music sound like?
Michael: I guess I don’t really know, I hope it sounds expansive and intelligent.
You’ve said in the past that you want people to listen to your music and grow from it. How would you say your music has grown over the years?
Michael: We started out a lot more minimalistic then we are now. I think as time has gone on there’s been this desire in me to make the music bigger, sort of echoing the idea of the vastness of a person’s life, it’s something that fascinates me. The vastness and depth that comprises our existence constantly drives the re-evaluation and intensity of our music. There are highs and lows and moments of quiet and moments of intense brilliance. I think all that has driven the evolution of our music and will continue to as we grow.
Mark: We always get asked this and the answers are always very general. Genres are hard to define. Every body is an Indy band these days. So let’s just say we are pop magic.
So you have a show in Toronto on October 10th – Do you have anything that you’re keen on doing when you get to Toronto?
Michael: Nothing specific, just being in the city but the Blue Jays are in the playoffs in baseball so I’ll probably try to catch a few innings of a game on T.V. in a bar somewhere if time permits, for solidarity.
Mark: I use a mandolin called the mandocaster made by a company called Eastwood just outside of Toronto. If we have time I would really like to visit their factory/ store. In the least I want to meet some of their people and see how they make their instruments because I think they are amazing.
Do you have any tour rituals?
Michael: Before every show on this tour I’ve been listening to the band Pomegranates. I get a good half hour of them in my head before the show and I’m usually pretty psyched to get onstage.
Mark: We like to huddle before we go on stage. Kind of gets us focused right before hand.
Do you have any crazy touring experiences?
Michael: Our van broke down in the middle of nowhere Texas, and I mean literally the middle of nowhere. We barely had cell service. We pulled off on this access road next to this bullet ridden, basically burned down old motel because our van couldn’t safely go any further. It was like something out of a horror movie. I convinced Ryan we were going to get attacked by deranged, probably radioactive, mole people. He was afraid. I told him I’d protect him. We bonded. It took like three hours and several police interventions to get us a tow and then we had to split up, some of us going to a hotel and some going with the van to get it fixed. Luckily it was nothing serious and by some miracle we made it to Austin the next day for our sound check.