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Interview: Lunar Dunes


ImageLunar Dunes are a three piece from West London, comprising of Adam Blake (guitar), Ian Blackaby (bass) and Transglobal Underground’s Hami on drums. Their album, From Above, which is full of spacey, atmospheric instrumentals, seemed to spring from nowhere late last year. I asked them when they first got together and how that come about?


Adam: - Ian and I were at school together about 12,000 years ago. We lost touch for 11,000 years and then started talking to each other again more or less by chance. I was impressed by the fact that, although he hadn't been in a band for ages and ages, he'd always kept up his bass playing. Sometime in the summer of 2006 Ian wrote me an email saying how he wished there was a band that played the kind of music that we were both interested in: I said "let's start one". He came over for a couple of jams and that worked out just fine. The next thing was to do it with a drummer. So we booked some rehearsal studio time and invited a drummer friend of mine to come and play. But it turned out that he just wanted to play Otis Redding covers so that wasn't going to work. I thought of Hami, who I had known for years and worked with when I played bass in Natacha Atlas's band. I never thought he'd be available but I asked him anyway. He wasn't available but he turned up anyway and that's how the band came about.


Ian: - Adam was one of the hip kids in the year above me at school and he was the lead guitar player in the only good school band. Certainly the only gigging one. Most teenage guitar players of that era were all about flash, speed and very tight trousers. He was certainly the first person I knew who played good guitar and took songwriting seriously. Everyone else was playing covers and trying to sound just like the records. Adam and I lost contact through the 80s and then at some point in the mid 90s we got back in touch with each other. Around 2004 he sent me some rehearsal tapes of a modal improvised trio project he was working on and I quite liked it. I've never been interested in playing songs and I'm not especially good at it either. I suspect Adam might have been looking for a manager rather than a bass player (I've enjoyed a career on the business side of the industry since 1984) but the incumbent was something of a novice so even at that time I was vaguely hoping she'd lose interest and I could step in. Can, the Pop Group and Art Ensemble Of Chicago are my idea for what music making is all about so an improv free jazz psych Krautrock band would be just about my ideal. It still took a few more years for all of that history and happenstance to percolate into making this record.


Hami: - The Lunar Dunes album is the end result of approximately 105 years of collective listening and playing of different types of music from around the world. It started life as just a one-off jam with no real intention of taking it any further than that. When Adam asked me along there was no talk of a band...just the opportunity for 3 individuals to bounce the aforementioned 105 years of music around a smelly rehearsal room for 3 hours. I had played with Adam in Natacha Atlas’s band a few years before that and within 5 minutes of meeting Ian, we were playing music together.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but on From Above you sound like a band who have made the album you wanted to. There's certainly little if any concession to fashion. What did you set out to achieve when you made the album, From Above?
Adam: - That is correct, yes. I had always wanted to make an album in the way that I understand Can and Miles Davis made records in the early 1970s - which is to record as much spontaneous material as possible and then create the record in the editing. I can listen to the album all the way through without wincing. I'm very pleased with it, I think it is successful in its own terms and I think if people get a chance to hear it, it will be very popular. Ultimately I'd like to see it established as a benchmark debut album for a new kind of British improvisational music.


Ian: - We didn't even have a name when we went into the studio and to some extent I think we had to make a record to find out what kind of band we wanted to be. Rehearsal rooms are not known for promoting subtlety - bad gear, bad acoustics, a tendency to play too loud and too long etc - and in the early rehearsals we sounded like Humble Pie or Spooky Tooth playing Can and Miles Davis tunes. By the end of the recording the 1971 riffage thing was still in there but as one of a number of equal ingredients rather than being one of the most prominent. All I wanted to achieve was to come out with a record for which I would not have to make any excuses. As a manager I know full well that compromise tends to result in creative death but the process all seemed to just flow for the most part. When it came to picking what to keep and what to throw out it could have got a bit tricky but I think we all accepted that the best musical ideas would win out regardless of who or where they came from. So, in the absence of an outside producer, we were uncompromising yet studiously democratic. Which is not a trait that bands (or managers) are generally best known for and most people around bands just tell them what they think they want to hear. We had to be brutal self-editors. It helps that none of us were worrying about what record companies or journalists would think about it. We already knew we were going to be self-releasing and that we'd find some kind of an audience among our peers so musical fashion was completely irrelevant. While shows like Late Junction and Freak Zone still exist on the BBC and internet radio is so strong with niche audiences not only is there an audience for this music but there is a conduit to that audience over and above the endless churn of new artists on MySpace. To make a record like this and be relying on the mainstream music industry to get it out there would be an act of futility bordering on the idiotic.


Hami: - The plan was to record as much music as possible over a three day period, take it home and chuck out all the bits we didn’t like, keep and edit the bits we did and then mix it. That is pretty much how it worked out.


I believe you played the world famous Marquee in London recently. Are there any more live dates planned? And are there any plans to follow-up From Above?
Adam: - I would love to do more live dates, and I would love to make more records. I feel as if we've only just started.


Ian: - There are. This year we'll work to build up a London audience and play as many festivals and European shows that make sense. A new record? I would have thought we'd have something new out by mid 2009.


Hami: - Yes, more live dates and more recording.


So there we are. More Lunar Dunes on the horizon. And if the next album has tracks anywhere near as good as the mournful Herzegovina (Interpolating Le Petite Chevalier) or the throbbing, slightly sinister The Todal Gleeps, then we could be in for a treat. In the meantime, why not take a listen to some of their current offerings on their MySpace page and see what you think…


Author: Keith Astbury