Richard Walters talks LYR, the post-rock/ambient group featuring poet laureate Simon Armitage and producer Patrick Pearson – interviewRichard Walters – with a considerable discography of his own material – represents one third of LYR (Land Yacht Regatta), a vibrant world of sound in which he provides vocals and instrumentation: the trio also comprises current poet laureate Simon Armitage and his evocative yet accessible words, as well as producer and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Pearson.

LYR released their debut album, Call In The Crash Team, in 2020, a record of moving poetry set to soaring, emotive melodies – touching on bruising, exquisitely illustrated stories, from the wounds of unreciprocated love on Never Good With Horses, to being influenced by the death of Ian Curtis on 33 1/3.

The group then released their Cascade Theory EP last year. Cascade Theory furthered their Sigur Rós-reminiscent sound with even more distinct, individual accoutrements: the esoteric instrumentation applied by Pearson, and the continued exploration of the gravitas which the intermingling of Walters’ vocals and Armitage’s spoken word affords just two elements which set LYR apart.

Walters tells LTW about the EP, recording with a 27-piece brass band for an upcoming LYR project, their next album, and more.

LTW: How has it been playing for audiences again, especially after LYR’s live debut was so quickly cut short?

Richard Walters: Yeah, our first two gigs were literally two days before everything went to shit. So it did feel like a real cutting short of what we were planning, what we were hoping to do, and it was great. I mean, there was a big gap, there was this kind of loss last year, which I guess was the same for everyone; and then last summer we got back to doing festivals – we did Green Man and a couple of other festivals – and then we did a tour in October, and it was amazing. I think everyone just couldn’t stop grinning, the feeling of being back in that environment, and seeing other artists playing gigs and catching up with other people in bands we know felt great; we’re hoping for more of the same this summer with lots of festivals and then figuring out another tour for later in the year.

Has LYR’s live approach changed much since the band’s beginnings?

It’s changed quite a lot. I think we found our feet slightly with some of the songs we were doing. There’s this thing where when you start, you want to emulate the record as much as possible: in the first few gigs that’s what we were doing, we were trying to find every little sound and make it happen live. For me personally, I was playing different instruments and during that break we realised it would be easier to streamline it.

Then there’s also a visual element that’s coming in now: Pat, who plays pianos and produces the records, is amazing with visuals as well, and he came up with this whole projection scheme which goes through the show. So it feels really exciting.   We’re coming back to ten gigs this summer, and we’ve got a whole new album to pick songs from, and also another EP that’s coming out next month, so we’ve suddenly got about 17 more songs to pick from.

You’re playing Long Division later in the year – what was it in particular that you made you want to play there?

We’ve heard loads of great stuff about that festival, and the line-up’s amazing, there’s so many cool bands that we’re excited to see. Even though Simon is the only Yorkshireman in the band, a lot of our focus has been on shows up there; the biggest shows, more important shows. Our first ever gig was in Leeds so it feels like that’s a bit of a homecoming for us. We’re all kind of spiritually Yorkshire now.

There was talk of us doing it last year and then it didn’t quite work out. I don’t know if it got postponed or something – but yeah, we’re looking forward to it. Everyone will be in a good mood – the sunshine and the weather – and I’ve never been to Long Division but I guess it’s got a bit of a South by Southwest kind of feel to it. I always like that: I feel like you get to see the community have a music scene, and it’s quite exciting to be on a pub crawl with music.

We’ll be dropping a couple of new things from the new album. We’ve also got this gig in July where we were commissioned by Durham Brass Festival to write a piece of music based around the Category D villages in County Durham, inspired by their story, which we’re going to perform in Durham in the summer with a 27-piece brass band with timpanis and all sorts. So we’re going to use Long Division (because Long Division is one of our first gigs back) to road test a couple of those songs – obviously, without the brass section. It’ll be really great to get an audience reaction to the new stuff.

Could you talk to us about the various collaborations you’ve already had: have they come about organically or as a way of keeping all things LYR even more interesting?

The first one we did was with Florence Pugh and Melt Yourself Down in the lockdown; and that one felt really important to have a female voice because of the story in Simon’s poem about the starcrossed lovers on either side of the line. She’s an old family friend, and very musical, so that felt like a really good fit; and we were doing it to raise money for Refuge. So it felt really important to have a female perspective on the song as well from that point of view – and Melt Yourself Down was a bit of a dream that was a last-minute addition. Somebody at the label said, “I know Pete from Melt Yourself Down if you want some insane saxophone”. So that worked out really well.

Then the same with Rosie, who collaborated with us on Cascade theory. It’s just one of those things; a friend of a friend we kept bumping into at festivals last summer, and then this idea came about that we might try something so we just sent the track over, which we thought was finished – and she wrote her part and it elevated the whole thing.

So I think collaboration is really great because it changes everyone’s perspective on something and it can elevate and change things. It’s that community thing as well, that you’re part of someone else’s community when you work with them, which is really important when you’re a new band like us, to try and kind of find your audience.

Is there anyone else you’d have in mind, potentially, that you  think would fit into LYR?

Yeah, we’ve got like a dream list of people. We were having this discussion, because we just finished mixing the new album, and we were saying, “Is there anything that needs an additional voice?”, and you can really tell when something will suit an extra element – and there doesn’t feel like there is anything at the moment.

But we’ve definitely got a long and varied list of people we’d like to work with, including filmmakers and visual artists as well because there’s all those extra elements to think about.

I think for us doing the commission work for Durham Brass Festival and collaborating with Simon Dobson, who’s brought a composer for brass, that was amazing and a bit different. It feels like in the future it could be quite exciting to do more full-scale collaboration projects where we do an entire record.

Can you take me through the EP you released, how that came about and why you decided to go with an EP rather than an album?

We were at the studio finishing rehearsing, and then we were writing new songs. We had a week where we got together and figured out what we had in the demo bank; we had a long list of 20-something tracks. There were ten tracks that felt like they were the album and they flowed, and there was a, if not a narrative, a certain movement in the way that they worked together. There were these other ten tracks: they just didn’t feel like they were the album, so then we looked at those ten tracks, and there were five that felt like they had a story and fitted together as an EP. And then there was the car park column, which remains a car park of stuff that’ll find a home one day.

So yeah, the EP just felt like we were in a certain headspace; sonically, and in terms of the production in there, a bit more indie and a bit more raucous, I suppose. We did that EP immediately after we’d finished doing festivals and stuff for the first time, so I think we were looking for that kind of energy and buzz we got from playing live. A song like Cascade Theory is a bit more indie, a bit more frenetic. So I think that was a direct result of playing live and getting that energy back from people. It’s always strange trying to figure out what collection your songs should go on. But sometimes it’s really obvious that things are good bedfellows and sit together, and that some things just need to be out on their own. Winter Solstice was a standalone single because it felt completely different to anything else that we were working on. I guess we’re kind of we’re living in a time where it’s really easy to distribute music, so you can separate it off and chop it up and present it as you want it to be taken.

Has it become more natural to have your vocals interwoven with Simon’s words (one of my favourite things about the EP especially)?

Yeah, because when we started I felt quite self-conscious about it. I didn’t want to muddy what he was saying; they’re fully formed poems and stories, there’s a very fixed narrative.  I think over time since we started the project, me finding what my role is, in terms of how I respond to him lyrically and melodically, has been really interesting – and I feel like we’ve hit a really good place with it now. On the new record, some are songs that I wrote originally, and he did the same and had a lyrical response to what I was thinking. But yeah, he’s the reason people are there a lot of the time because his words are amazing. Also, being in a band with the poet laureate, there’s pressure to keep up word wise. I mean, he’s the best, the greatest poet of his generation. So it’s quite intimidating to keep up with him sometimes.

Has the way you’ve written and recorded changed much since LYR’s beginning?

Yeah, definitely. The first time, we had a dictaphone that we sent to Simon – it was very separate, which is hilarious considering we weren’t in a lockdown; we chose to work like that. We didn’t see each other much; I’d say before that album came out we probably only met up in person four times or something like that – once to get together and mix the album, and then interviews and rehearsals. So this one…I feel like we are a band more now than when it started; it was a bit of a side project forever, and now it feels like a big concern in our lives. It’s the way we work now: it’s better to be together and write and try and find those building blocks, and – because of where we are, geographically – there’s still an element of remoteness and going back and forth; and again, we’re really lucky with technology now that that’s so easily done. But the preference is definitely to be in a room together and record together – and I hope that continues as well. Because it’s a much more spontaneous and immediate way of recording an album or recording music.

Last time, we spoke about the more niche instruments you had recorded with: you mentioned Patrick (Pearson) using a watering can, for example. Is there any similar stuff like that to come?

Yeah, I mean, Pat’s insane, he’s like a mad professor. He’s always got stuff going on in the studio that you don’t expect.

Last time I was there he was filling up wine glasses and playing them with his finger – and I find that really good because it’s so easy for people to reach for plugins and sound libraries. It’s nice to find stuff that’s uniquely ours. The watering cans were on Omen on the last EP, but they haven’t made it to the live show yet. But maybe one day. The kora was on Great Coat, and it’ll be on the next album as well. I think just finding different ways of playing stuff that people leave in corners basically is Pat’s thing.

What lies ahead for LYR over the rest of the year?

This summer we are super busy with festivals. We’ve got a smaller festival in May, Nottingham Poetry Festival, and then we’ve got Long Division and a bunch of other great festivals that we’re really excited to be part of. The EP will come out – which is part of the Durham Brass Festival – we’re going to release the music that we’ve written for that project this Spring, and then we’re just figuring out how we release the album. So at the moment, we’re deep in artwork, chats and trying to work out the track order and final tweaks. But that’s really exciting as well, thinking about the release schedule for that and getting another headline tour.

Tickets for Long Division, which LYR play on 11th June, are available here.

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James Kilkenny writes for Louder Than War: author profileTwitter

Photo credit: Daniel Broadley

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