Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay: ‘Lump is sort of uncategorisable’

After an impressive first outing in 2018, singer-songwriter Laura Marling and multi-instrumentalist Mike Lindsay of Tunng are back with their collaborative vehicle, Lump.

Mike Lindsay and Laura Marling of LUMP.

As with their eponymous debut album, the pair say over Zoom, that spontaneity was the watchword while they were working on its follow-up, Animal.

“There was a set of not rules but guidelines that we used for the first project and we tried to stick to that,” explains Lindsay from his home studio in Margate. “I would present some flavours to Laura and she would react with genius. So we tried to stick to the same set of guidelines this time. Spontaneity is important for the gelling of the music and the lyrics.”

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While Lindsay prepared most of the music, Marling worked on lyrics and composing the toplines. “We do have conversations sometimes about the arrangements and the articulation of the phrasing and things like that in terms of Laura’s part, and sometimes Laura might have ideas about where it could go musically, but we do also like to give each other those roles,” says Lindsay. “We try not to step on each other’s toes too much.”

“Quite often I try to find a verse melody or a chorus melody and then you arrange the song for me so that I can get my head around it, which is handy,” says Marling.

“There was one time, I think it was on Gamma Ray, where we just couldn’t get into the seventh-cycle timing for the verses,” Lindsay recalls. “(Laura) disappeared into the kitchen for a while and was gone for about an hour and I thought, ‘While she’s gone, I’ll make it 4/4 and sod it’, but when she came back she’d nailed it on the sevenths, with the ‘whats’ landing on the two and coming in on the eighth, and that’s why I think it’s do good.”

The unusual musical timing was inspired by the sound of the sea. Lindsay says he often spends time cogitating on ideas while out on walks and swims near his home. “I take a lot of walks with music, sometimes with my own music, and just see how it feels out in nature,” he says. “But because of the nature of Lump, where I don’t know what possible themes are going to occur from Laura it’s sometimes nice to create an off-the-record theme to have something to work with – so cycles of seven waves and then I thought about different types of waves, like gamma ray, radio waves and micro waves, things like that. It just helps me think about sounds and ideas.”

For textural inspiration, Lindsay turned to the music of Suzanne Ciani and John Hassell’s collaborations with Brian Eno. “They’re sort of gods and goddesses, they would creep into a lot of people’s electronic experiments, I guess,” he says. “But there’s an element of using vintage flavours and analogue sounds, there’s no plug-in moments on the record. Those textures all derive from those guys.”

LUMP. Picture: Steph Wilson

Marling, primarily renowned as acoustic performer, says she has become “more interested but not necessarily more knowledgeable” about electronic music as the project has progressed. “Mike played me quite a lot of interesting stuff while we were making the record as references,” she says, “but I’m still more of a lyrical person than I am a musical person – increasingly maybe as I get older, as well.”

The lyrics reflect Marling’s deepening interest in psychoanalysis. “Similarly to the first one, which was attempting to be as off the cuff as possible and then slightly arranging things so they make a tiny bit more sense, that’s a very psychoanalytic things, obviously, letting the unconscious bubble up to the surface in all its weirdness,” she says. “A lot of the language of psychoanalysis is quite funny to me, they take such silly things so seriously. I like the idea that Lump – what we refer to as neither me nor Mike but the confluence of both of us – has an interior world that they wrestle with.

“It’s similar to Mike in that it just gives me something to base my direction on.”

In contrast to her carefully structured solo records, Marling seems to relish the freedom that Lump gives her. “That’s why I love it so much, it’s totally the opposite to what has become quite a persona,” she says. “Laura Marling is more of a persona than it’s myself, then Lump is this completely different universe and someone to share the blame with, as well.”

She seems unfazed by writing without a narrative thread in mind. “They’re both so different,” she says. “I guess I don’t find writing very difficult full stop. But Laura Marling is things pulled from the surface of my experience and Lump is pulled from the undercurrent.”

For his part, Lindsay prefers not to pry too much into the lyrics. “I don’t really ask many questions at all, to be honest,” he smiles. “I just enjoy the flood of creativity coming from that side of the room and letting it drift into the music. I really enjoy listening to the lyrics that come out and the imagery that they give me. I don’t often say to Laura what does that mean, where did it come from, where’s going, what’s the narrative, what’s the reference? In fact I’m still learning stuff now when we start talking about it what it all means, but I quite like that as well. I like being a listener. I maybe should ask more questions, maybe it would inform the way the tracks is going to develop, but I like making up my own theories. Maybe that’s wrong but it seems to work.”

“That’s how I like it,” chuckles Marling.

The album’s title derives from one of Marling’s lyrics, about which Lindsay says: “For me, it conjured up elements of taking hold of our third party member, and taking hold of Lump, and embracing Lump as a character, and then Lump being part of our inner souls and everybody else’s inner soul, so then it’s your inner animal. That felt like a really strong umbrella to place the whole record under when we finally found it, because it’s open to interpretation.”

Looking back at the origins of Lump, Marling remembers she and Lindsay had occasionally crossed paths before they decided to collaborate. “Lots of years ago, when I first appeared and Tunng were on their fourth album, we were on Loose Ends together, when I was 17,” she says. “Then, many years later, my guitarist (Simon Ribchester) is a friend of Mike and we were supporting Neil Young on tour, and he brought Mike to the aftershow party in London, and Mike said, ‘I need you to come into my studio and do something’, and I did, quite randomly. I don’t write with people because I don’t like the experience of it, it’s not really what I’m in it for, but for whatever kismet reason I had nothing to do that day and I went. Then we ended up making the first album over the space of about six days, so it was just good fortune.”

“Lucky me,” Lindsay chuckles. “I remember before that Loose Ends time, maybe not properly meeting but Tunng did a show at Cambridge Folk Festival when (Laura was) coming on afterwards – this was about 2007. I remember being backstage, that’s when I first saw (her) play, and thinking ‘wow’ musically, so I’ve always been a fan. I think I told Simon before we met that it would be a dream to write with Laura and then I guess I had a couple of whiskies and asked (her).”

The pair remain fast workers when they’re together. Lindsay recalls Marling visiting “six or seven times” during the making Animal. “In terms of our time together, it is days,” he says. “The overall process takes a lot longer, but that coming together of moments, when it counts, has been like that. I think on this record there were more days and there were more songs that didn’t make it or didn’t quite gel, but mostly it was (done in) days.”

For Marling, Lump is something with its own unique energy. “That’s what it’s represented for me,” she says. “Maybe I’m overinvested in Lump because it’s exactly that. It’s a chance not to be misunderstood by being genred, in a way that I don’t always love being genred as a confessional songwriter or folk singer or whatever. Lump is sort of uncategorisable.”

Lindsay adds: “For me, it’s just a way to explore any idea that I want to without dealing with a full band of people again. It’s a nice, cathartic way of playing with my toys in the studio and having control over that. I enjoyed having at the beginning of Tunng, now it’s more of a democratic band, which is excellent, but it’s nice to have my own outlet. It’s different musically, it’s got a different tone, it comes from a different place and it ends in a different area.”

Marling and Lindsay intend to take Lump on the road in August and September. The singer says she has spent “the last year, pretty much” building a giant yeti puppet to accompany them on tour “so he’s definitely coming with us, even if Mike doesn’t like it”.

“Oh I love it,” says Lindsay. “I’m just going to be the puppeteer for the show. I might just get someone else to play the old axe.”

Animal is out on July 30. Lump play at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on September 2.