Lines of Flight: ‘We didn’t really have an end point, it was just to see if we could connect’

Begun as an experiment during lockdown, Lines of Flight is a collaboration between Leeds musicians Matthew Henderson and Helen Whale that continues to gather momentum.

Lines of Flight
Lines of Flight

The pair’s paths had only ever “crossed in peripheral ways” before Henderson proposed exchanging musical ideas to fill time as the country shut down in March 2020. He says: “I sent Helen a text and said, ‘Look, we can’t do any music in my band, and Helen’s choir couldn’t sing, shall we try and get together? I’ve got a couple of demos that I’ve recorded on my phone, shall I send them over to you and see what you make of them?’”

Whale agreed and between March and July, “it became a little hive of industry”, with ten tracks completed utilising file-sharing on GarageBand via mobile phones.

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“You can share the project, so you get all the different inputs, all the keyboards and drums,” Henderson explains. “I can share that into the cloud so Helen can download it, record into that project and then we can both access it. Then I helped produce it and added extra effects. Once we got to grips with it, it became quite straightforward because it was all being contained within the phone meant we could be working on different tracks, two at a time sometimes, writing or recording or singing.”

“It all happened quite naturally,” says Whale. “In terms of the tech, once we’d established that I did end up buying a microphone but decided not to use it, because I felt like it was picking up too much fine-tuned quality which took away from the simplicity of working just with our phones. Then we latched onto the idea that it was quite a cool limitation just to have one phone in this house and one phone in another house and just see what we can do with that rather than getting excited and buying loads of things and trying to teach ourselves lots of different programs or pieces of new tech. I think that was a really nice way of focusing it and making it just about the process of writing. It all happened quite quickly, one was writing the words of the next song while the other was still being finished by the other one. There was always something happening pretty much every day.”

Henderson adds: “As it grew organically, we took moments to reflect on the process. Helen was very interested and articulate about thinking about the process, and I really appreciated that. We both I suppose subconsciously agreed that this was the best way of working for us and getting the most out if it given the limitations and time.

“Time was an interesting thing because I don’t think we really thought about it wanting to get ten tracks done, we didn’t really have a goal or an end point, it was just to see if we could be creative and to connect between the two of us.

“Certainly in the first few songs, it was simply that, to give us a creative outlet for our music, our words, and just to feel a different connection that wasn’t boxed into our respective houses.”

The pair didn’t actually meet in person until they had written five of the songs that will make up their debut album. “We didn’t know it was the halfway point but it ended up being,” Whale remembers. “It was, ‘oh hi, here you are, let’s have a drink in the park’. It was funny because that felt really early on in our communication and our new friendship, but actually we’d done half the songs by that point. Particularly that first period was extremely prolific.”

After drafting in Ed Heaton as producer, in February this year the pair began releasing the tracks monthly as singles. The latest one, I Remember Everything, is a driving synth-pop song that they say is about “imminent storms, foreboding crows, rust and static in the face of change”. It has been likened to a mix of Pet Shop Boys, Chvrches, Future Islands and Ladytron. The accompanying video is by Amy Cutler.

The album, Signs of Life, will be released in full in December. The pair are keen to play live and continue their working relationship with more music.

Henderson says: “Because it’s got such a focus, the songs aren’t thematically linked but the focus and the time frame was so definitive, it’s going to be quite strange thinking about what to capture and where to look next to replicate but be alternative to that focus, but it’s been amazing working like this. I love working with Helen.”

“It will be interesting to see what we do next,” says Whale.

For more information on Lines of Flight, visit lines-of-flight.bandcamp.com.