Q&A With Lantern, Playing Farm 255 Tonight

Give a listen to Lantern’s latest release, Dream Mine, and you might wonder what planet the band is from. From the ambient-dance sounds of “Untitled” to “Out of Our Heads,” which drips of garage rock goo, it’s clear that the band’s musical palate runs the gamut. Flagpole recently caught up with Lantern guitarist Zachary Fairbrother to discuss the relationship between gritty cities and rock and roll, the risks of defining punk, and what it’s like to be a lo-fi rocker with a background in music composition.

Flagpole: You mention on your Bandcamp page that Dream Mine is a “loose concept album” that is a “a tribute to ’80s dystopic cyber punk.” Can you say something of the concepts running throughout the album?

Zachary Fairbrother: I wouldn’t say there is an obvious narrative throughout the EP, because there isn’t. The concept more came about while I was putting the tracks together for the release. When we were finished assembling it we were like, “Wow, this really sounds scary.” It comes off very cold and bleak. The idea of it being a tribute to ’80s dystopic-cyber punk came from the track, “Untitled,” which I composed as a project separate from Lantern all together. It was the theme for an imaginary cyber punk movie. I really love the look of those movies, the gritty noir, the ’80s technology. The ’80s definitely seemed to have a fear of technology unlike today. We, however, might want to ask ourselves some of these questions again, but that’s another discussion.

Also, there are lots of industrial themes running through the EP as well, such as “Fool’s Gold,” “Train Song,” “You Can’t Deny Me (Revisited).” I sort imagined it as a future primitive. To compare it to a movie, it might be like Escape from New York or The Warriors. We are playing rock and roll—it’s an old genre, but we want to present it in a new a fresh way, or it might be thought of how punks in the future [will] try to play punk from the past.

FP: Although you’re originally from Canada, you’re now based out of Philadelphia. Despite being the City of Brotherly Love, your new home has a reputation of being a pretty rough place. How does the environment of Philly influence your music?

ZF: That’s hard to gauge. I can’t say that it really [affects] us directly. There is no empirical evidence to support that. Although, you can listen to Dream Mine and be like, “Wow, this a bleak, dark record” and think it might have been influenced by a rough place. We used to jam in a freezing jam space in a somewhat creepy part of town. This was where we recorded Dream Mine, so I am reminded of that when I listen to it and other recordings made there.

Philly isn’t the Wild West though—at least not where we are. We live in a pretty nice neighborhood. Philadelphia is home to Kurt Vile and Purling Hiss. Is there something of a lo-fi rock movement going on in that city that the rest of the world is just now learning about? Maybe? We are friends with both Kurt and Purling Hiss but we are relatively new on the scene here. We were making lo-fi jams well before coming to Philly, mostly in our previous group Omon Ra Il and my first band, a more folky project, Omon Ra.

A lot great, higher-profile, local bands are releasing records this year including Kurt Vile and Purling Hiss, as well as Pissed Jeans, Daughn Gibson, Far Out Fangtooth, Spacin’, The War on Drugs, Creepoid, Birds of Maya, Mary Latimore—and those are just the ones I know. So, hopefully it’ll bring some more attention to the scene here. There’s also been a lot more venues opening which is great. Some cool labels as well: Siltbreeze, Richie Records, Evil Weevil, White Denim and Backslider. It seems like things are growing.

FP: Speaking of gritty cities and sounds, you cover “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by the Stooges, who are from Detroit. How did this song fit with the concepts and thematics on the rest of the album and why did you decide to stretch it out to an almost eight-minute rendition of the song?

ZF: I always thought that song was very anti-climatic. There is a tension throughout [the song] that is never resolved. I thought it would be cool to play with that idea and stretch it out. It’s a great riff on top of that, and as we played it we just zoned out in the moment.

FP: In listening to some of the new EP, a lot of the ambient songs (“Fool’s Gold” and “Untitled,” for instance) sound almost dance, or perhaps anti-punk. There’s a lot of rattle and noise, but not in the way we think of punk rock. What does that genre mean to you?

ZF: Defining punk rock has a lot of baggage. People get really emotional about it, so I’d rather not go there. If I was to give ourselves a genre, I prefer to call what we do rock and roll. The term seems more archaic and thus more ambigious and mythological. To me rock and roll is larger than punk.

FP: I read that you have a degree in music composition. Is it anxiety-inducing or liberating to know that you’ve chosen to make music that most people in the academic circles of music composition would scoff at?

ZF: They would scoff at what I do? Maybe some, but I keep in touch with a lot of my classmates and professors and most of them have been nothing but supportive. I came from a small program, though, and was a guitar player, so expectations were different. Everybody that played guitar played in metal, rock, indie bands, whatever, before signing up for classical lessons. Also, lots of people that studied classical end up getting gigs in rock or indie groups. My composition teacher loves all sorts of music, and a lot of the musicology profs specialized in popular music. I don’t think the worlds are so separate. Plus, I wouldn’t care if they did, I’ve always done what I’ve wanted musically. The pieces I made at school were probably more controversial than anything I did outside of it.

FP: You’re playing quite a few dates in the South. Tell us a little about your live set-up and what audiences should expect at a typical Lantern show.

ZF: Our sound has constantly evolved since the first release. From Deliver Me From Nowhere through Dream Mine, I took care of all the writing, minus a piece or two. Now Lantern is a total collaboration, where me and Emily [Robb] share the writing duties and we switch off on guitar, bass and vocals. We just released a new song called “Mr. Mars” that was written by Emily and features her on guitar. We will also be playing material that is from our upcoming record, Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach, being released on the Kentucky Label Sophomore Lounge. The experience isn’t as grim as Dream Mine. Ideally, people will want to dance.

Lantern plays Farm 255 tonight, Tuesday, Mar. 5. 11 p.m. FREE!