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Published: 2005/08/09
by Mike Greenhaus

Lake Trout: Against the Current

Lake Trout has forged its own path. Since forming on Baltimore's jazz-circuit eleven years ago the experimental quintet has shifted styles by the season, experimenting with acid hip-hop, jungle influenced livetronica, post-Radiohead introspection and dark noise-rock while carving out its own modern sound. While Lake Trout's vision has changed its dedication to creating experimental music has not and the group's latest studio offering, Not Them You (due September 13 on Palm Records), already stands as one of the year’s best releases.

On the road, Lake Trout has also crossed-paths with a variety of bands, sharing bills with everyone from the Disco Biscuits and Blues Traveler to Live and the Dismemberment Plan, as well as a unique Jammys spot which played the group alongside Marky Ramone and Jerry Only. Lake Trout has also learned to massage is minimalist jams into more muscular songs which recall both the sonic attack of The Mars Volta and the thoughtful repetition of Steve Reich. Though the band’s current live show focuses more on song structure than improvisation, the group still also crosses paths with its former jamband brethren most recently at this year’s Bonnaroo and the All Good Festival.

The group has also announced a handful of dates following Not Them You’s release, including an appearance alongside Interpol and the Killers at Staten Island’s high-profile Across the Narrows Festival. Drummer Mike Lowry catches up on all this as well as Lake Trout’s experimental ambient shows.

MG: Lake Trout has spent the past year off the road working on Not Them You. How did this recording process differ from your past studio projects?

ML: Well, we haven’t been on the road that much in the past year, so we sort of spent our downtime at our singer Woody Ranere’s. He has this whole set-up in his apartment and, on our off days, we kind of just go over there. When people had ideas we’d lay them down and put them into ProTools and mess with them. We would listen to them and sort of add the very basic elements so we had a bunch of half-finished songs. Then when we went into the studio, we fleshed them out.

MG: Was it a conscious decision to stray away from performing these songs live before you entered the studio?

ML: Yeah. A lot of times when we’re on the road we end up hitting the same markets and, by the time the CD comes out, there isn’t as much interest because our fans already know all the songs—-from taping shows or whatever. So, we thought it would be nice to be able to come out with like a bunch of new songs that no one has heard before.

MG: A handful of songs on your new album were also drawn from your occasional seated ambient shows, correct?

ML: Yeah, some of the in between tracks were composed from improvisations and were just recorded and chopped up. All of the little 30-second bits were created like that and so was "Have You Ever." That number came from a show we did at the Ram’s Head in Baltimore.

MG: Your seated ambient shows have taken on their own unique flavor in recent months and are occasionally augmented with slide-projectors and other visual spectacles. Initially, what was the idea behind this second persona?

ML: At the time we were adding a lot of new elements to our set, sort of creating more of a rock show. But we knew a lot of our fans still wanted to hear that kind of material. But, we figured, if we were going to play that stuff, we wanted to do it in a different setting. We didn’t just want them to sit and listen, you know? We wanted to express both sides of what we do and please everybody at the same time. We are actually going to put out an ambient record which was sort of culled over the last years.

Occasionally we’ll still do drum and bass if some kid in the audience is flipping out, but, in general, we are sort of moving away from that. You know it’s like when you eat the same breakfast everyday for like three-years, you wanna try a different kind of cereal. I don’t even really play with that little snare anymore. I stopped bringing it, but we’ve added some other things, like a sampler and some fog and that kind of makes up for it.

MG: The first single off your new album is a cover of the Rolling Stones’ "Street Fighting Man." Why release a cover so early?

ML: That was our label’s doing. I think that it was just that they thought it would be easier to push a cover first. We’ve been playing that song live for a while, but we put a bit less tweaked-out version of the song on the record. We hope it will kind of wet people’s appetites and pave the way if other singles come off the record.

MG: For a while Lake Trout made a point to completely overhaul its setlist every few months. What is the oldest song in your current repertoire?

ML: Our instrumental, "Number 2" is definitely the oldest. We still play that almost every show and we’ve been playing it since before it came out on Alone at Last [recorded in 1999]. It’s sort of grown into different things over the years and it will probably grow a little bit more as long as we keep playing it. It’s cool to have a song like that. It’s funny—-it’s one of those songs that you can play in front of any type of audience and always get a pretty positive response. We played that song in front of like 10, 000 drunks at a Live concert. We opened with it and people went nuts.

MG: Earlier this week you returned from Iceland. Can you talk about your experience building a fanbase overseas?

ML: We went to Iceland in 2001 to play a festival and sort of became friends with this band called Upla. They came over about a year-and-a-half ago and opened a string of east coast dates for us. So they got us on this festival. We flew over there and stayed at the drummer’s house. It was a really amazing time. We had just come from London and it’s a very tense scene because of all of those bombings. It was like this sort of military city under siege. It had that kind of vibe to it.

MG: Did your recent experience in England remind you of being in America around 9/11?

ML: We actually played the Knitting Factory in [downtown] New York with Money Mark the night before September 11. They left all their shit there and couldn’t get it for like two weeks. But, in London, none of our gigs were cancelled. People were still going about like their life was normal. They are very kind of resilient. I walked out of our hotel to get some pizza and I walked around the corner and there was a bus stop there. The cops rolled up and started searching it and told everyone to get off the street and roped off the area. Matt [Pierce] was on the Tube and all this smoke started to pour out of one of the cars. All these armed police officers went in there and it turned out to be an air conditioning thing. But, they were really kind of swiftly moving on these would-be terrorists and it went horribly wrong. The whole city seems wired with cameras. The justice was pretty swift in terms of like catching those guys. But they put something like 31,000 police like that throughout the Tube, on the street and some of them had Uzi’s and stuff like that. It was just intimidating to see. But people, in general, didn’t seem frightened. They seemed like they were going about their everyday life.

MG: Shifting back to album discussion, "Street Fighting Man" is produced by Dave Fridmann. Did his work with the Flaming Lips weigh in your decision to bring him onboard?

ML: We loved his work on Soft Bulletin. We had really never entertained the idea of working with someone we admired that much. It sort of seemed unattainable. This guy Phil Schuster plays in this band Shelby and he knew all that crew from Mercury Rev stuff. So he talked to Dave about us and he came and saw us in Buffalo. He loved the last record and got onboard. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to record "Street Fighting Man." We did a version, and it didn’t really fly, so we had a weekend to re-record the track. We were kind of very fast about itbut it was great. His associate Tony Doogan had just come off a pretty strict pop album and was pretty excited to work on something a little more experimental. Though with us, this is the most mainstream record we’ve actually even put out.

MG: With your new album your departure from the jamband scene seems complete.

ML: We never really felt a part of that scene. We were kind of just taking gigs when we were offered them—-we weren’t going after that scene aggressively. At the time the scope of what was being offered to us was very limited, hence the jamband affiliation. I guess our name doesn’t really help either [laughs].

MG: What did you take from your time on the jamband circuit?

ML: I remember it was a time of intense touring and I remember thinking that we weren’t going to get anything done if we were always out touring. So I think after that period we were all like, "Ok, we aren’t going to tour unless we put a record out." That led us to write more, and we all went and got jobs. Touring so much during that period kind of burned us out. To get big in that scene without press or airplay, it’s just relentless touring. It seems like a lot of those bands get really burnt out. We were starting to get to that point and we sort of wanted to back off—-drift into our lives a little bit.

MG: Recently, Ed Harris told me that he felt like Lake Trout is similar to the Flaming Lips or Primus. You can drift in and out of the scene without ever really being fully immersed.

ML: Those bands are such staples that their positions in the lexicons of rock are so secure that they can kind of hop around. Les Claypool can do OzzFest and his jamband fans won’t hate him. Just like the Flaming Lips. They went out with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and then right after toured with String Cheese Incident. It’s so hard now—-everyone has to be part of a scene to get through the door. Everything is so polarized it’s hard to bounce around.

Bands like Modest Mouse and Kings of Leon sort of see the writing on the wall. They can reach a broad, untapped audience of live music fans by playing something like Bonnaroo. I think it’s good—-a positive change —- though everyone still refers to something like Bonnaroo as a jamband festival.

MG: If you’re trying to move away from the jamband festival, why play a festival like All Good?

ML: A big part of it was that we were playing the same night as the Flaming Lips. That pretty much sealed the deal for us. We had met [Flaming Lip] Steven Drozd while we were recording the record. We had BBQs at Dave’s house and he’d come over with his wife—-so we hung out with them quite a bit, actually.

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