'Catchy' isn't a dirty word to me - Manchester’s Lonelady tells us how she’s updating post punk for the 21st century…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 12 Jan 2015
  • min read
Think of Manchester and post punk and the first images which come to mind are usually rain and long overcoats.

But singer songwriter Lonelady (aka Julie Ann Campbell) and her most recent single Groove it out totally skew the sterotype - as Piccadilly Records put it, the song is a ‘total disco-not-disco dancefloor slayer’, full of unruly rhythm, downtown funk and holiday colour.

It’s been four years since the release of Lonelady’s debut album Nerve It Up. Following a period of contributing guitar and vocal to other albums, she returned to solo work, recording and producing material for her new album in a home studio, mostly using a Tascam 8-track cassette recorder. Groove it out is the first slice of sound unveiled and has certainly caused a scene, ensuring tastebuds are suitably wet for her second album. We quizzed Julie on her welcome return to the musical fray…

How did you first get into music?

I've always loved (fine) art, and music comes from the same place really, so I think it’s always been there. I used to be obsessed with REM - Michael Stipe's arty mysteriousness and Peter Buck's brilliantly intricate guitar playing. My next big obsession was British post-punk. When I started hearing that, I felt I had come home.

How did you start writing your own music?

I got an acoustic guitar off Ashton market when I was about 15; the strings were miles away from the fretboard and it was a tough initiation. But I taught myself from a songbook and Mull of Kintyre was the first song I learned. I just kept playing, and pretty soon wrote my first awful songs. They eventually got better.

Where do you look for musical inspiration?

I dig around; one thing leads to another as all musical stories are interconnected. I find I like a lot of music from mid seventies/early eighties. Musical technology and recording processes from that time do something (good) to my ears. Recently I've been increasingly obsessed with the post industrial or urban environment. It’s always been my environment and I think profoundly affects my outlook, the kinds of sounds I'm attracted to and want to make. Long walks through industrial wastelands are exciting and feed into my creative impulses.

How do you approach songwriting?

The process begins with me setting a really simple drum machine beat going. The drum machine never stops and over this I’ll play my guitar (or sometimes keyboard) for hours. From this come verses, motifs, phrases, then the harder task of arranging the song into a coherent whole. I play all the other parts as necessary - keyboards, cello, electronic percussion, bass. Everything except real drums. This part of the process is precise; I know every brushstroke of the painting.

Nerve Up was your first album four years ago - how have you evolved as a songwriter since then?

Each time I write a song it feels unexpected and uncertain. But the compulsion to do it is there 24/7. For me the evolving process isn't linear; it’s more jerky and capricious. I'm on my third and fourth album in my head.

Was there an overall aesthetic you wanted to achieve with your new material?

The new album still contains many of the characteristics of Nerve Up, but it’s less stark. My interest in funk and dance is more apparent; the songs are longer, with exploratory sections built around a simple machine groove. Much of it was recorded in my home studio, mainly using an eight track cassette recorder. These recording had an integrity and atmosphere of their own and I decided wouldn't be improved on by re-recording from scratch in a professional studio. I recoil from sterile, slick production for my music. I like to hear the imprint of environment in music, scratchiness, atmospheres, traces. However it definitely benefited from Bill (Skibbe's) additional production in Keyclub, Michigan. He took it out of the bedroom and gave it power and depth.

What did you learn from that first record that you wanted to do differently for this next LP?

It’s only my second album but each one is a different document, a different experience; neither is better than the other. I've recorded a fair bit with other bands and artists too, and each time there's something to learn. I’d like to keep building my own studio, recording and producing. Practical factors influence the writing and making of a record; it so happened that I didn't have a rehearsal space at the time which led to a long hermetic period of living and writing in my towerblock flat, not seeing anyone for weeks on end. It was very isolating and I became very withdrawn; this definitely fed into the songwriting and recording process of the record.

As Piccadilly Records put it, Groove it out is a ‘total disco-not-disco dancefloor slayer’. Did you expect the reaction the tune has got so far?

I have no expectations when I'm writing a song; I just try to make it sound authentic, I try to make it sound like 'itself' if that makes sense … I try to make music that I like and want to listen to. 'Catchy' isn't a dirty word to me; I think great pop music is hard to write and I try to write catchy songs that have substance. The reaction its had is wonderful; a reward for those long isolated months of writing. It’s out there, like a living entity; it’s not mine anymore.

Is Manchester’s music scene in good health?

Probably! I haven't gone out much in recent months. There's often interesting events going on at Kraak and Islington Mill, usually of a more experimental bent. I'm from Manchester and I feel the city couldn't be any more integrated in me, a part of my DNA if it tried. I feel I know every nook, cranny and patch of rubble. From a psycho-geographic point of view it has a huge impact on my outlook and creativity. It terms of its musical heritage I'm a huge fan of Joy Division, The Fall, Section 25 and A Certain Ratio. Each in their own ways really conveys the city to me in a kind of ambient, synasthesiac way.

Who are you currently listening to?

I've been on an industrial trip for ages; reading Wreckers Of Civilization, listening to Throbbing Gristle and Chris and Cosey, working my way through Cabaret Voltaire's extensive back catalogue, I'm currently on 'The Attic Tapes'. Stephen Mallinder's new project Wrangler is great. Gareth Smith (who plays in the live band) has just put out a cassette under the moniker 'Vanishing' and its a great poetic/dystopic EP.

Have you any top tips for new artists?

Work hard and be yourself. Trust only those close to you. Fail and try again.

Visit concrete-retreat.tumblr.com for more information. Keep a look out for details of forthcoming live dates.