Lakes began about a decade ago, and it has gone through quite the metamorphosis since. Early releases saw Sean Bailey utilizing keyboards, tape decks, and drum machines, as his songwriting and equipment became more elaborate and orchestrated. While Sean has played the States a handful of times solo, August 2015 marked the first time that his whole band, himself, Lee Parker, and Justin Fuller, could make the long jump, playing shows both on their own tour and with fellow Melbourne postpunks Total Control in Los Angeles.
Deeply rooted in psychedelia and esotericism, Lakes’ new album Arms in Twilight is a step further into orchestration and fidelity. The familiar string slashes and plucks are more striking than ever, providing an evocative backdrop to Bailey’s commanding howl as heavy rhythms bounce from tautened floor toms. As with other Lakes releases, Arms in Twilight continues the compelling blend of postpunk and folk, through a lens, darkly, but it’s also more filled out. A track like “Dragon Current” boasts a lithe flute part that quickly becomes sinister before a vocal duel takes center. Not to be overly simple, but there’s just more going on than on other Lakes records, which makes an already rewarding listen that much more satisfying.
Arms in Twilight comes out soon on Thomas Ekelund’s Belaten
Jordan Reyes: Lakes is certainly a postpunk band, but there's a neofolk influence, both in your logo and in your actual music. Do you draw much inspiration from neofolk music and history?
Sean Bailey: Since the very early days of Lakes, I was influenced by Australian and NZ post punk but also by dark and psychedelic folk bands, and psychedelic music in general. Coming from a punk background, I fused the two things and began to get more experimental with lakes. When I first heard bands like Current 93 and Death in June, I could see that they were influenced by the same things as me, so I was attracted to neo-folk because it was exactly what I was interested in. I was completely drawn to it! That was when lakes started to take a different turn. Neo Folk and post industrial music inspired me to take the early experimental sound and approach to a different place, to take my song writing and production more seriously but maintain the essence of lakes, which is also the punk spirit. I wouldn't consider Lakes a neo-folk group, but those groups had a profound effect on me. The lakes logo is part of this growth, but having these visual cues was a point where lakes was strengthened. I needed to have a stronger visual presence to help push the music forward, so it made sense to create the sigils and it worked.
JR: One of the things that has always caught my attention in neofolk is the reverence for Northern Mysteries and Runology. I know Australia is a Far Cry from the Asatru religion or any religion of Pagan origin, but do you have interest or take any influence from these ideologies?
SB: That's a very attractive element to neo-folk. Its magical angle is one of the things that drew me in. I was experiencing an initiation of sorts when neo folk came into my life so its reverence for Germanic Paganism really resonated with me and showed me that it was something I should add to the tools. Australia is far away, but that is no reason to ignore what makes sense.
JR: Is there a defining theme, idea, or ethos in Lakes?
SB: Lakes is a spiritual project that I have nurtured for over a decade. It's very intuitive and that's the way I've always worked with music and also my painting practice. I have my views and experiences and they all go into lakes in some way: love and esoterica have been major themes, but life just gets into the songs and sometimes it only comes to me later what they are about, and that's what I love about working in this way. I think this is what attracts me to neo folk, post industrial etc. - it's the intuitive process, which I can really relate to.
JR: It was cool getting to see Lakes as a three-piece twice in L.A. I picked up a copy of your latest LP Blood of the Grove and have been jamming it. I know Lakes began as and largely continues to be a solo project, but do all three of you guys play on recordings?
SB: It was great to play those shows in L.A.! Total Control are good friends and such a great band. It was amazing to be able to play with them in the U.S and we felt very grateful for the opportunity. I write and perform everything for the studio records. I will get guests in to play on one or two songs, but it's mostly me playing every instrument. I find it easier that way and it's what I'm used to with lakes, I can have complete control over every aspect of recording and song writing and the only person I have to organize is myself and my engineer, Jack Farley. It's weird - I really need that control with lakes but don't need it with our other band Tol, which is a collaborative thing. I then teach the new songs to my band Lee Parker (percussion) and Justin Fuller (Bass), the songs will then evolve a little more and get a new life for the live performances. I really love what the band brings to the live thing: it's more aggressive and heavy when performed live, which is how I want it.
JR: A lot of your records previously came out on your Inverted Crux label. Is the label still active? Are you glad to have less of a hand in the actual vinyl/CD production of a record?
SB: I started inverted crux in 2005 to document music that I and my mates were making. In 2008 I decided to use the label to only release Lakes recordings. I just got tired of being an organizer of other people and it was really hard to get any distro for what I was doing. I eventually shut the label down in 2010. Once I shut it down I could focus more and leave the releasing of records to people who know what they are doing!
JR: Lakes started back in the mid 2000s if I'm not mistaken - the first LP was almost entirely a solo affair, although a few people guested on it, I think. Obviously, collaboration has had a bit of a place on all Lakes material, even if minimal, but your songwriting has been done individually. A lot has changed since 2005 - how has your songwriting changed?
SB: Yes, so much has changed! Lakes started at the very end of 2002 as a solo project. I was sick of being in bands. I was playing in a Melbourne post-punk band called The Vivian Girls from 1999-2001, which ended badly. I didn't really want to deal with being in a band anymore so the idea for lakes began around then and came into fruition about a year later after not doing all that much. It sounds very cliché but I was in my first year at art school when Lakes started. I was studying painting at The Victorian College of the Arts and the first Lakes show was for an Art School event! It was really meant to be a one off performance but I kept it going and it just evolved from there. My main intent at the time was to be as self-sufficient as I could and use minimal instruments. I had a keyboard and a drum machine so I used that. I was a drummer but had always had a hand in arrangements of songs. I knew how I wanted our band to sound and that frustrated people I think. I had never played any other instruments in bands before, though I could play most of them, but I was also a little naive. In the beginning Lakes was informed by early Australian post-punk and was very minimal but not all that interesting! The first record got weirder and I had a few guests and the recording is really raw. It was quite psychedelic but also industrial, a bizarre mix looking back now. I was just throwing experiments out there and seeing what happened. My song writing changed naturally I think. With each new song I wanted to evolve my sound, which was very raw in the beginning. It maintains the same intent and essence but has become more focused on actual song writing rather than experimentation.
SB: The equipment I use has changed so much since the beginning. Like I said, earlier I was only using a keyboard and a drum machine. Over time I started to bring in tapes, percussion, and guitar. Since 2008 I began using a guitar to write the songs and playing live became a more complex operation. In a live situation I used cassette tapes and a drum machine to add texture and a beat. I explored this way of playing live for a few years until it became unenjoyable for me and just plain stressful! I wanted people to aid me in a live setting. I learned over the time I was playing solo that I need to be able to adapt to the live situation no matter what equipment issues I may be faced with. Even with the band, we can adapt and still have a strong live performance. The live thing is a really important element, I really want to be a strong live group and that couldn't happen with a solo project so I recruited a full band in 2010.
JR: You guys haven't played the States all that often, have you? How was the recent West Coast tour?
SB: We haven't played in the States much at all. I’ve been the U.S a lot but this was the first time I brought the full band. If it weren't for Beserktown, we wouldn't have even been able to come, so we are very very grateful for that. All the shows we played had their beauty, and as a unit we are good at finding the things that work and focusing on that. It gets hard when shows aren't well attended or when other humans are being hard to deal with, but in the end we put all of our energy into playing the best show we can. Some of the best shows we played weren't necessarily to our audience, which can make for a good energy or make things a little more interesting for us too.
JR: Blood of the Grove came out in 2013 - are you guys currently recording or writing new music? Any plans for a new LP?
SB: Blood of the Grove seems like so long ago now! I attempt to release at least something once a year. Be that a cassette, 7" or whatever. I did the Carved Remains 7" in 2014 and the Lakes 'Chant from above: Live in Melbourne' in 2015'. During the last two years I've been really focused on my painting practice. I find I need to separate the two disciplines sometimes. In 2013 I decided to dedicate myself and most of my time to painting as I had received a studio residency in Melbourne. It was a really productive time and helped my painting practice a lot, I found a new kind of devotion to it, so it was an important two years, but Lakes had to take a bit of a back seat. I put the brushes down briefly early in 2015 to record the new LP 'Arms in Twilight''. Thomas from Swedish death industrial group Trepaneringsritualen is releasing it on his Label Beläten. Thomas and I have a mutual appreciation of each others’ work and started to write to each other, which is how that came about. I couldn't be happier working with him, and I'm very excited to get this new LP out there.
JR: What all is in the future for Lakes?
SB: I really want to take the full band on a European tour. I've been writing new songs and want to do a 7" sometime next year. I just want to keep it all moving along. I hate being idle.
JR: Anything else you'd like to say?
SB: Thanks for the interview!