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Curse of Lono - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 8 / 11 / 2016

Curse of Lono - Interview


Former Hey Negrita front man Felix Bechtolsheimer speaks to John Clarkson speaks about his new band Curse of Lono, their self-titled debut EP and plans for the future

Curse of Lono is the new group of former Hey Negrita frontman Felix Bechtolsheimer. Founded in London in 2002, Hey Negrita was one of the main acts in the New British Roots Movement and toured both Europe and the United States successfully on several occasions. Hey Negrita was formed by guitarist and vocalist Bechtolsheimer with multi-instrumentalist and keyboardist Hugo Heimann after he returned from Florida having spent a year there being treated for heroin addiction. 'We Are Catfish', their confessional debut album, came out in 2005 and told with gallows humour of Bechtolsheimer's five years long addiction problems and the deaths of several of his contemporaries from drug overdoses. 'The Buzz Above', Hey Negrita's breakthrough second album, followed a year later in 2006 and was similarly bleak, reflecting on the collapse of a long-term relationship. When both Heimann and second guitarist Gus Glen left the band at the end of an extensive tour to promote it, Bechtolsheimer and drummer Neil Findlay decided to expand Hey Negrita into a five-piece line-up, which consisted as well of guitarist, banjo-player and backing vocalist Matthew Ord, upright bassist Paul Sandy and harmonica player and vocalist Captain Bliss (William Greener). Their music became less Americana-oriented and more bluegrass and harmony-influenced, and their last two albums, 2008's 'You Can Kick' and 2009's ”live studio” album 'Burn the Whole Place Down', which was recorded in four hours, were considerably lighter in tone, finding Bechtolsheimer back in love again and telling of the band's escapades on the road. After Hey Negrita folded in 2009, Bechtolsheimer was absent from music for six years before he formed Curse of Lono in 2015. Curse of Lono consists, as well as Bechtolsheimer on vocals and guitar, of once again Neil Findlay on drums, and also lead guitarist Joe Hazell, bassist Charis Anderson and keyboardist Dani Ruiz Hernandez. Their eponymous four-song debut EP was released on 12" vinyl and download on Bechtolsheimer’s new Submarine Cat label in October. The slow-burning, opener ‘Five Miles’ makes extensive use of vocal harmonies and weighs up Hey Negrita’s break-up. The brooding ‘London Rain’ pushes Hernandez’s echoing Doors-style keyboards to the fore and finds Bechtolsheimer reflecting back on his heroin years. The balladic ‘He Takes My Place’ tells of a painful break-up, in which Bechtolsheimer finds himself dumped for someone else, while the tender ‘Saturday Night’ for all its on-the-surface sweetness, is about heroin withdrawal. Each of the four songs is accompanied by a video directed by Bectolsheimer’s friend and filmmaker Alex Walker which interlink into a larger film and tell a story of gangsterial revenge. Curse of Lono spent late October and early November playing their first European and UK tour in support of Austin rockers Uncle Lucius and will be releasing their as-yet-untitled debut album early next year. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Felix Bechtolsheimer about Curse of Lono, the recent EP and their plans for the future. PB: You and Neil Findlay had played together throughout all the various incarnations of Hey Negrita. The band was well known in Europe and America. Why did you decide to come back with a different name and to start over again rather than simply reforming as Hey Negrita? FB: I think that Curse of Lono has a different sound. We had had a lot of fun with Hey Negrita. We did four albums and the last album came out on exactly the same day in 2009 as Mumford & Sons’ first album. We had put in a lot of hard work to get to a certain level in that field, and then these guys came along and totally blew up the glass ceiling. Suddenly a band with a banjo could do much bigger things, but at the same time some of the members of Hey Negrita wanted to go off and do other things. I also wanted to take a break. I had spent a lot of time fighting really hard to get this kind of music on the radio and at festivals, but at the same time when it started happening I felt it was time to take a break and do something else. When I started working on this new material there was just me and the producer Oli Bayston on keyboards at first. We had been working on this new material for a while and then we felt we needed a drummer, so we got Neil in and then it became obvious I can’t do anything without Neil (Laughs). The whole vibe, however, is different. We achieved an awful lot with Hey Negrita which we are very proud of, but this is something new and I didn’t want to make the new band members feel like they were replacing anyone, as they weren’t. Curse of Lono’s music was developing its own sound, and it seemed right to start from scratch. PB: Curse of Lono seem to have taken some of Americana elements of Hey Negrita and then injected it with an indie/alternative rock sound. Was that what you were aiming for? FB: Yes. When I got together with Oli the only rule that we had was to try and do it differently to how Hey Negrita would have done it. The raw basis of the songs is very much Hey Negrita, but we wanted to mess around with things and Oli was very much into Radiohead and Kraftwerk. He enabled me to find a new way of looking at the songs rather than just going for a raw, roots-based sound. PB: When were the songs for the forthcoming album written? FB: The full album was written over a fifteen year period. I wrote the first song ‘Saturday Night’ which appears on the EP shortly after coming out of detox and when I quit heroin in 2000. Then there are songs like ‘Five Miles’, which also appears on the EP, which was written last year. The album is almost like an autobiography (Laughs). There are songs from the darkest times in my life and there are songs written very recently, which are still looking back at those days but are more reflective rather than having been written in the chaos. PB: What was your basis for picking songs? In Hey Negrita you always wrote prolifically and you must have had an extensive backlog of songs to choose from. FB: Oli and I did a week of demoing and I had a huge bunch of unused songs, both new ones and ones which, as you say, stretched back to Hey Negrita days. I played him a whole lot of stuff and would perhaps throw something to him that I hadn’t looked at for ten years, and Oli would go, “I love this one. I have got a great idea for it” or “That one doesn’t really excite me,” and we would leave it. There is still a few left in the pot for the next album and there is a lot of new stuff that I am writing as well. We just had fun with it. There was no pressure. It was just me and him, and then when we decided which songs were going to go on the record that was when we got the proper musicians in and said, “Let’s work on these and get these down.” PB: You told 'Americana UK' that you did your best “to walk away from music for a while but it didn’t work out.” That is hard to believe. You always come across as very enthusiastic in interviews and when you are playing gigs about your music. Why did you want to walk away from it? Were you just totally burnt out? FB: I think I was. We did a lot of touring and by the end it got very difficult. It was just a lot of pressure. You have to sell out shows and you have to sell records and it became totally exhausting. We finished Hey Negrita with everyone on really good terms. We are still on good terms, but it was just time for something different, but, to be honest, it didn’t work out doing something different (Laughs). I did a bunch of different stuff, and at the end of the day it didn’t make me happy (Laughs). It wasn’t that I didn’t succeed at anything else, but at the end of the day I am happy when I have got a guitar in my hand and my mates around me and I think that was why it was so difficult for me to walk away from it. I knew that I didn’t want to do it anymore, but I couldn’t work out what I wanted to do and I felt lost. Then when I started working with Oli I was instantly excited again (Laughs). I think I just needed a break for a while. You walk away from something for a bit, and you realise how much you love it and how much you miss it. You come back to it with a totally different enthusiasm, and you realise, “That is what makes me happy.” PB: You brought the other members of Curse of Lono in through “a weird form of musical dating”. In what ways was it weird? FB: (Laughs). I have always said that Neil and I met through the musical version of Tinder. I found Neil after I answered an online advert for Hey Negrita. Hugo and I were looking for a drummer and we found this ad for this guy and I approached him and he said, “I only take session work,” and I said, “We can’t afford it to pay you at this stage, but we will have a lot of fun together", and he had heard us on the radio the day before and he said, “Okay, let’s do this.” Neil was the first one that I met like that, but then when it came to putting a full band together for Curse of Lono there were various websites out there and I placed some adverts. It was like a dating site. I approached people and said, “I like your influences and I like the way you play guitar. Do you want to have a listen to some of my stuff?” We slowly started getting people in for auditions and the other members of the band then came together quite quickly. PB: The four songs on the EP have all been accompanied by a film directed by Alex Walker. Who chose the songs on the EP? Was it you or Alex? FB: It was me. I chose the songs on the EP. Alex and I both wanted to make a movie around some Curse of Lono songs, and I had a little spark of an idea for a storyline. It wasn’t the whole thing. I talked to Alex, and he went away and wrote a whole script which I then tweaked a bit. I had three original different scenarios that I quite liked, but then Alex came up with a fourth scenario. It will be four individual videos, but they will also be shown as a short film of about fifteen or sixteen minutes. PB: ‘You Can Kick’ and ‘Burn the Whole Place Down’ were quite upbeat compared to ‘We Are Catfish’ and ‘The Buzz Above’. This EP seems bleaker again. Is the album going to be melancholic like the EP or are there other songs on it that are more optimistic? FB: There are. The two songs that I think are the catchiest, most upbeat songs – and which are the most obvious singles on the album - are not on the EP deliberately. The EP was a way for me to do something cinematic with the films. I obviously haven’t released a record in quite a while, so it was also a nice way for me to dip my toes in the water and see that everything is functioning as we have set up a new label Submarine Cat. I don’t want to call it a trial run because it is very much a fully-fledged release, but at the same time it was a way of making sure that everything is working properly with Submarine Cat before we go full-on with the album. I also wanted to give people an introduction to the band without them taking away the catchiest tunes. With this one we wanted to go in with the more leftfield, atmospheric, cinematic stuff and to give people a taste of what the band is about. PB: What inspired the lyrics to ‘London Rain’? FB: That was very cinematic. It was very visual in my head when I was writing it. It is one of the newer songs but lyrically it is about me hoping that it is my farewell to my addiction problems. I stopped taking drugs in 2000. I will, however, always be an ex-junkie. I still get the occasional text message or email or letter from people from back then who have been twenty years on heroin now, and ‘London Rain’ is about me looking back over that time and reflecting back on it as I am now and how I am still defined by it in a way. PB: Is ‘He Takes My Place’ also reflective as well? FB: Yes, that is reflective. One of the things that I did when I took a break from music was that I wrote a memoir. I always say that it is about heroin and banjos (Laughs). I was shortlisted with it for a National Award for Best Unpublished Memoir, but in the end I decided that it wasn’t ready to come out and I went back to writing music. I will go back to writing that book at some point, but as you can imagine writing about those old times in detail brought a lot of stuff back for me and so I ended up using some of the scenes from the book in my lyrics. ‘He Takes My Place’ is about a very specific scene in it. I was living with the girl I was with at the time and I kept calling her and saying, “Where are you? Where are you?” and eventually she picked up and said, “Well, I am with another guy. What do you expect?” I have an old friend who is a lot older than me. In fact he is twenty five years older and he was a heroin addict at the time and he was sitting there with me. It was that horrible situation in which you realise that at that moment the person that you are actually supposed to be living with is sleeping with someone else, and your mate, who is with you, is patting you on the shoulder and going, “Don’t worry. It will be alright.” I was eighteen at the time or nineteen. It was a very intense experience, and it felt good to write about it with a degree of a distance when it doesn’t hit you so hard. PB: What is ‘Five Miles’ about in contrast? FB:‘Five Miles’ is more in the moment. It was about me feeling down after Hey Negrita split up. Like I said I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore and I tried various things out. I tried photography and I tried journalism for a bit, but neither of them really clicked. It is about falling from a great height. Of course, there is always a drug reference when it comes to me and that is in there, but is equally about the band and how you feel like you are on top of the world and suddenly that is gone. It sounds very dark but it is more about how I got beyond that, and I believe that it is actually a very positive song. PB: Why have you decided to put the EP out on vinyl? FB: We are not putting out a CD at all. We have pressed a few CDs purely for promotional purposes and we might sell a few at a gigs or something, It was mastered at Abbey Road Studios and they do sound beautiful, so it was a real treat for us to have it on vinyl, much more so than CD. The idea of going totally digital just scared me. As an artist, you want to hold something that you made in your hand. I think that it shows that you are taking things more seriously in a way if you release it on vinyl. Vinyl is literally a piece of art. PB: When is the album coming out? FB: We don’t have an exact date but it is looking like it will be March. The album’s finished. The only thing we are still tweaking is the art work. In March it will be done and ready to go, but we will see how this EP does first of all. It will be dependent as well on what tours we do over in the States and what touring we do over here and to coincide with that. PB: You have got the tour coming up with Uncle Lucius. Do you have any other present plans for gigs? FB: We have got the Uncle Lucius tour and then we are in the running with a few other bands to hopefully get another tour, maybe in January. We are still looking at dates. The plan is to do seven date UK tour with Uncle Lucius plus three European dates with them to warm us up and then from early next year to get cracking and do a lot more touring. PB: Thank you. Photos by Hana Knizova www.hanaknizova.com

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Interview (2018)
Curse of Lono - Interview
John Clarkson speaks to Curse of Lono frontman Felix Bectolsheimer about 'As I Fell', his band's much acclaimed second album.



As I Fell (2018)
Evocative and highly rewarding second album from Curse of Lono, which is one of the Americana albums of the year
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