L.A. Lungs are certainly not a household name to many, but that doesn't take away from the killer stuff they're brewing up in Tacoma, Washington. This duo of Nathan (Afterthought Lung) and Lori (Leeward Lung) have shared releases with members of the inimitable Shearing Pinx (on Isolated Now Waves, hurrah!) as well as dropping two solo gems of their own (especially of note is their recent CDR on Debacle). The Lungs create their own brand of drones and tones, offering up a disjointed world to fight the smog. Definitely a band to keep an eye on for the future as they're only going to get better and better from here on out. Good times.
Nathan: Music has always meant so much to me, really as far back as I can remember. My folks were hippies, so my earliest introduction to music was stuff like Neil Young, Grateful Dead, John Prine, Hendrix. When I was like four my mom got a call from the daycare that I was at because I was walking around singing the chorus to "Casey Jones" at the top of my lungs. Then I went through the Top 40 phase that a lot of kids age 7-14 kind of go through, but I think I was a little more obsessive about things like remembering band names and memorizing lyrics than most kids. And I was always singing stuff in public, getting in trouble for singing Billy Ocean songs while my teacher was trying to teach. Then in high school I got into the whole "alternative" rock thing, and through that Sonic Youth. It's pretty much been down hill from there.
Lori: Music has always been very prevalent in my life, too. I must admit that the top 40 thing played a bigger role for me. My earliest memory however was habitually falling asleep to an ABBA tape on a walkman. Classical music actually interested me as I grew up. I spent a portion of my childhood in England, and I liked doing my homework to the classical radio station there. Apart from that, it was mostly Richard Marx and Michael Bolton.
Nathan: My actual "learning" of any instrument has been sporadic at best. I tried to learn to play trumpet when I was in elementary school, but I didn't like my band teacher, so that didn't last very long. Mostly when I was a kid I liked to sing. I was in choir throughout middle school. Then I quit music all together in high school, spending half the time being into sports and the other half being an artsy stoner kid, but mostly into writing and painting. I didn't really dive into making music until my early 20s, when I became a singer and keyboard player in my first band. Since then I've just kind of played everything I can get my hands on, without becoming particularly good at anything.
Lori: The first instrument that I wanted to learn to play was a tenor saxophone, but my family couldn't afford one. My sister Nicola tried to teach me the flute and the clarinet, but my favorite thing was a small casio-like keyboard that we had in the house. I played it incessantly. I always wanted to be able to play "Axel F (the theme from Beverly Hills Cop)." I have not learned anything formally. Everything that I play now is "self-taught" at best, and I'll play anything I can get my hands on!
Nathan: When we first started dating, we had joked about starting a band. A couple years later my band split, and I was pretty much thought I was done with music, aside from being a record nerd, which I've always been. Then I met up with an old friend who had moved back to Tacoma and had started a CD-R/cassete label called Handpanther. This was like, 2005. I was very impressed and inspired by his ethic and realized how feasible it had become to do everything in a DIY fashion and still have an enough of an audience to make it worth while. So anyway I starting bugging Lori about jamming and recording stuff, and it turned out that she is a natural at this stuff and a pretty perfect foil in creative terms.
Lori: Okay...being the romantic that I am, I have to tell the story of how we actually met. Nathan was hosting karaoke at a local bar called the Java Jive. I went one Wednesday on a whim with a good friend of mine, and I sang "We've Only Just Begun" by The Carpenters. Nathan gave me a Garbage Pail Kids sticker - it was Ultraviolet. As far as the band forming, I remember us goofing around on Nathan's Korg Super Section and a delay pedal - I think that was truly the moment of conception.
Nathan: It was based on the same discussion that we had when we had joked about starting a band. We were talking about air pollution, and the concept of having "L.A. Lungs" was born. I don't think either one of us were prepared for the seemingly mass assumption that it is a play on the band L.A. Guns. I thought the name was kind of silly but oddly sinister at the same time. In hindsight the name is just kind of weird and misleading. Oh well...
Lori: I work with cadavers at my job, and it is unsettling to see the carbon deposits on the lungs of nonsmokers, deposits caused by pollution. I had told Nathan about this when we first started dating, and this is what started our fictitious band name.
Nathan: He just dropped us a line on Myspace. He was just like "I found this box of C30's at the thrift store and we should do a split". That guy is amazing, isn't he? What he and the whole Vancouver scene in general does is a great example of a DIY based scene being able to have legitimate resonance. Nothing but love and respect!
Lori: Nic is amazing. We got to play with Shearing Pinx at the The Old Firehouse, a youth center in Redmond, WA. He and his bandmates were really neat.
Can you give a brief rundown of your other releases as well?
Nathan: Our first CD-R was called "I've Called you 'Sexy Woman' on a Tuesday Night Before". It was on Handpather in an edition of 40. It was released in 2006.
We also self-released CD-R called "Metaphors for Comfort" which is a studio track and a live radio performance on KPSU in Portland. This was released in 2007.
This year we released two albums within a month of each other. One is a CD-R called "Turntable Broken, Prayer Book Lost" and is on Debacle Records. The other is called "Most of the Time, We Don't Realize We Are Shedding Our Skin", and is a downloadable album on Aphonia Recordings.
Lori: Tacoma is a very pop- and rock-oriented city as far as music goes, so the bands/individuals that are making weird and experimental music have few places to play and few in the audience when they do find a venue. There are bands/individuals creating things, though, really good things.
Nathan: Yeah, not much going on in the way of "out" music here in Tacoma. It kind of sucks from a logistical standpoint that we don't have opportunities for quality shows in our hometown, but we have been fortunate to make many friends in Seattle, Olympia, Portland, and really all the way down the west coast.
Lori: I work at a local community college as a science lab tech. It is a fantastic job. Cadavers are a part of it, because we have a great anatomy and physiology program. I have to tout our school; it really is wonderful. Yes, it truly is a unique job - everyday I get to work with fun glassware, cadavers, a greenhouse, two really big aquaria, and an iguana.
Jeez, I never even put the LA Lungs/LA Guns thing together, and I was totally into LA Guns when I was a wee one, so I think that's kind of awesome. This really isn't much of a question, sorry.
Lori: One of my good friends is an avid LA Guns fan. She also likes Men at Work. I don't know what it all means.
Nathan: The only reason it's at all a bummer is that I don't want folks thinking we're either being "ironic" in a totally obvious way, or that we're being too dadaist for our own good. What's in a name though?
Lori: As one who has never considered herself an actual "musician" per se, I've been happy to record in any medium available. If there was a way to capture sound in liquid, I'd be open to putting out a release as such. I once had this idea about a format that changes the sound of the recording as it is played repeatedly, from the wear and tear of the physical act of the playing. I think that only vinyl and tape come close to having that quality of transforming the sound through entropy. As a listener, I think there is a special "je ne sais quoi" to tape, as there is to vinyl. It may be the mere fact that they are not readily transportable formats. A vinyl record demands that I sit down and listen. I like that. That being said, I really appreciate how much the internet has opened the musical arena for those that may not have access to more under-the-radar work in their home towns. As a final remark, with the state of the economy, anything we can do to keep people employed making releases in any form is certainly the way to go.
Nathan: Our basic modus operandi is that we don't really solicit ourselves very much. That goes for shows and recordings. So really it's been more about what labels have asked us to work with them, and it just happens that they are very diverse in the formats they are in to. I think there is something I like about all the formats we've worked in. As a record nerd, it would be a dream come true to put something out on vinyl, but at the same time I don't want to see anyone who cares about our music enough to want to put it out lose their shirt pressing vinyl that probably won't sell too much.
Nathan: Ben and Andrew just wrote us and asked us to play at one of Aphonia's showcase shows up in Seattle. The next week they asked us if we wanted to do a record. We have some mutual friends in Derek M. Johnson and Marielle from Darwin's Bitch who I think put in good words for us. Aphonia, Debacle, and Isolated Now Waves are all amazing labels with very different feels to them, and it's been an honor to be a part of these extended families.
Lori: Ditto - It has been an honor to work with such wonderful people.
Lori: Apart from the N213 split, which was all Nic's work and absolutely beautiful, we have done the art for our releases in some way, shape, or form. I think we take a dada approach to our visual art for the albums. We definitely sense a certain mood to our albums, and then the artwork flows out of that naturally. Turntable Broken, Prayer Book Lost has a morose feel to it, so we picked a couple of my paintings and Nathan's photos that have a distant feel to them. Metaphors for comfort was very literal - nothing more comfortable than the womb and a big cuddly fat cat. Again, as a "consumer" of art, I know that the artwork associated with an album is just as integral to the effect as the music itself.
Nathan: I think there is a certain degree of association between the music and art on our records. But much like the music itself, I think we are cognizant to the notion that the total package of the two is ultimately up the to the individual to wrap his/her head around. As most of my friends can attest, I am a nut about making mixed tapes and cd's for our peeps. And putting the artwork together is always the icing on the cake. I can't picture us ever wanting to put that in someone else's hands.
Lori: Do you mean when Nathan and I have arguments every time we create something new? Ha ha ha! I know that as far as our creative energies flow, we definitely counter each other in a sense. I am very attuned to melody. That is my outlet with the music, finding something that I suppose I would consider "beautiful," and then Nathan adds the "ugly," only in a figurative sense. We like to juxtapose convention with the lack of convention, and we take our places in that formula - it works quite well.
Nathan: Things are always in a state of flux. As we've grown in working together we've done a lot to change roles and try to add different things to the overall dynamic. I've gotten better at adding melody, and Lori has gotten better at adding atmospherics. Whether or not we think about it much when we are writing, I think the fact that we are married and that this is what we mean to each other first and foremost makes it easier to communicate with each other better with the music, even if things can get argumentative at points. I've worked with a lot of musicians where there is this sort of passive-aggressive thing going on creatively, and I definitely don’t think that is a problem with us, which can only benefit the final product. Usually we struggle, then we argue, then we we pull it together and come up with stuff.
Lori: Awe! That is so sweet! I can hear in our finished recordings an unpolished quality, and it does stem from that very tension, but I think it is one of the things that does make our sound a bit unique.
Lori: I certainly think that it does. Tacoma has an industrial beauty to it. I think that our music could be an auditory mirror to the tide flats at night.
Nathan: I know that I don't consciously think about the connection, but I'm sure it has an effect on things. Some group determined a while ago that Tacoma has the title of "The Most Stressed Out City in America" based on things like alcoholism/unemployment/crime/divorce/etc. Maybe we are rebelling against this with our music?
Nathan: We are working on an interpretation of "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" which is a poem by Wallace Stevens. This could very well take us all of next year to put together, but it will certainly give us material for our live shows for a while.
Nathan: "Heavy Duty" by Mattress
"Monolith" by Acre
The self-titled Forrest Friends record
"Sonnets for Unamuno" by A Story of Rats
"Thousands" by KRGA
"Unhistories" by Singer
"All the Way" by Growing
Lori: I've actually been really getting into a lot of old things - primarily world music, bluegrass, folk, blues.... I was able to find a Skip James album and a Bukka White tape a couple of weeks ago, and it felt like my Birthday. As far as this year's releases, I like Portishead's "Third," and Bonnie "Prince" Billy's "Lie Down in the Light." I saw Tiny Vipers perform in Seattle earlier this year, opening up for Singer, and that was a wonderful discovery.
-- Brad Rose (17 December, 2008)