> Interview: Pictish Trail – Island Family - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Interview: Pictish Trail – Island Family

Johnny Lynch, AKA Pictish Trail, is an artist weel-kent in Scotland’s music scene. Not only the founder of Lost Map Records (known for Savage Mansion, Martha Ffion and others) Lynch has much evolved from his folk sound with Fence, his Moshi Moshi electronic/synth-based collaboration with Adem, Silver Columns, to the (substantially) frenetic, repetitive, and aggressive sound of his new LP, Island Family.

This fifth album from Lynch sees him move away from the dulcet ballads on Secret Soundz to this high-energy, repetitive, sardonic, personal, record. With Island Family Pictish Trail visits the old adage that no man can remain an island, however hard he might try, whilst grappling with the clear frustration and descent into madness that many have felt in the last couple of years.

Johnny spoke with SNACK about his evolved sound and the catharsis of playing the same riff for five hours through a distortion pedal.

With the success of your last album, Thumb World, and prior to that Future Echoes, there’s a bit of anticipation around your new LP. What can we expect from Island Family?

Well, it’s a collection of ten songs that I wrote at the beginning of last year. I’d spent the first half of the lockdown thing totally not able to think about music, just not feeling creative at all. Then I had a bit of a panic when 2021 came around and thought I needed to get back into the habit of actually writing songs. I locked myself away in a bothy for a week and came up with the first batch of songs for the new album there.

This restored my confidence in things a lot. That’s often the way I do songwriting – I tend to store stuff up over a long period of time and then it all sort of splurges out.

Musically, I was trying to do something that felt a bit different to the previous record. I was a bit more aggressive, maybe reflecting that sense of frustration that we’ve all been feeling over the past wee while.

There’s a bit of a shift in sound, though gradual considering the change between your 2018 and 2020 albums. How  would you personally describe the change? If we compare ‘Natural Successor’ to, let’s say, ‘Half Life’?

I just wanted to do something really distorted. I’d done a bit of that on Thumb World; there’s a lot of weird distortions and stuff happening. I wanted the sound to be more visceral, so there is almost less instrumentation across the new album, but everything is just a little bit louder.

So,  ‘Natural  Successor’,  the  bare  bones  of that song was me playing bass guitar through a distortion pedal and a sampler and a drum machine for about five hours. I just wanted to do something that was really dumb-sounding and fun, and a bit stupid. But also aggressive at the same time. I think I spent about five hours playing the same riff over the same drum loop one evening up in the bothy and then just trying to write a song from those very primal ingredients.

That sounds enough to give you cabin fever in itself…

It was very cathartic in a weird way. You kind of get into a zone when you just sort of repeat the same phrase over and over again musically. I suppose it is like some sort of weird chanting exercise except with a bass.

Last year, gigs were limited. Will there be a whole spell of gigs alongside this release?

I’m touring in March and April. The album is out in the middle of March, the tour starts in England and then we’re doing sixteen shows. The last four shows are in Scotland, which I am really looking forward to – we should be very well rehearsed at that point. We’re also supporting Hot Chip in June at Junction 1 in Glasgow, which will be fun.

What are you listening to right now?

It sounds like the most obvious answer but genuinely about 80% of my listening is Lost Map stuff; there’s just so much of it and it’s all amazing. We’ve got this thing, PostMap Club, which is our subscription service for the label and it’s totally saved us as a label, actually, over the past two years, people subscribing and receiving music from us directly each month. It’s been really great to see what people come up with and really surprising to see the different directions our roster of artists have been going in.

What is your go-to snack right now?

As it’s the beginning of the year, I’ve been trying not to snack. I’ve tried to be good and just have meals but one of my favourite things to have is a bagel with peanut butter and marmite. But that is not usually a snack; it’s more of a meal. It’s just such an amazing combination and eaten really quickly with a scalding hot cup of tea. That’s me in my heaven right there.

Island Family is out on 18th March, via Fire Records and Lost Map

For a full list of tour dates check out lostmap.com

Photo credits: Stephanie Gibson

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