Del Osei-Owusu interviews Matthew and Helen of Lines of Flight
Matthew and Helen thanks for agreeing to talk to us. How are you?
MH: Hi there – good, thank you. Things seem to be going well and we’re enjoying how people are reacting to the music releases.
You connected during the first lockdown of 2020, how did this come about?
MH: A bit of luck; a bit of ‘taking a chance’. Having been aware of each other through various Leeds connections, when lockdown came in I realised that Helen wouldn’t be able to sing in her choir and my band came to halt. So I sent a speculative message asking about the possibilities of us trying to find a way to create music remotely, which to be fair people have been doing for a long time, but we had very little equipment and didn’t know each other. That’s where the luck bit came in – how would it all work out, and could we manage it all on phones.
What were your main influences starting out?
MH: Key influences include: Cocteau Twins, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Mazzy Star, Golden Fable, St. Etienne, Ela Minus, I Break Horses, Austra, Lush, Ladytron, Goldfrapp, Eurythmics, New Order, but we both have broad musical tastes and knowledge and because the process was relatively perfunctory in the beginning – it was more about can we get songs to sound good enough. It was later that influences came in but again they covered folk through to goth and darker synth tracks.
HW: We definitely talked about and shared a lot of music with each other throughout last year (we’ve actually made a playlist of all the tracks we shared with each other on our WhatsApp music thread – available on our Spotify profile), but we weren’t really conscious of direct influences, as such. It’s interesting now that three of our tracks are out there to hear our sound being likened to particular bands.
You wrote songs separately what was the easiest and most challenging part of the process?
MH: I think because lockdown was so limiting, it provided us with a focus and a steel – every free minute for the first 5 months was sharing words, music or recording – each song had its own trickier parts, but the 10 songs were complete in the first 5 months. If Helen was singing on a track, I’d be putting the music down for another, or working on some of Helen’s words, or mine. We were working on multiple tracks at any one time – it all just flowed.
HW: There were some techy bits right at the start that we needed to iron out – I’d never used Garageband before, and it took me until perhaps our third recording to realise that I didn’t need to sing all my vox in one take, for example… haha. But aside from that, it just really worked; we could both fit our writing/recording in around our other commitments, but be sharing and sending ideas and feedback back and forth to each other pretty much all the time. When I look back, I’m proud that we managed to do all of this pretty much through messages alone; I think we had one phone call, and that was more just to get to know each other a bit rather than to specifically discuss the project.
What did you find worked to your advantage during the process?
MH: As the trust between us grew, being able to share words and melodies meant we could work apart but together. Each time one of us came back with something, it always… well, nearly always worked. Also, the lack of distractions – we didn’t look up to see what others were doing and we weren’t swayed by other music being made – we were able to be totally in our own shared (but separate) music universe. This meant time was on our side – we could focus on ‘our’ sound and have enough songs made together for them all to feel like a coherent whole.
HW: Before this project, I’d never really recorded my voice; I’ve been involved in live music in various ways, but this was the first time I was really listening to myself. Having the privacy to experiment while recording, while also having Matthew giving feedback from a distance, was the perfect mix. Through this project I’ve developed a vocal style that I’ve never used before. I think this came about because our process began with Matthew writing the music and melody, and tracking the vocals before sending the track to me – this meant the key was in his singing range. Working on the first tracks last year my immediate instinct was that they were out of my comfortable singing range, but actually – because I was able to experiment without anyone else hearing, and because Matthew had no preconceptions about what my voice sounded like, I was able to try something a bit new, and it has ended up working.
You’ve recorded ten songs during this time, what’s been your favourite?
MH: That is a tricky one – partly because the order of release isn’t the order we completed them in, and so they all represent different things. I love Heading Out To You because it was the last song we wrote, but it also represents the culmination of all our work before then, and this then shaped the other songs. After the songs were all written, we went back and reworked them and edited them. That what was so great about working with Ed Heaton, his mixing and editorial ear created a feedback loop for the tracks — he’d mix one to two tracks a month, we’d listen and love it and then while he was working on the next, I’d go and work the tracks again to improve them; every track has been through this process.
HW: I think our debut, Birthing Bell will always be special, because it was the first one we worked on together, and it represents that moment of us both taking a leap of faith. It’s also probably the track that’s been through the most interesting reworking process. When I wrote the lyrics I could only hear it as an a capella folk song; Matthew took it and made it something beautifully different, and then it went through a further transformation with Ed Heaton’s production/mixing; he added the string samples which give it so much.
2020 was a time to reflect, what was one thing you learned about yourselves?
MH: To trust my judgement and to have a little more self belief. That taking a chance and sending out a text can really work out, and what’s the worst that can happen if it doesn’t… and that I’m quite an introvert.
HW: That creativity is hugely important to me; it’s something I’d largely neglected in life before the pandemic, amidst the usual everyday hectic nature of things. Despite so many things being horrendous last year, I found that I actually enjoy taking things at a slower pace sometimes, especially when that means having the time to reflect in a creative sense.
COVID affected the creative industry in a big way, what kept you motivated?
MH: People: People will always need art and creativity and events and expression – there will always be really tough times but the creative industries flex and shift and adapt. COVID has been hard across a lot of industries in this sector but actually it won’t do as much damage as long term under investment and taking these subjects off the curriculum. My biggest concern is COVID is being used as an excuse to change what and how we learn.
HW: I think because we didn’t set out to ‘start a band’ or have an end-game of playing gigs we had an easier time than musicians whose plans and careers were curtailed. Our project is definitely something that was born out of the pandemic, rather than something restricted by it. Having time to work on the music was a luxury, but I think both of us were aware that the unique conditions that enabled us to work in the way we did wouldn’t last forever, so in some ways I think that spurred us on too.
You have both have a love of nature, are there any particular place that you like to go to connect with it?
MH: I love the ‘taken for granted’ nature – the stuff people don’t see as anything special – I Remember Everything (track 5) was inspired by an oncoming storm as two crows bickered at each other in an empty playground. My love of nature is that it’s everywhere if you look.
HW: Yeah, I feel very strongly about what Matthew said, actually. I love how close we are to open fields here in Leeds; in 15 minutes you can be out in the countryside. But there are plants and creatures all around us; even in the middle of Leeds you can look up and there are goldfinches, red kites and even peregrine falcons (they nest on a University of Leeds building). Lockdown 1 really made me appreciate my local park too; there’s a tiny strip of woodland on the edge of it that I’d never bothered paying much attention to before the pandemic. Now I go there pretty much every day; it’s very small and unassuming, and right next to a big block of flats, but it’s full of song thrushes, long-tailed tits, blackbirds, great tits, and butterflies and bees in the summer. When we were recording the tracks I would often walk there in the evening and listen to the mixes that Matthew sent across. I did miss visiting the sea in lockdown though, I’ll say that.
You’re both from Leeds, what are your three favourite things about it?
1 – (Live) Music scene: The Brudenell, Oporto, Hyde Park Book Club, Belgrave and Headrow House
2 – Food and drink: The Reliance, Thai a roi dee, Pizza Fella, Zucco’s, Beck and Call.
3 – Culture: Leeds United, Hyde Park Picture House, Northern Ballet, Leeds Playhouse, The Grand Theatre, Leeds Art Gallery and the fantastic City Varieties.
What artists are getting you excited at the moment?
Hard question, so much good stuff out there, we’re bound to miss people…
Leeds bands-wsie: Sunflower Thieves, Keep Back Ivy, Bored at My Grandma’s House, Shadowlark, Priest of Beards
Beyond that: King Hannah, The Weather Station, The Empty Mirrors, Ela Minus, Distant Images, Tobisonics, Hannya White, Hearts Beating In Time.
Collabs. Lyon Tide, Loops and Loops
What are you looking forward to doing next?
MH: The next stage of the plan is to release all 10 tracks on vinyl and host a multi media art-gig which celebrates the artwork, the videos and the songs. All of these releases are building to that event in March 2022.