Interview: Pictish Trail – 'The subject matter is pretty heavy... but it's something I want to watch people dance to'
Pictish Trail (aka Johnny Lynch) talks about falling apart, moving on and avoiding being a miserable sod
'The album's about coming to terms with the death and finality of things, and then experiencing new beginnings and all the responsibilities that come with that,' says Johnny Lynch, aka Pictish Trail (he's dropped the 'The'), of his latest album Future Echoes. The follow-up to 2012's Secret Soundz Vol.2, it's been the result of a period in Lynch's life which featured all of the above. 'I toured that album for over two and a half years,' he says. 'By the time that had finished, Fence Records had ended, my relationship with my best friend and mentor had unexpectedly collapsed, I had left Fife and moved to the Isle of Eigg full time, and I found myself having to start again.'
Fence Records, of course, was the semi-legendary (and still running) label founded by Fife's Kenny 'King Creosote' Anderson, the mentor to whom Lynch refers, which both men made into something pretty special through a great bunch of connected artists and their Homegame events. Then they fell out, and Fence as was ended. 'I felt a strong responsibility to the acts on the Fence roster to keep things going, so Lost Map was born,' Lynch says, referring to his new, Eigg-based label. 'Inevitably all these changes fed into the writing and recording of Future Echoes, leading up to the birth of my son last year. I managed to finish the recording just before he was born.'
For this album, Lynch has moved towards something fuller and more streamlined than the old DIY methods of recording which have served him well in the past. His voice still sounds fragile and wistful, but there's now a depth of electronic texture which adds a plaintive edge to his music, courtesy of an old friend. 'I began writing in my caravan on Eigg, recording unfinished lo-fi demo ideas on my porta-studio,' says Lynch. 'Basically, self-indulgent sad-sack shite. I needed a pal, so I phoned up Adem (his collaborator in Silver Columns six years ago) He'd just finished producing the Philip Selway album in Radiohead's studios and was looking for a new project, so I travelled down to his studio space in London.'
It soon became apparent, says Lynch, that 'this couldn't be a miserable sod album. Adem could see I was feeling pretty fragile, and made me realise this needed to be a collection of cathartic pop songs. That approach really helped me come to terms with what I was writing about.' Old friend Rob Jones also helped with production, and drums were played by Alex Thomas, who plays with Squarepusher and Air ('respectively the fastest and slowest bands of all time').
Lynch's favourite song from the record changes; at the moment, 'Who's Comin' In?' and 'Half-Life' stand out to him. ''Who's Comin' In?' is about confronting self-doubt and trying to assert yourself, changing from a deep hip hop-sounding opening to a blissed-out waltz-time ballad. It feels like a new step for me, something that wouldn't translate easily to just acoustic guitar and vocal. 'Half-Life' is a proper heart-thumper, about how things eternally decay, they never really end. It's pretty dramatic, and the fitting centre-piece of the album, I think. The subject matter of the album is pretty heavy for me, but it's something I want to watch people dance to. As a musician, there's no better feeling.'
Future Echoes by Pictish Trail is released on Lost Map on Fri 9 Sep. Lost Map's Howlin' Fringe presents Future Echoes is at Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 1 Oct.