With music videos that play like serial adventure stories (complete with credits) and artwork that injects the faintly surreal into the naturalistic (like elephants and a ruined tower just past the shoreline of a large body of water), Ben Schneider's move to Los Angeles from his native Michigan makes sense. Except the visual sensibility Schneider brought to Lord Huron, and the creation of the group itself, were byproducts of a more romantic impulse.
"To be honest with you, it was following a girl," Schneider said. "I followed a girl out here and that didn't work out, but I ended up really liking it here. There's some element of the Wild West out here with the creative world, and there's a nice openness and willingness to experiment that I really like."
Lonesome Dreams (IAMSOUND), Lord Huron's debut, sounds like the work of a true romantic. Expertly threaded around a dozen kindred musical styles (pastoral folk, country-western, desert calypso) it also sounds remarkably developed. Romantic inspiration is one thing, but the way the ringing waltz "The Ghost on the Shore" gathers feverish dissonance—wheezing harmonicas, jangling chimes and distant vocals washed in reverb—only to seamlessly segue into the ebullient folk jounce of "She Lit a Fire," speaks to musical mastery.
Schneider has been musically active throughout his life, from acoustic campfire nights along Lake Huron to playing in bands throughout high school and college. Despite his stated reasons for moving to Los Angeles, Schneider did begin pursuing the visual arts in a city tailor-made for such artistic endeavors.
Although Lord Huron's artwork and videos benefit from a consistency of vision—those sublime amalgamations Schneider concocts—his engagement with the visual arts served mostly to solidify his love of music.
"I just kind of pursued (visual arts) for a while, but I was feeling a little lost in that world," Schneider said. "I didn't feel like I really had a place there, so I started doing music again more seriously around 2010 and have been hammering away at it ever since."
Initially, Lord Huron was created as a personal recording project for Schneider, until a personal supporter intervened.
"I have my sister, actually, to thank for (the band's development)," Schneider said. "She really encouraged me to get it out there—she's kind of our first manager—and once I put it out there a few people started writing about it and we got offered shows."
Since one good turn deserves another, Schneider returned his sister's goodwill by inviting a coterie of talented musicians to help him flesh out his dense pop both live and on record.
"I wasn't really doing the music scene out here in L.A.," Schneider said. "So I called the only people I could think of, which were my friends from childhood. They were kind enough to come out here and join me, and we've been on the road ever since."
Luckily, Schneider's musical pals brought an experimental sensibility to Lord Huron, perfectly melding with his established template. Lonesome Dreams is an intentionally lush album, with enough aspiration to aim for larger audiences and auditoriums. "Time to Run" is jangly guitar pop unafraid to embrace a dramatic midsong breakdown, complete with dreamy synthesizers and baroque bells. "The Man Who Lives Forever" is pastoral pop bold enough to seriously shimmy to World Beat. For Schneider, bringing his friends along was more collaborative than merely assembling a bevy of competent session players.
"Now that I have these guys who are much better at their respective instruments than I am, I've tried to take advantage of that," Schneider said. "I think what's great is that since we've known each other so long, we've always had a really good personal relationship but also a good, longstanding musical and artistic relationship. They kind of understand where I'm coming from creatively and they can interpret it better creatively than the normal person might, or to understand it a little better because they've known me so well."
As fellow Michiganders, Schneider's musical accomplices were also more capable of comprehending the naturalistic well Schneider draws upon.
"It's always been important to me, just being outside," Schneider said. "The genesis of this project was Lake Huron in Michigan ... from my childhood. I guess, for me, that's the source of my creative and spiritual life, too. Not necessarily religious, but I draw a lot from being outdoors and that's kind of my temple."
Through Lord Huron, Schneider is able to indulge his personal caprices as a traveling musician, which include playing live music with his childhood friends ("What's better than being with your best friends, playing music?").
"I really like (touring), so it worked out perfectly for me," Schneider said. "I have this kind of weird duality of my personality. Part of me just wants to be out, moving through the world, and part of me likes having a home. I'm close with my family and really close with my friends, so it's hard balancing those two things, but touring is a nice way to do that because I get to be out in the world and have a purpose to be out in the world ... have a mission to accomplish."
For Lonesome Dreams, Schneider conceived of the project, from the lyrics to the videos, as unified.
"I did know from the beginning that I wanted to create a world with its own set of rules and mythology and characters," Schneider said. "I've always loved works of art that are really immersive in that way. I like when you can choose your level of involvement with a work of art. If you just want to enjoy the music, that's perfectly acceptable, but if you feel like getting deeper into it there's more for you to explore and more layers for you to peel back."
In mythologizing Lonesome Dreams, Schneider created an author, George Ranger Johnson, who happens to have his own website (georgerangerjohnson.com), which ties book illustrations and excerpts back to the album. Although he has not published since 1987, Johnson does, apparently, reside in Tucson ("He's somewhere there. I'm not sure where, but he's somewhere"), which is fitting given the group's affection for our town.
"We've been through a couple times, and the last time we went we had a really fun time," Schneider said. "We always look forward to coming back because we met great people, and went to some really great bars, and landscape-wise and vibe-wise it was just very agreeable to us."
As for whether Johnson might appear at the group's upcoming show? "We'll see, we'll see," Schneider said with a laugh.
with Best Dog Award
7 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 4
Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St.
$12 advance; $14 day of