“It has all gone a bit mad in the last few weeks,” says Felix Bechtolsheimer. “We had our first ever chart positions with this album which we were not expecting. The album sold out on the day of its release at Amazon and Rough Trade. We have had to order more CDs and vinyl. We had five hundred vinyl records come in this morning and I have got seventy left now. They have all gone out to the distributors. We were not expecting this level of demand for it.”

Bechtolsheimer, the lead vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter in Curse of Lono, is talking to long-term fans Pennyblackmusic about his group’s second album, ‘As I Fell’, which came out in mid-September. He and his band – Joe Hazell (lead guitar and vocals), Dani Ruiz Hernandez (keyboards and vocals), Charis Anderson (bass and vocals) and Neil Findlay (drums) – have been having an exceptional few weeks.

‘As I Fell’, which has been released on Curse of Lono’s own Submarine Cat Records, has been earning four and five star reviews across the music press and in several national newspapers. As well as entering the Official Americana Albums Chart at No. 10 and the Official Independent Albums Breakers Chart at No. 15 in the UK, the album has also charted in download charts in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Russia, Thailand and the Czech Republic. ‘Somewhere in Their Heads’, a short documentary film about the making of ‘As I Fell’ - which was started at Rancho V, a remote desert studio in Joshua Tree, California and then concluded in the band’s native London – has meanwhile been the recipient of several short film awards.

Felix Bechtolsheimer has been a consistent presence now in independent music for the last fifteen years. He recorded four albums with his previous band Hey Negrita and both a self-titled EP (2016) and a previous album ‘Severed’ with Curse of Lono. The brooding ‘As I Fell’ , however, looks set to be the most important album of his lengthy career.

The rumbling, harmony-laden ‘Valentine’ is a classic tale of jealousy and murder. The breezy ’Way to Mars’ –the most poppy song on ‘As I Fell’ - reflects with offbeat humour about being on the road, and a life of late nights and cheap hotel rooms. Melancholic, bittersweet confessional 'And It Shows' tells of Bechtolsheimer’s troubled past as a heroin addict, and his shaky recovery, with his best friend dead and his girlfriend of five years gone, after being released from a Florida detox clinic in 2000. The sublime, elegiac title track was written by Bechtolsheimer for Charis Anderson after her boyfriend, Adam Ant guitarist Tom Edwards, died after suffering a heart attack while touring the States last year. The strings-drenched ‘Leuven’ also tells of tragedy, and Bechtolsheimer’s half Jewish grandfather who both escaped the Nazis and then survived one of the worst train crashes in Belgium history in 1954 when it derailed just outside Leuven.

In our fifth interview with him, Pennyblackmusic spoke to Felix Bechtolsheimer about Curse of Lono, ‘As I Fell’ and its success.

PB: The title track was written after the death of your bassist Charis Anderson’s boyfriend last year. ‘Leuven’ also deals with sudden death and the way life can change in an instant. Do you see that as the main theme of ‘As I Fell’?

FB: No, I don’t. I think the overall thing that I was grappling with when I put this album together was why we do the things that we do. I did four albums with Hey Negrita and this is the second one with Curse of Lono. When you find yourself away from home for long periods of time and waking up in a different Travelodge every morning you start questioning this and saying, “Why I am doing this?”

‘Way to Mars’ in particular is about life on tour and what it means to be still running around on the rock and roll highway. I wrote it after we did a very long tour with Chuck Prophet of Europe that went on for a month with no days off and which involved about seven hours of driving a day.

It is the same thing, however, that I am finding that a lot of my friends are going through who are not in the music business. They are saying, “Why have I made life choices that I have? And am I stuck with that? Now that I have a mortgage and kids can I jump away and do something else?”

PB: Do you see that as mid-life crisis?

FB: I don’t know if I would call it a crisis. I would call it mid-life re-evaluation. Taking the band out to the desert and Joshua Tree to work on the album and to grapple with these ideas made me think that I am actually quite happy that I am still doing this. It just seemed that it was time to think about these things. Sometimes you can be stuck on auto-pilot for years. That was kind of where my head was at.

PB: You said in ‘Somewhere in Their Heads’ that ‘As I Fell’ is also about “chasing the dream.“ What did you mean by that?

FB: That builds on what I said about why we do what we do. I am 42 years old and I am packing up my bags and travelling all over Europe with a rock and roll band. It a cool thing to do when you are seventeen or eighteen or even if you are twenty-one, but at my age you have to ask yourself, “Am I just doing this because at fourteen I just said I would do this or do I still enjoy it?”

The dream, however, changes. The dreams of rock and roll excess that I might have had as a teenager aren’t there anymore (Laughs). I dream of having a successful record in that people like yourself might appreciate, that we get to play to decent crowds and that I get to still spend some time with my wife and kids. Those dreams of endless groupies and drugs and booze are not there anymore (Laughs).

PB: How much of ‘As I Fell’ was recorded in the desert?

FB: Most of what we did out in the desert was the arrangements, the rehearsing and demos. I was very keen not to do any final recordings out there. I thought that that would add pressure to it. When you are in the recording studio and you are doing takes and you are on the clock things change. Out there we had everything set up. Some of the stuff did make it on the record but the majority of what happened was that we really nailed exactly how the songs wanted to sound. We then went on tour and we really perfected the songs there, so that by the time we recorded the bulk of album in January at our producer Oli Bayston’s studio in London we literally went into the recording studio and recorded it. There weren’t any overdubs or anything. Joshua Tree was all about exploring the songs and the ideas and making sure that we knew exactly what we wanted from them.

PB: ‘As I Fell’ is lyrically a dark record but all the people that you are writing about come through despite tough odds. Do you see it as a hopeful or a pessimistic album?

FB: I think that it is a hopeful album. For me the best lyrics are those that are like what Charles Bukowski did in some of his books, which have the idea that there is magic in any situation if you can just tell it the right way. I find the ordinary humans that you see in a Travelodge hotel at four in the morning much more interesting than ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ (Laughs). I am interested in day to day life and the struggles that we are all going through.

For me it is an optimistic record because it is all about the perseverance of people. Even the last track about this horrific train crash and my grandfather’s experiences in Nazi Germany I still think that it is a hopeful song by the end of the record.

PB: You called the first Curse of Lono album ‘Severed’ because you were trying to move away from writing songs about drugs. You have never quite managed to escape that, and on ‘As I Fell’ you have another one in ‘And It Shows’.

FB: On this album I didn’t write any new songs about drugs. ‘And It Shows’ was the first song that I wrote when I came out of detox back in 2000. The song was recorded twice by Hey Negrita. In fact it was the first song that Hugo (Heimann – keyboardist and co-founder) and I worked on in Hey Negrita. We tried to record it for ‘Severed’ and in fact we did a second version of it as well but none of them were quite right.

It is a really important song to me personally because it is a time capsule of what I went through then, and when we were out in the desert I said, “Can we give this one more try?” I think that I have got an idea. I think it just needs as slight shuffle to pull it along,” and then we played it and for the first time ever that sparked something all the way through. We managed to capture it on a demo, and then when we got back to London and went into the studio to record it then it was just an instant thing. There is that song, and there are references to them in a couple of the other older songs on the album, but at the same time I did set out consciously not to write any new songs about drugs.

PB: ‘Leuven’ is really powerful. The sound takes you and Curse of Lono in a new direction with its use of strings. Could you see yourself going in that direction again?

FB: Possibly. It was very tempting when we had the string section in to start slapping strings on everything else. I think what is important, however, is to use them sparingly and only when it is needed. I wrote ‘Leuven’ with strings in mind. I wanted to have this crazy instrumental that recreates the train crash in some way, and have lots of discordant stuff. Neil was playing out of time by the end. Joe was detuning his guitar to add to the tension, and we had all these beautiful strings playing over the top. I don’t think that every song will be like that, but I am sure that we will use strings again on the next album.

PB: ‘As I Fell’ has been picked up on by a lot of different factions of the music press. It has picked up by the country press, and also the alt. rock and indie press. Haa that surprised you?

FB: It has. We had that as well with ‘Severed’, but even more so with this record. A lot of journalists have listened to it on its own merit. There was a review that I got back just this morning in which the guy said, “the only reason is that it is Americana is because you have to put it in some category,” which I really liked.

There are Americana influences in there, but Charis is a big punk fan. Neil loves his classic rock stuff. Joe is a huge blues fan. Dani loves alternative and indie rock stuff, so it is a bit of a melting pot. It gives us a huge freedom when with each song you go, “Where do you want to take it? Do we want t go down the indie route? Do we want to go a bit more country?” It gives you a much bigger palette to try and develop from.

PB: Where are Curse of Lono's plans for the immediate future?

FB:We will be playing nine UK dates in November and December. Then next year will be a year of touring. We are currently organising our first American tour, and then towards the end of the year we will start preparing our next album.

PB: Thank you.















Related Links:

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https://twitter.com/curseoflonoband
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