"WE WERE LOOKING for that feeling of letting go rather than trying to force things," says Matt Sheehy.
That's not an easy thing to cultivate, let alone capture, but on the second Lost Lander album, Medallion, that's exactly what Sheehy and the rest of the group have done. Medallion is a sweeping, romantic, tender, brash, brilliant album that fuses synthetic and organic textures together in ways that might have seemed inconceivable just seconds before you pressed play. And the album is fueled by Sheehy's emotionally rich songwriting, in addition to the music's simultaneous thrills and comforts—the sensations we turn to pop songs for.
When Sheehy finished the first Lost Lander album, 2012's DRRT, he didn't yet have a name for the project, or even a band to perform with. Recorded over a long period of time with producer Brent Knopf, it featured the contributions of several friends and musicians in a dizzying array of performances that took countless hours to turn into an album. A quartet coalesced to translate DRRT's songs to live performance, with Sheehy, keyboardist Sarah Fennell, drummer Patrick Hughes, and bassist Dave Lowensohn. (Knopf elected to stay behind the boards in order to focus on his own band, Ramona Falls.) And when the time came to make DRRT's follow-up, Lost Lander thought they'd try recording it as a band, in a far more direct, far less complicated process.
It wasn't to be. After a few false starts, Sheehy re-teamed with Knopf to begin the long, arduous, but ultimately fulfilling journey toward Medallion, working in much in the same way they'd done before. It was worth the effort: The results are, to this listener, nothing short of spectacular.
For instance, "Walking on a Wire" is a shimmering, mid-tempo hook factory—led by an ice-cool piano line, the song cascades and tumbles and eventually explodes three-quarters of the way through, following the cardinal rule of songwriting that if a song has a bridge, it must always, always be the emotional high point of the song. And "Never Go Easy" slowly, grippingly ascends from its stuttering opening into a widescreen hymn, with gorgeous tandem vocals from Sheehy and Fennell, and timbres that could have been plucked from the best of Peter Gabriel's '80s albums.
Sheehy and Knopf embarked on the main work of the album in June 2013 at the Sou'wester Lodge in Long Beach, Washington, just over the mouth of the Columbia River from Astoria. The resort boasts a group of refurbished vintage trailers where guests can stay, in addition to rooms inside the main building.
"I found out that the folks at the Sou'wester have artists do residencies there sometimes, and I just happened to have a work contract there at the same time, so I was like, well, what if I rented a trailer for like 11 days?" Sheehy says. "They were into it, and it sounded like Brent could come out also. They gave us a pretty small trailer to stay in together, so we were sleeping in close quarters, but then we were able to use some of the larger rooms in the actual lodge to do some actual tracking."
"It's just about getting away from distractions," says Knopf. "And it's a really inspiring place to work."
Those first sessions laid the foundation, but Medallion took many more months of playing with ideas and coming up with new ones. Sheehy wrote new segments and songs, and all four members of Lost Lander continually worked on their parts; as with DRRT, friends and guest musicians were brought in as well. As such, the finished album is dazzlingly complicated, with many dozens of individual tracks woven together into large-scale pop symphonies. The recording is immaculately balanced, too, indicating uncommon levels of craft and dedication. Every ounce of labor that went into Medallion's making is audible, but the results don't sag or crumble or overwhelm. They inspire.
"It really tries our patience," Knopf says of the process. "There is a certain nose-to-the-grindstone aspect to the way I make music and the way I unfortunately have inflicted upon Lost Lander, which is kind of an alternating process of blurting and sifting. You blurt out a whole bunch of ideas, trying to be in the moment without having to make decisions like, 'Is this the perfect tone? Is this the perfect performance?'—which can be so paralyzing if you get stuck in that mode.
"And once you're done blurting," Knopf continues. "then you comb through all the takes and pull out the parts that are working and you mute the ones that aren't, and you shuffle them around. It really does take a lot of patience and a lot of work. Entire sections of songs would arrive, sometimes a year later."
Now Sheehy, Fennell, Hughes, and new bassist William Seiji Marsh are tasked with performing the Medallion songs live. "I feel like with the last record, I got the kitchen sink," says Fennell, who often has to replicate the album's countless synth parts on her keyboard. "This time it feels like the kitchen sink is being shared a little bit more—but the kitchen sink is also heavier this time. It's a bigger sink."
Still, it’s all part of the process for Lost Lander, who have embraced the fact that the enveloping passion in their music couldn’t work nearly as well on a smaller scale. As Sheehy says, "Starting out with a lot of ideas means that you’ll have a higher likelihood of having good ideas."