Langkamer: West Country Heroes

“One day, Reuben, we’re going to make an ambient country album”.

Of all the many ways to kick-start an interview, this is definitely one that is sure to provoke conversation. It should be noted that in the five minutes prior to pressing record on my dictaphone, the conversation had already gone from receiving positive press from socialist newspapers, appreciation for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the work of animator David Firth, and a meme that singer/drummer Josh Jarman fondly remembers from his schooldays which portrays the Lord of the Rings character Gollum in Burberry. It’s this constant hyperactive flitting from topic to topic that leads to the revelation that the phrase ‘Gollum in Burberry’ would be a great addition to the list of titles the band are saving for their ambient country album, alongside ‘That’s Mr Powerlunches to You’.

If you hadn’t gathered already, Langkamer aren’t widely known for taking things too seriously. The free-spirited energy that runs through the music they create together is littered throughout their interactions with each other. The amount of constant riffing between the four members makes it a wonder how they ever manage to successfully record anything if they’re like this all the time. Evidently, the energy translates into productivity and creative spark in abundance. The playful streak of their debut album, West Country, beautifully sums up all that is wonderful about Langkamer – incessant energy, self-deprecating humour, and loving tributes to the area they hail from all feature to a great extent across the record.

Teetering along a fine line between indie rock and country, the Bristol-based foursome have unleashed an album that acts either as a fitting farewell to summer or the perfect antidote to stave off the autumnal blues from kicking in. There are flashes of sincerity and true emotion amongst the charming wit, with singles ‘Humdinger’ and ‘The Ugliest Man in Bristol’ managing to balance the furious energy with comedic undertones, yet other moments such as ‘The Earthquake’ and ‘Marathon’ offer earnest tales of personal struggles. Scattered throughout are, of course, plenty of odes to the West Country and its inhabitants, but these tales need not dissuade people from outside the region from listening to the record; if anything, it’s an enriching experience for everyone.

By this point, this was the third day in a row I had spent with Langkamer – a Friday spent listening to the newly released album, a Saturday spent seeing their fully-charged set as part of Breakfest – a party co-ordinated by Josh and guitarist Dan Anthony, and finally a Sunday afternoon drinking pints of tea in one of Clifton Village’s premier green spaces. While there were efforts made to discuss the bigger talking points of the band such as how new(er) recruits, guitarist Ed Soles and bassist Tom Kelly, settled into the recording process, the range of influences showcased on the record, and the importance of Bristol to the band – it was sometimes impossible to steer the focus away from the finer details such as dream sponsorship deals, Pharrell Williams, and of course, ambient country. It might have worked out.

West Country has been out for a couple of days – how does it feel to be able to hold it and cherish it?

[discussing as a group]

Josh Jarman: I said great. Tom said surreal.

Ed Soles: I’d kind of forgotten that it wasn’t already out.

Dan Anthony: It feels like it’s been out many lifetimes.

JJ: Yeah, we recorded it in the summer of 2020, so to release it 13 months later, it does feel a bit nuts sometimes.

ES: We wrote and recorded it very quickly. It can’t have taken many months to write all the songs, we kind of just bashed them out and booked the recording before we had them all finished.

Tom Kelly: I feel like we wrote it in three weeks or something.

Was there not a huge amount kicking around beforehand that you put on the record?

JJ: So Ed and Tom joined the band just before the first lockdown. We had about three practices, then went into lockdown, and for some reason I was just writing so many lyrics. Every day, I’d come up with two or three new songs, and I was trying my best to vet them and get the best ones out of it. As soon as we got back into a rehearsal studio three months later all of a sudden it was like the floodgates had opened.

ES: ‘The Earthquake’ and ‘Up Shit Creek’ are older ones. All the rest were bashed out very quickly.

JJ: I think maybe that’s part of the reason that the West Country forms such a backdrop for it. 10 out of 12 songs on the album were written in Bristol, or maybe on a bike ride to Somerset.

ES: I remember thinking that everything was closed, then we got into practice and wrote and recorded it, and then I seem to remember that after recording everything closed again. We were really lucky that we managed to get this all in, we got it all in just in the nick of time as everything closed again for the second like wave.

TK: It worked out really nicely. It feels like a lot has happened since we’ve made it, I’ve almost forgotten.

DA: Generally, the album release cycle you have five months of singles in the lead up, so it’s not like you’re at an anti-climax when the album comes out. It just feels that it’s been on the cards for so long. You almost forget that it’s an actual date in the diary when it’s all finished.

JJ: We played a gig in Portsmouth on Thursday night, and we had to drive back after the gig for work on Friday morning. As I was getting into bed at 2am on Friday morning, I was just thinking “oh shit, our album’s out today”.

You recorded the whole thing at [Bristol venue] the Louisiana with Will Carkeet from Pet Shimmers – how was it working alongside him? You’ve said it was quite a speedy process, does that mean he was instantly a good fit, and did you seek him out or did he come to you?

JJ: Neither, there was a middle man; [Pet Shimmers’ manager] Rich Walsh put him in touch with us. I think he kind of was a bit of a matchmaker, and said to Will, “oh, Langkamer want to record with you”, and then said to us, “oh, Will wants to record with you”. It worked out pretty well. I think he approaches the process in quite a refreshing way. I think there’s a lot of little bits on the album that we wouldn’t have done ourselves that he’s put on there – nice little flourishes that almost sound like an influence you can hear from his own work.

TK: He’s a bit of a mad genius, I think. A bit of a wizard. The Robbie & Mona stuff he’s recorded as well just sounds so lush, and it ended up with that being the sound that he gave for this. He just made it sound like its own thing.

ES: I think it sounds like you can imagine sitting in like a bar in Southern America.

DA: I think he was also willing to go along with our dumb ideas as well. There’s a bit on ‘Humdinger’ where it’s the full breakdown and goes kind of into a heavier bit, that’s just Ed screaming into his phone and putting that screaming into the pickup of a guitar.

JJ: That’s one of the best sounds on the album, I think. You can kind of hear this deranged laughter because you’re screaming and laughing. It sounds great.

ES: We spent like a whole day doing backing vocals with about 20 people coming in downstairs. Everyone else is sat outside drinking and getting boozy, and Will was just stuck in the basement with all these people coming in to do their parts.

JJ: It was like a revolving door of people.

ES: He had the patience of a saint.

You’ve also got quite a few other people from the wider Bristol music scene appearing on the record as well, what was it like to work with Fenne Lily on ‘Polly, You Should See Me Now’?

TK: She just kind of rocked up with everyone else.

JJ: Yeah, she was just part of that revolving door system. I think she was one of the only ones where we very much had an idea in mind. Early on we said it would be great to have Fenne’s vocals all the way through. A lot of the other people sound like they’re part of a gang vocal chorus, whereas Fenne Lily is maybe one of the only other ones where it’s like, “oh, that’s very clearly Fenne Lily”. It’s very unique.

DA: The timbre of her voice matches that song quite well, it’s quite atmospheric I guess.

I got the feeling with that inclusion and having Will on board as well, that you wanted to add to the West Country nature and make it a very Bristol centric record. Do you feel that was a deliberate move to have as many other figures as you could get or is it just having friends involved?

JJ: I don’t know if it’s so much as to tie it back to the locality. It’s more just that I love gang vocals. It’s something that Joe Sherrin from SLONK and Milo’s Planes always does; he always just gets in a million different people to shout on his record, basically. I just think it’s quite a nice way of opening up the process a bit. I think a lot of musicians and creative types generally can have quite an insular process. But I think it’s always so much more fun when like you’re collaborating with lots of people.

ES: I thought it was really nice that the two old members sang on tracks as well.

JJ: Yeah, Ben wrote ‘The Earthquake’ with us back in the day, and I think it’s quite nice that you can hear his vocals quite clearly on the recording.

ES: It was nice to know that there’s no bad blood and that I haven’t directly replaced anyone.

It must have been quite special yesterday as well, essentially having your own party in Breakfest being the launch for the record as well.

JJ: Yeah, that was quite good. We kind of did pick the release date around that because Dan and I had Breakfest booked for basically two years. About six months ago, we were trying to cook up a good release date for the album, and because it’s quite a summery album, we wanted to try and get it done before the weather really turned bad. Then we just thought, “wait a minute, if we put it out on the 10th, we get to have a big party on the 11th where everyone’s hopefully listened to the album and can sing along”. I love it when a plan comes together.

ES: I was surprised at how many people knew words to songs that came out yesterday

DA: There was quite a lot of stuff sent out to friends. I think I shared that link with about 30 people.

JJ: That was a secret link, Dan.

ES: Yeah, you never shared it with me.

TK: Did you not hear the ringers in the audience shouting “Dan, Dan, Dan”?

Was that the first time you’d played a number of those tracks live?

JJ: I think pretty much all of them have been played for a while now. We did those shows at the Louisiana, and we’ve played a few little festivals. They’ve all been road tested. It was quite funny because when we finally got around to playing with live, we just knew those songs like the back of our hands because we recorded them months and months ago.

TK: It’s a good way to learn a song actually, I’d recommend it.

You said it’s quite a summery album, and I kind of agree – it’s got a very uplifting feel to it and it’s very free-spirited, but when you dig a little bit deeper into the lyrical content, there’s a lot of you grappling with real world anxieties. What was the decision behind making those two juxtapositions?

JJ: I’m actually just a sucker for sad songs written in major keys. Things like Purple Mountains, for instance, is so weirdly affecting because they sound so happy when you first listen to them, and then when you pay attention to the lyrics you’re like, “oh, this is the saddest song ever heard in my life”. I think one of the first people where I really noticed that as an effective tool was Trust Fund. I think it was 2015 when they put out two albums, and I was just obsessed with both of them. From there on out, I almost felt like it was pastiche to write a sad, sad song. I just really only liked happy, sad songs. I’ve kind of gotten over that trend a bit now and I listen to music where the instrumentation reflects the themes a bit more. I think it’s such an interesting, multifaceted approach to songwriting.

TK: I think for me, not that I wrote any of the lyrics or anything, to get into a song when it’s just about being happy. Sorry, Pharrell Williams.

JJ: I don’t know, I think quite a lot of the content on the album is quite happy. I’m sure a lot of it isn’t as well, but at the same time, last year I had quite a big shift in my mental health, because I stopped drinking, and then when we had the lockdowns I had a lot of time to reflect on life in general. I had a few different personal changes, and all of a sudden, I felt like I turned from a pessimist into an optimist. I think I sing about that on ‘Marathon’ and that’s just realising that actually I’ve got a lot going for me – unlike these sad sacks.

DA: There’s a nice little twist on tracks like ‘The Ugliest Man in Bristol’ and ‘Up Shit Creek’ where you read the first like lyric and think ‘oh man, these some sad songs”, but they’re actually pretty happy aren’t they?

JJ: I guess so. But then I also guess that maybe ties in with the question itself – life isn’t just happiness or sadness. It’s like a bittersweet mix of the two the whole way through and I think that’s maybe why I like music that is you know – life isn’t just that Pharrell Williams song. [breaks into song]

DA: Josh plays that song before shows to get in the mood.

JJ: That’s because my favourite movie is Despicable Me 2.

DA: We’re out for a Minions sponsorship.

JJ: That’s the dream.

DA: I’m ready. I need the money.

ES: We did get offered the support tour opening for Cats every night. That’s an inside joke…

DA: But if the producer of Cats is out there…

JJ: We are up for a run on Broadway.

When it comes down to the theme of the West Country – having songs about Sea Mills, tributes to Acker Bilk – what was the main reasoning why you wanted to pay tribute to the area that you hail from, and why do you think it is important for your audience outside of that area to be able to hear that?

JJ: Good question. I probably didn’t think about it that much. Because so much of it was written in Bristol and the West Country, I think those surrounds naturally bled into the songwriting process. My parents still live in Sea Mills, and I was going down there to visit them and chat from a distance in their front garden during the first lockdown. I think the title for me just felt like something falling into place a little bit. I thought, “wait a minute, this sounds like it’s its own genre”. We’re not really a country band, but we do love all that stuff, and we’re trying to pay tribute to a lot of that. But we’re also not really a rock band. We’re not really an indie band. We’re a West Country band. It’s just a silly pun really.

Would you say that there are any country touchstones that you kept going back to during the writing and recording?

JJ: I have never really gotten over my initial excitement for discovering artists like Palace Music and Songs: Ohia. I absolutely love that sort of thing. But then I also just love a lot of real country that doesn’t take itself too seriously like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton. Three chords and the truth, that’s all you need. I’m sure these guys also have plenty of references that bled into the songwriting process a lot.

DA: In terms of guitar playing, I got into a lot of American primitive style guitar – classics like John Fahey and Leo Kottke, and loads of new artists like Marisa Anderson, Daniel Bachman and William Tyler. There are loads of really credible guitarists who make country and folk. I think when you hear that sort of stuff, you meditate on it, and I feel like I hear the West Country almost. I think it’s the same with all country to some extent. I think it’s very specific to time and place when writing it, but there’s universal elements. When you look out at rolling hills, you get maybe an atavistic sense of what that music means to the person who wrote it and how they how they see the outside world.

JJ: There’s one album in particular that I listened to so much during the writing process, which is New Petal Instance by Arbor Labor Union. These guys are probably bored of hearing me talk about it, but it’s the most amazing blend of country, indie, folk, blues and rock. Lyrically, it’s such a fascinating puzzle of an album. But also, it was really refreshing to me to finally hear a band making the exact blend of all the genres I wanted to hear on one album. I think if they ever hear our album, they’re probably going to get in touch and accuse us of ripping it off. I think they put that out last year. They’re Athens, Georgia, and they’re not a very well known band, sadly. If you’re reading this interview, listen to that album.

ES: I think it’s more just Americana, to be honest. Americana encompasses all those bits you just said.

JJ: I remember the first time someone came up to me after a gig and said “I really like the Americana influences”, and I thought they meant the Offspring album Americana, which was the first album I ever owned on CD and I was thinking like, “wow, how did they know”?

TK: I think Tropicana really influenced me, just fat juicy basslines.

DA: Also Tropicana, if you’re out there we’re up for a sponsorship. We love you.

Do you have any heroes of the West Country?

ES: [chanting] Acker Bilk, Acker Bilk…

JJ: Dave Prowse, RIP. I used to be a lifeguard at this lake, and there was a big framed photograph of him on the wall, because he had been a lifeguard at that same lake about 50 years previous. I always like to think there’s, you know, a little bit of Dave Prowse living on today in me.

I don’t know, in the community, there’s so many amazing musicians who I feel like they are unsung heroes. Bands like Let’s Kill Janice, who broke up before anyone had a proper chance to hear them, but everything they ever wrote was so good. I feel like most cities on earth have bands like that, and artists like that who were incredible. They had a bright future ahead of them, but just things didn’t quite work out. Maybe there’s more of them in Bristol because it is such a creative hub. We’re quite fortunate to be surrounded by so many of those sung and unsung heroes. You know, a lot of people now from the area are getting a lot of recognition and that’s really good.

ES: it’s changed a lot since I moved here. When I first moved here, I moved here from Birmingham to come to uni and I was looking for a scene and I really struggled to find it. There was the Howling Owl stuff, but there wasn’t that rock and indie scene as much as there is now. That was 10 years ago, so I mean it’s happening quickly.

TK: I had a similar experience coming from York, but I guess things kicked off a bit more by then. A lot of the shows I was playing were to do with Breakfast Records and you guys.

JJ: Dan and I were in Oxford at the same time, and I think when I came back from Oxford, that was when I finally realised, “wait a minute, Bristol has such an amazing music scene”, just because Oxford was so dead. All of a sudden, I just noticed we actually really have something special here, and I think it is coming to the fore now. Maybe is a bit more geared towards our sort of indie rock interest, but to be honest, it’s always been a creative hub, dating back to the punk in the 70s and 80s, and St Paul’s Carnival has always been a hub for… a hub for dub? I mean this is the birthplace of dubstep as well, which might not be our thing, but it’s like, that’s a big deal. Because I’ve always been so obsessed with guitar music, when I’ve travelled a lot in the past, especially when I was much younger, people would go, “oh, Bristol, that’s the home of trip-hop”. I’d get really annoyed and be like, “no, there’s loads of other good stuff there too, it’s not just trip-hop”. Now, in retrospect, I should have been like, “yeah, how cool is that?”, right?

It’s always had culture and it’s got an amazing legacy. I don’t think it’s going to slow down anytime soon either.

JJ: Let’s hope not, let’s keep the rent low.

I do think people are going to be talking about this period for a while into the future, because I think it will have quite a big effect on the wider UK music scene.

TK: I sure hope so. We can ride that wave to the top, right with that McDonald’s sponsorship.

ES: With Pringles on one side, Toblerone on the other – we’re not gonna fail.

JJ: Also if Bristol City Council want to buy the tagline ‘A Hub For Dub’, it is for sale.

I guess the next thing for you is taking this on the road. How do you feel that this is going to go down for you and what do you hope people will make of it when you take it to other places?

ES: It’s great to actually be doing shows, this whole time I’ve had it in my head that they’re not going to happen and that way I’m not disappointed if they get cancelled, whereas now they’re actually happening.

JJ: We’re doing Left of the Dial in Rotterdam, and we’ve got a few other shows around it as well. Basically a couple of venues and promoters have taken a punt on us which is really nice. We just reached out and we said “hey, we’re going to be in the Netherlands for this, are you up for doing a show?” One of them said in no uncertain terms, “I really like your music, but I’m not sure anybody’s gonna come”, and we said “that’s okay!”

ES: We’re just excited to be playing because me and Tom joined the band in a time where we weren’t allowed to play and now we’re actually finally doing gigs. Yesterday was probably only our seventh gig. To actually play shows now is fucking sick because that’s what we want to do.

JJ: I feel like the music hopefully translates quite well live.

TK: We just try to have fun in front of people.

JJ: Hopefully that means they have fun too.

Words: Reuben Cross // Photos: AJ Stark

‘West Country’ is out now via Breakfast Records/TINA. You can stream and purchase the album via Bandcamp.

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