The story of Arctic Lake began at Westminster University. They were, naturally if not obviously, studying music and scouted each other to form a band quite quickly. “It took a while for us to transition into the style of music we play now though,” Paul Holliman admitted. “We were your classic music students playing as fast and loud as we could for a while. We could also come up with some cool story about how the name has a really deep meaning behind it, but to be honest, it was just something we came up with in my bedroom.”
They liked the way the words looked together, and then conveniently struck lucky that the music they started to create matched the name quite well. As a band, they were sold to me as being thoughtful and reflective. “The purpose of our music has always been to connect with others by talking about situations, thoughts and feelings that we ourselves have experienced.” said Emma Foster about how this thoughtfulness translates into their music. “The subject matter is always, in varying degrees, universal to all humans. And so I think if people describe it as thoughtful or reflective then we’ve somehow managed to hit the mark in making them relate or think about what we are communicating.”
Andy Richmond went so far as to say that describing music in general is a lot more difficult than at first glance. “Often people use comparisons of genre or other artists to measure something. But that usually results in the described sound losing its uniquity, or a description that doesn’t quite cut it.”
“In conversation when describing what kind of music we/I play,” Andy continued, “I always talk about Emma’s vocal first. I talk about how this truly beautiful voice stands at the foreground. A voice that is both haunting, yet consoling and mesmerising. Once, I’ve tried to do her justice, I’ll talk about how Paul and I try and create a backdrop of soundscapes to compliment this; an array of synth, sounds and electronica which are filled with emotion, yet minimal enough to leave space and silence when needed.”
Arctic Lake’s debut EP, ‘Closer’, which was produced by Matt Gooderson, was based on personal relationships, but it also acted as a microcosm for the whole band. “‘Too Close’ especially, still makes me cry after all this time,” Emma said. Originally written on the journey she had with someone very close to her, she spoke about going through a hard time and fighting through it alone for a long, long time. “That was until meeting this person who completely broke me down and built me back up until I felt like I could breathe. It was traumatic and cathartic. This person really saved me from myself.”
The single, ‘Too Close’, represents that battle while being a thank you to the person responsible. It also ended up representing the struggles that they went through to get to the point where they could release ‘Closer’. “We did everything independently while working full time in London,” she continued. “It felt so gruelling and relentless. You’ve finished university and you have a quarter life crisis. You have your personal life, your work life and when all you want to do is sleep, you’re challenging yourself to do your passion. When we finally finished ‘Too Close’ there was, again, this cathartic moment where we were happy. But we wanted to cry because it took so much to get there. In retrospect, we’ve learnt that you have to do what makes you happy. It’s okay to take your time and above all people are what matter – don’t lose sight of that.”
Their latest release, ‘What You May Find’ is beautifully haunting. But, if you’re curious as to the story behind the track, you may never know. Emma revealed that she never likes to open up on the subject matter of each song completely; “I feel like it detracts from people’s own interpretations, and for that is where the power of music really lies. In general though, the song is about knowing that all of who you are and all of what you have done is not beautiful. It is a slow acceptance of being human and it demonstrates both hope that someone will accept you for it and fear that someone will not.”
I asked about the concept behind the video because the production offers a sense of grandeur. “To be completely honest,” Andy said, “before ‘What You May Find’, creating videos had always seemed a little daunting. We’ve always been scared that representing the song visually would mean that people lose that interpretation. Or that it would relay the depth of the track.” It was out of this fear and an urge to leave the track open for the listener, that the video for ‘What You May Find’ came to fruition. “We found the volcanic backdrop to be both beautiful and fragile. And, incredibly representative of the duality of the song. The sheer darkness of the rocks, and the surrounding dystopian landscapes were so enticing for us visually that we feel the video couldn’t have worked with any alternative.”
Being a musician can be a very fortunate thing. You find yourself being able to write your thoughts and fears out loud, you face them every time you perform, and you relive what they meant to you when you wrote them. Sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes it’s grounding. But ultimately, you are reminded of something, anything, and you learn to evolve from what you once were.
I approached the subject of how Arctic Lake work as a trio, if it’s regimented or if there’s an underlying fluidity. Andy replied to say that working as a trio is under-rated. “I think everyone should work like this!” he exclaimed. “If we’d had four members I think there would be so much we would’ve found hard to achieve. For starters, we can all just about fit in Paul’s 2003 Ford Mondeo. It’s also contributed to us being termed as ‘ambient’ because there’s only so much noise the three of us can make. It leaves lots of scope and room for ideas. In terms of working, things are very fluid yes. When we first started working independently there was a learning process in which we took on particular roles. But since then we’ve come to realise the things we’re best at, so it seems to happen very naturally.”
As a young band, I asked what their thoughts on the music scene right now is. Is there anything lacking or worthy of praise? Paul replied to say that while people might say there are certain things lacking in the industry, they are likely just not looking in the right place; “If you can’t find the music you like in the mainstream, then there are thousands of bands and artists who aren’t directly in the charts or getting loads of attention who are making incredible music in every genre imaginable. With Spotify and social media etc. it’s not even hard to find them, so there’s really no excuse to say that anything is lacking. Musically speaking at least!”
Arctic Lake are open and honest as a band. There isn’t a pretence in place. “We like to make sure that we match our sound with what’s displayed visually,” Andy explained. “So we try to make sure that each show we play is more of a spectacle than an ordinary concert; this could be the choice of venue, the lights we use, or even just the way we present ourselves on stage. This is also true for aspects such as artwork.” They take great pleasure in working and collaborating with close friends, and have been working with the same painter, Charlie Billingham for a couple of years now. His minimalist brush stroke provides an image that they’ve always felt has a symbiosis with their music.
“The one piece of advice we’re always told is to just be ourselves and make the music we want to,” Paul added, as a final thought. “It’s pretty obvious and a bit clichéd, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The moment you start trying to be something you’re not, or make music for the wrong reasons then people can just see right through it. The only option is to do your own thing, so that’s what we’ve always tried to do, and hopefully it’s working!”