Right now LoneLady is somewhere beneath the streets of London, a subterranean hub secluded fro public gaze.
The long-time Manchester resident decided to relocate last year, occupying a studio in Somerset House. Largely left to her own devises, she’s turned this one-time colonial outcrop into a hub for her post-industrial sounds, using lengthy walks, incessant meandering around the capital’s frayed East End environs as a means to progress past the success of her 2015 record ‘Hinterland’.
“I think getting out of Manchester was a personal thing for me,” she tells Clash. “I needed to grow, and to feel like I had found a way forward rather than being surrounded by over-familiarity, really. So being in London has enabled me to do that and explore pastures new. And just psychologically do different things.”
“I wouldn’t describe the new album as a ‘London album’ it’s just the sheer fact of uprooting myself and being in a new space is all part of the process, in a positive way. Wherever I am, I’m Northern.”
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It’s a big step, though. For any person, moving to London can be overwhelming, the city’s sheer speed and endless complexities offering a very unusual sense of psych-drama. For an artist, we imagine, it must be doubly so. “I think to be honest it just takes time,” she admits. “I moved into Somerset House and got an arts council grant to improve my studio set up. That was the starting point. I made both albums on a really lo-fi studio set up… which is great. And I’m still a big fan of using minimal tools, but I needed to move on and expand.”
“I got this funding, and basically expanded the set up. Got a proper mixing desk, got a midi analogue sequencer as the heart of the new system, and really just expanded and reconfigured my entire studio set up. And that was the starting point.”
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It’s important to me that the tools I’m using are satisfying to use...
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The hardware route has its drawbacks, she admits, but LoneLady prefers the tactile nature of analogue kit to working from a laptop – it means she can get hands dirty. “It can be a very expensive choice to make but I don’t want to sit in front of a laptop all day,” Julie sighs. “I spend a lot of hours in a room on my own working on music, so it’s important to me that the tools I’m using are satisfying to use, and I just much prefer to be stood up fixing dials and starting cables and using machinery that’s tactile, that I want to spend time with.”
“And I don’t want to spend time just sat in front of a laptop. I’m trying to keep everything as hardware as possible, so I’ve got a real jigsaw of some nice stuff, and some cheapo stuff, some old stuff, some new stuff. Really try and forge my own sound out of it all… somehow!”
Based in the Somerset House rifle range, she was free to pull apart her new purchases, and reconfiguring old tools in fresh ways. She seems to forged a home in these marbled surroundings: “The whole building has a strange history, a naval history to it. It’s a very long, narrow room. It must have facilitated some kind of target practice… strange!”
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This is just her base, however. Julie has long been a fan of getting away from the studio and simply walking, a kind of post-industrial flaneur meandering through abandoned factories, and buildings marked for demolition. It was a recurring feature of ‘Hinterland’, and she has enjoyed applying this technique to increasingly difficult to find areas of East London.
“I do tend to like the river,” she says. “All the quaysides, wharfs, dockside architecture. I’ve been out round Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs; out East, really, quite a lot. There’s a helluva a lot of new terrain to explore, which I’ve been doing.”
London has its own branch of post-industrial environs, Clash offers.
I’m drawn to the dockside industrial remnants,” she says, before adding with a chuckle: “Unsurprisingly! I love it out there, it’s an alien landscape. I enjoy going out there to explore.”
But we haven’t called her up to compare walking routes. LoneLady is approaching the end of her next album, with work almost – but not quite – complete. “I don’t want to give too much away, but I think the new analogue set up has informed the record,” she says. “Particularly with regards to rhythm. It’s all I really want to give away – it’s very rhythm-oriented. I see songs in colours, and tonalities, and I viewed ‘Hinterland’ as quite a multi-coloured, primary-coloured album.”
“It’s there,” she says. “There’s a few things left to do, but it’s there. It’s coming!”
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One piece of new material has already been embedded in the landscape of Manchester – driving an arts installation, LoneLady literally placed in mp3 player in a remote area of the city’s suburbs. “I did one about five years ago, I did an installation under the Mancunian way,” she points out. “I don’t want to leave gaps in-between - I want to do more of these - but it’s just something of a compulsion to literally embed myself into the landscape which has played such a huge role in my life.”
“With this recent one, it’s in an area of Manchester called Miles Platting… which has been quite a forlorn, derelict area for quite a long time, but it’s also been a place which has supported creative activity – my own, and other peoples. And I know these places are vanishing, so I needed to enact some sort of ritual to say goodbye to it, really, because it’s been a big part of my life. That installation comes from an urge of mine. I’m glad some people made the pilgrimage.”
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I needed to enact some sort of ritual to say goodbye to it...
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Words like ‘ritual’ and ‘pilgrimage’ occur throughout our conversation, while in the statement for her recent installation LoneLady described the project as being like a ‘seance’. Is this, then, how she views the creative process? Like some form of conjuring?
“Very much so,” she affirms. “It’s a very internalised project. I’ve always said, it’s about using the tools which are available to you. All I’ve got is my own mind, and my environment. So I’m investing these things with meaning for myself.”
She’d better watch out, though; Somerset House is haunted, and those late night sessions could be visited by actual phantoms.
“No, just me!” Julie laughs. “I quite like the derelict sense of the studio now. I’m the one in the building, wandering round derelict rooms late at night. And I’m pretty happy to be!”
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Photography: Rachel Lipsitz
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