Article by: Andrew Miller | Photos courtesy of Lawrence Arabia | Posted: 08/10/2012
Lawrence Arabia — nom de plume of songwriter James Milne — decided at the beginning of the year to start fresh.
“I'd probably let myself go while I was on tour a bit,” says Milne. “My regular hairdresser lives in Auckland so it was hard to keep up with my grooming. After a year of shagginess, I just decided it was time to clean my act up a bit. New Year's Day 2012, it all came off.”
He’s had plenty of reason to be neglectful of his grooming — he’s been a busy guy since the release of 2009’s critically acclaimed Chant Darling.
For the last three years, Milne has been touring the world in support of the album with his band, The Prime Ministers, including a stint on the road with fellow Australiasians, Crowded House. On top of touring, Milne sprinkled recording sessions in England for a new album and contributed to the second-generation super-group BARB, with whom he toured and recorded a self-titled album in his native New Zealand.
It’s fitting then that the first track on that new Lawrence Arabia album, The Sparrow (released July 24 via Bella Union), is entitled “Traveling Shoes.” And while he may be clean-shaven and have a posh new haircut (at the moment), he’s about to be quite busy once again.
“I tend to forget how mad the whole period of releasing an album is,” he says of the album launch. “Probably because it seems to take me three years to turn around each new album. Especially in New Zealand, there's been a ton of publicity ‘cause it's following a record that was relatively successful there, so there's been a lot more uptake, which means a lot more work.”
At least during recording The Sparrow, Milne let others bear a bit of the burden. Whereas the two previous Lawrence Arabia releases saw Milne doing all of the writing and basic instrumentation, The Sparrow included other creative input from musicians Elroy Finn and Connan Mockasin.
“The main effect [of recording with other musicians] is just in the spontaneity of the playing and the sense of the recorded moment — a single captured performance, rather than a period of time spent chiselling away at a song,” says Milne. “It's certainly not out of contention that I might make a proper one-man-band kind of record again. But I am attracted to working with musicians that are genuinely much better than me at playing their instruments rather than me just muddling through and wishing I was better.”
Together, Milne, Finn and Mockasin recorded the basic tracks for The Sparrow in October 2010 in Surrey, England. The strings and horns that give the album its brooding resonance were added in 2011, in arrangements which he intended from the beginning to take on the road.
“I'd had this vision of the aesthetic of the album pretty early on,” he says. “I felt like it would help narrow down my decision-making process at the overdub stage if I was limited to these kinds of arrangements. At some point I'd love to find local string quartets so we could adhere very closely to the sound of the record. At the moment, I'm playing with a violinist / multi-instrumentalist called Andrew Keoghan who helps give a picture of the sense of the record rather than represent the record exactly as it is. In New Zealand though, we're touring with a 9-piece band including a string quartet, so it is pretty close to the record.”
Following extensive touring of New Zealand, a festival in the U.K. in August and a European tour, Lawrence Arabia will be performing in the U.S. in October, and Milne plans to spend the rest of the year living in New York. With luck, that’ll lead to a lot of dates in the U.S.
“At this stage, I'll be [in New York] ‘til the end of the year. It's difficult to jump onto opportunities when you're in New Zealand. Everything requires planning and saving. So a big part of it is convenience in helping promote the record. Plus New York's obviously intense and inspiring, and totally different from New Zealand.”
Lawrence Arabia - "Traveling Shoes"