A change of pace for Harlow Lake

While the second album of Shane O’Leary’s lockdown project Harlow Lake veers toward more familiar territory for fans of his other outfits, Jezery and Lamp, it draws on a mix of lingering musical ideas and observations from within the stasis of the current moment. Downtown catches up on the latest.
A change of pace for Harlow Lake

The video for Harlow Lake’s ‘Body in the Bathtub’ is streaming now on YouTube.

By the time you read this, it’ll have been a year since most people were sent home to assume working remotely, and going about the business of keeping the show on the road amid a global pandemic.

In that year, all of us, as a society, have been through the ringer, and it bears mentioning that getting through this has been a challenge for each of us as individuals, one that exacts some different tolls.

Among those are time - we experience days differently, working weeks if we’re lucky, weekends and a preponderance of something that many of us took for granted, or paid little attention to.

For those of us monitoring the local music and arts scenes, it’s an illustration of the exact difference a year makes, and such is the length and nature of lockdown in Ireland that the at-home projects of early 2020 are now releasing their second albums, including Cork solo project Harlow Lake.

“A lot has changed in terms of sound and all that”, says vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Shane O’Leary of upcoming LP Valley of Teeth. “My last one was totally different, I was just listening to a lot of chilled out folk music at the time, and I thought, why the f**k would I be writing heavy music right now, when all I’m listening to is female folk singers?

“Only a few weeks after that, I started writing this one, and in three months, it just kind-of flew out. There were bits that I had for ages that I brought to Lamp that we couldn’t shoehorn in, but definitely this album is somewhere between Jezery and Lamp. Quite heavy in parts, fast… there’s no drop in it, really.”

The video for lead-off single ‘Body in the Bathtub’ is out now, a single-camera affair that sees O’Leary directly address the camera from within said bathroom fixing. While Valley of Teeth might be a product of its time, the tune has its roots in O’Leary’s previous sonic adventures.

Why don’t I rip out this guitar part and throw in a synth instead? Take out this and throw in violins here

“That song, I wrote seven years ago, which I only realised when I looked on my YouTube and saw an acoustic version I was playing. It was this song that had no home, just this bastard child of a thing that had no place. It was a good place to start. I had no idea I was making an album - I just wanted a song I could destroy. ‘Why don’t I rip out this guitar part and throw in a synth instead? Take out this and throw in violins here…’ I totally mangled it, basically, and I ended up loving it.”

Harlow Lake has existed, for all of its outward-facing life, in lockdown. It’s not unique in that respect: electronic duo The Gauze, doom-metal solo project Abysm and the reunion of once-lose dream-pop sensations Emperor of Ice Cream spring to mind.

O’Leary talks about bringing multiple stages of a musical project to their realisation as the world has been on pause, and creating music where external stimuli and collaboration have been reduced, as our daily lives have contracted.

“Pros and cons. It was very appealing at the beginning, because all I wanted to do was a folk thing, and get it out there with this name on it. Then, I just hung onto the name and used it for other stuff, like this album. I was happy in the first lockdown, because I was under no pressure (to perform or promote), grand!

 Valley of Teeth was released this month on streaming services, and for download.
Valley of Teeth was released this month on streaming services, and for download.

“This time, because it’s a full-band thing, I’m dying to play it live, so it’s a balls. But at the same time, if I’d people around me, I don’t know would it have come out as fast. I prefer writing with people, but it takes time to go back and forth with people, respecting their input as well.”

In a post-Covid Cork - with all the problems that will face artists as directly as the opportunities - a lot stands to change, and there’s a job of work ahead of most of Cork arts’ constituents to get back up and running on limited resources. Against that backdrop, O’Leary discusses his hopes for the project, both those within his own gift, as well as the post-Covid ideal.

“I’d like to take a rest for a small while, now, because I’ve been writing non-stop for a year. An inkling of going back and writing some dark, twisted electronica stuff, as an experiment, but ultimately, the realistic goal would be to get musicians I know, and work well with, and see would they be happy to play these songs. Maybe do a little tour around Ireland.

“But a lag to getting back to normal would be a good thing for the moment, my three-year-old is only in pre-school, now, so it was hard to do touring with Lamp as well, as she was on the way. So a live band is the most realistic goal. After that, I don’t know. Maybe another album will pop out, maybe I’ll never play the guitar again (laughs).”

  • The video for Harlow Lake’s ‘Body in the Bathtub’ is streaming now on YouTube. Valley of Teeth was released this month on streaming services, and for download and adding to your collection on Bandcamp here.

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