Lines of Flight Interview

Steve Interviews

Lines of Flight

Lines of Flight are Helen and Matthew, who came together during Lockdown and produce a magnificent modern Synthpop sound. They released 10 singles in 2021, culminating in the album Signs of Life in 2022. They have just released the wonderful 5 track EP More Than Human.

Hi Helen and Matthew. For those who don’t already know your history, can you give us the background of how you came to be Lines of Flight? Where does the band name come from?

(MH) Hi Steve, thanks for getting in touch. Lines of Fight came about in the March of 2020. We’d all gone into lockdown and there was a palpable sense of existential dread. My response to that was to make music, to try and alleviate the weight of the  situation. Interestingly, that anxiety gave me motivation to try something new, and so I took a chance, sent a message to someone I didn’t know, and asked them if they fancied trying to put together some music when all we both had were our Iphones. And what’s amazing and why we’ve made the music we’ve made, is that Helen said ‘yes’.  From then on we spent the first lockdown communicating only in whatsapp messages, sharing music files and by the end of the summer we had all the tracks that would become ‘Signs of LIfe’. We shared the files, continuing to work remotely, with the great Ed Heaton and a year later we released the first single Birthing Bell in March 2021.

The name comes from the work of Deleuze and Guattari’s second book ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. It is their term for, “Bolts of pent up energy that break through the cracks in a system of control and shoot off on the diagonal. They reveal the open spaces beyond the limits of what exists. Constrained by necessity, limited by circumstance, but urgent with focus and intention.” It seemed fitting given how we came into existence.

Have you been involved in music before Lines of Flight? What kind of music where you creating previously? 

(MH) I have been in a few bands over the years, either singing, guitar, bass or keys. I’ve never been in a duo before and I really love how intense the relationship is – it works so well…or rather it does because Helen makes up the other half of the band. We have a great balance of sharing all the elements that make up being in a band…of which making music is actually quite a small percentage, sadly.

(HW) I’m the opposite, really, in that I’d never been part of a band before – unless you count a funk & soul covers band at Uni! I have always been more on the performing side, singing in choirs, a little bit of performing covers and providing harmonies for other people, that kind of thing. But never anything where I felt part of an ongoing and fully collaborative creative process, with a sense of identity. It’s very different and really good, and as Matthew says, works really well.

I am fascinated with the creative process, so how does that work for you? Does one of you have an idea and send it to the other and then you pass it back and forth?

(MH) We don’t really have too much of a set process. Words can come from either of us, and may come before or in response to some music. I do tend to put the music together but it’s never a song without the lyrics or melody. Sometimes Helen will take the bare bones of the music and then try various lyrical and melody stuff with it, then send it back and I’ll play around with it; sometimes, I lead on it all and end up singing it; sometimes I lead on it all and Helen sings it; sometimes Helen writes the words and I end up singing it; sometimes Helen will present some words out of the blue and they’re so good, I go away and put some music together to them – it really is about each specific song. In the early days, we had so much time to experiment, it became normal to not have a set way, but to try things out – and that sort of stuck really.

I love to know influences, especially lyrically. Where do your words come from for your songs? Do you find lyrics or music easier?

(MH) I think about words all the time – I use them as a way to help me sleep – running the same words over and over in my head, trying to find the right word, words or phrase. So in a sense they come more easily, because I am free to work on them, as they are in my head – but sometimes they can take an age – we both spend many hours working on micro changes, so that we feel happy with them. 

For the music, I still use Garageband because I can sketch ideas down as soon as I have a moment, or a spark of inspiration – I don’t have to plug anything in, fire up any large computers etc – just grab the idea in the moment.  So in a sense, I am always working on the music too – a day never goes by where I haven’t done some work on a track. 

I love working with a producer, Ed Heaton for Signs of Life and Ben Whelan for More than Human – it’s great to have a voice and perspective outside my own – I consider it a key part of the process.

Influence-wise, there’s always plenty in there, but we are very happy for others to interpret our music in a way that works for them – we want it to be open to their interpretation but not too abstract that it feels remote. I’d say we are driven by the natural world both as an inspiration but also for metaphors and analogies 

(HW) I can be a bit of a magpie – sometimes I’ll find a word or phrase in a book and look to create something around it; the phrase ‘listening land’ for example is taken from a beautiful elegiac piece of writing by Aldo Leopold; I loved the sound of those words together and the feelings they evoked, and wanted to do something with them. In general, as Matthew says, we’re both inspired by landscapes and places, and memories either experienced or imagined by ourselves in relation to them.

You could quite comfortably sit with the classic Synth artists of the 80’s. Are these your main influences musically, or are there, maybe other surprising influences to your sound?

(MH) There’s no doubt that that movement of music has always been a part of my life. I think the ‘punk’ ethos of that movement is so inspiring – it’s lack of snobbery is empowering. I also love how wide the field of ‘electronic music’ is – it’s so diverse and even better, there doesn’t seem to be too much tribalism, it’s all inclusive. Maybe coz we’re all geeks of one type or another, we may as well all be geeks together. But I have a wide range of tastes in music, I am always listening to stuff, even if it’s so I can hear a new sound or rhythm or vocal. I just then put it all through the filter of my songwriting. 

(HW) Yeah, as Matthew says, I think that synth and electropop were always there for both of us; growing up the first music I remember loving was Eurythmics, singing along and making up dance routines in the living room. But same for me – I listen to a lot of things; some of my most listened to albums are not in that ‘genre’ at all (eg. Joanna Newsom, Johnny Flynn). I like to think we both bring bits of influence from various things we’ve loved over the years, as well as new things we’re discovering now, and with new stuff we’re working on there are other influences popping up too.

Your new EP More Than Human has just been released to a lot of deserved acclaim. Is there a theme to the EP? Bears feature twice, so who has the Bear obsession!?

It started with some photos that Helen and I saw by Dimitry Koch, of some polar bears on a remote island in the north-west Bering Straits. They had appropriated an abandoned weather station, left by the Soviet Union, and were using it as their lair. To us it was very evocative of humans’ relationship to nature, the loneliness of being a human, the destruction we cause as humans and that we are so slow to change our ways. To quote ‘House of Bears’, “the human condition is not built to last”. 

What was the first song either of you ever wrote? 

(MH)God – I think the first song I wrote was when I was 15, it was called ‘Goodbye Grey’ – an indie guitar track championing the joys of being happy – ahh, to be that naive again?!

As a duo – our first song was Birthing Bell. Helen had the lyrics and melody and I fitted some music around it. It was a special moment for us, when we finished that.

(HW) I don’t think I wrote anything that could legitimately be called a song until I was at uni, where I wrote one called ‘Joy May and I’ which was – predictably –  about fancying someone 

I know you enjoy a good collaboration, so who would be your dream artist to get into a studio with?

(MH) Ahh, the list is too long but at the top of the list, for me would have to be Robert Smith…though they do always say, never meet your heroes…but I think our experience is to not say no, just because we are unfamiliar with things – you never know what will come out of it. We’ve had some great collabs over the last few years – Lyon Tide, The Ocean Beneath, Pulses, Montage Collective, Loops and Loops, Amongst the Pigeons…and we have many more to come!

(HW) I’m trying to picture how it would work, but bringing along Joanna Newsom and her harp would have to be up there!

You have done a few gigs now. How have you found it? It must be quite a buzz seeing people reacting to your songs in person. 

(MH) It’s a really great buzz – we’ve been lucky enough to support some great bands – Pale Blue Eyes and Saccades, we love performing and are in a great position where we can pick and choose the gigs we play. Next up is the Otley Music Festival, we play on the 9th of July. 

(HW) It’s really ace – we didn’t get the chance to do this for such a long time, and it’s just brilliant being able to perform the songs together.

For IYE you were once asked for some interesting facts about the band. So does being in Lines of Flight top singing on Songs of Praise and Highway or working in an upside down lighthouse? 

(MH) Good research! But yes, LoF is certainly more rewarding than SoP – I have tried to find that edition of the programme, but it seems to be lost in the midst of time – probably for the best. Though I’ve not searched for the ‘Highway’ one I was in – it might still be out there.

(HW) Haha! I still miss the lighthouse sometimes, I’m not going to lie…I’ll never do anything quite like that ever again, I’m fairly sure.  Being in LoF is pretty brilliant though! And means I can write about things like missing lighthouses…haha. 

You are pretty active on Social Media. Is this important to you as a band? Do you enjoy it or see it as a necessary evil.

(MH) Is it evil, is it necessary? As all tech people say, the tech is neutral – it’s people that are evil. In terms of engaging with fans though, we have no problems with it at all – especially as when we came together, it was the only way to reach people. And those people were super supportive. I think it’s been harder to maintain contact with people lately but I still think it has some great benefits and reach. To be frank, I’m not sure how we’d promote stuff and connect with people without it.

(HW) It’s sometimes hard in that you feel you should always be doing more, doing it better, reaching more people and keeping existing followers ‘happy’. It’s easy to slip into the trap of thinking that everyone is eagerly awaiting the next thing you put on your socials when really, everyone is probably just trying to get on with their day to day lives, and striving to strike a healthy balance with time spent online, scrolling and liking. I loved the buzz of lockdown Twitter – it was such a wonderful and warm community and it still is in many ways, and we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near to being able to do things like a physical vinyl  release without it. 

Who else are you enjoying at the moment from the new music scene?

(MH) Helen gets out a lot more than I do, so she is better placed to answer this.

Though I love Ella Minus PVA, KVB, TVAM, Hearts Beating in Time, Joon, Glume, Art School Girlfriend, The Waeve. The list goes on and on.

I’m sure you’ll agree, there is just so much good music out there. 

(HW) I’m loving the new stuff from Lunar Bird and Blokeacola, and Lucky Iris and Lyon Tide are also turning out some excellent tunes. In terms of live stuff, she’s a little more established, but Anna B Savage was absolutely superb at the Brudenell back in March. I’m off  to Long DIvision festival in Wakefield in a couple of weeks and hoping to catch Keep Back Ivy.

I know there was a Twitter post suggesting you are aiming for a 2024 release for the next album. That is far too long away so can you please tell us there will at least be some new Lines of Flight music in 2023? Are there any other plans? More collaborations? Gigs?

Our next release of new material is chalked for next year, yes, but this autumn we are putting our EP ‘More Than Human’ out on 12” vinyl, with the b-side consisting of 6 fab remixes by Gemma Cullingford, Hearts Beating In Time, Amongst the Pigeons, Tobisonics, Pulses and Rich Stephenson!

We’re releasing it through Fairsound and pressing it with Press On Vinyl – we can’t wait. It’s a crowdfunding approach so keep your eyes peeled for exclusive offers and bundles – we will launch this in June, 2023 – so not long to wait.