The presence of Lutine in our top tips for 2015 came at the end of a year that saw them quietly position themselves as one of Brighton’s most original live acts, featuring on bills as diverse as Stephen O’ Malley and Eliza Shaddad. Note our use of “quietly”; as much a feature of Lutine live as their skilled close part harmonies and minimal arrangements is the hushed reverence of the crowd. In a musical world often dominated by loud guitars, Emma Morton and Heather Minor achieve their aims through a subtle, melancholy beauty, providing a lovely counterbalance to the kind of act you would expect a website called Brighton Noise to cover. They are wonderfully untouched by scenes or trends, and their music evokes the past but without seeming overly familiar. It’s absolutely clear from the time spent in their company that this is two friends bonded by a shared desire to create.
We caught up with them soon after the release of their wonderful White Flowers album to talk about great creation stories, name troubles, lazy comparisons, unplanned gig interruptions and uncomfortable recording studios.
Where and when did you two first meet?
Emma: Heather is a music tutor, I wanted to get back into singing so went to her for lessons and we became friends.
Heather: We clicked and started, felt a little bit like lessons were friendly time and hanging out and not lessons.
Which wasn’t something that had happened before?
H: Never. It was a natural thing, it felt like Emma had learned a lot and we were more like friends.
Had either of you been in bands before?
H: I’d done a close harmony group and some classical performing, piano but not really weighty stuff. You were in folk thing weren’t you?
E: A close harmony folk thing.
When did you discover the fantastic vocal harmony between you, is it something that came naturally?
H: We did ‘Died for Love’ and put the harmony in and it was great, it was amazing really because people tend to follow a lower harmony. And it was just dead on and sounded lovely and so went forward with it.
E: And we naturally changed it a little between us.
And it was instant? “Wow that worked.”
H: I’m not sure we’d ever say that. It was fun. It feels really fun when we sing together and it feels right. It’s not always like that when you sing with people, sometimes it’s tense.
Similar to a conversation?
H: Yeah I’d say it is.
Lutine is a fabulous name, how did it come about?
E: We decided on it a long time ago.
H: Everything we wanted was taken by metal bands, we were looking at poisons, things like that, poisonous flowers and then eventually we thought ships would be good names. It’s a female hobgoblin as well as a ship. The two things combine so you can fit what we like. We like mythical stories and we like stories about the sea, seafaring and sailing.
E: And there is a good story attached.
H: Yeah there’s an amazing story.
E: It basically sank with a load of gold in it that was never found.
H: The fact that it’s still out there is exciting to us. Emma bought me the Lutine book, the book about the ship for my birthday but I’m yet to read it.
You’re very different from the norm, has that been help or a hindrance so far?
H: Well, I think it is a help but initially when Emma and I were thinking about going out and playing a show, we just thought, no one’s going to like this. We were doing open mic nights to test ourselves and thinking this is going to go down like a lead balloon. Someone’ll be up there doing an acoustic guitar thing and we’ll get up and do ‘All I Have Is Gold’ or something. We were really surprised how people in that environment really liked it.
Even in that environment were people quiet?
H: You could have heard a pin drop right from the off.
How would you describe your own sound?
E: We often describe it as haunting and minimal.
H: Yeah minimal, we wanted our music to be beautiful. I feel like there’s something lacking sometimes in popular music, it’s not got the same beauty that classical music has sometimes, we wanted to bring that across. We really like (Henry) Purcell and (John) Dowland, people like that. We wanted to bring that natural pure beauty into folk, transfer it across. (To Emma) Your voice helps with that because you have a very old fashioned tone, it really helps with that.
E: It quite naturally came about, it was what we liked doing.
H: I don’t know if you know a song called ‘Flow My Tears’ by John Dowland, a beautiful old song and ‘Dido and Anais’ by (Henry) Purcell and we knew they were suited to your vocal so that seemed to be something that would fit and you liked that really old folk.
E: Shirley Collins and everything.
What do you listen to?
H: Whilst we were recording, I didn’t listen to much else bar our own stuff.
E: For months we only listened to different takes of Lutine.
H: Although what I was doing was playing, I won’t often listen to music but I will play and I was playing a lot of Phillip Glass and (Aaron) Copeland and (John) Cage. There was a minimal piano thing. I was doing that because it helps your fingers get into the right frame of mind, for your dexterity really.
Do you see any kindred spirits out there?
E: Not really….
H: The people we get compared to, I haven’t yet thought, yeah I can see what you’re saying there. I don’t know, can’t really think of anybody.
Who have you been compared to?
H: Early on people were taking a lot about First Aid Kit because we sing in harmony.
E: And CocoRosie. It seems to be the obvious things that people pick up on, 2 girls, harmonies.
Who are you favourite local acts?
H: Slum of Legs?
E: Slum of Legs.
Pretty sure I saw you at one of their shows the other day and was surprised, I don’t know why.
H: It’s really exciting to see something like that in Brighton.
Any record labels you particularly identify with?
E: Finders Keepers?
H: And (animated) FRONT AND FOLLOW (who released White Flowers!). In all honesty, we were really pleased that Front and Follow got in touch with us, we knew that Justin would be sympathetic with what we were doing. He wanted to help us do exactly what we wanted to do, which was really exciting.
You seem to attract the attention of the crowd? Why do you think that is?
E: I guess it might be partly due to the quiet nature of our music, and some people have said that they feel captured and mesmerised by it. It sometimes feels like letting people into your world, as our music is quite personal and exposing. It’s really lovely when people feel a connection to it too.
H: I think in the music there’s something hanging in the silence and the space in the music that would make it hard (to interrupt) – one man did fall over at one show and apologised at the next show and that was the only time there’s been a noise. It was like a tree falling! People seem to be very focused on it and I think it might… it’s the same thing you’d get if you went to see a classical concert, there’s a quality that’s similar to that, I wouldn’t chat if I was watching a concert or something.
E: We were worried about the (Stephen) O’Malley show. It was a bit scary but fun while we were onstage.
H: It feels like people are willing us along, I thought it might be the opposite of that but they’re all hoping we do well.
How was the Edge of the Sea gig with The Wedding Present?
H: People were really quiet.
E: Though there was some soundchecking going on next door.
H: They timed the drum roll for the end of one of our songs.
E: David Gedge did his best to keep things quiet.
H: He was so nice. He stood and he monitored people going in and out.
We’ve seen you on a variety of bills; your own show at St Laurence Church, The O’ Malley support slot, Outer Church, Edge of The Sea, which have been your favourites?
H: The launch was very different, we’d never been the focus of the show and it was a really good thing to do because it is different and there were lots of our friends and family there. That was a really lovely thing and it was great to use the church as we’d spent a lot of time in there.
E: I felt probably the most comfortable I’ve felt performing as we’d spent so much time there. I felt right at home.
Do you normally not feel comfortable?
E: I’m quite a naturally introverted person, and in the past I couldn’t even imagine being able to get up on a stage! But we both really wanted to be able to share our music with people, and over time it’s been getting easier (and even enjoyable!) although it’s different for every performance. It helps if there’s a good atmosphere in the room, and a supportive audience. We both love playing and singing our songs together, so that makes it easier too.
H: I don’t think it matters to feel uncomfortable, you should feel a certain fear. It just means you care.
There’s definitely a fragility to it live
E: It feels fragile to me when I’m singing and playing as well.
H: I think our nerves come from the fact it’s fragile.
How did the Outer Church mini-tour go?
H: Ramsgate and Southend, Ramsgate was interesting because only after we performed I realised that a lot of people didn’t know the Outer Church wasn’t a band. They were a bit foxed by the idea of The Outer Church because everyone knows it down here but take it out of here and it’s a very different thing all together. At Southend there was a crowd, it was a bit more familiar, they understood. It was really nice, it was nice to go away, we got to know people, it was nice to be away with them.
E: We were all dancing around to jazz by the end of the last evening!
How long did White Flowers take to record?
H: Ages, we started out in a recording studio with a good friend and we just felt really uncomfortable, it was a tiny studio. Our voices need to be moving out, the acoustics weren’t that good (for us) and we’re not used to that dead sound and so we decided to move into a church which meant me learning how to record music.
E: We could have had someone in but we wanted to be independent for ourselves.
H: So it was quite an intense thing.
E: So it took us a few months really didn’t it.
H: It did take a long time, the people at St Laurence were very good and we kept adding time on and they were ok, it’s all right. They were lovely.
E: Also we’re quite drifty.
H: The recording thing was really good, interesting but intense, I was really worried it would sound terrible and it was such a relief when it all came back from mastering and it actually sounded like a CD and everything was the same level, it was all right, I was thinking ‘oh God,’ it’s such a responsibility to take!
Was it quite early that you came to the conclusion that you didn’t use the studio?
E: Second day/third day.
H: (laughing) There’s always been a thing that we will not do things we’re uncomfortable with, there’s no point in doing things your uncomfortable with so we talk a lot about whether we’re enjoying what we’re doing and make sure we’re enjoying it and it was very clear we weren’t so we moved on. We found St Laurence’s through Kristin McClement who’d done some recording there and liked it.
How did the opportunity to record an album so early in your career come about?
E: After we did the Outer Church Christmas thing, wasn’t it Justin from Front and Follow saw a clip of us singing at that. “So It Goes. (video below)”.
H: I think Joe had some influence as well.
Is it a place that holds special significance to you?
H: Not before we went there.
E: I had been to Falmer a lot with my family, remember being at Falmer Pond growing up.
H: We were familiar with the area.
Has the extent of the positive response surprised you at all?
Both: Yes! Not a difficult question at all, that’s easy!
E: I think our expectations are always quite low. We love what we’re doing but we don’t necessarily think that other people will.
E: I’m the pessimist.
H: I think you’re realistic in some ways, I think neither of us like to oversell ourselves. I didn’t expect people to want that really quiet minimal music in their lives as much as they seem to. I was surprised by that.
E: We’ve hardly promoted ourselves at all really. We’ve been very lucky.
H: The thing is we wouldn’t because we’d be very bad at it so we’ve been fortunate that other people have taken it up and done it for us really.
Did you learn any lessons that you’d apply to future recordings?
H: Many lessons, I would like someone to do the actual recording next time. Even though I enjoyed learning and I’m going to start doing more of that and learning to do that kind of thing, it was stressful for me and also I wasn’t focused on the music enough and that should always be the focus. For me I can hear a lack of focus and relaxation which should happen with our music
E: I think ultimately, you do relax as you do it, as we did more takes.
H: There were a lot of takes.
H: I’d never recorded anything before.
E: Especially since she had a rubbish assistant. “How do you put this microphone stand up?”
Clearly you’ve developed a friendship, do you think that’s going to help, do you think that’s going to help in the future?
E: We’ve known each other 4 or 5 years now and our friendship has just got better and better, it’s bound to help.
H: We’re quite similar in a lot of ways and it’s that thing where you are similar and different so you can help each other in some ways and you develop an understanding of each other, which is really useful and Daisy (video maker) says, “you’re so lucky, you love each other so much.” And it’s true we are lucky, we enjoy each others company so alot of the time when we get together to do music we’ll end up doing other things and get distracted.
Do you have any further touring plans with the record?
E: If the offer is there we’ll do a bit more touring.
H: There’s talk of a Northern tour. Manchester would be fun.
E: Front and Follow is based in Manchester so it would be nice to go up there.
H: Poor Justin never gets to see us. I think that would be nice. We’d quite enjoy a tour.
You recently got some radioplay from 6 Music, did you get any feedback?
E: As soon as we got played on Lauren Laverne we got an offer from a London promoter within a couple of hours.
H: We did a live session for Juice at the start of November. And Radio Reverb too, we’re building up.
You have very specific aesthetic and sound, do you see this changing in the future. Do you see it as a problem or strength?
H: We’ve got lots of ideas about things, it was really enjoyable having Bella playing with us live. Having another person playing with us live. That was really exciting and I could see that bringing people in to do different things would be really exciting and quite a few people have said that they’d like to work with us.
Catch Lutine live at Leigh Folk Festival and Tor Fest later in the summer A much needed second edition of White Flowers is now in stock at the Front and Follow webshop. Furthermore we hear there is a White Flowers remix album in the works