We interviewed Johnny Lynch, who performs under the pseudonym The Pictish Trail to discuss his latest album, his U.K. tour in March and his musical influences.
Interview by Jane Howkins.
You released an album last September called Future Echoes, which received some good reviews. How did it feel getting such praise for your work?
Hullo. Aye, it has been really well received, which is always nice. I wish I was one of those people that didn’t read their own reviews, but I released Future Echoes on my own label so it’s impossible not to. The thing is these days you don’t tend to get negative reviews unless you’re a massive band who have gone past their prime – there’s so much great music being made in the world, reviews editors tend not to waste their time on releases that aren’t worth writing about. So to get any reviews at all is always a good sign! A lot of the themes on the album are quite personal, so I’m pleased that the songs have managed to connect with people.
For those who haven’t heard the album yet, what can you tell us about it and why do you think people should listen to it?
I’m not very good at describing styles, but it’s pop music really. Ten upbeat pop songs about death. They’re all quite different, but sit alongside one another well, I think. In the past, I’ve made albums by selecting songs from a big bank of previously written material, and sort of jigsawed it all together. I liked that approach but with this album I concentrated on just these ten songs and incessantly worked on each of them until they were properly finished, and all fitted together. As a result, it’s probably my most confident and coherent sounding album; the songs are stronger and there’s more stuff going on in each one.
You played a full band headline show in Glasgow in January. How was that, and how were the new songs received?
Yeah! It was a show at Oran Mor, a really beautiful venue in Glasgow’s West End, as part of the Celtic Connections Festival that runs over a couple weeks in late January/early February. It was a fun show with folk dancing. I love playing with my band, it’s such a good feeling. I dressed them all up in monks clothing, and hired a backing choir of nuns – ‘the Rides Of Christ’. It was pretty spiritual, I have to say.
Why did you decide to just perform the one show in Glasgow in January? Was it something of a homecoming show?
I did a few other shows in January down in London – but they were acoustic / stripped-back gigs. The Glasgow full-band show was a one-off though, because Celtic Connections is a special festival in Scotland. Saying that, we did a session for Marc Riley on 6Music just before the Celtic Connections gig too, which was a good opportunity to rehearse! I live up on the Hebridean Isle of Eigg, but my band all live in Glasgow, so the Oran Mor gig was more of a homecoming show for them. Suse, Iain, Joe, Nichola & Steven – thank you, I love you.
You’re going on tour around the U.K. in March. What can you tell us about that, and are you looking forward to it?
In April I’m playing Manchester (6th), London (7th), Dundee (12th), Edinburgh (13th) and Leeds (14th). They are going to be full band shows, with all the trimmings. I’m especially looking forward to the Leeds gig, cos it’s the last one in that run of shows, and so I’m likely to go ape on stage.
What can people expect from a Pictish Trail gig, and why do you think people should come and see you live?
It’s LOUD. That’s my favourite part of it. Getting to play upbeat pop songs about death at full volume, whilst wearing a silk poncho – that’s as good as it gets for me. I always try my best to engage with the crowd, and have good chat with them. I’m not cool enough to get away with acting moody on stage and saying nothing. I like to have a good blether. So if you like something daft and loud, you’ll possibly enjoy this.
You released a couple of singles from FUTURE ECHOES, with the titles Far Gone and Dead Connection. Do you have any plans to release any more singles from the album?
We also put out a single in December called After-Life which had an intense video, possibly not suitable for those with epilepsy or diabetes. We’ve also just done a radio edit of the song Strange Sun. The album version is 7 minutes long, but the producer, Rob Jones, managed to chisel the edit down into a 4 and-a-half minute pop anthem. I expect everyone will be singing it by the end of year, and it will be used as background music in Eastenders when Ian Beale is having a breakdown in the Caf and Wellard has come back from the dead.
Have you started work on any new songs yet, or is it too soon?
I just did some recording last week, but I can’t reveal what that is yet. People will get too excited. I’ll be working on more stuff during the spring, and after the summer.
How is the writing and recording process for you?
I tend to write and record in clumps, storing up ideas for months and months to form a semblance of a song, before splurging it all out at once. When it’s all pouring out, I tend to work on 3 or 4 songs concurrently. I wish I had the discipline to work on new music every day, but I find the whole process a bit dishonest if I force it too much. I did a project a few years ago where I attempted to write a song every day for 100 days – it produced some good ideas, which I worked into later songs.
What sort of things influence you to write, and are there any bands/artists that have had a particular effect on your writing style?
I run a small D.I.Y. label/collective called Lost Map Records, and I’m constantly influenced by the artists on the roster – it’s the music I listen to the most. I love the people, and so I love the music. Working on other people’s music really pushes me to work on my own, and I find that really exciting. I’m very fortunate that it’s my job.
What have you been listening to recently, and are there any bands/artists that you recommend our readers check out?
I’ve been mostly listening to podcasts this year. There’s a great one called Feelin’ Weird that deals with subjects like depression, anxiety and addiction, which I find really interesting – there’s a couple of great episodes with the musician Crystal Dorval (who records incredible albums under the name White Poppy), where she talks about how her state of mind affects her creativity, which I’ve gleaned a lot of insight from. I really love the Michael Ian Black podcast How To Be Amazing, and Richard Herring’s RHLSTP show too. In terms of music, I’d recommend Ed Dowie’s album The Uncle Sold, which we’ve just released on Lost Map. It’s a beautiful, understated record and I’ve not really heard anything else like it; most of the songs are driven by pulsing synth-organ and an atmospheric ambience, tied together with sonorous, reverb soaked vocals and surreal-but-engaging lyrics. It’s experimental but it’s also immediately accessible, melodic and mesmeric. Highly recommended.
Any last words for the fans?
Hello fans. I love you both.