Unfamiliar landscapes, dampened by snow and fog, frozen waterways, ghostly forests: in equal parts unsettling and rich with possibility - such is the world of ‘Thawlines’, the third solo album by John Lemke. Carved out at a glacial pace over six years, it distills the memories of a deeply impactful journey to Finland in 2011 into John’s most personal album to date.
During a time of inner turmoil, John’s first encounter with the harsh Finnish winter while visiting an old friend in Helsinki, served as the backdrop and catalyst for pivotal change. Inspired to write an album based on the experience some years later, a second trip with a residency near the Arctic Circle followed. Gathering field recordings and reflecting the original voyage, John experimented with first sketches in the solitude of the icy woodlands, before beginning to flesh out tracks in his Glasgow studio.
The practice of turning memories of places, situations and atmospheres into music, slowly evolved into a complex mosaic of textures and tones, sparking near endless permutations of each piece. About the process John says, ‘I always liked the idea of time as my main collaborator. Or put differently, collaborating with slightly different versions of myself over time. Most of the pieces on ‘Thawlines’ were crafted over a number of years, with long gaps in between recording, letting the ideas ferment somewhat in the meantime, or at least my notion of where they could go. The process let me look at each track from a multitude of angles and come at it with contrasting frames of mind, before understanding what the pieces truly needed to be. It was just a very natural way to work and let ideas grow. In many ways the album turned out as a celebration of the art of getting lost.’
The increasingly slow progression, partly due to John’s many soundtrack commitments, meant that more and more current experiences started seeping into the work as well. As John explains, ‘A lot of life has been digested in this record. From losses of loved ones to becoming a parent and everything in between.’
From a production point of view, John kept feeling drawn to sounds that evoked a certain childhood nostalgia in him such as the mellotron, unruly synths, reverb drenched vocals and era specific recordings of cello, drums and guitars.
Abandoning the rather electronic feel of People Do (2013) and Nomad Frequencies (2015) for a more band oriented sound, John enlisted the help of some of his favourite musicians in the form of Pete Harvey (Modern Studies) on cello, Clive Deamer (Portishead, Radiohead, Robert Plant) on drums and harpist Urška Preis (rouge-ah) to realise his vision. As John says, ‘The music somehow needed to run through the hands of others, which gave a sense of catharsis after such a drawn out, solitary process. It was exactly what was needed to bring the journey full circle’.
As a long odyssey comes to its conclusion, the yield can finally begin a life of its own.