In conversation with: Langkamer
Words by Chiara Strazzulla
Bristol’s Langkamer keep moving with ‘Red Thread Route’ EP – as they reflect on balancing life, gigging after COVID, and the global conveyor belt
2022 has been a momentous year for rock music. The mainstream, pop-heavy charts might be increasingly disappointing in their repetitiveness, but dive beneath that surface and you’ll be met with a buzzing world of alternative acts increasingly populated with bands who have very clear ideas about what they want to say and their own distinctive voice in which to say it. Langkamer are one such band: formed by vocalist Josh Jarman together with guitarists Ed Soles and Dan Anthony and bassist Tom Kelly – formerly all known quantities in the Bristol music scene – they were extensively praised in 2021 for a debut album rich in introspective lyrics and distinctive riffs, which smoothly translated from the studio to the stage. They’re now taking the next step on a continuously-moving path with a new EP, ‘Red Thread Route’, released late last year, and looking forward to what’s coming next.
Having started the band right before the COVID-19 pandemic, Langkamer only truly had an experience to bring their music to live audiences recently, and have been greatly enjoying it. “Tom and Ed only joined the band just before the first lockdown, so we didn’t get to play any shows together as a four-piece until the lockdown ended, which was a good year and a half later,” Jarman reminisces. “So it was a good year and a half of rehearsing, and writing together, and making music videos, and recording – but not playing any shows. When we finally started we were still so apprehensive, still a bit tentative. Getting to develop that on the road was very rewarding, life-affirming, really. It is what made us think ‘we got a good thing going, really’. And it has all gone into the EP too”.
"grassroots is really the best way to describe it: [The Louisiana] is the kind of place that is really committed to cultivating a community of music there in Bristol, which is priceless, really”.
Bristol’s grassroots scene is one of the most lively in the UK, and one of the most experimental: choose any of its recurring haunts and you’re bound to walk into a band that is developing some sort of unique, idiosyncratic kind of sound. Langkamer operate somewhat within this scope: inspired, in their own words, by “the broad spectrum of guitar music”, they thrive on unexpectedly putting together things most people would regard as fairly distant – think slacker rock, pop-punk, and a robust dose of country influences – and making the unlikely pairing work.
Jarman is a little reluctant to use the term ‘experimental’ for what Langkamer are doing: “We have bands here in Bristol pushing that so much further, that it seems not quite the right fit for us,” he points out. “We still love a chorus-and-verse structure”. He does, however, acknowledge that the broad variety of influence is a very useful arrow in the band’s quiver. “A lot of the time we give each other complete free roam to take a track where everyone wants to take it, which means you have four different tastes, developed by listening to four different kinds of stuff. And when those four different libraries of thought all come together, that’s really when the band flourishes”. Some modicum of negotiation is of course required: “Sometimes someone brings something to the table that’s a bit too specific to their own interests, and everyone tries to roll with it, but eventually it just has to hit that sweet spot at the centre of that Venn diagram of where we all stand. Sometimes we finish a song, it’s a perfectly good song, but then someone will say ‘oh, perhaps this is a bit too country, or a bit too rock’n’roll’, and it will go back to the drawing board. No one wants to be too complacent”.
Their connection to the Bristol scene is a close one, which takes a number of forms, emotional and practical alike. “We recorded the EP in the basement of the Louisiana, at the start of the summer,” Jarman reminisces. “It was really good to be back in there after almost two years, in which time they’ve converted it from a beer cellar into an actual recording studio. So the whole thing felt a little bit less rough around the edges. But it’s still a pretty iconic place, grassroots is really the best way to describe it: the kind of place that is really committed to cultivating a community of music there in Bristol, which is priceless, really”. This sense of community is one of the advantages of hailing from somewhere like Bristol, where the variety of musical expression is if anything growing with time. “A lot of people are loathe to use the term ‘scene’, but that’s really what we have here – it has been a great scene for as long as I can remember, and probably much further back than that”.
Langkamer's 2021 album 'West Country'
Not that it’s all bliss for artists, especially the ones who come from a working class background and have to rely on their own means to keep cultivating their music. As perhaps is inevitable at a time saturated with talk of nepotism babies and cost of living crisis, we end up discussing the impact this is having on this music community, too. “We are all going through a bit of a rough spot, as things become less affordable, especially in cities like Bristol and of course London before it. It is harder to attract like-minded creative people when rent becomes a concern. I hope it won’t happen, obviously, but there is a real fear that people are going to be forced out”.
Inevitably, those concerns end up seeping into the music, colouring the themes in the lyrics, shaping the direction that the songwriting takes. “I’ve been wondering how these trends reflect a greater disquiet in society in general,” Jarman muses. “We’ve had moments in which music was very serious – think for instance of Joy Division in the 80s – there were a lot of awful things happening in the UK in the 80s, and the music was reflecting that. And then the 90s came with this huge economic boom, and we started getting some pretty silly music coming out, all the way through the Noughties. Smash Mouth, the Cartoons. Now people have had less and less money, and they’re struggling more and more, so it’s kind of natural to have some sort of a downturn in music. It’s a reflection of something wider”.
Has it had a direct impact on the band, I wonder? There are themes in the EP which certainly seem to suggest so: “The songs’ subject matters can be pretty bleak, because they’re things we’ve written away from practice, even if later when we’re together we’re having so much fun that the sound turns out different, everyone is using major chords, and so on. But a lot of the EP was written while we were on tour, and so it ended up reflecting the reality of being an underpaid musician, having to run back to the day job all the time, then running back, and being exhausted all the time. We’ve ended up shying away from the more poppy, feel-good sings as we moved from the album to the EP. Audiences connected with those less, too, so with the EP we felt less of an obligation to make them upbeat songs, and we were more sincere, more authentic instead”.
There’s an expression Jarman has used before when addressing the EP, which perfectly crystallises this mood of relentless pressure: the global conveyor belt on which inevitably music, too, ends up being stuck. “It’s such a temptation to chase what you see others doing, what you see passing you by all the time. And it is a relief to stop doing that and looking into what you’re feeling in the moment. Which, yes, can mean writing some depressing songs sometimes”.
Music remains, for Langkamer, however, a liberating enterprise, not just a means of expression: “When we get together to play, away from the woes of having to pay our rent and our day jobs, that’s the most fun we’ve had all week. And as soon as we get up on a stage together and start playing music, having a good time, that comes through as well. Smaller venues especially, you’re playing to a 100, 150 people, you’re in a new town where you don’t know anybody, you have no expectations for the show, and these people have shown up for you, and you can see there faces as you play and see they’re enjoying it. That’s the best feeling of all”. That positive feedback is easily the biggest motivator. “We’re all kind of narcissists, musicians,” Jarman chuckles. “We love the applause”.
There is more to come in the future, as the EP feels almost more of a springboard for things to come than a point of arrival. With plenty of ideas to develop and a hunger for the live performance experience that clearly shines through – not just from our conversation, but from their songwriting as well – Langkamer are most certainly going places, starting with some special performances for Independent Venue Week and continuing with new songwriting planned for the near future. And after that, the number of possible directions to be taken remains huge. The global conveyor belt, after all, never stops.
Catch Langkamer live:
30.01 - Hebden Bridge Trades Club
31.01 - Norwich Voodoo Daddys
01.02 - Trowbridge The Pump
02.02 - Bedford Esquires
03.02 - Worcester St Swithun's
04.02 - Folkestone The Chambers
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