July 21, 2016

Photos by Ramsay de Give

Osea is a private island off the coast of Essex that’s approximately 380 acres wide and only accessible by way of helicopter or boat. There’s a causeway that can get you there, but only during the part of the day when the tide is low enough not to swallow it. It’s the place of dreams, a place you’d imagine as a kid only to forget that places like this actually exist by the time you’re in your mid-twenties and living your life in a studio apartment somewhere else.

For two solid weeks, that was LUH’s island — a place where the musical and romantic partners holed up to record their debut record, Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, released earlier this month through Mute Records.

“It was important to stay there the whole time, to stay in that headspace,” Ebony Hoorn says about recording Songs, an album that melds Ellery James Roberts’ scruffy vocals (he was the lead singer of WU LYF until the band’s split in 2012), and her soft, echoing harmonies, which could be likened to The Kills’ vocalist Alison Mosshart. The mix makes for a haunting, romantic, and really sharp and shocking album. While one track will blend violin and soft, twinkling guitar with Ellery’s raw, dirty scream (“Loyalty”), the next track is purely smashing, 90s-style Brit guitar rock (“Lost Under Heaven,”). There’s a lot going on with this record, but there’s an overarching spaciousness that keeps it all together.

To fully realize what they wanted to with Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, Ellery and Ebony had to drop their day-to-day life. “It was the world of imagined possibilities beyond the mundane routine that we wanted to live in,” Ellery explains of recording on Osea. “I wouldn’t say it was escapist. I think in a way it was more intense, going deeper — it was stripping away the frivolous.”

It’s clear that Ellery’s experience with his previous band helped steer this project down a different path.“When WU LYF finished, I became quite militant in a mindset of existing in the world and doing something that I perceived to be positive, and [wondering] how you do that,” he explains. “I sort of reaffirmed my belief in the power of real expression through whatever medium in which I’d kind of lost it.”

“Initially, I was writing very reactionary songs and there was a lot of negativity in them,” he says of the political ideology of WU LYF, “but that wasn’t giving me much joy — and I think that comes out to the listener.”

That said, Songs is not Ellery’s attempt at reinventing his musical style. His knack for unconventional, larger than life sound is front and center in both projects. The writing is still just as intense and complex as it ever was, it’s just that the subject matter is different. Whereas WU LYF was pushing out reactionary rock songs, LUH is quite literally shutting the door on outside influence, opening up and sharing the stuff that comes from deep within. Sometimes it takes letting go of the past to get to that point. And sometimes, it takes a boat or a helicopter.