A Conversation with Lucy Michelle
Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles, that Minnesota folk-rock band that you can’t not love, have gone and changed on us. Heat, their fourth studio album, is their most focused effort to date. Well plotted, and planned out, Heat sees the band’s sound evolve in to something more mature, while still retaining that playful, laid-back pop-folk aesthetic they’re known for. In other words, don’t worry; the album still has everything you love (the ukulele, Lucy’s standout voice) but with the added insight a couple years of experience can provide.
Lucy Michelle was nice enough to take the time to talk with Music That Isn’t Bad about what went into creating the new album, their upcoming tour (including several shows across the mid-west), and her recent string of winter fueled bad luck.
“I think we’ve honed our ability to figure out what we want to do when we’re recording, because if you’re not super prepared… well, that has its place too.”
What was the inspiration for Heat?
(Lucy Michelle) I was unemployed at the time. I had a lot of time on my hands. Which was actually kind of nice, although a little unsettling. Also, at the time it was one of the craziest winters Minnesota ever had. We had this blizzard where I was snowed into my apartment for 3 days because they didn’t plow the streets to our house. So during those three days I could literally not leave the snow was so high, it was just crazy. So I felt like ‘God I wish it was summer, this is insane! Why do I live here?’ I love Minnesota though, and it’s a great community, and I love the music here and the art, and it’s just the best.
So that and, I had just gotten married last September, and so all these feelings came together at once. It felt like I was in this crazy spot, and so all of that came out in the album.
This is The Velvet Lapelles fourth studio album, what’s changed since you that first record?
I think a lot changed actually. The first album was the first that most of us had ever recorded and we had been a band for just three months previous to that. Since then, I think we’ve honed our ability to figure out what we want to do when we’re recording, because if you’re not super prepared… well, that has its place too. When we recorded our first album we were just like ‘Oh let’s just do everything live in the living room and that’s how we’ll do it.’ So we didn’t really think to do it any other way. We were like, we’ll just do it like a live show, and now I think that we’re kind of past recording as if we’re playing a live show. Now we’re more focused on what each part is going to sound like and how we can utilize that space and that environment to our best abilities. I think a lot has changed. And the sound, I think is so different than the previous records. It has more of a full sound, although people aren’t playing as much. Which is kind of funny to think about.
What was it like working with producer Matt Boyton (MGMT, Beirut, Bat for Lashes) on Heat?
It was awesome! He had really good insight, a great sense of humor. He was just a really good guy to be around, and in the end it was just like hanging around with a really good friend. He had so many good ideas; it really helped us figure out what we wanted to do and what we didn’t want to do. He helped us scale down what we came there with. Which was awesome.
You’re just about to kick off your summer tour, do you like being on the road?
We haven’t always been a big touring band. We’ve done at least… 4, 4 or 5 tours. Last time we went out West we went with Trampled by Turtles. That was 2 or 3 years ago. It was an awesome experience. That too has a crazy blizzard experience! We ended up getting stranded in Wall, South Dakota for like 4 days because the highway got shut down. So we missed like 3 shows out of all of them.
We’re sort of in and out all this summer. We have a couple mid-west shows coming up next week. Our bigger tour starts middle of July, and we’re going out West for that one.
What’s it like playing to your hometown audience compared to elsewhere?
You know, it’s different everywhere. I love playing Minnesota, I feel like we have a really good reception from people. And people are really in to it, and that’s really fun. With touring it kind of comes and goes. We’ve played shows for four people before and it’s just like ‘UGGGHHHHH.’ It can also be really cool though. You can really reach those 4 people in a cool way because it’s such an intimate show. So, you know I love going on tour. It’s a great experience and it has its ups and downs, and I’m kind of itching to go.
In addition to the shows you’re doing a song writing workshop at McNally Smith School of Music this weekend in Minneapolis. What are you going to tell your class?
It’s funny, I haven’t quite fully prepared as much as I need to. It is interesting to think about having to teach people and showing people how you write songs because it’s a personal experience. And I think everybody is probably different in how they do it. So it’s probably just nice for people to see how other people do it. And that way, I guess I don’t really know. I’ve never done that before-
Actually, I’ve been teaching ukulele lessons to a kindergartener and it’s funny because I end up trying to teach them how to write a song rather than how to play the ukulele. That’s more what I know how to do, is how to write songs, rather than play the ukulele unfortunately. So I don’t know?
What is your song writing process like?
The parts kind of come together. In the beginning I kind of start with the music, and add in the chords and hum through the melody. After that I start writing lyrics, as I’m working on the chords and structuring how the song is going to be. They kind of come together hand-in-hand.
I think the ukulele is an under-loved instrument. When did you pick it up?
I started playing seven years ago. It felt less daunting than a guitar. I had never played a string instrument and so I thought ‘Oh, four strings seem better than six.” I thought I’d go with four and see what happens.
If you could have one superpower what would it be? And how did you obtain it?
Maybe breathe underwater? That would be pretty awesome. How would I obtain it? Well, I could marry a Merman. That should work.
Heat is available now, so go buy it! And be sure to catch Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles when they play a town near you.