Should you ever Google ‘Curse Of Lono,’ the browser will offer two answers to your query. The first is a book “about Hunter S. Thompson’s druggy exploits in Hawaii whilst covering the 1980 Honolulu Marathon.”
Scroll down, and the alternative Curse of Lono is a cinematic southern gothic rock five-piece from London whose mix of keyboards, guitars, harmonium, drums and bass opens up the sound behind frontman Felix Bechtolsheimer’s vocals. Singing dark, intense and conversely uplifting songs that face demons, loss, and the street dogs of addiction, Bechtolsheimer faces his realities in full view. There is no gauze curtain or comfortable distance, what’s his, is ours. What we do with it is our decision.
With Bechtolsheimer and drummer Neil Findlay, Curse Of Lono was formed from the remnants of the alternative country/roots pioneers, Hey Negrita. But this time the music has warped with the strains of krautrock and Radiohead, a hangover apparently from the people Bechtolsheimer was spending time with when he was putting the band together. “I’m very proud of the work I did with Hey Negrita and the four albums we released but, when the band split up, I was desperate to try out new things,” he explained about the shift with his new band, “When I started demoing the songs for the Curse Of Lono album with my old friend and producer Oli Bayston (aka Boxed In), we agreed to throw the old templates out the window and follow the songs where they wanted to go. Oli comes from a different musical universe to me and we had a lot of fun experimenting and seeing how our worlds could overlap. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had making a record.”
That being said though, Bechtolsheimer is aware that he owes a lot to his time with Hey Negrita, receiving an essential education in navigating the musical world that he inhabits. “I got to make records, tour the world and play at countless festivals,” he told me. “I learned how to deal with and get the most out of complicated characters, how to make records and how to survive life on tour but I also learned a lot about humility. The truth is that most people aren’t going to give a damn about your music. It’s important to keep that in mind when someone tells you that you’re great. They’re just one in a million. As far as styles and influences go, my horizons have definitely expanded since Hey Negrita ended but the two things that haven’t changed are my love of harmonies and the way I write lyrics.”
An example of the bearing of the band’s harmonies is the track “Pick Up The Pieces” the first single from their debut album Severed, the video for which is premiered below. Starting with clean warm vocals from Bechtolsheimer the initial sense is that of the lone voice “You’ve been saying it’s not worth staying” he starts the song on his own. As the song progresses he is lyrically drinking “My way back to you one more time,” and at this the harmonies fill his lines up. They don’t become a team yet, they just let him know he is not on his own. By the chorus there is the anthemic “Hey hey pick up the pieces baby.” The harmonies are forthright and asking you to join in. Bechtolsheimer’s love of harmonies on Severed is managing to set context and add detail by placing the characters in the songs in company, or isolation; with the bonded support of friends or witnessed by the crowd. It is a signature use of vocals and harmonies throughout the album.
When Bechtolsheimer was gathering material for Severed, he had a few stacks of songs to search through. Some were brand new, purpose built for the occasion – written “with the benefit of hindsight,” by a proud survivor of dark times, a man with a future. Others were up to 14 years old; they on the other hand “had been written in the midst of chaos,” a cold testament to years of addiction and its ripple effect on his life. One of the threads running through the album is the five years that Felix Bechtolsheimer spent struggling with addiction, and ultimately only managing to deal with it by removing himself from the scene in London altogether and travelling to the US to attend a treatment centre.
“I got fired from my first serious band because heroin had completely taken over my life,” Bechtolsheimer told me candidly. “I stopped making music for about five years and only started again when I finally got clean. It may sound like a cliché but song writing really did become a form of therapy for me. I treated the songs as letters to the people I had lost, the ones that hurt me and the ones I had let down. I wrote over a hundred songs during the first year after I got clean. Most of them were absolutely terrible. The fact that I got clean in the States definitely influenced my song writing. I spent my time out there jamming with an old cowboy junky who introduced me to the music of Little Feat, Guy Clark, John Prine, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. Once you let those guys in, they become impossible to shake off. People sometimes say that my songs sound American but to me they sound exactly as they should, like a sunburnt Brit kicking heroin and methadone in Southern Florida.”
The band’s press release says of the album, “Although Severed is a dark record in places; it is not an addiction record.” The struggles and the consequences fill all the gaps but the shards of hope and new starts written in the songs or that inspired the songs, help Severed move on from the drugs and the life. Take “Five Miles” for example, the newest song on the album. “It’s the song that convinced me to go back in the studio and make another record” Bechtolsheimer explained. “When Hey Negrita split up I fell into a deep depression. After years of crazy adventures, I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands and no idea what direction I was heading in. The first two verses of “Five Miles” compare those feelings to a drug comedown. After that we have the optimism of waking up and giving it another go. Enter the Lonos.”
“I’ve never had any reservations about singing about my personal struggles. That’s what making and listening to music is all about for me. I want to howl at the moon about the stuff that screws me up and makes me hurt and I want to hear about the stuff that does the same to you. In many ways, music is the safest way to bare your soul.”
The song “He Takes My Place” shines harsh light on a heart shattering, and is based on true events. “I was in a very destructive relationship at the time. The girl I was with started messing around with other people and, as time went on, she eventually gave up on hiding her exploits. It’s hard for me to relate to what I was thinking back then. All I know is that it takes a lot of drugs to stop you from running away when the girl you’re living with tells you that she’s off to meet another man. It was the lowest time in my life but, somehow, it seemed more bearable to stick around than to be alone.” The song is carried on waves of warm harmonium that help to ground it, give it some old fashioned weight. It also shows off Curse Of Lono Harmonies at their best, backing the singer who thinks he’s alone with all of this. The harmonium, by the way, is “an old 19th Century church harmonium … I found it on ebay for fifty quid as this guy was desperate to get it out of the house. We got obsessed with it during the recording and it ended up on most of the tracks. It’s too heavy to cart around so when it comes to playing live, Dani uses a hand-pumped Indian harmonium. “
Severed will be released on 7th April on Submarine Cat Records. In October of last year Curse Of Lono released an EP of songs which also appear of the album. The EP was the soundtrack for a short film of inter-connected videos directed by Alex Walker and shot by Bart Sienkiewicz, which was released with the EP. The visual element to the collection of songs on the EP is an important feature for Bechtolsheimer. “I think the visuals are a huge opportunity to give the songs a bigger purpose. I actually wrote a script for a whole fifty-minute film based on the songs on the album but everyone thought I was nuts. Alex was the only one who got it. He really liked the music and offered to make a movie based on the four songs on the EP.”
“I had a lot of the initial ideas for the story. Alex and I would chat about them in detail, discuss what was doable and then he would write the scripts. Then we’d take it in turns making changes. When it comes to the final result that was all down to Alex and the rest of the cast and crew. I like to get involved early on but when it comes to shooting, I watch from a distance. I’m incredibly proud of the film and Alex and I are overwhelmed by the reaction the videos have been getting. We just found out that we won Best Music Video at the LA Independent Film Festival and Best Music Video at the London Independent Film Awards, as well as making the official selection at the International Music Video Underground in LA and Feel The Reel International Film Festival in Glasgow.”
Severed will be released on 7th April on Submarine Cat Records.