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Pictish Trail

Thumbs up for going to work on Eigg (with Johnny Lynch)

By • May 15th, 2020 • Category: Feature

Johnny Lynch apologies for his being slow to answer my phone call. “I’m just up!”

It’s 11.30 am. “If only!” he laughs. “I’ve got two kids, so I’m up at 6 am!”

Not the stereotypical lifestyle of a musician – but then again, alongside recording under his Pictish Trail alias, he runs his Lost Map record label, from the remote location of the Hebridean Isle of Eigg.

Previously he’d been in the east Neuk of Fife, a comparative metropolis where many musicians made their home including James Yorkston and former Fence co-owner King Creosote.

However despite the relative isolation, he still manages to operate in what is regarded as a modern, hi-tech business. “I don’t think it matters where you live these days, if you’re touring you have to travel anyway.”

Indeed, Lynch also runs the (roughly) biannual Howlin’ Fling Festival which has seen him lure the likes of Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, Beth Orton, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, Jon Hopkins, Jane Weaver, Jens Lekman, Cate Le Bon, and Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys to Eigg to perform to the island’s 100 or so residents – as well as several ferryloads of fans.

However, he’ll soon head for the mainland – with the new Pictish Trail album ‘Thumb World’ out now, a mammoth tour is planned in support for the new record. “I want to make sure it’s a bit special,” says Lynch of the live sets, which will include working with a full band – far removed from his time in the alt.folk scene in Fife.

“It’s weird because none of the stuff I’ve done is particularly traditional, I’ve not been a folkie in that sense.

“People discovering Pictish now think of a weird psychedelic rock band,” he ponders, ”but there’s a lot of people who were there from the beginning who refer to it as folk music – I’m not really against that but it’s interesting to me as there’s something you can’t shake off.

“On the last couple of records (including the acclaimed ‘Future Echoes’) I’ve created something fuller, more listenable – I’m trying to make songs that can make people dance.

“Plus I’ve been able to play festivals, larger stages and reach a wider audience – it’s exciting to see that and people reacting to songs the way I react to them in my shed on on Eigg.”

His producer and collaborator now is Rob Jones, formerly of Slow Club and who creates his own music as the Voluntary Butler Service, while live, he has Suze Bear – once of Tuff Love and who’s worked with The Pastels – and Gutto Price, a founder of the Super Furry Animals, plus Ian Stuart from the Phantom Band, and Joe Comack, who plays, surprisingly on all levels, Eigg metal band Massacre Cave – “he’s a bit of a powerhouse”.

Recording the new album involved several lengthy trips to Jones’ studio in the Midlands, and then “driving myself mad listening to unfinished versions of songs – I’d not recommend that.”

And the “weird jigsaw” of constructing the record itself saw Lynch don his record label owner hat.

“Since vinyl’s come back I’ve started thinking about albums in more of a balanced way, it’s got to be good on both sides, not too many bangers on side one… it’s quite satisfying, getting that final piece in the puzzle!”

However, ‘Thumb World’ will appear not on Lost Map, but rather, on esteemed indie Fire Records.

“I’ve done it on my own for so long it’s nice to have someone else take the reins a little bit,” he smiles. “I can concentrate on the music and create wee videos as well as work on Lost Map, which is busier than ever now.”

Indeed, with further-flung artists such as Clémentine March and Alabaster dePlume joining Scots acts like Savage Mansion and Callum Easter, the big label experience may stand him in good stead for his own imprint in future.

And having persuaded his new label to postpone the album release until after the birth of his second child, ‘Thumb World’ is finally upon us – an album which is a mix of sci-fi and psychedelic – a ‘concept’ piece perhaps. The title track was “quite daft,” Lynch admits, “about an image of two astronauts having sex in space and one covering the world with their thumb.

“But that got me thinking about opposable thumbs, which supposedly mean we’re highly evolved and set humans aside from the other creatures on the planet. But which also see me on my phone mindlessly scrolling through a hellishly apocalyptic timeline of madness.

“I wanted to try and create a record that captured the essence but about escapism and trying to escape from ‘Thumb World’ and remember that we’re all people who have imagination and can actually live a little outside of reality.”

He pauses for breath, and laughs.

“I didn’t take any drugs during the making of this record!”

‘Thumb World’ is out now. More at pictishtrail.co.uk.
This article originally appeared in the Fife Herald.

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