Exciting news – Sonic Cathedral will be releasing the debut single by Happy Families, the new band formed by Lawrence Chandler (Bowery Electric) and Lucia Rivero, on July 15. It was premiered on The Quietus yesterday.
‘New Forgetting’, which will be available on 7” vinyl and as a digital download, is almost four minutes of white noise, underpinned by Roland CR-78 beats, repetitive minimalist keyboards, and singer Lucia Rivero’s European monotone. Buried beneath this wall of sound, there’s a tune reminiscent of New Order’s ‘Face Up’.
On the flip there’s a cover of the Ramones’ ‘I Remember You’, slowed down and recontextualised, like that weird, time-stretched version of ‘Cretin Hop’ that did the rounds on YouTube last year. An impressive introduction to the duo, who will be playing their first live show at the East End Live festival in London on July 13.
Bowery Electric remain unsung heroes. They released three studio albums (plus a remix album) between 1995 and 2000 and furthered the blueprint laid down by the likes of My Bloody Valentine. “I never thought of us as pioneers,” says Lawrence. “We were just making music we wanted to hear in a way that reflected our influences and what was going on around us – a krautrock revival, electronic music like Boards of Canada, the ‘Macro Dub Infection’ compilation, indie hip-hop, the more experimental end of drum’n’bass like Luke Vibert’s Plug and the No U-Turn label, sampling…”
Lawrence has a fascinating musical history. He grew up in the American south and had his life changed by the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. While at university he worked in a record store and was into “Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Swans, Joy Division, New Order, The Fall, the Mary Chain”. When he began playing guitar a friend who was already in a band said he shouldn’t bother because there were already enough bad guitarists. “I think he’s selling real estate now,” laughs Lawrence.
After a move to New York he worked at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and began recording the first Bowery Electric EP with Kramer, who, impressed with Lawrence’s use of drones, took him to meet La Monte Young, who he ended up working and studying with over the course of the next few years. Following Bowery Electric’s split, Lawrence opted for “more of a formal education in music”, so he went to The Juilliard School (during which time he worked for Philip Glass), came to the UK to work with Pauline Oliveros at the Dartington International Summer School, moved here and followed with an MA at Goldsmiths in London. His most recent work ‘The Tuning of the World’, was a 24-hour sustained tone piece.
Happy Families is Lucia’s musical debut. Following art studies at Complutense University of Madrid and L’École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc, Liége, she came to London to do an MA at Central Saint Martins. Her work has been shown at Guest Projects, Poppy Sebire and Zabludowicz Collection in London, as well as at LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain where she recently contributed an installation for the show ‘Visualizing Sound’, alongside artists such as Ryoichi Kurokawa.
“I’ve always had friends in bands, but I was never interested in being in a band myself,” she reveals. “When I was a teenager I didn’t really like any one band in particular until I heard The Velvet Underground. I listened to ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ over and over. I bought a book with the lyrics translated into Spanish and I still have it. They really opened the door for me to start looking back at music from the international scene – krautrock, early Eno, punk, post-punk.”
“Lucia has an innate musicality,” says Lawrence. “The first time she sat down at a keyboard, she started playing Philip Glass’ ‘Opening’ from ‘Glassworks’, literally out of nowhere. She’d never heard it. To be honest, it freaked me out a bit. She’s ended up writing most of the keyboard parts, experimenting with the tape delay, etc.”
But then Happy Families were born out of a happy accident. “Lawrence had a commission for a minimalism festival here in London and had been working on a piano piece for a couple of months when he spoke to the directors who told him they were expecting a piece for ‘rock ensemble’,” explains Lucía. “I think he took that as a sort of sign. Soon after we saw The Telescopes at a small pub in Brixton. They were just so real, if that makes sense. We both got very excited about making rock music together.”
And what about the band name? “We were trying on loads of names, none really seemed like ‘us’,” says Lawrence. “I’d hear people refer to ‘playing happy families’ in ironic ways. Then some friends gave us a custom-made guitar effects pedal – a Shin-Ei FY-2 clone like the Mary Chain used on ‘Psychocandy’ – with Happy Families etched onto it and that was that.”
“‘New Forgetting’ is a metaphor for the starting point of Happy Families,” reveals Lucía. “struggles to get over things, beginning again.” According to Lawrence, the lyrics came spontaneously: “At the time she still wasn’t convinced she should be singing. I heard this and knew she should. The sort-of-spoken verse reminded me of Sonic Youth.”
How come they covered the Ramones? “We were just having a Ramones revival at home,” recalls Lawrence. “One way we see Happy Families is as carrying on the legacy of bands that have inspired us – the Velvets, Suicide, Joy Division, the Mary Chain, MBV and of course all the various influences involved in that – like the Ramones.”
Neither of them have heard the time-stretched version of ‘Cretin Hop’, which over its 30 minutes goes a long way to explaining Kevin Shields’ worship of Johnny Ramone. “There was never any question about the tempo, it just felt right,” explains Lucia. “Lawrence slowed it down, then came with a recording of his guitar with this amazing sound – like it was going up, down and sideways, repeating only one section of the song.”
And what’s next for Happy Families? “We’re really looking forward to playing live and to keep working on our songs,” says Lucía. We have a lot of songs we’re excited about trying out live, we’d like to play with bands we like, tour, and get to work on an album,” says Lawrence.