Plenty of songwriters have literary ambitions but few have actualized them as fully as Lord Huron's founding member, Ben Schneider, does on the band's second full-length, Strange Trails (out tomorrow on IAMSOUND Records, but you can stream it in full here). Although the project began as a musical and visual solo project, it has evolved into one of indie-folk's most promising with the addition of three full-time touring members as well as appearances at festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza—and Schneider's broadened his scope this time around by creating a limited-edition comic book based on the song "The World Ender," which will be available at independent record stores with the purchase of the album. We talked to Schneider to find out more about how he used the comic medium to give a deeper glimpse into Strange Trails.
The Creators Project: How would you describe the narrative to someone who isn't familiar with Lord Huron or Strange Trails?
Ben Schneider: Strange Trails is an anthology of weird fiction—a collection of stories that overlap and tangle and sometimes collide. There are recurring characters (Buck Vernon, Frankie Lou, The World Enders, to name a few) but no single narrative line runs all the way through. It’s somewhat fragmentary storytelling but the idea is that your mind will populate the dark places in between.
How did the idea to parallel the characters in Strange Trails in comic book form? Was this something you'd been wanting to do for a while?
I was thinking a lot about pulp fiction and comic books as I was writing the record. I envisioned Strange Trails as an anthology of stories. As I wrote the songs, I was also creating a lot of background information: characters and their biographies, details of the world they inhabit. A comic book seemed like the perfect way to present some of that backstory.
Making a comic is a ton of work. What was the logistical process like from conceptualizing it to final product. What do you think you learned from the process?
Comics are an incredibly nuanced craft. I was lucky in that finding the team to make it happen was thankfully very simple. I wrote the comic with my sister, Caitlin, and her boyfriend Tony Wilson did the artwork. They’re both incredibly talented, so I knew the idea was in good hands. I’d been looking for a good excuse to work with them for a long time. I’m very thankful for and proud of their hard work.
You're also expanding the stories and characters via music videos, websites, an interactive phone number and even possibly a short film in the future. What draws you to experiment in so many different mediums?
Really, it’s just about telling as rich as story as possible. We use a variety of media to explore different facets of the story and the world of the album. Hopefully the end result is something more immersive, fun and meaningful.
Do you like the idea that people can get different perspectives and experiences with your characters based on how they choose to consume your art? Do you ever worry about the medium confusing the message?
I’m interested in levels and layers of engagement but I like to leave it up to the audience how deep they want to go. It starts with a song and leads to the album which branches out to all these other paths. It’s up to them if they want to go down those paths or not. I suppose there’s a risk of confusing or overwhelming, but I’m not too concerned by it.
A lot of times comic books are associated with progressive acts like, say, Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance or Claudio Sanchez from Coheed And Cambria. As a more folk-based group, was it fun for you to experiment with the genre in your own way and see what you came up with?
I’m not familiar with that stuff and I guess haven’t thought about it in that way. The format is just a great way to tell a story. I read a lot of comics when I was younger but fell out of that world at some point. Only recently have I come back to it, and I have a newfound appreciation for it and all that goes into it. There are some incredible people out there making incredible work.
Is there a "right" way to experience the narrative of Strange Trails whether it's via the music or comic or in some ways are you open to everyone having their own interpretation of what it means to them? How curated is Lord Huron's role in the process?
I’m all for leaving it in the audience’s hands and letting them explore in their own way and time. I’ll just set it up and open the door. It’s intended to be fragmentary, non-chronological and in some ways confounding. Despite all the story and detail, there’s a lot left unsaid; a lot of unrendered darkness waiting to be filled with other people’s interpretations and projections.
How strong is the connection between Strange Trails and your first album Lonesome Dreams? You've said there's no direct narrative connection but do you view all of your albums as different chapters in the same story or as something completely removed from each other? Where do you see the narrative arc going from here?
I imagine they both exist within the same world but they’re separated by time, location and characters. Themes are really the main connection. In some ways I guess the relationship between the albums is like the relationship between the songs but on a bigger scale. Binary stars. There’s a whole lot more blank space between them for your mind to fill in. As of now, I have no idea where we’ll end up next.
Below, take an exclusive look at the first four pages of Strange Trails no. 7: The World Ender from Lord Huron: