"Sorry I’m just stopping my cat attacking a mouse," says Sam Eastgate, sounding quite distracted on the other end of the phone. "We got her a bell which is supposed to warn the mouse she's coming, but she can move without the bell making a sound. I don’t know how she’s worked it out!"
Until a moment ago he was standing on a chair in the backyard of his new house, somewhere near the Welsh-English border. Better reception balancing on the chair, you see. He was midway through talking about his solo project La Priest (pronounce "la" not "L.A.") and his newly released debut LP, Inji. It's pretty unreal. Opener "Occasion" is intergalactic Prince, "Lady's In Trouble with the Law" and "oino" sidles up and seamlessly slots in alongside Hot Chip, Metronomy, and Rudi Zygadlo. "Learning to Love" is Kindness and Tickle Torture disco dueling to a fine slice of Moroder. It's electro-lounge funk for an underwater disco. Sometimes La Priest sounds almost proggy, a little Never-Ending Story ("A Good Sign"). It's bananas. It's BOINGING. It's rare. Is it an altogether surprising solo debut given Eastgate's back catalogue? Well, yes and no. But let's back track.
Eastgate formed Late of the Pier before he'd passed his driving test. The band of teenagers hailing from Donington in the UK—a town most famous for its annual metal festival, Download—first emerged in 2007, with "The Space and the Woods," a synthy, Numan-esque sliver of a tune that was both mathy and ideal for stretching your limbs to. The song piqued the ears of DJ/tastemaker and producer Erol Alkan who produced their next single, "Bathroom Gurgle." Their third effort, "The Bears Are Coming"—a brilliant, squelchy-strange kind of pop—boasted a suitably tripped out video directed by Saam Farahmand (Klaxons, The xx, These New Puritans). All of which is to say, LOTP were rolling with a very cool crew in the mid-to-late 2000s when England was hypnotized by questionable neon attire and Klaxons were appearing high as the sun on the BBC morning news having stayed up all night after winning the Mercury Music Award. Myspace actually sponsored a national jaunt called the Bleep Bleep tour where they handed out glow sticks to the audience. LOTP could never be classed as new rave, but nevertheless they emerged at a time when indie was exciting, indie was flirting with strange, everyone had a Roland Juno-106, and everyone was slip-sliding into each other, off their faces, and on the dance floor.
Late of the Pier released one record, Black Fantasy Channel in 2008, and then never dropped another album again. So we called up Eastgate to find out why that was, but also to learn a little bit more about La Priest, hairy, half-human half-electronic instruments, irate sound engineers, electromagnetic recordings, and the recent tragic loss of LOTP's drummer Ross.
Noisey: Hey Sam! You've been working on this record for five years on and off. How do you kept it cohesive?
Sam: I don’t know if it is that cohesive! I’ve never really made single songs that sound cohesive because I know where the different elements come from and I tend to throw things together from all sorts of different origins. For me it feels like a first album. It’s not my first record ever, but I’m treating it like it is: I wanted a real blank slate and trying to ignore any restrictions, and any feelings of pressure. For instance, I think it’s a good thing that when I was making it I didn’t really know if anyone would be interested. I was recording in the middle of nowhere in my girlfriend’s auntie’s farmhouse in France. I’ve realized that if I try and please people, it can work, but then I forget to please myself.
So apparently you were in Greenland studying electromagnetic phenomena and that's eneded up on the album. What is that? Explain!
I’m not very good at science, I just go to a certain depth with that kind of stuff till it suits me. I was in Greenland and I had a dictaphone with me and I was in an area where was definitely noise that I couldn’t hear in real life, but was captured on the recording. It was caused by this rock deposit or mineral formation called cryolite and this area where we were was the only place in the whole world where they have it. The thing is I’ll probably never go back. I’m hoping that Greenland’s government invite me back to explore the phenomena a bit further. Just putting it out there in case they read this! If they want to pay me to travel there I’ll just investigate the shit out of it. It’s all over my record. I didn’t really know what to do with it so I just recorded it for basslines and synth noises, kinda sampling it.
What's the most personal song on the album?
It changes. A song can start off being really personal to me in that moment and that can change depending on who it has an impact on or who you connect to. If you play a show in front of hundreds of people and it has a great reaction, you kind of feel like that song is theirs, so you let it go. I think it’s a good thing that that personal attachment breaks down because that’s how you move on in music. Some songs I have this memory of them being very personal, but that’s not to say that I take them really seriously.
For instance "Lady's In Trouble with the Law" is a song about a sort of serious situation. The lyrics are “Now that I’m low I feel high." I was feeling these two ways when I wrote it so it’s very autobiographical, but at the same time, it’s just my weird sense of humor that in the process of recording it I tend to make a joke as well, somewhere in there. Maybe the song that’s most personal to me now is "Occasion"—the first song on the record.
What does Inji mean?
So this word inji was in my head for no reason and I looked it up and it translates in lots of different languages, in lots of different ways like one African language it means machines and plants and then in an east Asian language it means ginger. I like cooking with ginger.
But do you like ginger people?
Ginger people are great as well, but I don’t cook with them. The machines and plants thing was the thing that got me though. I haven’t played live for years so I wanted to come back and do this live show with this really ambitious set up that was half-plant, half-machine. I imagine this thing that’s a little bit gross with like, hair and stuff… that’s what I like to see at a live show. Not something gross with hair, but a spectacle!
Actually we published a piece on Noisey last year with this woman who records the noises plants make and then makes music with said noises.
Woah! Yeah I really like that kind of thing.
What have you landed on?
Well it’s the very early stages and it’s not biomechanical at all yet. If it was like Frankenstein then I have the electric components, but none of the body parts yet. It’s early days. I keep adding stuff and I’m building all my own instruments—same as with the record, I’m using handmade stuff that sometimes I don’t even know what it’s going to do because I didn’t study electronics: I just stick screwdrivers in things until they make weird sounds and then try and do that live.
That sounds like an engineer's nightmare.
I’ve had one sound engineer and I’m not really sure he wants to work with me anymore! I just did a festival and turned up without the sound engineer and tried to explain what I was doing and the guy’s face just went white. He was kind of sad about what I was doing. I’ve had a lot of anger too. I’m just going to have to earn their trust.
You do come from a band background. How much of this record did you write in isolation or did you collaborate with anyone?
I wrote nearly all of it myself. I have a secret writer, but we decided she should remain anonymous and that’s more due to the other project she’s involved with, which has gotten really big, so I’m kinda helping her out with that and the writing on my record. And there’s a few things from Lxury small parts that add energy, and there’s a few bits from Connan Mockasin on there. It’s not full to the brim with collaborations. I just think the next step for me is really to look for people who are doing new exciting things and exploring new musical territory. I don’t claim to be doing anything groundbreaking or futuristic, I’m playing with the same elements that everybody is using. We’re all using the same set of references and materials.
I have to ask. What happened with Late of the Pier? Post your debut were you guys just pulling in different directions? Were you disillusioned? Why did it tail off?
We were just determined to give ourselves a chance to grow up naturally. When we met we hadn’t even done our GCSEs [exams you take 16 in the UK]. It sounds like I’m being a bit miserable about it but it seemed natural not to have to follow this standard trajectory. If you start a band in your early or mid-20s then you kind of know what you’re getting into a bit more, you’re a bit more grown up and you’re gonna know it’s a good thing to commit and keep this rolling. Were were 16 when we wrote all that stuff and recorded it at 17 and 18 and then we were were just like, let’s see what we actually want to do. It’s just taken this long. Personally I’ve been doing loads of stuff that I’m really happy with but people assume you’ve dropped off the face of the earth if you don’t present what you’re doing to the public. It’s pretty important to share what you do. But I’ve also learnt in the past few months that having an ongoing close relationship with your audience means you can sort of treat them as part of the project. I don’t think I’m going to go off disappearing any time soon because they’re creating a lot of stuff with me. I have a newfound appreciation to their reactions.
I just wanted to say how sorry I am to hear about Ross. I’m sure you’re going through a really difficult time in the wake of that news.
Thanks, yeah. The process of it sinking in or knowing what it all means, the most surprising thing about it is how slow it's been to put any meaning to it. It’s not really the kind of thing that I can say a lot about. It’s terrible. The one thing I can say is, considering the internet can be cruel place, the support has been overwhelming, and the kind of things people have been saying has really helped everybody. And we realize how proud we are of Ross and will be in the future.
Thanks Sam. Take care.
Kim Taylor Bennett enjoyed the golden summer of new rave but never wore neon. She's on Twitter.