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Lupen Crook Interview

The Curse of the Mirror Wicked

Originally published on Whisperin' and Hollerin' November 2009





It’s rare to find a band with both a good heart and a dark soul.  At the end of 2009, Lupen Crook and The Murderbirds are proving that they have both.  In a year that has seen the band postpone the release of their third album and cancel a UK tour due to laryngitis, they have released two EPs at no cost whatsoever instead of taking the cash that the fans seem more than willing to pay.  At a time when making a living from music seems harder and harder to do, it’s not the shrewdest of moves, but they’re keen to let us know that it’s not all about the money, after all.



 

“If money was our prime objective, this Family would operate very differently,” they tell us. “We are artists.  Each of us has a different trade, but together we aim to produce quality material that people can trust in and connect with. The joy of creating something out of nothing and giving that to people far outweighs any desire to make money. We operate on a torn and tattered shoestring at the best of times, but that just goes to show the level of commitment between us all. We love what we do and want you to have the opportunity to experience it.  What would be the point in doing it otherwise?”

 

Quite.  November 16th sees the release of the second free EP in just over two months, this time in association with mental health charity YoungMinds.  In the press material to go with the release, details are given of Lupen Crook’s own links with schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness that perhaps many are not aware of.  Symptoms of the illness are reminiscent both of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, with extreme mood swings, hallucinations and social disaffection being some of the more prominent indicators.  Rather than go for the pity party, this release is about awareness

 

‘The Curse of the Mirror Wicked EP’ will surprise some fans with the reflective, almost repentant, undertones to the tracks.  It’s a stripped down collection when compared with the relatively grandiose ‘Lost Belongings EP,’ much more fragile than anything that’s been released by them before.  ‘Sunshine Devils’ is a song of self-loathing and realisation, predominantly just vocals and percussion.  ‘Love Underground’ is a looming, murky but very affable ditty.  By the end, you feel like they’re back to their old selves with ‘Dead Girls and Daggers,’ the song with the fullest sound and the most instant chorus.

 

Whilst it may initially feel like a comedown from the adventure of previous releases, about five listens in these songs get into you, and they stay, putting this up there with some of the best songs they have ever written.  Having had this EP for about a week, my I-pod is starting to sigh with my predictability.  It’s a compulsive listen that grows. Few bands are worthy of the near sycophantism.  It’s a new dimension to what they do, these self-referential confessions told with elements of remorse.  The context of this release makes each track poignant, with the themes never sounding more explicit than on ‘Devil’s Son.’    

 

W&H: Why did you decide to release the new EP in association with YoungMinds?

Mental illness is a very tricky subject and it affects a great many people. Illness and disorders of this sort are difficult to diagnose and even harder to understand. We felt it necessary to bring the matter forward and discuss it. YoungMinds is the only UK charity which provides help to children, teenagers and parents. It informs and educates; two things that are very much required in this field.

  

W&H: In releasing this, you’ve made clear Lupen Crook’s personal relationship with schizoaffective disorder.  Is this something you’ve avoided stating explicitly in this past?

It’s never felt necessary before, though it has been referred to in passing occasionally in interviews.  However, it’s something that we felt needed to be aired openly and honestly at this time in particular. This recent EP would have simply not existed had this subject not been deemed relevant. It was something that needed to be dealt with extremely sensitively but also firmly. It has been an emotional experience; ‘Curse of the Mirror Wicked’ has been much more than just a release of our band’s music. It has served as an exorcism.  After the tricky few years we’ve encountered, we now feel able to walk into 2010 confidently, free from at least one of the skeletons that have been lingering beside us all.    

 

W&H: Do you think this will make people rethink the back catalogue, especially lyrically?

Rethinking is always good.  If your relationship with a particular piece of music or art continues to grow, that shows you’re still engaged with it and that you haven’t started to take it for granted.  Depending on how deep you want to dig, there is a wealth of clues and crossed words to realize in both past and present material. What is important to us is that people’s interpretation is their own.  Having said that, people shouldn’t go back and assume that everything the band has put out in the past relates solely to one particular subject, just because the current release is focused around it.

 

W&H: How much of yourselves do you want people to find out through your music? 

As much as is necessary and whatever we feel is relevant. We’re not about to discuss every minor detail of our personal lives, but on this occasion mental illness and schizoaffective disorder was significant. The EP directly relates to the area under discussion. We felt it was the right time to bring focus upon it, talk about it openly, and hopefully raise awareness.  We also want to make the point that this type of illness – and indeed any other kind, mental or physical – is merely one aspect of a person’s life.  It doesn’t define them.  To use one of our favourite images, it’s just a single piece in a much larger puzzle.

 

 

There has always been something cathartic about the music of Lupen Crook.  The songs to date have provided a tour round the darker parts of life, full of evil deeds, sexual ambiguity, fear, aggression and allegory.  It’s all those thoughts that you try to quell, put poetically and delivered with melodies that have you singing inappropriate things at inopportune moments.  2006’s debut (Accidents Occur Whilst Sleeping) was an eye-opener, a macabre Disney-esque collection full of brutal moments that would outrage the moral majority, whilst eliciting wry smiles in the more bleak minded.  

 

For second album ‘Iscariot the Ladder’, he returned with company, formally joined by The Murderbirds (namely brothers Tom and Bob Langridge) and a whole new dynamic.  It was an album of persecution, depravity and at times loneliness; catchy and bold it led W&H to challenge the music world to find a more worthy album of the year (the music world failed).  Much of the sentiment and the allegory once again was outwardly obtuse, not something you can truly understand, but the lyrics have always been startlingly original and as a fan you can’t help but wonder about the motivation behind it all.

 


 


In between and during, there has been a plethora of EPs and extra releases, abandoned ideas and redrawn blueprints that combined make for quite a prolific few years and a wealth of songs that may never be heard by the wider public due to a lack of interest from the mainstream media.  Whilst the NME continues to play it safe with the uninspiring pretenders to the indie throne, there are many kind words to be found about the band online, albeit without the vast readership.  A little of this frustration has manifested itself in ‘Love Underground’ from ‘The Curse of the Mirror Wicked.  Is this something that worries them?


“It is extremely frustrating at times, because we know that there are a great many people who, given the chance, would truly enjoy and understand what we are doing. So far the industry has not been ready to accept a band like ours and that is a shame. No matter though - we will continue turning people onto our music, with or without the support of the music industry, even if we have to do it one by one.”

 

 

The recent revival of the illegal downloading debate has seen accusations flying towards Radiohead that they can afford to give their music away for free, and that they’re killing music for the smaller bands.  Lupen Crook & The Murderbirds are taking more pragmatic approach, having embraced the internet of late by launching their own website, where the two free EP’s have been made available this year.

   

“Several members of the Crooked Family are big Mountain Goats fans.  We think John Darnielle said it best a few years ago: “The only people who are afraid of file sharing are the people whose albums are so dull presentation-wise that nobody cares about owning the actual finished product, and the people who have so little connection to their listeners that said listeners have no reason to care whether the artists they like are getting reimbursed for their efforts.” 

 

“Our own experiences with the limited-edition CD version of our Lost Belongings EP have borne out this sentiment.  Fans were less interested in the standard edition – they wanted the version with the hand-made canvas sleeve, even though it was twice the price and contained exactly the same number of songs.  File sharing is a fact of our times and most file sharers are simply individuals who love music.  For every person who “gets away” without paying for one of our releases, there’s another person who gets turned on to us and starts coming to our gigs or buying our merchandise.  We focus on providing something of worth to the fans that are able and willing to show their support in any way they can.”

 

People have shown their support recently using the Tip Jar function on the website to drum up the cash to bring home their beloved tour van, and engaging with the content beyond the music.  This is place where The Crooked Family’s paintings, video clips and other projects are displayed, open to comments and interest.  It’s a window to the things that would elude you if you just bought the CDs and attended the occasional live show. 

 

W&H: Who are The Crooked Family these days, and what do they all do?

The Crooked Family is as much an ethos as it is a group of particular people.  Having said that, it’s also a very genuine thing that is far more than a concept. It comes from a desire to connect with people and have them able to connect with us. It’s also a way of acknowledging those people who hold this band together. We’ve seen a lot of people come and go over the past few years; all have been welcome, however, with so many uncertainties and troublesome times past, there are those who have stuck fast. A support network has developed amongst us all, which is why we are family now. Each of us is encouraged to seek out the best in themselves and then we collaborate in varying combinations, depending on whatever objective we have in mind.  It’s that “together we’re stronger” idea. When someone falls, there will always be another to pick them up.  This ship will continue to sail no matter what storm threatens to weather it.  


                       Photo: Jenny Hardcore 


Through your website, you’ve very much connected directly with your fans this year.  Do you think this is the best way for lesser known bands to make their mark these days?  Do you want to be a huge band?

We would like every single human being on this planet to a least have the chance to experience what we are doing. Whether people like it or loathe it is a different matter; that has to be their decision. The website has provided us with a place to keep up continual communications with our audience.  It also gives strangers to our band the opportunity to visit, to see what we have done and what we are currently doing. Over the last year it has brought focus to the band.  Because it is so easily accessible by both ourselves and others, a sense of community has begun to develop. The vision for this website came from family member Hg, and all credit to him, because he has provided a platform through which the entire family can express themselves.  It is a place where ideas can be seen to develop, and so it is the perfect breeding ground for realising ourselves.    

             

Next year sees the release of album number 3, and a UK tour.  So what are their plans for 2010? “We want to extend our arms outward and touch as many people as possible.” 

 

With a stack of songs both legal and free, perhaps it’s time you accepted the embrace. 


Lupen Crook's website

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