A Q&A with Lantern’s Emily Robb

Originally meeting while studying in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Philadelphia, PA-based trio of Lantern consists of songwriting duo Zachary Devereux Fairbroter and Emily Robb with Christian Simmons (of Sheer Agony) joining the band for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach sessions. And since the band’s official formation in 2010, they’ve been remarkably prolific, releasing 6 EPs and a number of 7 inches through labels such as Bathetic and Night-People. 

Those early releases were decidedly lo-fi – perhaps out of necessity. However, their latest effort, Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach,which Sophomore Lounge Records released earlier this week, represents something of a sonic departure for the band. Enlisting the production help of Jeff Zeigler, known for his work with other Philadelphia, PA-based acts like Kurt Vile, Clockcleaners and others, and the result is an album that lyrically and sonically seems heavily influenced by the likes of the Stooges and Chicago and Delta blues – in other words, it’s blistering, raw, brutish power, with a swaggering, swinging braggadocio.

As I’ve listened to the album, I’ve been reminded a lot of a band I had desperately wanted to interview for  the now-defunct Ins&Outs Magazine, the Cummies. At the time they had released a self-titled EP. And in the liner notes they had a short but very memorable line: “Songs to fight and fuck for.” And I think of that album in particular because, Lantern’s latest effort rightfully reminds us of our most primal, basic instincts – flee, fight, eat, sleep, piss, shit, and fuck. Certainly, in an age where mainstream music is prepackaged. soulless and cynically calculated bullshit, such forceful, and loud music is invigorating while reminding us of rock and the blues’s early history – after all, both were considered sinful… 

I spoke to Lantern’s Emily Robb via email about the new album, how much of an influence producer/engineer Jeff Ziegler had on the sound on the album, and more. She also gives some of the most realistic advice for artists trying to make a name for themselves. Check it out below.

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WRH: How did you get into music? And when did you know that it was the only thing you wanted to do?  

Emily Robb: Zach [Zachary Devereux Fairbroter] talks about when his big sister’s boyfriend played him “Satisfaction” when he was 5 so maybe that was the beginning of his rock career. I was always musical as a kid-I would sing to everyone. It was always a dream of mine to be a rock star but I didn’t think it would happen until I picked up the guitar. (Not saying I’m a star here or anything). Making music was just something that Zach and I started doing together and haven’t ever stopped. It’s the best job so we put everything we have into it. 

WRH: Who are your influences?

ER: We have lots of influences from Rock, Soul, Blues, Metal, Noise, Jamaican Ska, etc. Early rock n roll, blues and glam were huge influences on Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach. We were listening to Exile On Main Street and Ziggy-era Bowie a lot when we were writing the album. I’m also a huge 80’s rock/pop fan. I love Cindy Lauper, early Tom Petty, the Bowie-produced Iggy material. A lot of albums get put on as a sort of nostalgic throwback and end up being like a new best friend-we’ll just keep listening to them over and over and over.  

WRH: How did the band meet? 

ER: Zach and I met in 2008 while in school in Halifax, NS. We sat in the same class for a whole year and didn’t talk. We started dating a year later and I joined his band Oman Ra II. Christian, our drummer, was from Halifax. I don’t remember exactly when we met but he’s been a friend for a while. He joined Lantern when we went into the studio to record Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach. (We had a different drummer previously). 

WRH: How would you describe the band’s sound? 

ER: LOUD and RELENTLESS. (At least that’s how I would describe side A of Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach). We’re not always that way though. We do some softer numbers, too. We like to have a pretty dynamic set. We also like to improvise a lot and keep things loose. Someone once said that we blur the boundaries between genres and I like to think that’s true.

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

ER: Lots and lots of Zeppelin. Also Yes and Funkadelic.  

WRH: Your latest effort, Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach is a bit of a sonic departure for the band. Whereas the sound on your previous work was more decidedly lo-fi and psychedelic, the new album is blistering, raw, brute power. Lyrically and sonically, the album seems heavily influenced by the Stooges – I think of albums like their self-titled debut and Raw Power. Was this a conscious decision as you guys were writing the material and about to hit the studio? 

ER: We knew that we would sound much differently if we recorded in a real studio. We honestly didn’t really know what to expect. We had ideas for songs and had recorded a few demos but until we laid some tracks down and had a listen, it was all in soft focus. The first time we listened back to ourselves in Jeff’s studio, we were so excited. It was all done in a matter of three or four days, so it was fast and much of it was improvised or decided on the spot. Especially with Dave, the sax player. He came in one afternoon, we showed him the song and asked him to do something like Bobby Keys meets Pharoah Sanders and he nailed it in one or two takes. All this being said, we were used to working live, and that’s how we worked on the LP, too. In fact, “The Conjurer” is entirely live.

WRH: You hit the studio with Jeff Ziegler, who worked with the likes of Kurt Vile, Clockcleaner and others.  Producers can often have an instrumental influence on a band’s sound for an album – I don’t think anyone can imagine the Beatles having anyone but George Martin at the dials; Pearl Jam’s albums with Brendan O’Brien sound different from those of others; and on and on. How much of a role did Zeigler have on the album as far as the sound?

ER: Jeff Zeigler is the engineer/co-producer. Jeff certainly had a large part in the sound of the record. For a couple of the songs we wanted this big stadium rock/glam thing going on for the drums and he nailed it. He’s really good at listening to what you want and translating it into engineering terms. He showed me some new guitars to use for “She’s a Rebel” and “The Conjurer.” Also with little things like whether or not we should keep backing vocals or where to put handclaps; he’s got a good ear. He was definitely forging new ground with us because neither of us had ever heard Lantern recorded hi-fi. He kept our raw organic sound while making something that didn’t sound like a bunch of clammering pots and pans at the other end of the culvert. He’s been doing his thing for a while and he’s also a musician.

WRH: How does the songwriting process work for you? Do you hit the studio having fully fleshed out material? And when do you know that you have a finished song?

ER: It’s different for every song. Some songs on Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach were fully fleshed out (like “Out of Our Heads” which had previously been recorded by ourselves and released on a 7" and an EP). But others, like “She’s a Rebel” were almost entirely improvised as far as arrangement went. Sometimes Zach writes for me, sometimes I write for Zach, sometimes (though more rarely) we write together. We decided last minute that I should try singing “Evil Eye” and that stuck. As far as finishing a song goes, basically there’s a curve. And right at the top is when you know that if you add more shit or make it longer, it won’t make it better. And that’s when you have to know it’s time to stop. It’s done. 

WRH: The songs on Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach are perfectly sequenced. It feels and sounds as though if you were to change the order of a song or two, it would be a much different album.  Was it difficult to figure out where each song fit and how they worked with each other? 

ER: Side B really wrote itself but Side A was a little trickier. It took a long time. We originally had a different song open the album but it wasn’t quite right. We went back into the studio a few months after recording the LP and tracked a couple more songs, one of which was the song “Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach.” We ended up taking off the opener all together and putting “Rorschach” at the end of side A. That’s when we reached the top of the curve, so to speak. 

WRH: How did you come up with the name for the album? 

Zach came up with it. We had both read Watchmen recently and the character Rorschach is a pretty fascinating character. He sees things in black and white. There’s also the Rorschach test and Poison Ivy Rorschach (who we’re huge fans of). I like the idea of reading something from an abstract. (Though I wouldn’t want to be a subject of the Rorschach Test.)  

WRH: Who’s playing the badass sax on the album?  

ER: David Fishkin. He really rocks. He plays in a bunch of projects, like the West Philly Orchestra, I’ve seen him with Marshall Allen, he’s got his own bands Extreme Fishkin and Adult Content. He’s a very versatile musician; we’re lucky to have him.

WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make a name for themselves? 

ER: The most important thing is to try to find your own voice. If there’s no such thing as innovation anymore, what there is, is your personal voice which is like no other. Also, the business sucks, so be prepared to feel let down ‘cause you’ll be one in a trillion other bands trying to “make it.” I don’t even know what “make it” even means anymore. Not to be pessimistic, but perhaps now will prove to be the most fun time in my music career – touring dirt broke and sleeping on friendly people’s floors. And it is fun. So maybe my advice is to have a good time while “trying to make a name” for yourself, because you might be “trying to make a name” for yourself for a long time.