Lucy Roleff and Lehmann B. Smith spent the last two years conceptualising, writing and recording their new collaborative album Dark Green at a remote retreat on the Grand Ocean Road.
For fans of Grizzly Bear, late-period Talk Talk, Nick Drake, Nadia Reid, Tiny Ruins and Kelly Dance.
Both musicians have enjoyed critically acclaimed and wide ranging artistic careers in their own right. In Roleff’s case, as a visual artist and and folk songwriter and Smith as a key member of a range of bands including Grand Salvo and Totally Mild. Becoming aware of their creative similarities and a mutual respect for one another’s fingerpicking styles, guitar preferences, and artistry inspired the potential for collaboration.
Dark Green is described as an album that “impresses a feeling of welcomed nostalgia and achieves a level of kinship with its escapist origins: a place free of demand and the trappings of the day, beholden only to existing in the moment,” and overwhelmingly that’s the emotional response generated from these baroque and stately folk songs, imbued with a delicate and poignant classicism. Nothing is overblown or overwrought, the music and phrasing is sparse and selective, poetic and steeped in romantic nostalgia, augmented by flute, cello, mandolin, piano, organ, clarinet and more. There’s a real symbiosis between the pair who consistently find the source of the song and treat it like a precious document, allowing the time and space for the music to gently unfurl and embrace their voices, whether solo or combined.
“We wanted to make a record that was outside of time, a magic document, a Voynich Manuscript you can listen to,” say Smith. It’s that timeless drift and sway that makes Dark Green such a mesmerising listening experience and so it’s a real pleasure to be able to dig deeper into the nine songs on the album with Roleff and Smith, and find out about their inspiration and compositional evolution.
Dark Green is out now via Bandcamp (vinyl/digital) and streaming services.
‘Offering’ – I think this was one of the first songs that we worked on together. I actually wrote it some months after Lehmann and I had first loosely discussed making a record together, and it actually references a night when we ran into each other at the gig of our friend Tim Richmond. The song came about after the loss of a person within the community who was also at the gig that night – though I guess it’s broadly also about how when there is a sudden loss, people try to offer what they can through words and gestures, even though most things probably fall short. I was thinking about how when someone is part of a large community, lots of people hold different pieces of them through multiple interactions and memories. Lucy Roleff
‘Warning’ – I wrote this song 16 years ago. Back then it had a lot of spooky slide-whistles on it. I’m glad it got lost on a tape somewhere and the chaos of the intervening years brought me to Lucy and her beautiful flute. Something about the opening reminds me of the hit song ‘Walking in the Air’ by the boy soprano Aled Jones. I think the song is about going on a journey to the afterlife, or some other world. Lehmann B Smith
Linen in the Sun – This song was pretty personal to me, and had been waiting around for something to be done with it. I’m so happy with how it came to be what it is now, as it can be strange to share such a personal song with another person and have to explain it. This was one of the songs of mine where Lehmann got to push the arrangements quite far, extending the original structure of the song out into something that I found really moving and could not have thought of myself. The song was a bit like a diary entry, going over memories of quite simple but significant moments – going to a museum, walking in the rain, trying to dry clothes with a hair dryer. LR
Crooked – This is a slippery thing I wrote the music to about 14 years ago and never had words for. I called it ‘Crooked’ because there was something sort of unhinged about it. When I got around to writing the words, it was the same time as Lucy was writing ‘Offering’ and we were both responding to the loss of a friend. I think mortality and memory are preoccupations of mine anyway, our presence in the world and the sudden absence of that presence, the transmutation of the soul into meaningless matter. As bad as it is, maybe it’s fine. LBS
Walls Were Red – I wrote this song when I was 18, in the middle of a bad fire season where the daylight went a different colour and you could smell burning no matter where you were. It was a hot summer and a lot of the train tracks had melted so it was hard to get around town. It was a good season for grapes. And I guess cauliflower. I remember plenty of white butterflies. Not much about the song changed over the years except I gave it a cha-cha feel here and there. LBS
Wild Violet – This was a little instrumental piece for guitar and flute that I wrote while on residency at Jacky Winter Gardens in Belgrave some years ago. I was staying in a beautiful house in the hills, surrounded by ferns, flowers and the odd marsupial visitor. It was one of the demos that Lehmann and I chose when we were exchanging songs and ideas early on, and once again – Lehmann added that little bit of magic to help the piece feel more complete. This one presented one of those challenges where you want to match the feeling of the demo, so it took a while to get it just as we wanted. LR
In the Doorway – I wrote this song years ago, and it was originally a funny little demo that I recorded while house sitting for some composer friends who have an extensive instrument collection. I knew I wanted to flesh out the song some more and Lehmann really brought the extra thing it needed on bass, and by generally keeping me on track. The song is essentially about those moments when one is reflecting upon a time of romantic intensity, when you’re looking over what happened and what came to be. There’s a sense that things were left up in the air somewhat, so that one goes on to sort of replay conversations and moments, looking over the time that’s passed and wondering what the other would make of the current day, the season, the light. LR
Not For Long – This is a mashup of two songs I wrote around 19 or 20. Again, this one is sort of about the scratchy sands of time. I like the space and resonance of the instrumental sections – particularly when two of the same note are bent into place, but not quite the same place. They play in this friction, they sort of spin around each other, like holding two magnets repelling against each other, you can feel this resistance that’s very playful and absorbing. LBS
Go On – I’d been listening to a lot of Benjamin Britten music and decided to write a collection of songs that might someday be performed by kids. I’d just bought a piano and this song came out of it pretty quickly. I don’t play very well at all, and when the notes and chords came out they seemed to me very mysterious and dark, so inevitably got me thinking about the future. It’s surprisingly easy to forget that the universe isn’t something separate from us, it’s something we’re in and a part of. The unbelievably gigantic drama of it, in time and scale, and here’s us, this little fragile yearning thing, more or less oblivious. And so I wrote this song and put it in a book of songs and poems I made a couple years ago. We recorded this as an unrelated demo and somehow it made it onto the album. LBS