Returning to Scotland to record their debut record, Burning Castles, Lucia & the Best Boys travelled to the Upper Hebrides and immersed themselves in the beguiling landscape: moorlands, mountains, machair and sweeping beaches. Here, isolated from the noise, the band were able to harness their surroundings and hone their sound. Translated through layered, expansive soundscapes and a rhythmic interplay between light and dark, beauty and danger, vulnerability and strength, Lucia & the Best Boys have woven their own sonic mythology into Scottish lore.
Six years on from their debut EP, The State of Things, the world has evolved and so have they. Elevated and matured, Burning Castles, is a textured work of fearless rapture, retribution and repair, which sees frontwoman Lucia Fairfull sear past experiences while soring high across 80s-infused compositions. “If you can do it better without me, then just go ahead,” she flings towards the listener in So Sweet I Could Die – or “You’re so sweet you should die” as Fairfull edits the title in the track’s refrain. Alongside a photo diary from the band’s time recording in the Upper Hebrides, we speak to Fairfull about creating a debut record she’s extremely proud to unveil.
Alex James Taylor: Firstly, congrats on the record.
Lucia Fairfull: Thank you so much.
AJT: It’s really amazing. I’ve been following you since, what, 2018, when the first EP came out. So, it’s really nice to see the progression. Nowadays, the music industry has a real urge to speed everything up and get things out immediately. From your point of view, how was it to have the time to evolve and get to a point where you knew this was the time?
LF: You just said it there, having the time to create the album under our own timeline… I mean, obviously that’s not completely true, like Covid and stuff like that. I’m sure it would have come a bit sooner if it wasn’t for that. But in terms of obviously not just putting an album out as soon as we became a band or I became a musician, taking the time to experiment and really come into my own and become a lot more confident in my songwriting. Again, as you said, not having that pressure. It’s a musician’s dream. The album definitely wouldn’t sound the way it does if we hadn’t had that time. It’s been such an amazing process being able to spend almost a whole year working on the recording of this album – also to spend so much time up North recording it. Everyone’s different, but my ideal situation for recording music would be in the middle of nowhere, isolated, cut off, just being at one with what you’re doing. To have that was a dream of mine. I feel really proud of the album, and I think that’s got a lot to do with it.
“…my ideal situation for recording music would be in the middle of nowhere, isolated, cut off.”
AJT: I was going to ask you about the location, I’m really interested in how recording locations filter into the work. Did you know the Upper Hebrides already? Was it somewhere you knew you wanted to go to make this album or was it a chance thing – and how did that affect the album?
LF: I’m always attracted to the polar opposite when I’m having free time. So, obviously doing music can be very chaotic and you never know what’s coming around the corner, but when I’m not in that space, I like to be… not in complete silence because I’m still quite – I’m very manically proactive. I just love being in the countryside basically, because I guess that’s the opposite of when you’re touring in cities and around people all the time. I spent a lot of time up North over the last few years, especially when live music hadn’t really come back. I think it heavily influenced me in my songwriting as well. I don’t think it’s technically noticeable to everyone, it’s not like I started becoming really folky or traditional in any kind of way, but I think there are definitely little hints and sounds that, for me, and the boys as well, really remind us of Black Bay (the studio in the Upper Hebrides) and our roots. Being up North and spending a lot of time there over the last few years, I really found this sense of escapism there that I hadn’t found anywhere except in songwriting before. I wanted to really merge the two together because I thought that would be a very magical thing to do. It just felt really right. I think it definitely influenced the way that we made the music. There were no distractions up there.
AJT: The album has a very expansive sound. It’s very rich and it travels, which kind of aligns with recording in that vast location.
LF: Totally, it does. Like you said, somehow the sound definitely matches up with the scenery. There’s a really deep sense of home attached to these songs because obviously a lot of them were written and inspired by, not necessarily by what I was seeing, but just how I might have been feeling or what I was going through when I was spending time up there. It just made sense to be up there.
AJT: And what were you guys doing between recording? Did you have a little house there or did you go home?
LF: It’s funny because they’re like the opposite end of the country, but we did pre-production in Margate for a couple of weeks, just me, Haydn (Park-Patterson, keys) and Ash (Workman), who recorded the album, because his studio is there. Then we would go to Black Bay for two weeks. We had a couple of months out because we just thought it was too intense to be up there for that length of time. Like, there’s not really any way to get away, to get to the shops or whatever, it’s like an hour. Then when we were there, we actually just went for it because we knew we were only there for two weeks. There were a couple of times we took some time out, like we went to some really incredible beaches, or we went on boat journeys to this really incredible place called Little Bernera, which kind of looks like the Scottish version of Hawaii.
AJT: Oh, yeah?
LF: Yeah. It’s fucking mad, honestly. The beaches are like white sand and just completely crystal clear water. So, you can imagine being able to do that in between recording an album, it was incredibly dreamy and kind of didn’t feel real sometimes. Especially because we weren’t bumping into any other people. There was no one on the street outside the studio. It was like having acres of your own land. We were staying at the studio so it was intense, but the best kind of intense.
“Being up North and spending a lot of time there over the last few years, I really found this sense of escapism there that I hadn’t found anywhere except in songwriting before.”
AJT: Listening to the album and hearing you speak about Scotland, it reminds me of Lee McQueen and his work, the romance of the Scottish countryside – that contrasting rugged beauty. I feel like your music epitomises that.
LF: That’s a really cool thing to hear. I read something he once said about how he loves to make things that people usually find ugly, beautiful. Scotland’s rugged and brutalist and has this kind of weird, dark twisted edge to it, which I think is really beautiful and so interesting. More consciously, with the visual side I’ve been very inspired by my heritage and being up North. In terms of the music, obviously we’ve kept the heavy guitars and the grittiness of it, but there are moments of being fragile and vulnerable.
AJT: Lastly, I wanted to ask about the album artwork. What’s the story behind it?
LF: I really wanted the visual for the album cover to feel quite simple. I feel like when you overdo things too much… I’ve used this example quite frequently recently, but it’s like funny, you know that feeling when you look back at an old picture of yourself and you’re wearing something when you were sixteen and you’re like, “What the fuck was I thinking?” I didn’t want that feeling [laughs]. I wanted it to be timeless in my eyes. I also knew that I would never not love it if it was shot on the banks of Loch Logan, because I have a lot of memories there as a child and a teenager. This album has a lot of songs that explore the path you go through between your teenage years into your adulthood. It’s all about my life and how I’ve evolved since I became a musician – the things I’ve been through and I’ve seen my friends go through. That was one of the locations that really connected for me, and it also connects with the sound and the Scottish countryside, the grittiness of the hills and the angelicness of the landscapes. It’s kind of metaphoric in the sense that I’m looking into the past – all these things I’ve been through and things that I’ve seen, like heartbreaks and weird teenage situations. That’s why you see the ash and embers rising into the sky.
Burning Castles is out 29th September via Communion Records.