On the face of it, the “difficult second album” syndrome wasn’t really an issue for Lawrence Arabia – AKA James Milne.
Not only did his sophomore effort Chant Darling win the inaugural Dylan Taite Prize in 2010 for best New Zealand album, but the single ‘Apple Pie Bed’ also picked up the Silver Scroll for song of the year. If anything, the pressure would seem to be on for his third long player The Sparrow, which is released this month.
In fact, the reverse is the case. “I got really frustrated during the making of the last album because I was doing most of the stuff myself,” Milne says. “I knew I had to make a really good record to get it released overseas, so I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I would be playing bass and thinking about a part I hadn’t even written yet!
“With this one, I felt strangely liberated – I didn’t feel like I was trying to make it for anyone in particular.”
The resulting album is a lush slice of chamber pop, bathed in strings and dreamy harmonies, yet which stills retains the quirky touches that made Chant Darling so appealing.
Milne says he wrote most of the songs on piano and recorded basic tracks were recorded in Surrey, England, with help from his pals Elroy Finn (drums) and Connan Mockasin (bass). This time around he was aiming for much more organic sound and agrees there’s a more melancholic feel to The Sparrow.
“I basically decided to tryand record as much of it live as possible and capture it in an interesting way on nice old vintage gear,” he continues. “We basically did the piano, bass and drums all live, and then all the strings were done afterward. It’s darker. I definitely left a lot more space for instruments to come out and I felt a lot more relaxed about letting an atmosphere take hold.”
Milne is also looking forward to taking the album on the road. His New Zealand shows this month will feature a full string quartet, which will give him the chance to tackle some old favourites with a string section.
“There are certain songs which will really suit it and songs like ‘Look Like A Fool’ and ‘The Crew of The Commodore’ will be great to do with a string quartet.”
The Sparrow by Lawrence Arabia is out now
This article first appeared in the July 2012 edition of Stack Magazine.