Music interview: The Pictish Trail on his new album ‘Future Echoes’

The Pictish Trail. Picture: Beth Chalmers
The Pictish Trail. Picture: Beth Chalmers
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The Pictish Trail’s fourth album, Future Echoes, is a classic case of juxtaposing dark and light.

It sounds like Steve Mason has been locked in a room with a Casio keyboard and some 80s computer games and yet over the crazed disco beats Johnny Lynch, the man behind the nom de plume, is singing about mortality, the death of friendships and the finality of things.

“The contrast was essential,” he says. “The recordings needed to be upbeat, epic, and maybe even a bit daft. Even the ones that are a bit dark have a daftness to them. ‘Far Gone’ is definitely a bit slapstick.”

One of the highlights of the album, the aforementioned track uses a queasy sample based on the theme tune of black comedy crime thriller Fargo.

“A few years ago I had been asked to take part in a Coen Brothers tribute show, in Bristol – selecting songs from their various films, and covering them,” he explains of the track’s origin. “Covers aren’t my strong point, so instead I decided to sample the theme from the film Fargo, put a beat over it and a heavy synth bass-line under it, and improvise lyrics inspired by the film.”

The resulting track, which opens the album, signals his shift from DIY folk to a more electronic sound. It’s a change of direction that was in part influenced by his 2010 collaboration with Fridge bassist Adem Ilhan in Silver Columns, a side project that allowed the pair to enjoy electronic pop in ‘its campest forms’.

The Pictish Trail. Picture: Beth Chalmers

The Pictish Trail. Picture: Beth Chalmers

“I loved everything about Silver Columns – the music we made, and the live shows,” he enthuses. “I’m not sure if we’ll ever play live again, but I wouldn’t rule it out, either. I definitely want to make more music with Adem, in some shape or form.”

In the meantime he entrusted Ilhan to produce the album, writing material on the isle of Eigg - where he lives - and recording it in London.

“I think with the Pictish album we knew we didn’t want to make it too much like Silver Columns, which was really out-and-out pop,” he notes. “Having done all the Silver Columns stuff with Ad, and having written with him for that project, I knew I could totally trust his judgment on what would and wouldn’t work.”

It’s a decision that’s paid off, making the material more accessible and pop orientated without sacrificing any of his quirkiness. “He really pushed me on the songs, gave me direction, and came up with so many ideas,” he observes of Ilhan’s input. “This album wouldn’t exist without him.”

Adem really pushed me on the songs, gave me direction, and came up with so many ideas. This album wouldn’t exist without him.

Johnny Lynch

Released last September, he’s already looking ahead to new projects. “I’ve been making some new Pictish recordings, with Suse Bear [from Tuff Love], that’ll hopefully see the light of day later this year,” he reveals. In addition “there’s a ton of stuff happening with Lost Map [the label he founded in 2013] – new releases, events and projects – that are keeping me busy.”

In between that he’s also found time to schedule a tour, which will call off at the Brudenell Social Club on Friday, April 14.

“I’m bringing the full band, of which there are five members (including myself),” he notes. “I play acoustic guitar, and I’ve got a table of weird electronic stuff - samplers / drum machine / squelch machine - that I piss about with. I try and do as little as possible so I can concentrate on my singing / dance moves / drinking!”