Spotlight: Arctic Lake


Written by Ben Standring


17 Apr 2019


London-based trio offering emotional, chilled-out pop music rich in melancholy and atmospheric depth.

The majority of pop artists trapped in the the music industry dream of being able to create music that immediately tugs at the emotional heartstrings of their listeners. Some are capable of pulling it off once every few years. Others struggle to do it just once in their career. Very few are able to replicate the magnetic beauty that haunts Arctic Lake’s rich soundscape of music, an evolving body of work that manages to test the toughest of hearts on a track-by-track basis.

Having met at Westminster University where they were studying music, the trio consisting of Emma Foster (vocals), Paul Holliman (guitar, keyboard) and Andrew Richmond (drums) formed Arctic Lake in 2014. Five years down the line, with the three dotted around London, their spellbinding music has captured the attention of the archaic giant of BBC Introducing and is now gathering attention both within and away from the capital.

For many musicians based in London’s bustling streets, it can be hard to forge an identity, but not for Arctic Lake, as Foster states. ‘On two fronts I think it’s really great for us [being based in London]. There’s such a pool of music here, it’s hard to quantify how much inspiration there is at your fingertips. It’s also intimidating because there is so much talent but I think that just helps in terms of the inspiration. Also, because London is quite chaotic, in a beautiful and chaotic way, our music is slightly meditating as it’s so quiet and introverted. It’s almost an escape. We’ve found a perfect balance.’

The capital’s fluctuating nature contrasts the calming personalities of the trio perfectly, with their balance of ambiance and reflection acting as an escape for those trapped inside the hive of the city. From the beginning, Foster declares that the band have wanted to make people listen and interpret the music in their own individual way, whilst also offering the opportunity to link people together. ‘For people to be able to connect with the music makes it worth it, and it’s why most of the topics are about human interaction, emotions and how to deal with that’.

'A maelstrom of surrealistic emotion, Holding On sees Foster at her most vulnerable, as her raw vocals lie unfettered across the layered instrumentation.'

The non-tangible aspects of life seemingly act as catalysts to Foster's creative endeavours. From the band’s first single Limits, Foster’s beguiling intrigue in ‘just writing about life, existence, all those sorts of huge questions that we instinctively have as a huge race,’ came to the forefront of her work. As the trio’s sound developed into the atmospheric swell of naturalistic energy that is such a staple on the band's more recent offerings, Foster’s tenacity in picking apart human interaction and the way in which emotions play a part in ruling people’s lives has served the band well. ‘I think on the surface a lot of our songs can seem like they’re about relationships…but there’s always quite a lot of layers to all of the songs,’ she offers. ‘I guess it’s just about humankind and emotions and life…all of that really!’

Since the band’s formation, Arctic Lake have been on a whirlwind of artistic development. Since Limits set a foundation for their sound, the trio have sharpened their wits and tightened their sound. ‘When we started, we were still first year’s in university so we were trying to understand who we were, what we wanted to sound like and the industry as a whole,’ Fosters states. ‘Our catalogue therefore is kind of a footprint of us growing and understanding everything. We’ve spent time working out our own identity. We’ve taken a natural route to get to where we are. It has been amazing for us and hopefully people will see our journey and not hate us too much for not releasing an album yet!’

"We did a song live last year in a church that we haven’t released yet, and it’s the hardest song for me to sing and I cried. It was actually horrifying!" Emma Foster

Despite the lack of a debut album, fans of Arctic Lake have been generously rewarded with an array of material over the past few years. 2018’s What You May Find EP followed the delicate 2017 debut EP Closer and already this year we’ve been gifted two delightful new singles. The sparse and pure My Favourite Game sees a flickering piano line combining with Foster’s darkened, heartbroken vocals which enraptures a certain beauty from start to end.

The textured fabric of the band’s identity, which is clearly apparent on the new material, has been slowly weaved throughout the narration of the trio’s back catalogue. The Closer EP condenses a natural ambiance within five perfectly orchestrated tracks, whilst the follow-up EP is equally impressive. There’s a warmth to What You Might Find, the title-track which simmers and glows with honesty and ethereal energy. Furthermore, the modernity of Sight of You’s programmed beats and slinking guitar contrasts Foster’s vocals, which lie across the track as a demonstration of raw talent at its optimum environment.

As the trio have slowly forged their sound over time, Foster’s capacity as a lyricist has also experienced development. ‘I’ve realised in the past year that I write almost in a free-writing way,’ she says. ‘I’m not one of these people who has sat down and wanted to write about a specific thing. My hand and my voice almost just writes it for me and I don’t put that much process into it. It’s not until after the song has finished that I can see my subconsciousness working and almost what my mind was saying. Then I form the attachment but it’s quite unusual that I don’t go into it thinking that I know what is happening, it’s almost in reverse that my subconscious takes over. It’s a strange one really.’ As a person transfixed on the mysteries of the world, it seems almost fitting that her lyric process evolves from an innately mystic core, a place which only unravels after the song has been developed.

"If our music is connecting with more people then that’s a box ticked for us." Emma Foster

Whilst Arctic Lake’s body of work contains a mix of piano ballads and heart-wrenching instrumentals, their latest single Holding On looks to be the track steering the course of the band’s future. A maelstrom of surrealistic emotion, Holding On sees Foster at her most vulnerable, as her raw vocals lie unfettered across the layered instrumentation. As someone previously shy about the stories behind the music, Foster surprisingly opens up about the track. ‘If I had to give a brief overview, I guess it’s about recognising that something’s causing you pain but having an unwillingness to let it go because there’s so much love and history there. It’s about attachment and how hard it is to rationalise whether something’s good or not at all when there’s emotion involved.’ Whilst the new release tested the singer’s emotion strength, it also tested the band’s instrumental creativity, as they looked to explore down a new path. ‘We wanted to explore the other side of that [their ambient sound]. We amped up the production and started almost as powerful as it ends.’

'They’ve mastered the craft of ethereal, narrative songwriting by offering poignant reflections on humankind’s dealings with growing up, navigating life, and facing emotions.'

If the trio hadn’t already conjured up comparisons to current stalwart figures in the music business London Grammar before the beginning of the year, then they certainly have now following the releases of My Favourite Game and Holding On. As another female-led trio creating sparse, blissful pop music, who also met at university, Arctic Lake’s comparisons to London Grammar are something Foster has been getting used to. ‘When we first got together, they weren’t absolutely massive so it’s not like we started writing after they were well known, but it’s a beautiful compliment,’ she laughs. ‘It would be great to carve out our own identity though.’

A clear platform which has helped the trio carve an identity so far has been their majestic live shows, which test the emotional mettle of Foster on a permanent basis. ‘Singing live is emotional and difficult,’ she exclaims. ‘Some of those song’s are really, really intimate and so it’s very special live. We did a song live last year in a church that we haven’t released yet, and it’s the hardest song for me to sing and I cried. It was actually horrifying! I’ve never done that before ever, and I couldn’t even make it to the first chorus and the crowd stood up and started clapping and that just made me cry even harder. That whole interaction really highlighted how amazing listeners can be, and how special that face-to-face experience is.’

"‘On the surface a lot of our songs can seem like they're about relationships…but there’s always quite a lot of layers to all of the songs." Emma Foster

Despite the emotional test of performing, the live experience is something the singer clearly loves. ‘It’s really beautiful seeing a crowd’s reaction and physically see people connect to songs on a face-to-face basis.’ However, the band’s DIY nature has meant that performing is a rare luxury. ‘It’s really important for us to convey the live show in the way we want to so we don’t actually perform as much as we’d like to as we want to bring a really big light show and just make it as special as possible,’ states Foster. ‘Being independent, there’s a lot of planning and financial backing that goes into making the shows as perfect as they can be. We want to make it as special as possible and making sure that tracks translate from record to the live circuit perfectly, if not better, is also really important to us.’

Looking onwards, there’s a lot to be positive about for the emerging three-piece. Currently writing and recording material to be released later in the year, the band are set to embark on a UK tour in October, which will include the opportunity to hear the new singles in a live setting. ‘The new songs really help the live dynamic, being able to switch between more intimate, stripped back soundscapes, to something more forced,’ Foster confirms. With a busy year planned, it could be forgiven if she got carried away with the current momentum swelling behind the band, yet she remains calmly resolute and realistic with her aims for the year. Asked what she wanted to take out by the end of the year, the singer replies ‘Progression on all fronts I guess. Every year we get new stories from new fans and it feels like we’re reaching further out and growing so that’s great. If our music is connecting with more people then that’s a box ticked for us. I’d love to reach more cities with the live setup as well.’

As their music captivates an ever-growing fan base, Arctic Lake are a band teetering on the brink of explosion. Mirroring the reflective and thoughtful essence of contemporaries London Grammar and Bat For Lashes, the trio test their skills of restraint on a track-by-track basis, yet on each new offering, the glossy depth and sparsity to their sound remarkably improves. They’ve mastered the craft of ethereal, narrative songwriting by offering poignant reflections on humankind’s dealings with growing up, navigating life, and facing emotions, and they do it with such beauty that’s impossible not to admire.


Edited by George Jones |




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