Lord Huron’s Ben Schneider tells tall tales

Lord Huron’s Ben Schneider fictionalizes events from his life in his songs, which can get him in trouble.

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      On paper it sounds like the kind of story that’s almost too strange to be true: a former teenage punk rocker with a Wu-Tang Clan obsession moves from small-town Michigan to Los Angeles to make it as a visual artist. Somewhere along the way, he gets distracted by the business of creating spacy indie-folk songs, which, in the case of Lord Huron’s debut disc, Lonesome Dreams, are loosely based on the writings of western/science-fiction author George Ranger Johnson.

      That Johnson only exists in the mind of Lord Huron’s Ben Schneider (see www.georgerangerjohnson.com/ for further details) isn’t important. All that matters is that the singer has struck a serious chord with those who love Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver as much as they do Grandaddy and Mercury Rev. Lonesome Dreams, his band’s full-length debut, has Schneider selling out thousand-seat venues across the continent, something that blows his mind—especially considering he started out messing about in his bedroom, not entirely convinced that things were meant to go any further than his laptop.

      Reached on the line in his adopted home base of Tinseltown, the singer and songwriter says that he had been struggling as a visual artist in Los Angeles, to the point where he realized that he wasn’t happy.

      “To be honest, I wasn’t finding my place in that world,” he explains. “I didn’t like the way that the art world worked, and it wasn’t paying the bills. It was a creative profession, but a little bit draining for me because I always felt like I was at the beck and call of a client, which I was. What I was doing wasn’t really my own vision.”

      Looking back, he traces the birth of Lord Huron to a brief trip home.

      “Music had always been an important part of my life that I continued to do as a hobby,” Schneider says. “I managed to somehow include it in all my art projects. What happened is that I took a little break and went back home to Michigan for a couple of weeks. That’s where I recorded my first few songs. I got some encouragement from my sister and some friends who seemed to really enjoy the tunes. As soon as I could see a light at the end of the tunnel, I was like, ‘I’m going to pursue this as far as I can.’ So I quit my job and went for it.”

      While Lord Huron has blossomed into a full band today, for a long time it was a largely solitary project, something that makes perfect sense considering Schneider’s personality.

      “There’s always been two parts to my nature,” he explains. “I’m really attached to my family and my friends. But I also like to spend time on my own. I’ve always been the kind of guy who likes to be by myself a lot of the time. Right after I finished college I moved abroad for a while, then moved to New York and then L.A. I had friends all the way, but always felt like I was out on my own.”

      That sense of wandering and restlessness certainly colours Lonesome Dreams, a record where the vocals and narcotic-jangled guitars somehow seem as sun-faded as a ’70s western, and the songs are littered with references to raging rivers and stars tumbling out of coal-black skies.

      What shines through is that Schneider is an accomplished storyteller, happy to mine personal experiences for inspiration on songs like “Lonesome Dreams”, which includes the lines “I’ve been dreaming again of a lonesome world, where I’m lost and I’m on my own/What am I destined to be?/It’s a mystery baby—just please don’t leave me alone.”

      “It usually works best for me to start out from a place that I know—something that has happened to me, or to someone close to me,” Schneider reveals. “With something like ‘Lonesome Dreams’, what I did was take personal experiences and then kind of look at them through the lens of an old adventure to kind of give it a little romantic spin, to add some poetry. But for sure what I try to do is go into something that’s real at the core.”

      That isn’t, he admits, without its problems.

      “Umm, yes, I’ve kind of had some ex-girlfriends wonder what’s going on on some of the tracks,” he says with a laugh. “It can get you into trouble, I guess. But for the most part, people tend to understand that they are fictionalized versions of true events.”

      More than a one-trick pony, Schneider might also make a pretty good heir to the throne of gunfighter balladeer Marty Robbins. The man who wrote “Big Iron” and “El Paso” would be pleased to find that his legacy lives on in Lonesome Dreams tracks like “Lullaby”, featuring the lyrics “You were out finding trouble again/There’s a fire in your eyes and there’s blood on your hands.”

      Proving that his songs are resonating with people, Schneider has watched Lord Huron take off over the past couple of years.

      “It’s basically been nonstop touring and performing,” he marvels. “You rarely get the chance to step back and take it all in and look where you are and how things have progressed. Instead, you kind of just keep going. But I have noticed that every time we go back to a city, there are more people there than the last time. That’s a really cool feeling. I mean, I’m still completely shocked when I see people singing lyrics that I’ve written. We couldn’t be more happy and thankful.”

      For now, that’s enough, but Schneider might have bigger plans for the future. The son of a writer, he confesses that he’s always liked working in different disciplines. And it’s not lost on him that he’s living in Hollywood, where dreams, no matter how unlikely, often come to life.

      “I really can’t deny my urge to try my hand in different media,” he confesses. “Writing is one of those things that I’ve always had a huge respect for—books have been a big part of my life. I’ve never tried writing one—it’s very daunting to me. But I hope to one day, because I really do think I have the stories.”

      Lord Huron plays the Commodore Ballroom as part of the Straight Series on Thursday (January 23).