On Lord Huron’s 2012 album, Lonesome Dreams, frontman/songwriter Ben Schneider created a whole series of stories based on the fake Western fiction of George Ranger Johnson. His hero tumbled and tootled through windswept tales, searching high and low for a once-lost love. For the follow-up, the just-released Strange Trails, Schneider opened things up a bit, thematically, to seek out other treasures. Sonically, the layered vocals and unusual effects create a rather Lord Huron-specific soundscape. While Schneider’s airy and dusty Western vibe is still very much intact, he expands his musical repertoire enough to keep things lively and fun.
First impressions being what they are and you being a visual guy, do you believe that you can judge an album by its cover — even in the download age?
Judging it, I don’t think can ever happen, but you can definitely be intrigued and interested by a cover, as I often am. It’s hard to assess it to know what it’s going to be. It can point you down a road, hopefully. That was a big part, for me, when I was discovering music as a kid. I loved to go to the record store and, occasionally, the guys who worked there would give me tips once that got a feel for my tastes. But I just liked picking stuff out based on covers, the vibe that I got from looking at the jackets. Same thing with movies at the video store — I’d just see something that caught my interest, that looked like a story I’d be interested in. You’d have to kind of dive in and see if that was true.
Did it generally pan out for you?
Mixed results. [Laughs] But that was part of the fun because you could discover something that was what you’d imagined it to be or maybe was even more than what you’d imagined it to be. That was really a special thing.
I used to book clubs in L.A. years ago and I would have my stacks of demo tapes. I could always separate them, just by looking at them, and know which ones were going to be good. I was probably 98 percent right.
That’s pretty good.
Yeah. So I appreciate the attention to the visual detail that you put into things — both with the artwork and your videos. It’s a nice thing and it does evoke a sense of what’s to come.
Ideally, that stuff works together and supports each other and gives you an idea of what’s to come. Yeah. Then, when you look back at it, after having heard it, hopefully it enhances it in a certain way, too.
With all the effort you’ve put into some of your videos, what do you make of this new lyric video trend? I don’t get it.
Yeah, I haven’t really caught on to that, either. I guess it’s just a way to put out some content that moves. [Laughs] An easier way to make a video, I guess. I’m not really sure. But it seems to be sweeping the nation. [Laughs]
[Laughs] What’s your first memory of writing a song that you knew, absolutely, was a really solid, great song?
Geez, I’m not sure that I ever really have that kind of confidence. I always liked the ditties I wrote, but even now I never know how other people are going to react to them. I guess all you can do is use your personal taste meter. I definitely remember, as soon as I had a guitar to play around on, I was making tapes. Even with the earliest stuff, I remember thinking, “This is pretty cool.”
It was at least worth a little bit of acetate.
Absolutely! Once I figured out you could cover those little holes on the top of tapes with tape and then you could tape over tapes… my older sister was really pissed off. Her Genesis and Heart tapes got taped over. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Oh, man! With your style of making more cohesive, conceptual albums, do you sit down and write the tunes sort of all at once as you ramp up to make a record or do you collect ideas and put them together as you go about your days?
It’s definitely a drawn-out collection process like that. I kind of piece together scraps here and there, especially when I’m on the road. Then, when I get home, I try to piece them all together. But because of the way I like to write, it’s working on the visuals simultaneously with the music, and it can happen in any order. Sometimes it’s lyrics that come first or just a general story idea. Or sometimes it’s a beat or a melody. It’s just kind of piecing together lots of little scraps.
Seems like film scoring might be a natural habitat for you.
I’d like to try. I’ve thought it might be an interesting thing to try sometime, if there’s ever the opportunity.

Some bands have such a defining sound that every record feels like a copy and paste job. Others are all over the map, stylistically and sonically, which makes it hard to understand what they’re about. So wouldn’t the middle ground be the most productive place to be? And is that where you feel like you have Lord Huron?
I guess, for me, what seems like would be the most natural and good place to be is letting things evolve as they want to evolve. Maybe for some bands that does mean jumping radically stylistically, which I totally respect and understand. Because, really, it’s just about following what you’re interested in. I think that’s where the best music comes from — when people give themselves over to their impulses and what they’re feeling drawn to at that time.
I definitely think there’s been a pretty big evolution, if you look at the first EPs we released until now. But I guess we’re just letting it happen naturally and not trying to please anybody, necessarily. Just trying to follow what we’re interested in.
When you hear a Lord Huron song on the radio, it’s like, “Oh, that’s a Lord Huron song.” And, yet, there is that progression and you throw interesting sounds into the mix. On this one, the guitars are really having a good time.
Yeah, they are. [Laughs]
There are some great 80s pop/rock vibes going on and “The World Ender” feels like a surf rock party in a dusty saloon town. Is that a fun or frustrating process — getting just the right tone?
Really, really fun. This time around, in particular, we were able to hole up in our own space to make the record. So we didn’t feel under the gun. On Lonesome Dreams, we had to rent a space by the day and felt a little rushed, like you can’t really stretch out. Now that we have our own space to work in, we could be there at any hour for as long as we wanted doing whatever we wanted — which included putting mics in strange places and playing weird instruments. It was really a good time.
Nice. Now, assuming and agreeing that all art is derivative, do you feel the criticisms that came at Lonesome Dreams, with the angry comparisons to Fleet Foxes, were fair? Pitchfork, for one, lived up to its name and really went after you on that.
I don’t know. It’s interesting because there’s no way you can stop stuff like that. People are going to hear what they hear and that’s kind of the beauty of criticism. People are going to say what they think and what they felt when they heard it. I don’t think it’s unfair. I don’t think anything anyone honestly thinks about a piece of art is wrong. I’m not offended. I’ve been making things for a long time and I’m pretty used to criticism, so it doesn’t necessarily bother me.
In an ideal world, people are hearing our music without any preconceived notions. But I know that’s impossible. I don’t know if that comparison necessarily helped us or hurt us. I just don’t know. I’m sure, for some people, maybe that’s good that we would sound like another band. Mostly, I guess, it’s surprising when I hear things like that, especially in that case because it’s just not something we were conscious of or listening to, to be perfectly honest.
Do you think Strange Trails will vindicate you in those eyes or do you even care?
I have no idea. I really don’t. All you can do, like I was saying, is make what you want to make and what you’re interested in. Obviously, I hope the most people we can get to listen to it will listen to it and will like it, but you can’t please everybody, so you just gotta do what you do.
If the Lord Huron project hadn’t taken off, would you have gone back to your design work or would you have kept pressing forward with music, maybe re-calibrated things?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. It’s really hard to know where things’ll take you. I think, one way or another, I would’ve found a way to keep making things. Whether that’s on behalf of somebody else or myself, it’s hard to say. It’s just one of those things where there’s so much luck involved and all you can do is keep making things.
This article originally appeared on the Bluegrass Situation.