Island Records: Pictish Trail on Lost Map and Visitations
As Eigg-based label Lost Map Records get ready to celebrate their fifth birthday, we chat with label founder and director Johnny Lynch about their new Visitations project
Ahead of Lost Map's showcase at Green Man Festival and the label's Strange (Birthday) Invitation all-dayer on 8 September, we catch up with Johnny Lynch – aka Pictish Trail – on a busy Edinburgh Fringe afternoon in the Summerhall courtyard to discuss all things Lost Map. From the many different artists he's worked with during his time managing the independent record label, he lets us in on his vision for their new project Visitations, which has just been launched.
Lynch founded Lost Map Records in 2013 with close friend of 18 years, Kate Lazda (Kid Canaveral). The label was quickly established as a means for them both to make and distribute music from their friends as well as their own. “There’s something so satisfying about working with your friends and really enjoying their music," Lynch says. "It’s the easiest thing to promote. You say: 'You should listen to this music – it’s totally amazing,' not just because they are my friends but because it’s a really great tune.”
Lynch describes how Pictish Trail as a performer is an extension of himself, the two names are interchangeable and the way he works with other musicians is key to understanding the way he manages Lost Map and the collaborative approach he takes towards working with other artists on the label. “Lost Map is a collective of musicians who are self-releasing. A lot of the music we release is either home-recorded or produced by the musicians themselves... not recording in studios but in their bedrooms. We have a policy of not owning anyone else's work." Lynch continues: "That collective mindset has definitely informed my career as a musician. Lost Map and Pictish Trail go hand in hand... Lost Map forms a big part of the identity of who I am and has created opportunities for Pictish Trail which has been great."
The label currently works with artists including Alabaster dePlume, Rozi Plain, Monoganon and Randolph’s Leap and is renowned for releasing artists across a multitude of genres, a reflection of Lynch’s esoteric tastes both as a music lover and as a musician. “I realise that not everything we release is going to be to everyone’s taste," Lynch acknowledges. "There’s stuff that we’ve released that’s been quite grungy and rocky, then there’s stuff that’s been really happy and electronic. We've got singer-songwriter stuff; we are working with Savage Mansion at the moment and we’ve done full-on rock – it ticks all the boxes.
"Nowadays, people are a lot less purist about their music tastes. You can like cheesy pop music and something really hardcore at the same time and nobody is going to make any kind of judgement. In fact, they would be more likely to judge if you didn’t have those extremities of taste." Lynch concludes: "For me, everything that we’ve released is what I love about music and I kind of take some perverse joy out of the fact that I know that not everyone is going to have the same taste as me."
As well as distributing records, promoting artists and putting on shows, the label hosts Howlin’ Fling, a friendly festival that invites musicians and music lovers to inhabit the Inner Hebridean Isle of Eigg, where Lynch currently lives and works, for a two-day long celebration of all things Lost Map. “What’s great is that you’ll get a group of people that like the label who have their own sets of acts that they are really into," he explains. "You might have some people that are only into Rozi Plain, Ed Dowie and Alabaster dePlume, and some who are more into Kid Canaveral and Pictish Trail and Tuff Love. When you see the two audiences combined at Lost Map events, it’s a good mixture of people.
"Eigg is slightly renowned among the islands as being a very musical island. The community here are very fun-loving people, very relaxed, and they all love music. To be honest, I don’t think Lost Map would be able to exist without the support of that community.” Lynch continues: "It’s one of those places that’s quite dangerous to visit – it can get under your skin and it’s quite difficult to leave."
Lynch’s ability to run a successful label from the remote island counters the notion that you have to move to bigger Scottish cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow to be part of its vibrant scene. Lynch tells us that he enjoys life on the island, despite it being so vastly different from his life on the road. “There’s no convenience culture there. The shop shuts at 5pm and it’s not always got milk or bread. It’s annoying the first couple of times that happens but then you just have to plan your life and make sure you always have a loaf of bread in the freezer.”
Many of the artists who have attended Howlin’ Fling can appreciate the lure of the land, which has prompted the idea for Lost Map’s latest project, Visitations. “I knew that I wanted to do a residency on Eigg 'cause so many musicians who’ve come over for Howlin’ Fling say, 'Oh god, I'd really love to come over and make some music on Eigg. Do you have a little caravan that we could stay in and leave the city life for a week?' So I thought it would be great to start a residency here."
Part of the idea behind Visitations, Lynch says, is "to create an archive of music from Eigg. It’s happening there yet all of the music that’s being recorded is from musicians from all over the world." Recordings as part of the project will be released as EPs and will be available either as a physical or digital-only subscription. “I understand in this day in age that people want to own records but others just want to have everything digitally, they don’t want to have clutter in their house," says Lynch. "There’s all sorts of music fans. There are music fans that don’t want to have all sorts of stuff in their house and then there are music fans that are totally obsessive about having all the different artefacts and the physical elements that come with it."
The way Visitations will be presented to listeners is directly inspired by Lynch’s own substantial collection of CDs, cassettes and vinyl which has gathered over the years, particularly from the sheer quantity of demos he receives through the label. The first in the subscription series includes the already available EP from Monoganon which came out last month; another will then be available in October, followed by the final of the three coming in December, just in time for Christmas. The physical releases will be pressed to 12" vinyl, featuring cover art from David Galletly and will include a CD copy (often with bonus tracks), as well as a printed postcard with a download code for all audio and photos taken during the artist's residency.
Monoganon, the first artist to be fully released through Lost Map with his second album F A M I L Y, was also the first to take part in a week-long residency, helping Lynch establish the blueprint for all future Visitations. After the great amount of work that went into producing the first EP, Lynch soon realised that it wasn't “really enough just to put the music out.” He wanted more of a focus on the artists' creative processes as a whole, deciding that the release of diary entries, interviews and a series of podcasts linked to the project would be the best means of documenting how the music was made. “We wanted to do podcasts in conjunction with Visitations," Lynch says, "that way those that are getting all of the music digitally can still feel as though they are involved in what the project is all about and can immerse themselves fully in the whole experience.”
The first EP is available now alongside the official Lost Map Podcast (which is free and readily available from most podcast providers). While we can't let you know who the December artist is, we can confirm the second EP will come from Strange (Birthday) Invitation all-dayer headliners Free Love (fka Happy Meals), which Lost Map described on their Instagram account as being "an incredible, transportative experience." If, like us, you trust Lost Map then you should get yourself subscribed pronto. Also, those who do subscribe "are going to be the first to know about the big [Lost Map] events as a reward for signing up and helping to support this project,” so what are you waiting for?
Beyond their upcoming birthday celebrations and Visitations, we ask what Lost Map's future plans are and Lynch laughs. "I’ve never really had a plan, it’s always just been on the strength of the music. There’s no plan to make Lost Map any bigger. If Lost Map stays at the same level that it's at forever, then I’m happy!"
Strange (Birthday) Invitation: Lost Map's 5th Birthday All-Dayer takes place at St Peter's Hall, Lutton Place, Edinburgh, 8 Sep
Visitations by Monoganon is available now via Lost Map; subscribe at lostmap.com