Rewilding: The Pictish Trail interviewed

The Skinny visits Johnny Lynch on the Isle of Eigg to explore how The Pictish Trail turned turmoil and anger in to Future Echoes

Feature by Tom Johnson | 02 Sep 2016
  • The Pictish Trail

A geological movement called rewilding proposes that, rather than micromanage every aspect of nature, we should simply sit back and allow it to be. In doing so, the whole ecosystem will subsequently thrive. The idea is directly related to the natural world, but parallels can certainly be drawn with our own, very human, processes; there are sure to be times when a return to basics can produce positive reverberations.

If all of this sounds overly bohemian, why not also throw in a small, community-owned, Scottish island and a whole load of folk music for good measure? For that’s the situation Johnny Lynch found himself in. The Pictish Trail man quite literally built a home for himself on the small Island of Eigg amid the fallout of the Fence Records’ collapse; quietly recharging, and then re-starting, with a new label, Lost Map, and a whole new family after the birth of his first child late last year.

Of course, if you follow Lynch, or his Lost Map label, even vaguely then the chances are you know this already. His island relocation has been well documented, both here and beyond, thanks in no small part to the much-loved Howlin' Fling Festival that he runs from his new home. Perhaps less well-known are the nuances of his day-to-day life that have led, shaped, and informed his brave and brilliant new album, Future Echoes. Through his own rewilding exercise, and despite the drama that’s followed much of its lifespan thus far, the record is his strongest collection of songs to date; a weird and warped whirlwind of sound and colour that feels very much like a new chapter.

“This is the first time I’ve actually been able to spend some time with the songs that I’ve written,” he tells The Skinny from the sanctuary of Eigg’s only café, as we try and get through the aftermath of another brilliant Howlin' Fling. “Secret Sounds One, and Two actually, were more like compilations I’d recorded over time, but for this I had time to play with [the songs] and try and figure them out.”

Recorded between Eigg and London, where Lynch would make numerous trips to piece together the record with long-term collaborator Adem, what started out as a fly-on-the-wall retaliation to the Fence label collapse morphed into something far more wide-reaching: “There was a real feeling of injustice, at the time, and when I started writing the new album I was feeling really pissed off. I was quite angry about all that shit and initially the songs were very direct, and actually quite aggressive, but I eventually scaled it back. It became less about my anger and more about my future; about mortality and my own family.”

The word ‘mortality’ comes up a few times in our conversation, and it isn’t some throwaway term to give the album an extra edge. A number of unpleasant incidents shaped Future Echoes just as much as his new-found island home. “I lost my Mum during the recording of Secret Sounds Volume Two, which was a really sad time,” Lynch elaborates. “Josie (Long) and I literally nearly died in a car crash in Wales – it was genuinely a miracle escape. Then we lost a child before Arlo was born. All of those things played a huge part in this record; just me trying to come to terms with it all.”

The title itself was inspired by thoughts of impermanence and the inevitability of life, as Lynch explains: “I was thinking about the idea of life repeating itself,” he says, "like a cassette tape that flips over and starts playing a new side, unwinding the previous life, until it flips again and starts over. The album is about coming to terms with the death of things – but also about how my son is now a future echo of myself. There was something quite reassuring about that, and the nine months leading up to his birth really created a change in the album for me.”

Hearing Lynch talk of these incidents, and the effect they had on him, you start to understand the appeal of living so remotely. The press release for Future Echoes mentions the quiet mornings he spends watching the ocean with his son. Lynch's partner grew up on the island and there seems to be a great relationship with the community; a number of the locals join in with the weekend’s festivities.

“Working on Eigg has changed my whole process,” he admits. “Just having that space to think about things is vital. I’m not overly lyrical, and I think I’ve learned that there’s a distance I need to have from myself to be able to understand what the songs are about. That sounds incredibly pretentious, but living on Eigg really gives me time to contemplate what it is that I’m feeling.”

What’s perhaps most remarkable about Future Echoes is that Lynch delivers a sonic, inventive, gleaming pop record rather than the inward-looking document it could so easily have been. “As soon as I started working with Adem we realised we wanted to do something quite poppy,” Lynch says, reflecting on their initial meetings. “I didn’t want much acoustic guitar songs on there at all; the influences were things like Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest, Grandaddy’s Sophtware Slump, things like that, and so it naturally moved away from being anything overly dark.”

And acoustic guitars there are not. In fact, the album swells with adventure from the earnest slab of pop music that opens it – first single Far Gone (Don’t Leave) – to the poignant synth-ballad of Half Life. The album is a virtuoso display of the craft that The Pictish Trail has always hinted at but never quite managed to streamline – until now. “It was definitely a cathartic exercise,” he says of the record’s creation. “I knew I was going to have to address the friendship with my best friend ending, and this is the first album where those thoughts have risen to the top. I feel like there’s been a line drawn under those things now, though.” 

On the other side of that line is Lost Map, Lynch’s new label that he started from the ashes of the Fence Collective, and one he pursues with the same vigorous joy that made Fence such a distinct union – and it’s not hard to see the Lost Map family as an extension of that standpoint. “Yeah, it’s really important,” he immediately says of the ‘family’ aesthetic. “I try and instil that in all of the acts on the label; to create the sense of them being a part of something bigger.” 

It’s testament to Lynch’s work ethic and endeavour that he’s already brought such well-earned praise to the likes of Tuff Love, Rozi Plain, and a number of other acts on the roster. “It is difficult doing it here, and doing it on my own,” he confesses, as the passing of another Howlin' Fling begins to sink in. “But I just think that means that we have to make more effort."

Future Echoes is released on 9 Sep via Lost Map. The album launches with an all-dayer at Leith Theatre on 1 Oct featuring The Pictish Trail, Bdy_Prts, The Comet Is Coming, Kid Canaveral, Rick Redbeard, Monoganon and more; tickets here.