“in the shadow of memory/spirit”: Neil Lord talks Future Museum’s New Album ‘Dorsal Fin’

Future Museums is the musical project of producer/musician/songwriter Neil Lord. Lord locks into both the Komische/Berlin School world of artists like Cluster, Ash Ra Tempel, and Klaus Schulze, as well as ambient/New Age vibes of Windham Hill and Private Press releases of the 70s/80s. There’s always an ethereal and naturalistic approach to his work. Nothing ever sounds derivative, but an evolution of what came before in only a way that Neil Lord could create.

I first came across Future Museums back in 2018 with the release of Rosewater Ceremony Part II : Guardian Of Solitude and I quickly did a deep dive into the Future Museums catalog. I also discovered Neil’s work in both Thousand Foot Whale Claw and Single Lash, two decidedly different projects but equally as engaging. 2018 turned into the year of Holodeck Records for me, and by turn the year of Neil Lord. I even had the pleasure of interviewing Neil back then about Future Museums and his musical process.

Neil is readying a brand new Future Museums album called Dorsal Fin, a fantastic dive into Schulze, Rother, and Froese territory. All bubbly synths, shimmering guitar lines, and ethereal soundscapes that explore the deep blue of the ocean. It’s a stunning LP, and Neil’s first release with SFI Recording. It drops officially 6/2/23.

I sat down and had a chat with Neil about Dorsal Fin, regarding the inspiration and process that brought this album to fruition. Dig in below.

J Hubner: So let’s talk about Dorsal Fin, your new album and first with SFI Recording. Can you walk me through the concepts and ideas behind it? It’s a fantastic record, btw.

Neil Lord: The initial concept that I began with when diving into this record was the idea of intuition. Survival mechanisms, the idea that our biology on an elemental basis provides us with tools to navigate many different environments and scenarios. I thought a lot about how nature isn’t as “chaotic” as we initially like to think it is. I wanted to sculpt a sonic philosophy around the idea of impulse control, gut instincts, guides provided to us through thousands of years of familial survival tactics, our mammalian “dorsal fins”. 

J Hubner: Your work as Future Museums is fluid in that each release – whether with Holodeck Records, Keeled Scales, or self-released – has subtle shifts sonically and instrumentally, while still keeping firm footing in the Komische/Ambient/Berlin School world. Dorsal Fin reminds me a lot of the work of Klaus Schulze, Rudiger Lorenz, and even touches of Jonas Munk’s ‘Pan’. What direction sonically were you thinking you wanted to head going into the writing/recording process of the music? 

Neil Lord: Berlin School electronics will forever be baked into my subconscious when it comes to my production style. I must have listened to every Cluster and Harmonia record (and especially Michael Rother/Dieter Moebius solo records) so many times, that my natural instinct at this point is to commit to that practice/aesthetic. While I was working on this record, I began a collaboration with my dear friend Jesse Hill making 20-25 minute long guided meditation videos on youtube, and was simultaneously listening to an enormous amount of Suzanne Doucet and Emerald Web, so I think the “new-age” influence wormed its way into the mix as well. 

J Hubner: When you head into a music project, are you thinking of certain hardware or instrumentation to use for the process? You’re quite adept at creating ambient soundscapes, New Age vibes, and just in general walls of sound through processed guitars and various synthesizers. 

Neil Lord: I never ever ever prioritize gear when it comes to composition/production. Whatever I have access to when  I am ready to perform is what you will hear on the record. If I write a part on a certain instrument, 99% chance it is the make and model you will hear on the album. I am the furthest thing in the world from a gear-head. Does it power on? Can I find a specific, interesting, balanced and nuanced tone with it? Is it comfortable for me to sit with, repeating the same phrase for long periods of time? As long as it feels good in the moment, I try to stay very present and grateful to be using it. 

J Hubner: What was your approach instrumentally with Dorsal Fin? Did you have some go-to tools in the toolbox?

Neil Lord: A couple synthesizers, a guitar, various VST’s and pedals. Mike Sharp guests on guitar and korg minilogue. His chiming synth lead on “Lemon Verbena” absolutely makes the song in my opinion. 

J Hubner: I feel certain records in our lives – if we’re lucky enough to grow up to be musicians ourselves -lead us to make certain art of our own later on. They leave their mark on our psyche and lay those foundational seeds that grow in ourselves. 

What are two albums that you feel laid the groundwork for you to write ‘Dorsal Fin’? 

Neil Lord: The past couple of years I have been in a DEEP rhythm of listening to an enormous amount of music. I have shifted away from what I acknowledge was about a decade of educational listening, the classics of ambient/new-age/krautrock/kosmiche/psychedelic, and consequently entered where that legacy has led with a new generation of the global community of “fringe” music making modern classics. That being said, i’ll say one from each category. 

Emerald Web’s “Valley of the Birds” and Golden Ivy’s “Klappen” were in extremely heavy rotation during the production of this record. The whole ambient/jam scene in Sweden that Golden Ivy is a part of are just putting out some extraordinary records right now. 

J Hubner: Dorsal Fin is coming out via SFI Recording. How did you get involved with SFI and Andrew Crawshaw?

Neil Lord: Honestly, I can remember packing orders for Andrew back in the day working in the shipping department at Holodeck. We only recently began talking when I submitted Dorsal Fin to be released on the label! We’ve quickly become kindred spirits and have an enormous amount of mutual friends with records coming out on the label! It’s crazy how quickly community can blossom within those contexts. He is doing such an amazing job curating and operating such a massive undertaking. Between the label and artist relations and screen printing, the man clearly pours every ounce of himself into making sure it’s a quality experience for the artists AND audience. 

J Hubner: Can you tell me a little about the album art for Dorsal Fin? It’s fantastic, and does truly capture the whole essence of the record.  

Neil Lord: Samantha Wendel (Dethscum) and I have been working together on projects together since 2016 (multiple album/single covers, tshirts, tapes, designs for other labels and friends). She’s absolutely phenomenal. I basically describe a vision with a blend of dream logic, poetry and themes from the record and she somehow is able to manifest these wildly imaginative illustrations. I described wanting an aesthetic suggesting ancient glyphs creating a mythology around nautical biological anomalies. How ancient civilizations must have attempted explaining these bizarre evolutions scientifically. What word did they use to describe “Dorsal Fin” and in what way was it carved into stone? 

She took my questions/vision and absolutely ran in the right direction. 

J Hubner: How much do you think living in Texas with its wide open spaces and “Big Sky” horizons inform what you do creatively. I’m sure a lot of people think of country music, the blues, and Texas Swing when they think of music and the Lone Star State. Me? I think of Ry Cooder, Explosions in The Sky, and This Will Destroy You. I’m sure it all depends on where you live, no? 

I’m just curious if you feel that part of the country when you’re writing? 

Neil Lord: I have a deep appreciation for the dynamic nature of the Texas landscape (river valleys, desert, the lush green farmlands of east Texas, beaches, the state truly contains multitudes), but to be perfectly honest, if it affects the music, it is in a subconscious mode. My childhood in Arkansas near the buffalo river has just as much influence. My time living in Wyoming has just as much influence. My time travelling and touring in other bands has just as much influence. Future Museums exists more in the shadow of memory/spirit than any grounded and specific place on Earth. 

J Hubner: So what is next after Dorsal Fin? Are you doing any sort of local release party? Are you playing any shows to promote the album? 

Neil Lord: I have quite a few shows lined up throughout the spring/summer! Lots of full band stuff this year. Looking to finally take the ensemble into the studio for a proper studio LP with mixing engineers and maybe even a producer other than myself. Other than that, I have a live album ready for release and am hopping back into the Joys Union Group headspace with Michael C. Sharp (who may or may not also be prepping new material to send down the SFI pipeline…)

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