An interview with Lydia

“I think I’m going to shotgun a Redbull. They don’t affect me like they used to,” said Lydia guitarist Justin Camacho as I walked into the green room of Musica, Akron’s coziest music venue. “Damn, you got the XL one,” continued Leighton Antelman, vocalist of the group to Matt Keller, who holds up the keys and programming end of the live performances and proceeds to take a swig.

There are still two bands left to play before Lydia takes the stage on their Run Wild tour and my girlfriend and I are settling into an old couch while the band banters on about drink tickets and cans of liquid energy. The Technicolors just finished up their set and I decided that was a good enough place to start. I asked the three band members about their Phoenix friends and whether or not they chose them for the tour. It was a perfect fit for the bill’s opener, but I wanted to know more.

“So F-ing good,” chimed in Keller when I mention how great the first set was. It’s true, they’re fantastic and also on 8123’s management roster. “They’re a pretty new band, so we thought ‘Let’s take these kids out!’”

That’s when Leighton asked me about the lighting during the Technicolors set, which was—put nicely—frantic. While I thought it weird for the crew in the booth to test out lights during a performance, reality proved that it was Camacho behind the boards—playing jokes.

Settling into the conversation I came for, we dove right into Run Wild, the band’s latest effort on 8123. In our last interview, the band set the tone for the yet-released record as “moody” whereas the album previous, Devil, had a happy vibe. I wanted to know how the musical make-up of these new songs—which vary in both tone and production—played a role in splitting the record between two producers, Colby Wedgeworth and Aaron Marsh.

“The producer decision came early on in the process,” began Keller. “It had been floating around for a bit. We thought that going with two producers would break it up a bit, you know?” With the decision made and songs chosen for each session, that’s the way it went. “We had probably fifteen to sixteen songs to start,” Camacho offered. “We worked with Colby on Devil and at first it was like ‘this will be a really great one to do with [him].’ The ones that weren’t so poppy and vibey kind of stuff we figured we’d do with Marsh. We had a good feeling about which ones we wanted to do with who.”

“At the end of the day, Colby will be the first one to tell you he’s a pop guy and Aaron will say he’s not a pop guy,” pointed out Keller. This is true. From his work in Copeland to his long list of production credits, Aaron Marsh is known for his soaring instrumentals and darker tones. “I worked with him a little bit on Illuminate, interjected Antelman. ”When we were going through a list of producers, his name was in the mix and we landed on him. It wasn’t like we were like ‘we need to do this record with Aaron Marsh,’ we had just worked with him in the past and thought it would be cool.”

Touching back on the benefits of splitting the record between two producers, Keller spoke of the “push and pull” between the tracks. “Colby’s first instinct is to make something big and massive. We knew we had a couple of songs that wouldn’t translate that way. We didn’t want to force it and we knew that Aaron was the opposite of that. There’s a back-and-forth between any artist and producer, so with Colby we’re always pushing him to be a little weirder, and with Aaron, it was ‘let’s get a little more poppier about it.’”

To me, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this: I hear an unmistakable hip-hop influence in Lydia’s music. I can’t pin it down exactly, but I had suspected that it came more from Leighton Antelman’s songwriting than anything else. That influence is pervasive in his work from Lydia to The Cinema to, most obviously, his collaboration with Sean “Somnous” Rogers. I mentioned this to him while he reclined, barefoot, in the couch opposite me. He paused, but only for a moment before admitting, “I’ve heard that before, to be honest. I don’t know if it really plays a role, but all three of us listen to a decent amount of hip-hop. Certain rappers flow really well. For instance, Kanye West is someone whose verses are really inspiring to me. How he goes behind the beat a little bit and catches back up and goes back and forth. I don’t like singing with a metronome. I like to fall in and out of the beat, so I suppose it does—whether I like it or not. Subconsciously, hip-hop influences how I sing. Maybe not how I write, but how I actually project the words on to paper.”

It went further than that, the simplicity of hip-hop music played a big part in the making of Run Wild. “That actually played into it a lot,” continued Antelman. “Our tendency is to layer stuff. On this record, if it wasn’t needed to get turned up in the mix, we just took it out. If it wasn’t crucial to the song, we took it out. A lot of hip-hop songs are just a beat and a synth. I thought it was cool to strip it down, not clutter it–”

“–which is an easy thing to do,” throws in Camacho. “‘This guitar part sounds cool, let’s put it there.’ is an easy thing to say, but is it doing anything or is it in the way?” Antelman chuckles, “They had to stop me from doing that. I just want to keep putting shit in.” “‘I think we need to put something in,’” role-plays Keller before mimicking a harmony-ready Antelman. “‘Yea, a vocal…’” The band laughs this off before the singer adds, ”It was the first time we’ve ever done that and it was interesting.”

“–and hard…,” Keller adds.

They couldn’t have done this if they had produced Run Wild on their own, like they had done for releases past. “He really pushed me the hardest, Antelman gestures to Keller who just took another swig of his Red Bull. ”Me and [Justin] both like to layer stuff, but [Matt] was more like ‘let’s strip it down.’” Lowering the can to his lap, Keller puts on a semi-serious tone. ”I want to hear the important elements of a song. So many times there is a tendency to add something just because you don’t have the right thing in there yet. Maybe instead of three guitar parts, you just need one really good one.” Antelman caps off this part of our talk nicely, ”To be fair, sometimes layering is cool. This is just a different approach we tried to take that Lydia usually doesn’t.”

I think this approach and the choice to bring two producers into the mix did a lot for the record. Run Wild is a natural progression and follow-up to Devil; I think taking half of it to Wedgeworth and the other half to Marsh moves things forward for their sound while keeping the renewed spirit that the last album brought very much alive. The question is how they’ll move forward from Run Wild. The band plans to keep touring on the record, as most bands tend to do when they put something out there, but they’re all writing. Always writing.

In an interview with Idobi, the band alluded to 20 or so tracks that they had in various states of preparation going into their recording sessions. 11 took place on the final record. I asked if there was a chance to hear those unreleased tracks, possibly released as B-sides like the band did for Devil. “We’re not sure yet. A lot of the ones that didn’t make the record morphed and turned into completely different things. They’re still on paper but, at the end of the day, there’s a reason they didn’t make the album. They probably will make it on to something, but they won’t be what they originally were.”

“Two or three of those 20 that we had ended up morphing into each other. We had a couple that were in the same key, so we took a verse from one and they kind of matched up. There were two or three songs on the record that took some of the others out of play,” said Camacho. “Some just weren’t good,” remarked Antelman. “Some of the B-sides to Devil were leftover songs, but we kind of just wrote two as well. We don’t ever want to put out something that we didn’t think was good enough. Like, ‘here you go.’”

It bears repeating that Run Wild strikes a passing resemblance to Devil in many ways, but mood is not one of them. While one was lighthearted through and through, the latest pulls on a different set of heartstrings. “Devil was a really happy record,” says Keller tentatively. “I can’t say [Run Wild] was a reaction to that because it wasn’t. We toured a lot on Devil and we all got to know each other a lot more in that time. Life happens. It finds itself.”

For Leighton Antelman, it’s not about sitting down to pen anything specific necessarily. “For me, and I don’t know about these guys, it’s certainly not like I sit down to write a happy song or weird song. Whatever comes out comes out. This record just happened to be more moody. It could have been another happy record, but that’s not what came out with Run Wild.”

As Turnover takes the stage and floods the alleyway and greenroom behind the venue with noise, I switch tracks to vinyl. There’s a massive desire for Lydia’s discography on wax. This is becoming more and more realistic lately. The band recently announced This December; It’s One More and I’m Free is getting pressed for the first time by Bad Timing Records. I asked the group how that pressing came to be, 10 years later. Antelman jumped to answer.

“[Bad Timing Records] got the rights to it from our first label and—while they could have just put it out themselves—they were super classy about it and reached out. They wanted us to be a part of it. As sad as it is, people can just put out your record if they want. I don’t own that record. I wrote it, but I don’t own it. So, they reached out to us and asked if we wanted to be a part of it and we said ‘Yeah. Hell yeah.’”

It’s hard to pretend there isn’t some resentment hidden in that statement regarding Shop Radio Cast’s recently announced pressing of Illuminate. The band had its own plans to release the album on vinyl before SRC obtained the license to do it themselves—and without the band’s involvement.

Note: This is pretty common. A similar situation occurred with Cartel when preparing their release for ‘Chroma.’ The result of these situations is usually two pressings, one unethical—done quickly to cash in before the band-sanctioned release—and one “official,” produced with care and attention to detail in a way only the content creators can provide. While the second can take longer to produce, the overall quality far exceeds the first.

So I asked the band about the progress as it pertains to their release of Illuminate. “We finally have all of the content to put it out ourselves, which has been a nightmare to get, but we have that. We’re going to include a bunch of really cool stuff with it. It won’t just be the record. There will be attachments like acoustic stuff and other content. That will be out early next year.”

With This December and Illuminate on lock, I asked too about Devil. Devil was pressed when the record dropped, but for those who missed on the initial sale, finding it for a reasonable price is a near impossibility. At the time of writing this, the cheapest copy I could find available for sale online was going for $100 on I’m personally holding out for a repress and figured relaying those figures to the band wouldn’t be a bad step in making that happen. “Devil??” came a resounding cry when I gave them the going price for the record. “People are brutal,” said Antelman.

“We don’t have any Lydia vinyl right now,” clarified Camacho. “Run Wild is getting printed and is close to being done. It’s awesome that the Devil vinyl all sold and I think we’ll probably reprint them at some point. There hasn’t been a conversation about it, but we probably will.”