ABOUT LOL TOLHURST x BUDGIE x JACKNIFE LEE
Square one for Los Angeles was December 2018, when Budgie was passing through LA in esteemed singer songwriter John Grant’s touring ensemble, and he and Lol Tolhurst met for lunch in a downtown diner. Recalls Budgie, “As we were finishing, Lol turns to me and says, ‘I think we should do something together.’ With these things, I usually go away and forget, but for once in my life I said to myself, ‘Yeah good idea!’”
After leaving The Cure in 1989, Tolhurst “found love,” married and, in 1994, settled in LA. Budgie almost moved to the City of Angels in the mid-’00s but, eventually, he says, “fell in love, moved to Berlin, and family happened.” When the pair reconvened in early 2019 to make music, they had a couple of sessions – first at a friend’s house up the coast in Morro Bay, then chez Mötley Crüe tub-thumper Tommy Lee, no less, “but it just wasn’t sounding right – we were falling into that trap of trying to paint ourselves as we once were.”
In what he describes as “a pit of despondency,” he went up to Topanga Canyon to visit Garret Lee, ten years their junior, but whose enviable production CV includes Taylor Swift’s Red, U2’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and the final two REM albums. His advice, in true post-punk fashion: rip it up and start again. “Once you’re starting from nothing,” he advises, “you can do anything.” When Budgie returned to California between commitments with John Grant, the three kindred spirits first repaired to Yosemite for a bonding weekend, and thereafter recorded in Topanga for two weeks, with Lee cannily straddling the roles of musician and mentor-cum-producer. They’d drink coffee, play records, banter a lot, go for walks, share experiences, and out of all that came, this time, some inspirational music.
A very special group chemistry emerged during those intensely creative sessions. Reveals Budgie, “Lol is very levelling. He calls himself a pragmatist, whereas I’m very impetuous, and it was like Garret was bridging the two, in his consultation room.” The other instrumentation came naturally. Back in his days with The Cure, Tolhurst switched from drums to keyboards circa ’83, and Budgie, too, was grappling with early synths through that era, so it was only natural that ‘Los Angeles’ would be brimming with synths. For Lee, with two elite drummers aboard, it was an opportunity to break from the grid-locked inflexibility of contemporary electronica.
As the record evolved, there would be instrumental contributions from noted guitarists, including The Edge and IDLES’ Mark Bowen, but the rest were handled by Lee, and often digitally distorted beyond all recognition. Further visitors to Lee’s Topanga hideout were master orchestrator Davide Rossi (Goldfrapp, Coldplay) and brass specialist Jordan Katz (Father John Misty, Ghostface Killah), whose taut arrangements were similarly manipulated, and even run at half speed, for maximum disorientation and weirdness.
Come March 2020, they were fairly certain they were just about done recording an instrumental album “which was the original intention,” says Budgie, but as he flew home to Berlin just as COVID-19 was forcing the whole world into lockdown, Lol had taken the step of contacting post-punk fan James Murphy with a vague idea of him voicing on one or more of the tracks, and in those first fallow weeks of isolation, Lol put feelers out to a few other friends and admirers to see if they might also be interested.
After plunging into the unknown with their own music-making, then navigating the unplannable chicane of Coronavirus, it’s frankly a miracle that Tolhurst, Budgie and Lee came through four years later with an album so coherent and hard-hitting – about freedom and slavery, beauty and decay, hope and despair. Plans are afoot now to take Los Angeles into the live arena, and spread the word far and wide about this miraculous record: future facing, empowering, and on its own terms thoroughly triumphant.