Building No Place with A Lot Like Bird’s Cory Lockwood
Lot Like Birds made quite an impression when their third full length Conversation Piece dropped back in 2011. Their newest record No Place is a release from their band formed of a constructed sound that combines a chaotic blend of screams, singing, spoken word, and instrumentals into a well-defined masterpiece. Created with careful precision, unique perception, and heart, No Place is an intense piece of work that shows in the post-hardcore genre, there is still a group of artists able to rise above a typical album release and bring something original and with intriguing complexity to the table. Cliché’s Heather Glock caught up with vocalist Cory Lockwood to discuss the drawing board of No Place.
Cliché: This is your first concept album. For the story, you all have chosen a house. A house is terribly complex as it symbolizes numerous things such as security, a womb, the retreat of the external world, or even evolution, as a house’s structure is transient. What does a house symbolize for A Lot Like Birds?
Cory Lockwood: A house is the summation of everything placed in the rooms, be it physical objects or emotions or the events that transpire inside of them, so if these are primarily positive, then the house is a positive entity and vice versa. In the same manner that feng shui is a way of describing the overall positive or negative feel of one room, there is a wider way to apply a similar concept to the whole. The house in No Place is almost entirely dark, with each room having witnessed everything from emotional and physical abuse to abandonment and suicide. In this respect, we personify the house and make it a malicious creature itself.
How challenging was the translation of your vision through words and the fusion to the instrumental composing?
The process was complex. There was a lot of back and forth between the lyrical theme of each song and the actual instrumental substance of it. There were times that the lyrics dictated the structure of the song, and times that the lyrics were born from the music. The important thing is that we all seemed to be on the same wavelength and were able to trust that our vision could be handed to any particular member, where they could add to it and pass it on without any compromise to the original idea.
At a symbolic level, buildings are a projection of the human psyche in an external environment. For example, stairs attribute the ascent and descent of travel, which the underlying meaning may be that one is traveling up and down in their consciousness to find their way. What room or structure stood out to you in the writing process?
It’s hard to choose. I’ve always been fascinated by three rooms that seem to exist in every household: the living room, the hallway, and the room with no purpose. My interest in the living room was very base; I found it odd, like I’m sure a lot of people do, that we rarely spend any time in the living room that has any life value. It seems to be a place to pause life, rather than live it, and just tune out for hours out of every day. The hallway interested me because it connected all of the rooms of a house but had no real feeling of its own. At best, pictures are hung on the wall and it becomes a strange museum to its owners of and for themselves. And lastly, there always seems to be one room in the house that has lost its purpose. I’ve seen abandoned offices, second living rooms, sewing rooms, etc. It’s almost as if these rooms become vestigial extensions of the house that never return to their intended status.
Your artwork for the past two records is very unique. I love how on the cover of No Place, the house is perfect, with one or two flaws, and the creatures living inside are ugly, distorted with pain or loss written across their faces. Was this a message that one may look charming on the outside, but the beasts inside will eventually tumble out?
It’s funny because even though that idea wasn’t overtly expressed in the lyrical content, our artist Bradley Edwards was still able to pull it from the lyrics and represent it on the cover. He’s incredibly talented and has always been able to perfectly translate our music visually.
Concept albums are very different from writing a standard record. As mentioned before with all of the symbolism, it takes a lot to even map out a story. That being said, how did you prepare for this and would you say it has been the biggest challenge for A Lot Like Birds so far?
It was definitely a massive undertaking for us, and even though we had laid out an extensive blueprint for all of the songs, I don’t think there was any way to really prepare ourselves for the creation of the album. Even in studio, we added another room that we felt needed to be represented (the bathroom). With a lot of what this band does, we tend to bite off more than we can chew initially… and then just relentlessly refuse to compromise and chew through anyways. There was easily a good two months where none of us were sleeping more than a couple hours a night, and we all took a heavy mental and emotional strain out of the process, but if anything, that anguish may have seeped into the album itself and been better for it.
Cory, you said in a recent interview “that a home is a dangerous and unwelcoming thing, and that it can be more possessive of us than we are of it.” What is interesting is that you said a home. A house is a possessive structure whereas a home is where one normally finds love, warmth, and security. Why is a home so dangerous in your perception?
For the most part, I treat the terms house and home interchangeably even though I know there’s an attributed affection to the idea of a home as opposed to a house. I’ve just seen so many people get eaten up by their homes once they’ve defined them as such. Once you allow yourself that amount of comfort with a location, you allow stagnation and indifference. I would rather look at a house as just what it is—a house—and not merit it more than its worth by calling it a home and giving it reason to keep me locked inside of it. You hear people talk all the time about how they “have to get out of the house” but also talk about how hard it is to “leave home.” It’s important to leave home because it’s important to separate yourself from the structure that shelters you and not let it become the thing you hide inside of.
“Kuroi Ledge” is where the character is drawn to a balcony for they feel “L’appel du vide” (the call of the void) to end his/her life. Yet, the album continues, and at the end of “Shaking of the Frame,” the house burns down, but seems to reassemble itself. Is this a translation that a person may leave a home, but there will always be a haunting structure looming in both memory and physical manifestation?
Yes. The house reconstructs itself at the end to take on more inhabitants, as the protagonist escapes. And to him/her, that house will always remain a haunted artifact, but to the next person, it may become a “home” again. I’ve always found this interesting, the way that a house is recycled by family after family, and even though terrible or wonderful things may take place in the timespan of each family’s residence, the slate is wiped clean (at least externally) for the next resident. That idea is what lends to stories of hauntings and curses and auras about a house, but I think it’s something we all try and ignore when it comes to our own homes.
For the song, “No Nurture,” we are drawn to the living room. This is a room where life is on pause and a human being becomes a drone to the television or other electronic entertainments in the room. This is without a doubt, the darkest song (lyrically) on the entire record with the relationship (or rather, lack thereof) with the narrator’s father. This song shows a common feeling of abandonment in an extremely uncommon way. What sparked the idea for this kind of presentation, and what kind of truths do you feel this song presents in modern-day families?
Broken families are more and more common nowadays, and I think we’ve been taught to just accept these as “non-traditional” families, but it’s unfair to the children involved. You can’t sweep abandonment issues under the rug and expect a child to just adapt without consequence. Rather than ignore it, I thought it might mean something to those children that have grown up in those circumstances to have a song to relate to. The lyrics are particularly harsh and over-the-line because I felt it was important for the listener to know that it’s natural to hate because of the situation they were placed in. We spend a lot of time telling people not to be so negative, but you have to get that negativity out of you in some way or another. Even if it means wishing terrible things on the person that abandoned you, it’s better than pretending everything’s just okay.
One of my personal favorites is the song “Hand Over Mouth, Over and Over” because of the complexity in the sense that a bedroom is where one can be physically intimate, yet it is a private room for arguments. There seems to be a conflict with emotional yearning with the violent nature of accepting separation, whether it is temporary or permanent. How did this song come together with such a dark theme melding with an intimate feeling?
Conversation Piece dealt a lot with relationships, so it wasn’t a subject we wanted to cover much in No Place, but it’s impossible to write the bedroom without it. So instead of the traditionally collaborative approach Kurt and I took with discussing a relationship in Conversation Piece, we each took a side of the coin and discussed it. Kurt had an extremely emotional side, discussing the pain of being apart from his wife. He talked to me for a long time about the paralyzing fear he would get when he thought of something happening to him or her while they were apart, and you can feel him express that fear in his voice. My side was to examine the way that an abusive relationship takes form from the perspective of the abuser. I wanted to try and imitate that transformation from lover to victimizer to understand it.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Alyssa Kromelis