“So there’s this guy from The Cure and this guy from the Banshees. What kind of record are they gonna make? Well, it doesn’t sound like that.” Lol Tolhurst is talking to Uncut about Los Angeles, the album that the former Cure drummer and keyboardist has made with fellow percussionist Budgie, producer Jacknife Lee and a host of guest stars, resulting in one of the most curious, eclectic and frequently fascinating records of 2023.
Lol Tolhurst x Budgie x Jacknife Lee has its origins in a symposium of post-punk sticksmen in December 2018. Budgie was in LA playing with John Grant when Tolhurst met him for lunch, along with Bauhaus drummer Kevin Haskins, and the trio resolved to write together. “We have this maxim: all drummers are friends,” says Tolhurst. However, after a few recording sessions, Haskins departed the project as “Bauhaus were calling”, and they felt momentum stall.
“It kind of sounded like we used to sound,” Budgie explains, joining a Zoom call from his home in Berlin, “and that wasn’t what we wanted. We needed to find somebody else that understood, to help us make some progress.”
Tolhurst knew producer Jacknife Lee, and when the pair visited the Irishman’s Topanga Canyon home studio they found “a really extensive library of vinyl,” enthuses Tolhurst. “We’d go out there every day, and we’d sit and listen to records. Then we said, ‘OK, we’re gonna make music like we did when we were teenagers, sit in a room together, what you got?’”
“We’d be like, ‘What happens when we put this alongside that loop we had?’ explains Budgie. “I can only liken it to fun times in the Banshees when we’d have a weekend to run with germs of ideas to see where they took us. [At first] we thought we were making an instrumental album, but then Covid happened.”
The trio were left with time on their hands. “We were like, ‘What else can we do?’” Tolhurst recalls. “OK, let’s try some vocalists.” Budgie had met LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy on the festival circuit with Grant (“he always had the best coffee machine”) and also mentioned their plans to Bobby Gillespie, “in one of the few sober conversations we’ve had!” As a result, the latter’s unmistakable tripped-out tones can be heard on three tracks, including the psychedelic, gospel choir-enhanced “This Is What It Is (To Be Free)”, while Murphy adds considerable laconic character to “Los Angeles”, which would turn out to be the title track. Lee persuaded fellow Dubliner The Edge to contribute some guitar, which is sprayed across the urgent techno aerobatics of “Noche Oscura” and the soundtrack atmospherics of “Train With No Station”.
However, the less starry turns on Los Angeles are among the most arresting: the combination of Mary Lattimore’s haunting harp and Lonnie Holley’s gutsy growl turn “Bodies” into a captivating affair, and Pan Amsterdam’s Leron Thomas lends a Gil Scott-Heron feel to the brooding soundscapes of “Travel Channel”.
It remains to be seen how easy it will be to get all these people involved if mooted plans for live shows continue to take shape. “It’s going to take an act of God to get a lot of these people on stage at the same time,” admits Tolhurst, though Lee has reminded his bandmates that they will need to be front-and-centre. As Budgie explains, “Jacknife said to us, ‘It’s about you guys reclaiming your part in the story.’”
Los Angeles is released on November 3 via Play It Again Sam