Mont Royal, out 8/28/15 via Roll Call Records
Michael LoPresti – vocals, guitar
Matthew LoPresti – drums
Mark Porostosky, Jr. – mandolin, keys, synths
Ryan Walker – bass, synths
The Lighthouse and the Whaler hail from Cleveland, Ohio, a city infused with entrepreneurial spirit. It’s the birthplace of Superman, where a chocolate maker dreamt up LifeSavers candy, and the place responsible for the invention of alkaline batteries and golf balls. It’s no wonder, then, that the members of the band — Michael LoPresti, Matthew LoPresti, Mark Porostosky Jr., and Ryan Walker — have embraced their hometown’s DIY spirit and taken it to heart. Since self-releasing their first two albums (2009’s The Lighthouse and the Whaler, 2012’s This Is An Adventure), the band has made a name for itself internationally, moving from coffee shop tours to renowned venues. In the process, The Lighthouse and the Whaler has grown from a folk-leaning group into a fully-realized band that blurs genres and continues to reinvent. The results of this tireless pavement-pounding and soul-searching speak for themselves: millions of streams for the then-unsigned band’s songs “Pioneers” and “Venice,” and tours with artists like Ra Ra Riot, Matt Pond PA, and Jukebox The Ghost.
This momentum continues with Mont Royal, The Lighthouse and the Whaler’s debut album for Roll Call Records (Typhoon, Geographer, ON AN ON). Building on the promise of 2014’s “Venice” remix EP, the album is burnished by atmospheric electronic shimmers, from the plush synth trills of “In the Open” to the wistful-sounding, ’80s alt-pop keyboards throughout “Senses.” However, Mont Royal is also marked by spacious arrangements and meticulous instrumentation, from the insistent electric guitars piercing “Under” to the graceful string melody leaping through “We Aren’t Who We Thought We Were.” This range proves The Lighthouse and the Whaler aren’t easily pigeonholed, particularly given the inspirations they’ve found in M83’s cinematic soundscapes, the crisp pop of Vampire Weekend, the percussive harmonics of Local Natives, Broken Social Scene’s sonic adventurousness, and the taut Britpop pogos of Two Door Cinema Club.
Michael wrote the bulk of Mont Royal‘s lyrics in the summer of 2014 while on vacation with his family. He describes idyllic scenes–a big house in Maine overlooking the water, writing music on an acoustic guitar on the porch at sunset–that led him to uncharted introspective territory. Lyrically, Mont Royal‘s songs are all about coming face-to-face with uncertainty, dealing with moments that threaten to upend lives: the emergence of adulthood, the possibility of success, the potential for failure or personal loss, and past emotional scars. These tunes always yearn for the silver lining, however, and its protagonists fight to come out ahead: Witness the chorus of gang vocals at the end of “In Motion” gleefully shouting “I’m okay!” or the ornate violin flitting along with the howling proclamation of “I Want to Feel Alive.”
“For me, the record was really about understanding who I am–and who I’m not– as a person and being able to differentiate between the two,” Michael LoPresti says. “I felt like my life was heading toward this new chapter, but I didn’t really know what that was going to entail, and so I was taking every opportunity to do whatever I felt like I was being moved to do.”
Recording Mont Royal only reinforced this sense that The Lighthouse and the Whaler were on the verge of something big. The band spent six weeks in Montreal fleshing out these songs with producer and engineer Marcus Paquin (Arcade Fire, Stars, Local Natives). “It’s in our spirit, as people in this band, to push the boundaries of who we are,” says Michael. “We had played a lot in the U.S. over the past five years and when an opportunity came to go abroad to record this new record, it felt natural to take that step. There is a whole new level of inspiration that comes from being outside where you’re comfortable, it was the turning of a page for us.”
The Lighthouse and the Whaler also thrived in the studio thanks to Paquin’s generous musical knowledge and affable demeanor. “Marcus was amazing at being able to get his opinion across and be strong with what he thought would be good for any moment in a song,” says Matthew, who is also Michael’s brother. “He also, however, realized his role as the producer was not to get his way, but was to force us to think outside our bubble of writing.” Adds Ryan: “The motto in the studio was ‘no stress.’ He was very laid-back and wanted us to feel at home so that we knew we were in control and doing something important.”
When not in the studio, the band soaked up Montreal’s culture: sharing an apartment downtown, learning French, and exploring its restaurants. The entire experience and environment was so profound that, at the suggestion of Mark, they decided to title the record after the street on which they lived (which also happens to be the name of Montreal’s namesake mini-mountain).
“We had this connection with the place, and we had this connection with what the album was about, and what that meant to us as a band and as people,” Michael explains. “We were going into this unknown place as a band, really feeling that we were going to turn a corner, but you don’t really know if it’s going to happen or not. You just have this inkling and feeling inside of you. It was just very serendipitous, very in-the-moment.”
In Mark’s eyes, naming the album Mont Royal was a symbol of how the Lighthouse and the Whaler grew as musicians and as people. “We’ve finally figured out our roles, our places,” he says. “When you’re first starting out in a band, everyone wants to do everything, and the more you work together, you find each of you has a place. For us, it just took time.” Adds Matthew: “I felt like we finally hit a sweet spot in writing where we all figured out what we needed to be and kind of morphed into songwriters individually to make our music come to life as a band. I think that is a testament to the maturity of each one of the guys in our band, to be able to adapt like that.”
Of course, for the ever-striving members of The Lighthouse and the Whaler, settling into roles doesn’t mean they’re resorting to routine or resting on their laurels. And maturity doesn’t preclude having fun–as anyone who has seen Ryan’s stand-up comedy on certain tour dates can attest — the band is no stuffy indie-rock troupe. What they are, however, is a group ready for whatever’s thrown at them–including (and especially) bigger audiences and even more success.
“There’s been times where we’ve played to a bartender with no people in the room. One night we slept outside and on top of the van at a Walmart in Montana because there was absolutely no room to lay down in our packed little minivan – and in the middle of the night the sprinklers popped up and started spraying a couple of guys who were sleeping,” Michael recalls with a laugh. “There were hard times along the way, but those things have built character and, if nothing else, have helped us to appreciate where we are now and the things that we’ve accomplished.”