Lightning Dust break down five songs from their new album, Spectre

Amber Webber and Josh Wells talk the making of their fourth record.

Lightning Dust Amber Webber Josh Wells Spectre album
Image: Lightning Dust

Today, Lightning Dust release Spectre, their fourth studio album. Teeming with varied sonic textures, dynamic arrangements and moody instrumentation, these 10 songs mark a leap forward for Amber Webber and Josh Wells, who left the band Black Mountain in 2016 to take Lightning Dust further.

As Wells tells Guitar.com, the duo produced and recorded Spectre themselves at The Balloon Factory, “our tiny studio in Vancouver”, and played most of the instruments on the album. But a closer look at the credits reveals the collaboration that made the record possible: Lightning Dust touring bandmates Matty Skillings and Colin Cowan contributed, as did notable guests like Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar. Dave Carswell (guitar), Peggy Lee (cello) and Meredith Bates (violin) round out the list of collaborators on Spectre.

Webber and Wells broke down five tracks from Spectre for Guitar.com, revealing how the songs Run Away and Joanna started life as compositions for other projects, how Malkmus came to guest on A Pretty Picture and much more.

Run Away

Amber Webber: It started out as a song I wrote for an all-lady punk band I started for about a half a second. It was way faster and straightforward initially: driving guitar throughout. The punk band died, but we dug the song so we kept it around.

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Josh had an idea to give it a little more of a Tom Petty/Fleetwood Mac-style arrangement, which settled it down and made for a better song, all in all. Lyrically it’s about not taking shit (whether it be a job you hate or a crummy relationship) and journeying on even when your brain’s not willing to cooperate and is trying to drag you down.

Led Astray

Josh Wells: This song had a grooviness to the acoustic guitar pattern that reminded me of mid-period Kinks, specifically the albums Lola Vs Powerman and Arthur. So I rolled with that and put it together with a slow, empty drumbeat and piano arrangement. I wanted it to start there, but then to go to another place – so I invented this cosmic synth interlude with a big lead on my Prophet 600.

Amber had initially mentioned Oasis when she was describing the song to me, so I threw in a big rock move for the final chorus: distorted RAT pedal guitar, roughly sync’d to the beat using an old Super Reverb and dialling the tremolo by hand to stay in time.

Joanna

Wells: We started playing this in the jam space together a good while back – unusual for us, as we typically just send demos back and forth. We did this one live with our bandmate Matty Skillings as an ambient synth piece for a drone show: Matty came up with a cool organ part which really made the chorus shine.

When we started recording this – it was the first song on the album that we laid down – I wanted it to seem very orchestral. So I worked up a drum part that was like a percussion section: a quiet tom riding along, a booming bass drum, and a heavy tom and snare track. It went well with Matty’s organ. I like how it ended up sounding a bit like a Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds song; it has that dark, gothic quality to it.

I also added this cyclical part at the end of the second chorus that I thought could be really effective to build into a super dramatic ending: real strings, piano, and dark metallic guitars crescendo and hang. Amber had an idea for a resolution, so we tagged on this shift to a major key that fades. I had fun with that: church organ and timpani (which were actually just some floor toms that I tuned as best I could).

A Pretty Picture

Webber: Josh and I met Stephen Malkmus while he was out in Vancouver recording the first version of what would later be David Berman’s Purple Mountains record. Stephen played guitar, Josh got hired to play drums, and I did some singing on the record. Stephen was out in Vancouver for a couple weeks, and we all became pals. Later that year when he came to town to perform with his band the Jicks, he offered to lay down some guitar on our record – and of course we took him up on it.

3am/100 Degrees

Webber: 3am was a song I had kicking around for years. I have terrible insomnia, and 3am became my insomniac mantra. I had around 20 different demo recordings of it, all with different lyrics except the beginning line: “Stay awake after 3am.” It wasn’t until summer 2018, when the city was embedded in forest fire smoke and there was an apocalyptic feeling that surrounded me, that 100 Degrees could be written.

I didn’t intend to write 100 Degrees as an end to 3am, but when we got into the studio and realized they were both in A, and lyrically made perfect sense, it felt like a magical gift! 3am is the storm and 100 Degrees is the hazy aftermath.

Spectre is out now via Western Vinyl. Next month, Lightning Dust will play three dates in British Columbia before touring Europe and the UK. Find tour dates here.

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