At the beginning of this month we were able to talk to Lach — the man Time Out London has called “New York’s living legend.” He’s the founder of the Antifolk movement and a mentor to Beck, Regina Spektor, Laura Marling and more. Besides being a fantastic musician and writer, Lach is constantly producing paintings, photos, and cartoons as a part of his art.
We talked about the early days in New York, his move to the UK, Antifolk, the future of the music business, and transcendent enlightenment.
Interview with Lach
August 4th, 2018
The New LoFi: Where did your artist name of Lach come from?
William Blake > Aldous Huxley > Jim Morrison…figure it out ;-)
TNLF: I love a riddle. On your Facebook page, your name is listed as Steve Rogers (aka Captain America). Is that just a coincidence or a clever reference to a Marvel character?
Lach: The Steve Rogers alias is a nod to the good Captain.
TNLF: Why an alias? Your writing has a certain truth to it (as does a lot of good Folk music). That said, it does seem quite common that Folk artists will have an alias for one reason or another (most famously Robert Zimmerman). For a genre of music that seeks to get to the truth in a very simple and humble way, why do the musicians involved use an alias that covers the truth of their names?
Lach: In a sense, a self-chosen name is more truthful than a given one. The answer is in the riddle I gave you. Another clue…transcendent enlightenment always involves ego-death where the hypnotized filters in the mind are shattered.
As for why my personal page on Facebook is an alias, it is simply because Facebook won’t allow me to have a four-letter word as my personal page so, I went with a name representing freedom. Also, Stan Lee is the man!
TNLF: You are widely accepted as the man who coined the term “Antifolk” — how did you come around to calling it that? Did you know you were starting a movement at the time?
Lach: Walking down dusky Delancey Street on NYC’s Lower East Side with my cohorts Kirk Kelly and Cindy Lee Berryhill, we were conversing about the ill-treatment we were getting from the West Village scene, about how so-called ‘Folk Music’ had strayed from traditional, indigenous songs to boring, basically white college-kid, singer-songwriter pablum. We were charged up on Punk and coffee, and I had just abandoned the ‘Folk’ clubs and started my own after-hours joint, The Fort, on Rivington Street. Folk City announced their Folk Festival and I said, “Well, if they’re Folk, then I’m Antifolk.” Cindy said there was a venue in LA called the Anticlub and that solidified the idea that something was in the air and we could make a go of this.
And yes, we felt we were standing on a cultural fissure and that an earthquake, or movement as you call it, was possible.
TNLF: So for you is Antifolk a reaction to how vanilla and stale Folk music started to become in the 80s. Is it a way of getting back to the roots of American Folk music (ie early Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Dave Van Ronk, etc), or is anti-folk something completely new?
Lach: Both. Phil Ochs was probably a bigger confirmation (not influence) for us than early Dylan, and Dave Van Ronk wasn’t an influence in any way. We never thought in terms of being influenced by anyone, because we were going for new territory, but we felt vibrations of commonality with folks like The Clash, Jack Kerouac and Woody Guthrie. Two albums that let us know we weren’t alone were the first Violent Femmes album and Bruce’s Nebraska. Antifolk (no hyphen, hyphens are reactionary and Antifolk isn’t reactionary, it’s responsive) is always new.
TNLF: You’re originally from New York. But you moved to the UK a few years ago. What was your draw to the UK?
Lach: I was born in Brooklyn and lived most of my life on the Lower East Side and the East Village. I moved to Edinburgh about seven years ago. I was called by coincidence, camraderie and adventure to make the move.
TNLF: Is there a danger of Antifolk getting to big and popular and turning into what it’s railing against?
Lach: I’d say it already got big with artists like Beck and Regina Spektor, and I wouldn’t define Antifolk as “railing against” things as it’s reason for being. Sometimes we actually embrace stuff! Antifolk has always understood that a truth scapel is one of its most important tools, so as long as artists continue to employ it, than they can remain Anti. That and the intangibles of the scene. When I first started things up at The Fort, I cast the I Ching about it and got the symbol of ‘The Well’. The idea that fresh water must always come in or things would get stagnant, and that’s always been a driving principle ever since. That’s why The Antihoot played such a vital role in the history of the scene.
TNLF: People are intrigued with your new way of distributing music. Sponsoring an artist like yourself frees you up to create. It also keeps the art form pure from record labels, brands and managers from pushing your craft into places you don’t feel inspired to go. In an ideal world I think this is how all music should be created and you are pioneering how that might work.
Do you think there is a way of scaling this method of creating and distributing music (and all types of art for that matter)?
Lach: Look, most perps who call themselves ‘Indie’ are so because no major label wants to sign them. If I had a choice between the label system of the 60’s and the so-called freedom of the internet system of today, I’d go for the old label system every time. That system gave us Sinatra, The Stones, The Dead, Henrdrix, The Clash, Joni Mitchell, and on and on. There was curation, support, a system of delivery. Why denigrate that? There is no way Dylan would have been Dylan without Grossman and Columbia behind him. Where is an artist to get that support today? What has Spotify and iTunes given us? Ten million bands that will never have an impact on anything. And so, the major labels were destroyed by the digital theft age, which has ripped off artists way more than lousy contracts ever did. And we’re left with major labels that have been stuck doling out crap for the last ten years, because that’s all they have left to hold onto. How can they sign a niche brilliant artist and take three albums to build their following when everything will be torrented anyway?
So, what’s left? For me, at this moment in time, my Bandcamp Fan Club (www.lach.bandcamp.com) provides the best solution. A direct artist to fan subscription method. Bandcamp allows me to set my own prices and I can deliver anything that’s digital, so music, of course, but also pdf’s of artwork, my writings, photos, cartoons. Folks who join the club get instant access to download and/or stream my back catalog of albums and singles in all formats from highest quality FLAC files to easy MP3s, complete with high quality 300 DPI PDFs of the original artwork. In addition to that, I release a new single and cartoon every fortnight exclusively to the club members. The members are also invited to join my VIP FaceBook community and, as if that all wasn’t enough, everyone gets sent a Fan Club fridge magnet! That’s all for less than 50p a week to become a member! There are other levels perps can join at that include extra goodies like personalized songs and artwork. But, even more importantly, fans once again feel a direct connection to an artist they love, they know that any work I subsequently produce, they have had a hand it making that happen! It’s brought warmth to what, over the last decade, had turned into an algorythmically-driven cold enviorment. It inspires me to keep creating and I am so grateful to everyone who has signed up.
TNLF: It’s a brilliant club. And I agree, the internet system, the “digital theft age” …it has broken that intimate connection between artist and fan. Your fan club is the first step toward making that connection again.
Do you think that the live show — a place where the internet doesn’t have as much influence, a place where the artist can create an intimate realtime connection with its audience — could be another part of the solution? Can the answer be found in live performance and abandoning the internet?
Lach: The live show is vital. It’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s where the misfits come out of their individual cocoons to realize that they’re in a room of like-minded butterflies. The power of that is incandescent. Unfortunately, touring has become harder and harder as local clubs are getting wiped out and many club owners/promoters don’t get how building an artistic community over years will beat out going for the quick trends every time. I’m starting to explore the “living room” tour idea. My friend, the incredibly talented Hamell on Trial, is really pushing me to do it.
TNLF: Now that you have an outside perspective of the US…..WTF is going on with America? Will Trump get elected again? Is America doomed?
Lach: Countries are illusions. I’ve a few songs that relate to this on the Bandcamp site that I’d direct you to: “Former President Trump,” “I Love America (But She Don’t Love Me),” “Doomed From The Start,” “Positions of Power” and “The Good Life” are the first to come to mind. And for the solution, “Antenna.”
TNLF: What are the artists you are listening to / inspired by right now?
Lach: “Right now” is very specific. While doing this interview I’ve had John Coltrane in the background. In a more expansive sense, I’ve been reading a biography of Bing Crosby and have been ear-deep in listening to his work. The only artist from a major perspective that’s grabbed my attention this year is Margo Price. I think she’s something quite special. Otherwise, as always, it’s the local artists that I see live at the open stages and small pub gigs, and that would also include the comedy clubs and poetry scenes.
TNLF: You’ve been touring the UK, you have a program on a radio show, and there are rumours of a new studio album. What’s next for Lach?
Lach: Well, after finishing this interview, I’m thinking breakfast and walk in the park with the dog. The current projects I’m working on include the fortnightly single and cartoon releases to the clubbers, a memoir and an adventure novel both in the final editing stages, I’m compiling my cartoons to release as a book, I’m editing my second book of poetry as well. The first one, The Thin Book of Poems, is now in it’s second printing. But from the whirlwind currently spinning around my studio that is Hollywood, my English springer spaniel, I’d say the walk in the park is the priority!
To learn more about Lach, head over to his Bandcamp page. To give him love on his social channels, take a walk over to his Facebook / Twitter page. If that’s not enough to quench your appetite for Antifolk, check out the Antifolk Documentary. Or just get personal at Lach’s Personal Page