From the instrumental psychedelic music they play to the shows they host at their house, Richmonders Lucy In Battle Armor bring a sincere, positive spirit to everything they do.
If you’ve never been to the house venue Lucy Lane, the best way to describe it is homey. The basement, where the stage is located and shows are performed, is lit by multicolored lights, and the size of the space is large enough to fit in a good crowd, but small enough to feel cozy. It’s not a very different feeling from the basement hangout areas in which I spent my adolescent years hanging with friends.
The band that runs the venue, Lucy in Battle Armor, makes sure that everyone who comes to their shows, including performers, feels right at home. When I met with them before their band practice at Lucy Lane, they invited me to sit at an L-shaped couch. The band sat around me, relaxed in their space, and I could tell that while Lucy Lane was meant to feel like home for those who visit, it didn’t just feel like home for the band. It was home for them. Lucy in Battle Armor quickly proved they were more than just any Richmond house band. They were a family.
Lucy in Battle Armor came together as a band over time. The original members met when they were all working at a Chili’s years ago. After they stopped working together they briefly went their separate ways before rejoining together as a band. Guitarist David Bowman and drummer Andrew Smith began writing music together. Andrew Westbrook was a member of a couple different bands for a while, then eventually joined Bowman and Smith as their bassist. Synth player Brittany Thompson joined the band later.
“I actually used to just come by, hang out and draw pictures, and drink wine,” Thompson said. “And I actually joined by fluke, because they had tried a few different synth options, as far as people and actual instruments. I started playing one night and we didn’t really stop, and they didn’t kick me out.”
By the end of 2011, Lucy in Battle Armor was a full band. Eight years later, they are finally releasing their debut album, with a release show at The Camel on Sunday, December 15. Recording for the LP, entitled Sporadic Organic Panoramic Hammock Epidemics, initially began two years ago and was just recently completed.
The band members’ personal lives were some of the reasons why it took so long. But the main reason for the delay for the album was that, while Lucy in Battle Armor performs as a band, they also regularly host house shows at their home/venue, Lucy Lane.
“[Lucy Lane] is where we recorded our album, in this room,” Bowman said. “So everything that we do as a band gets put on hold when we’re hosting shows. The focus has always been: we get in town, we do our thing. We have our show. We make sure the touring band makes a little something for their troubles, and that’s always been the priority. Unfortunately, what that meant for us as a band is that everything takes forever.”
Lucy in Battle Armor is an all-instrumental band that performs self-described “groove-gaze” music.
“We’re shoegaze, but with grooves,” Bowman said. “We’re not My Bloody Valentine. We’re not George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. We’re there somewhere in the middle.”
This genre of music stood out in the Richmond music scene when the band first began. At the time, Richmond was saturated in metal bands, and they were bringing to the scene a new, groovy psychedelic sound.
“We felt, more so then than now, as outcasts playing shows, because we would be put on all-metal, punk, hardcore, math-rock show bills,” Bowman said. “It worked in our favor, and I think it allowed us to stand out a little bit at the time.”
Lucy in Battle Armor has also chosen not to have a vocalist. The band had experimented before with vocalists, and had a couple perform in some of their shows. However, as they kept playing, they began to realize that vocals hindered rather than helped them produce authentic music.
“I feel like, once you read lyrics, it kind of bottlenecks what the artist meant for that song,” Westbrook said. “Instrumental doesn’t have that bottleneck. You can have those interpretations yourself.”
Listeners that know Lucy in Battle Armor will be familiar with the tracks on the LP, as they are songs the band has been performing for years now. However, they did hint that new songs were in the works, and that they hoped to get a follow-up EP out in the near future.
Recorded at Lucy Lane, the tracks for the LP were recorded live, in order to capture the authentic feeling of the performance in a space where the entire band was comfortable and knew how their songs would sound. For that reason, Lucy Lane can almost be viewed as the fifth instrument in the band.
You can hear it when you listen to the LP. While the quality of the sound is great, it isn’t too polished, like it might be in a professional studio. Instead, there is a slight roughness to it, and that roughness gives the LP the exact character the band itself has, perfectly encapsulating their close relationship with their home venue.
The band established Lucy Lane two years after their initial formation. Over time, it has become an established venue in Richmond for touring groups, and the band does the best they can to accommodate them. With a multi-year history of shows under their belt, Lucy Lane is a permanent fixture in the Richmond scene, especially compared to most other house show venues in the city, many of which are merely temporary spaces that last a matter of months, or less. The band devotes significant portions of their time to maintaining the space, and ensuring that it can carry on for years into the future.
One advantage Lucy Lane has over many other house venues in the city is its location in a more isolated part of the Richmond area, allowing them to host shows with less stress and more freedom. They don’t have close neighbors, so they don’t have to worry about noise concerns or city ordinances. They also have more space for parking, making it easier for both touring bands and showgoers.
The band also works to make sure that lesser-known bands get opportunities to play at Lucy Lane, in order to help get them out there. To the band, house shows are low pressure, low expectation environments — perfect opportunities both for rookie musicians to get exposure and also for musicians in general to cut loose and experiment more with their craft.
Touring bands that visit Lucy Lane to perform are given a private bunk room to store personal belongings and to sleep in after the show. They also have access to full bathroom facilities, including showers — a luxury underground touring bands don’t take for granted. In the morning, someone from the band will cook breakfast for them before they get back on the road.
“They don’t have to worry about things walking off anywhere,” said Miranda Jaroneski, who manages the band and the Lucy Lane venue. “Strictly the touring band, and only one of us, will go in there, so they have a safe space to call their own while playing a big show. It would be important to me if I’m staying at someone else’s house to feel safe and protected, and have my own little area.”
For showgoers, the band tries to make Lucy Lane a place where they can come to truly experience music, not just go to a social event. The location helps, since in most cases showgoers have to drive themselves. This means that most show up sober, compared to other house shows in the heart of the city, where people can drink ahead of time and then walk over.
“The people that come here are kind of going out of their way,” Smith said. “And they’re coming here because they want to see music. We have shows where you can party, but it’s not a party where bands are playing. We don’t really have any strong opinions on what anybody does, as long as they’re respectful of everybody that’s here and they can maintain themselves.”
The band is considering ways to expand Lucy Lane. One day, they’re hoping to be able to have more than one stage at a time, so multiple bands can play at once in a festival atmosphere. However, their main ideas and goals, both as a band and as venue hosts, remain the same.
“The values of the venue are coherent with the values of the band,” said Jaroneski. “Community, hospitality, and overall, just having a great old time and bringing people together.”
Lucy In Battle Armor’s record release show for Sporadic Organic Panoramic Hammock Epidemics, featuring special guests JJ Speaks, Retrosphere, and Kristeva, will take place on Sunday, December 15 at The Camel, located at 1621 W. Broad St. Doors open at 7 PM. Tickets are $5 in advance, $8 at the door, and can be purchased online at Eventbrite.
Top Photo by Miranda Jaroneski
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