May 4 2011 01:35 PM

You might guess otherwise, but Lord Huron is not a metal band

Ben Schneider came up with his project’s name while recording songs in a cabin on Lake Huron in Michigan.
Photo by Graeme Flegenheimer

What’s in a name? A lot, apparently.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: If you make music and you’re sending a music editor your info, you have to understand that we get a lot of emails from bands and companies all touting the hottest thing since The Beatles. Writers and editors have their own ways of filtering the good from the bad and, as much as I hate to say this, when it comes to first impressions, a band’s name means a lot.

For example, if you have a name like All American Rejects or Cherish the Offering, I might assume (correctly, in this example) that you’re some kind of crappy screamo or eye-liner-wearing Hot Topic band whose music probably wouldn’t even appeal to me if I were a 15-year-old girl. And then I’d delete the email.

Sometimes this is a mistake. Such was the case with Lord Huron. When I heard their name, my first thought was, Oh, another epic metal band whose biggest musical contribution will be a killer black T-shirt that a hipster can wear ironically 20 years from now. Lord Huron: Let me guess—they sing about valkyries and dragon fire, right? Lord Huron: Likely all beards, black magic and brimstone. Delete.

“Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot of that, which I think is hilarious,” says Ben Schneider, the man behind the decidedly not-metal Lord Huron. “I think metal is pretty cool, but the name just came from when I started recording the songs in a cabin on Lake Huron in Michigan. It’s always been an important place to me, and I knew I wanted to incorporate that name. I just think adding the ‘Lord’ title adds an interesting layer to it.”

It wasn’t until I saw Lord Huron’s gorgeous video for “The Stranger” (off their second EP, Mighty) that I realized how unfairly dismissive I had been. Played entirely by Schneider, Lord Huron songs are a beautiful blend of harmonious lo-fi folk and Afro-Caribbean percussion, anchored by Schneider’s somnolent voice. Maybe if he had a name like Panda Bear or even Vampire Weekend, I’d have been more receptive, but Schneider points out that he’s trying to escape comparisons to those bands.

“I think people were starting to associate us with a beachy, sunny thing, and I wanted to get away from that with the video,” Schneider says, referring to the dark and snowy visuals. “I was going for that beachy, world sound early, but I was out of the loop and didn’t realize what a trend that has been lately. It might have bad connotations for some people. I think when people hear the term ‘world music,’ they get visions of white robes and rain sticks, but it’s a narrow way of looking at things.”

Schneider may have picked up these seemingly different styles in his travels. Now 26, he grew up in the little town of Okemos, Mich., and poked around in New York and Europe before he, as he puts it, “followed a girl” out to L.A. He and the girl have since split, but he decided to stay and has been there for six years.

After releasing Mighty late last year to glowing reviews, he convinced childhood pal Mark Barry to move to L.A. and play percussion. Lord Huron has since expanded to five full-time members, all of whom accompanied Schneider when he played a whopping 10 shows in four days at South by Southwest. While he’d like to maintain creative control in Lord Huron, Schneider says future releases will likely be recorded with the entire band. He even acknowledges that the newer material is a bit darker than previous songs and thinks that’s the direction the music is heading.

So, there may be valkyries and dragon fire yet?

“We’re trying to figure things out as we tour,” he says. “When we get back, I think we’ll all experiment, but, you never know. Things change day to day.”   

Lord Huron play at The Loft at UCSD on Wednesday, May 11.