It was about six years ago when Laney Sullivan, 28, and her boyfriend Jameson Price, 30, sold all their possessions, cancelled the lease on their Richmond, Va., apartment, and took off to work on organic farms in South America. When it started to get cold and the farm work turned brutal they worked in youth hostels. Sullivan had brought an accordion, and Price had his guitar.
“We had written a bunch of songs while we were traveling, and we wanted to record them. So when we came back to Richmond we recorded an album,” Laney says. And that was the beginning of the band Lobo Marino. But if that origin story isn’t compelling enough, here’s how they got their name: While in South America they ran into a giant Pacific sea lion known in the region as el lobo marino. The animal growled, a deep, low rumbling sound, and, with that, the sea creature became their spirit guide.
The couple has been producing its brand of halcyon, experimental folk music since that trip, and several other excursions around the globe have served as further inspiration. Their fourth album, Fields
, came out last October. It’s a concept album produced almost entirely with a handheld field recording device that looks kind of like an electric shaver. Half the songs were derived from sound samples they picked up on the road, and the other half came from spontaneous improvisations inspired by their surroundings.
For “Call to Prayer,” Price recorded a town full of people in several Moroccan mosques praying. It creates an eerie, chanting backdrop against the tune’s jangling, hypnotic guitar strums. A group of sea lions on the California coast bark back at the deep, droning vocals on “Berth Song.”
Laney describes herself and Price a ethnomusicologists.
“We go to other countries and then sort of channel what we’re experiencing musically and culturally into our own music,” she says. “That’s [how] we did all of our compilations for Fields
. We traveled to Puerto Rico and Spain and Morocco and all around the States playing with Lobo Marino, and I got a harmonium and we started to play more tribal folk music that was more meditative and trying to have a transcendent experience with the music — and trying to have intention in our lyrics that we’re trying to bring up some level of consciousness. We were trying to be more overt about writing songs about the kind of change we wanted to see in the world, like ending war and healing the Earth and things like that.”
The result: Fields
is a free-spirited, tranquil-moods-type soundscape that really evades any specific kind of label.
Back in Richmond, Sullivan and Price are show-promoters who work in the DIY music scene, one that’s been taking off in the post-industrial city, which is going through something of a cultural Renaissance. The band is probably most popular in the Richmond scene for their 2012 album Kite Festival
. That album tends to give a better indication of how the band’s live performance sounds. Sullivan plays an Indian pump organ and Price uses a mouth harp, marching drum and tin pot while sitting on a stool with bells attached to his feet.
Recently, the two just got back from India where they were further inspired. “Our next album that we’re putting out is going to be more chanty and using more of that Hindu influence, but its’ still going to be pretty experimental,” Sullivan says.