It is a startling voice that trickles through the phone from a county faraway when John Lambert picks up. Sounding like he’s constantly smiling, Lambert flits his way from stories of “chatting about my favourite Cocteau Twins album with Ulrich Schnauss” to explaining his affection for found sounds and organic musical composition without so much as an atomic particle of pretentiousness. Perhaps I should have expected Lambert to be such a humble character. His music reflects his personality to a tee: understated, eager and softly-spoken. His most recent album, Penny Black, was the product of two years of rough sketches, space and time, and one year of a location change to county Sligo, which Lambert cites as one of the major factors in the album’s sound. Famously an inspiration for W.B. Yeats, Sligo is not a new source of inspiration to aspiring artists. “It’s always interesting to wonder if it would have turned out differently if it had been made somewhere else”, Lambert ponders. “I had planned to have the album quite dramatic, to bring in the weather as a device, with lots of samples of rain and wind. We had a terrible summer here last year so it came right through the theme of the album. There’s a lot of samples of weather on the album, and it’s all Sligo weather. I would say it’s very much a product of its environment. The percussion you hear in the background was made using debris, like driftwood and pebbles, from Strandhill beach.”
For all the low key mood-changing and atmospheric beauty found in his musical output, Lambert’s visual artwork accompanying the Penny Black album is a more discordant, though equally impressive affair. As with his fondness for found sounds, he crafts his art with found images to create something not easily definable. He explains his artwork thus: “The visual stuff is toying around with formats. I like the idea that they’re one-offs, they can’t be reprinted. I wanted to explore that side of things. Format is all up in the air at the moment, it’s contentious, with everything being digitized.” He is equally as zealous when talking about his art influences as he is with his musical ones. He waxes lyrical about Stanley Donwood, Radiohead’s resident artist, and the seminal gothic novels of Mervyn Peake.
So which of his loves came first: the visual or the musical? “They’ve all been tumbling down the same hill I think! My cousin told me a story about when we were young and we’d be listening to albums in his house and I’d always be drawing at the same time. I don’t remember that at all, but apparently I’ve been doing it from an early age. I was very influenced by that, things you do when you’re young, poring over albums and their artwork, like Sgt. Pepper’s and all the little colours and details jump out at you”
It’s little touches like these that make Chequerboard, the disembodied crackly phone voice, the musician and the artist, more than an experimentalist poseur, and his creations all the more endearing for it.
Chequerboard has just embarked on a nationwide tour with Milosh, and currently curates Relay, a dialogue between sound artists for the Model Niland Gallery.
Words by Daniel Gray
Images by Fiona Morgan