"When I write music, I can't just pick up my guitar by myself and play something," says Zachary Devereux Fairbrother. "I want to experiment with the whole group."
Collaboration was not always the rule for the 24-year-old singer and guitarist of Lantern, a blues-garage power trio new to Philadelphia. In his previous band, Montreal acid rock outfit Omon Ra II, Fairbrother called the shots and his fellow musicians played along. Moving to Philadelphia last year with Emily Robb (Omon Ra's bassist, as well as his girlfriend), the songwriter found out he much preferred sharing the load.
It's a Wednesday evening and we're sitting on the roof of the Fishtown warehouse where Lantern lives, basking in the glow of the Berks El stop as dusk descends. The building is populated by artists and fellow musicians, from Bardo Pond to former members of The Armchairs, and the band feeds off the prevailing creative fertility.
Robb's sister used to live here, too; her tip brought Robb and Fairbrother to town in 2010, as they were looking to turn their recording project into a live band. Soon after arriving, they met Sophie White at a show by her old punk band, bunnyrat. One badass drum solo later, she was in Lantern.
"I kind of wanted to expand my musical vocabulary," White recalls. "So I jammed with them and I immediately loved it."
The band rehearses twice a week at their practice space a few blocks north. Things usually kick off with an open-ended jam. Later, the best parts are revisited. Lately, Robb says, there's been a total Germs vibe, where White opens on a pounding rhythm and the band follows, fast and hard.
The Stranger I Come. Stranger I Leave cassette EP, released this summer on Night People Records, is a direct offshoot of these jams. In contrast, Lantern's debut, Deliver Me From Nowhere (Electric Voice), was recorded piecemeal, when Fairbrother was still living in Montreal and Robb had returned briefly to Connecticut. Sparse and minimal, it shows a different side to the band — particularly the epic "In the Night Alone," which builds from a rattling take on '50s pop into ambient rain sounds and drone (caused by time-stretching a Beethoven string quartet piece). The EP is where Fairbrother first oriented himself toward blues.
But the blues music Lantern jams on is "kind of old, kind of dark and of a very specific time period," Fairbrother explains. "I was reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy, and kind of like heavy literature dealing with these very vast concepts on existence. Listening to blues music, it's very old, but I found it interesting that it spoke to me. It transcended time in some way. I think that music will always be relevant in some sense."
Dan Svizeny of experimental Lambertville act Cough Cool admires the band's vision — through him, Lantern has a release lined up this fall on Asheville, N.C., label Bathetic Records. Svizeny and Fairbrother met online and have collaborated on their respective projects. "Zach is a super-talented guy, he gets music and has serious knowledge and chops," Svizeny says. "I really dig no-bullshit rock, and Lantern really nails that vibe."
The cassette is coming out later this fall, while Lantern is on its first U.S. tour. Before then, the band has a 7" release/tour kickoff party at Silk City on Sept. 28, and a gig backing up old Canada friends Dirty Beaches at Making Time on Sept. 30. Its plans beyond are even more ambitious: Fairbrother says he wants to have both a Lantern full-length and a Willie Dixon covers album done by next year.
"It's weird," he says. "I want to do something acoustic, too. I've been trying lately to write that way. But it doesn't feel natural to not do it with the band. Which is a good feeling."