The origin story of Ellery James Roberts and Ebony Hoorn’s romantic and artistic partnership is too bloody to be a meet-cute. They first crossed paths in October 2012 at a party in the sketchy part of Manchester, where Roberts was living at the time. As Hoorn tells it: “I was just sitting in the kitchen watching a movie and Ellery came in, having just cut his wrist.” Roberts laughs. “Not on purpose,” he clarifies.
Turns out Roberts had just taken part in a fight that involved the other guy smashing a wine bottle across his arm. “It gave me a nice scar there that was a bit of a mess for a while,” Roberts says. It also led to him running into Hoorn, a Dutch artist with a background in photography and film, and starting a new project with her called LUH. Best known as the impossibly craggy voice behind short-lived indie rockers WU LYF, Roberts describes that first encounter with Hoorn in characteristically dramatic terms: “Suddenly all that was once so concrete fell to sand again.”
The 25-year-old singer seems partial to entropy; he warmly reflects on WU LYF as “always being in a state of free fall.” While that band’s lone album, 2011’s Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, was a fully realized work of cavernous, cathartic riffs and howls that made good on the feverish UK-mag hype, their litany of inscrutable proclamations, PR hijinks, incomprehensible lyrics, and combative live performances made them seem built to flame out in a flash. (And for those who always thought Roberts voice veered dangerously close to overwrought Scott Stapp territory, you’re not alone. “I hadn't listened to [Go Tell Fire to the Mountain] for 18 months and I was really surprised because the vocals are fucking brutal,” Roberts tells me. “It's ridiculous.”)
Following WU LYF’s dissolution in 2012, Roberts emerged the following year with the bombastic, Clams Casino-sampling “Kerou’s Lament” (later renamed “Lament”). He describes the solo record he was working on at the time as a caustic statement inspired by Death Grips and hefty political tomes—which probably explains why he decided to shelve it. “I basically got to a point where it was giving me no joy,” he says.
LUH: "Lament (V01/2013)"
Then, in 2014, while trying to figure the chorus of a new track with the working title “LUH Song #1,” Roberts enlisted Hoorn to sing it. Her lush tone offered a perfect complement to his inimitable growl, completely transforming the song. “That was a moment where the whole ‘thing’ of LUH started to become clear,” says Roberts, who put up that track, retitled “Unites,” on SoundCloud in the fall of that year.
LUH: "Unites (V01/2014)"
It’s around that time when I first spoke with Roberts and Hoorn via Skype. LUH stands for Lost Under Heaven, which sounds like a Young Adult Fiction novel title waiting to happen—you can instantly picture the film adaptation’s two star-crossed, gorgeous idealists fighting for their hopes and dreams against a world that is crumbling around them. Which pretty much sums up LUH in real life; when we connected, the strikingly attractive, young European couple were sitting in a Manchester flat that looked to be stuffed with books and art and little else.
At that point, near the end of 2014, LUH was in its free-form start-up phase: Hoorn and James were researching DIY and Kickstarter funding, dreaming of having their own label, and imagining expanding LUH to a seven-piece band that combined elements of Spiritualized and Fugazi. “We've got no money so we need assistance with the creative process,” Roberts admitted. To get by, Hoorn simultaneously tended bar and moved forward with her audio-visual degree as Roberts worked odd construction jobs for his father. They were staying with their friend in order to save up some money… to move back into the attic of Roberts’ childhood home, which is where they were living when they began recording their debut album last year.
The record, due out on Mute later this year, shows that their message has gotten much more loud and clear since those early demos, partly thanks to the deep, dark production of Bobby Krlic, aka the Haxan Cloak. LUH and Krlic became fast friends after a trial session and then decamped for two weeks to a cottage on Osea Island, off England’s southeastern coast, working 24/7 in a secluded studio. The producer and duo turn out to be a perfectly strange pairing, as they both have grand ambitions that go in equal and opposite directions; whereas Haxan Cloak made his name on plumbing the depths with unprecedented sub-bass, the LUH LP bursts through arena ceilings to let the heavens in, as heard on first single “I&I” as well as upgraded versions of “Lament” and “Unites.” Simply put, the whole thing sounds fucking colossal.