Interview with John Lambert (Chequerboard)
No More Workhorse caught up with John Lambert, aka Chequerboard, ahead of his show in the National Concert Hall.
“Celebrated Dublin contemporary guitarist Chequerboard, John Lambert, continues the pattern of emerging every few years with new carefully crafted chapters to add to the Chequerboard story. He returns to launch his new work with the summer release of his new album ‘Souvenir’.”
Metronome: chequerboard – Thursday 13th April, 2023 – 8:30pm – The Studio
No More Workhorse: What got you into music in the first place?
John Lambert: We’re going back that far? I grew up in a very musical family. My mum was a singer and my aunt Anne Byrne was quite a well-known singer. There are still photos of them in O’Donoghue’s on the wall and also The Abbey Tavern out in Howth. The folk scene around Dublin at the time. So it very much runs on my mum’s side. I grew up with two brothers and we were all obsessed with music. Fairly standard, Beatles, Zeppelin, Hendrix, washing through our veins, but some oddities as well. Alan Parsons Project, that kind of stuff. We used to spend a lot of time drawing, listening in front of the fire together, listening to albums.
There were always guitars lying around because my mom used to play, so we all investigated the guitar in our own ways. My older brother was very much a Hendrix fan, so he got into the electric. My other brother was a Mike Oldfield fan, so he went down that route. I took a blend of lots of different things and tried to find my own way of playing. I latched onto the Spanish guitar. I loved the sound of it, and I became a little bit obsessed with the sound of the nylon string, so I’ve kept that throughout everything I’ve done. I haven’t veered away from that as a central core ‘voice’ in the music.
NMW: You’ve been doing solo albums for a couple of years, but before that, were you in bands?
JL: No, I never really got into a band. Not that I never wanted to. I did a few gigs with Si Schroeder’s Band years ago, and it was such a pleasure to play with other people and to have the full sound. It’s something I would love to explore more, but it’s just never really come together and I ended up falling into solo performance.
NMW: The last album was The Unfolding. What have you been up to since then?
JL: I started a family. I got married and all sorts of big life events. There are great big gaps between my output. I work very economically. The passion to do stuff is always there, but I do freelance graphic design as my job. I tried to piece together a home studio years ago and it just never really quite came together. So I found a more effective way of working where I work with my producer, Steve Shannon, and I write stuff. Then when it’s ready, I’ll go over and record in his studio in Crumlin, and then we might work for a week and do recordings, mostly of the instruments like the acoustic guitar, and do a basic recording of all the songs. Then I’ll kind of bring the stuff away and work at home when I get the chance to do rough mixes, and then we’ll book more time to go in and finish them off. But there might be six or eight months in between those times.
We started this album in 2016. Obviously, a pandemic is going to scupper those plans, it might have still taken four years, but it ended up taking, Jesus, it’s nearly ten years since The Unfolding! I don’t often work on music, so I just make sure when I do that, it’s stuff that I’m really interested in and I’m happy with.
NMW: Have you finished the new album?
JL: Yes, it’s finished nearly six months now. It finally got mastered last year and then I was trying to decide what to do with it. I’m putting it out myself in the summer, so I’m going to do a pre-order vinyl campaign shortly. I’ve been working with one of my old friends, an artist, on the cover. I decided to step back from the artwork this time, I thought it might be interesting to do that. I think early on, with the sort of blind passion of youth, it was this sort of idea of: ‘I have to do everything’ and that’s the way I’ve always worked. I thought it might be interesting to focus on the music this time and step away and see what somebody else could bring to the process. So I’ve been in a lovely new process with Robert Carr, and it’s been a real pleasure. He’s been doing some really interesting stuff. I’ll release Souvenir in mid-August.
NMW: You’re playing the National Concert Hall. Do you play many shows?
JL: No. In the past, I did too many, if anything. After Penny Black, I did endless support slots. The setup I have is quite slight and it was kind of comfortable to slot into a support role. So I got into the rhythm of that and I kind of exhausted that, I ended up doing festivals. It just didn’t really suit and it gets swamped. The sound is much more appropriate for intimate, quiet venues. With The Unfolding, I did a few gigs after that and then I slowly started winding down the amount of sets I was doing. I was playing the same set a lot and I was just a bit bored of it. But I have a whole new set now to do.
I bumped into Emmet Condon from Homebeat, who lives down in Kerry. He was up in Dublin, and we bumped into each other on The Luas. I told him I had a new album, and he asked me was I going to be doing any live shows, and I said I might if there was a good opportunity to do something. So he got in touch a week or two later inviting me to do this gig. So I thought, well if you’re going to do one, this is the one to do. I got in touch with a guitarist, Barry Halpin from Crash Ensemble, who’s going to fill in some of the guitar parts and Lioba Petrie and Mary Barnecutt are going to do cellos.
I relied a lot on the loop station in previous gigs and I’m sure it’s a position a lot of musicians probably find themselves in. You’re trying to get the balance of relying on that too much and you lose the live feel of just playing, with that. I’m going to be playing quite a bit of it live without the loop station, some with and then the guys will sort of fill in other parts of it so it should be interesting. Hopefully, it’ll work.
NMW: Do you still buy physical music?
JL: Yeah, absolutely. I’m kind of a late bloomer. With the way life went, I never really got to settle down or get a proper vinyl collection. But I did a couple of years ago, finally settled and got myself a good record player and started to get into vinyl properly. But then I got out of control in the last two years and I had to stop. I love vinyl. I often go to the vinyl fairs and do a bit of crate digging, and I’m glad to say that this album (Souvenir) is coming out in vinyl. It will be great to have it in a physical form.
Chequerboard plays The Studio at the National Concert Hall on April 13th
The interview has been edited for clarity.
Looking forward to hearing the new tunes