Update 1/2/18: Ritchie Young plays a series of free shows this week in a residency at Al’s Den in downtown Portland.
One thing we love about the Portland band Loch Lomond is that, ever since Ritchie Young started it 13 years ago, it has operated as a revolving collective of musicians, depending on who’s available to tour and record. That means that every time they release a new album, they have to update the count. With “Pens from Spain,” out this month on Hush Records, it has grown to a whopping 75 musicians.
“It is really a big, rotating family,” says Young — a fact reflected in the refrain of the title track: “Friends are the new family.”
Pens from Spain is the band’s first US album in five years (although they released Dresses in Europe in 2013). Reflecting the band’s life on the road, the song list reads like a travelogue: “Holland,” “Seattle Denver Arms,” “Listen Lisbon,” “From Here to Holland.”
“It comes from traveling a little bit and kind of dreams I had about traveling,” says Young. “’From ‘Here to Iceland,’ I was watching a [Ernest] Shackleton documentary, and he was writing in his journal, and it felt like in a weird way, he was flying a kite with his wife on the other end. ‘Holland’ was recorded in a little church in Holland, and just the rest of it was recorded in a sweaty attic space in Portland and the coast.”
That Seattle, Denver and Idaho figure into the songs and the band’s touring schedule is a recent development. Young famously announced in 2012 that the band would no longer tour the United States, citing burn out and the fact that touring was more financially sustainable in Europe. But then, last fall, they did a West Coast tour with the Scottish band The Vaselines. “And every show I felt overwhelmed with emotion and joy,” says Young. “My friends made a lot of fun of me, that I decided that I was no longer going to play the United States, and I do regret saying that. But I have found joy in something that I had lost joy in, and I found more joy than ever.”
More than any past album, Pens from Spain was a group collaboration, particularly between Young, Jesse Donaldson, and Brooke Parrott. The album’s lush orchestrations reintroduce some of the electronic sounds Young and the gang have played with over the years, ranging from the atmospheric morse code of “From Here to Iceland” to the poppy drum machine beats of “Be Mine & Be Kind.”
“We try to go from whisper quiet, and then, as soon as you have them there, to build it back up and try to give people a sense of intensity,” says Young. “If it’s intense all the time or quiet all the time, I feel like it’s like looking at a checker board, it just all becomes the same.”