Louis explains the birth of An Unknown Spring:
"Even when we were still finishing The Wonder Of It All, I was starting to write down ideas for what I knew would be a completely different record, which would be a departure from my usual ‘style’ – my Brill Building ethos, if you will. Songs that would be part pop-songs, part lieder in their structure… more linear, with a different feel for form, more adventurous - because that was how the melodies were already taking shape in my head. So, for two years, I built up a number of songs on paper – about thirty in total, though it could be more than that.
But I needed a catalyst to kick off the recording process, and that proved to be my work as a string arranger for The Clientele – for their new record, God Save The Clientele, which had just been released on Merge. I realised how much I was missing the studio environment – and working with Ken; I also realised I was ready. At the beginning, the idea was still to record demos… but as things were going so well, it all sprang up quite organically… it just felt natural. I can’t remember having ever felt so relaxed and, after a while, so confident that this might just prove a little bit special. And different too."
In what way? "We’ve left some grit in there", Louis says. "We haven’t ‘sweetened’ anything as we might have done before. You can hear the string section taking a deep breath before playing the first notes of their parts on Walking on Air, the bass buzzing madly on The Hill and The Valley, all these details that we’d have sacrificed on another record. And I believe there is more of a sense of contrast within the songs, despite the fact that most of them are very short. I tried to avoid gratuitous repetition of themes and motifs. I let myself be myself far more than I’ve ever done, with the exception of Appointment with Venus. The orchestration is far richer than anything I’ve done since Azure – but also more exposed, at times reduced to a voice and a piano. Miss Lake is a good example of what I’ve tried to achieve – for three minutes or so, the melodic line grows and grows without repeating itself – until a recapitulation of the very first theme closes the song. What pleases me the most about this is not that I overcame a ‘challenge’ – but that it just felt so obviously right, so relaxed…
I must also add that one tremendously important factor was the presence of Alasdair and Mel of The Clientele – again – whose voices blend beautifully with mine, and that I was incredibly lucky to meet Mari Persen, purely by chance as it were. I just love her voice, her playing, and her attitude to music-making… It’s as if I’d found a new youth in myself, thanks to others. I’d never thought of it like this before – but that is the certainly one of the meanings of the album’s title, An Unknown Spring."
Credits: All songs and arrangements by Louis. Recorded January-April 2007 at Regal Lane Studio, Regent’s Park, London. Produced by Louis and Ken Brake (who also took the cover photograph of Mt. Misen, Miyajima). Artwork by Louis and Jim Phelan of Exotica. Louis: vocals, guitars, bouzouki, piano, keyboards, bass, melodica and percussion; Alasdair McLean: acoustic guitar and bouzouki; Danny Manners: bass and double bass; Mari Persen: solo violin; Bertrand Burgalat: bass (‘Liverpool’); The Covent Garden String Quartet (Abigail Trundle, Eleanor Gilchrist, Geraldine Bereen, Teresa Whipple). Vocal harmonies sung by Louis, Alasdair, Mari and Mel Draisey.