Arktik Lake: Seasoned guitarist Marty Willson-Piper lends his expertise to his latest band project

Even though they’re in the band Arktik Lake together, Marty Willson-Piper and Tony Rumble have never actually met each other in person. Today is no different: they join a Zoom call from opposite ends of the Earth (Willson-Piper in Porto, Portugal; Rumble in Sydney, Australia) to discuss Shimmer, their debut EP (released via their Bandcamp page on September 20, then across all streaming sites starting October 4).

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For his part, Rumble still seems a bit amazed that this band even exists at all. “I’ve been a fan of Marty’s forever,” he says. As a longtime admirer of The Church, the acclaimed jangle-rock alternative band for whom Willson-Piper played guitar for more than thirty years, Rumble wondered what the guitarist was doing since departing that band in 2013. So Rumble did an Internet search, and was delighted by what he found: “Lo and behold, [Willson-Piper] said on his website, ‘From time to time, I have availability to do session musicianship and songwriting.’”

Rumble—a guitarist whose performing history had been limited to playing in covers bands on the wedding and party circuit in Sydney—decided to take a chance and send Willson-Piper demos of his own original material. The gamble paid off: as soon as he heard the tracks, Willson-Piper knew they needed to work together to fully bring these songs to life.

“Most people, I think, when they’ve left a band that’s got a bit of a name, they start to look for other ‘name’ people to work with,” Willson-Piper says, “but I thought, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ I thought it would be interesting to see what was out there, see what skills and talents that people have that nobody had ever heard of.” He says Rumble’s songs fit that bill perfectly because they “took my ear and my eye and seemed to make sense as something to move forward with.”

Rumble recorded the basic drum, bass, and a few guitar tracks at a Sydney studio with various musicians (including drummer Nigel Macara, best known for his work with Air Supply). He sent those tracks to Willson-Piper, who added lead vocals and more guitar parts at his own studio in Cornwall, England. (His wife, Olivia, did the backing vocals). The end result is cinematic pop-rock that is at once evocative and accessible.

This experience was, Rumble says, a huge learning experience for him as a songwriter because Willson-Piper was so generous with his expertise. “We talked a lot about the tone of the guitar or the length of the verse or the length of the chorus, [or] ‘What about changing the tempo or the key?’” Rumble says. “There was a lot of feedback. That was fascinating, coming from someone with such a musical repertoire. Being able to tap into that genius was absolutely sensational. Marty was and is a fabulous inspiration and support.”

“I’ve made like 80 albums in different groups, so I’ve got a lot of experience in making records and writing songs,” Willson-Piper says. “The way I see it is, I’m always searching for the magic in something. Sometimes it’s just there, and sometimes you have to manipulate it. Sometimes your experience can turn a good idea into something great. So my role, which I thoroughly enjoy, is to ask, ‘What’s missing here? What ingredient that I can contribute is missing from this project?’”

In the end, though, both Willson-Piper and Rumble agree that it was really the songs themselves that dictated the direction that Arktik Lake should take. “As we worked on the songs together, we understood the vibe that the song was trying to come to,” Rumble says. Willson-Piper agrees: “A song knows what it wants to be, and you’ve got to let it be that. A song is a creature. A song is an entity. A song has a life and a personality, and it breathes and it talks to you. It walks around the room and makes demands.”

To tap into this level of the songwriting process, Willson-Piper says, “You need to understand the feel of things. There’s a lot of magic, and there’s a lot of math. There’s a lot of discipline needed, and a lot of experimentation and ideas and imagination—all these elements that have to be added in. There’s a lot of trial and error. And you also have to understand that you can write the best song you ever wrote in two minutes—and you can write the worst song you ever wrote, working on it for a week. It’s fascinating.” 

Although Willson-Piper likes to keep incredibly busy (“I’ve got tons of projects coming out in the next couple of years—lots of collaborations with lots of people in lots of different countries,” he says), working with aspiring musicians and songwriters, as he’s done with Rumble for Arktik Lake, clearly holds a special place in his heart. This work, he says, is “more about looking into a place where people don’t look—turning over a stone to see what’s there and finding a beautiful, huge caterpillar that turns into a gorgeous butterfly.”

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