You may not have heard of the band Equation yet, but chances are you're familiar with the landscape where they were born and bred. The moors where they live and record were home to Agatha Christie. They're down the road form Sir Francis Drake's village. And Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set up camp in the neighborhood while crafting Sherlock Holmes' The Hounds of the Baskervilles.
Dartmoor lies in the heart of County Devon in England, about four hours by car southwest of London. It's "a medieval market town," according to the band's principal songwriter and guitar player, Sean Lakeman. "We still have thatched cottages and all those quaint sort of things you see in Robin Hood," although he's quick to point out that "it's more King Arthur territory if you're going back into deep legacy."
Sean acknowledges the influence on songwriting that comes from the literary legacy, the history and the natural surroundings. "It just oozes from the area," he admits, pointing out the imagery of "My World," a song he wrote from the top of a tor, the Dartmoor equivalent of a mountain. Sean remembers "looking out on a clear day over miles and miles and just kind of thinking that a few hundred years ago, before they had motor cars or anything, what you saw was where you lived. That was where your life was lived out, that was your world."
Folk music is an endangered species where Equation comes from. Sean points out: "Our export is the English language and going around and beating up other races." Lately Equation have taken much of their influence from American music, and one of their recent songs, "Ataxia," is set in the badlands of South Dakota, blending the ideas of confusion and turmoil with the impression Shawn Colvin's music gave them of "a place where people wanted to escape, make something happen by leaving."
"The British music scene at the moment is in a bit of state of turmoil," Sean explains. "It's very, very pop based, you know, these boy bands and dance music, electronic club tunes, that's generally what our radio consists of." By contrast, Equation's members all come from a traditional music background, including Sean's younger brother Seth, the band's violinist.
The Lakeman brothers grew up playing music together, arriving at their distinctive sound by the time they were 12 or 13, according to Seth. The family heritage made for "quite a natural sound," said Seth. "We don't try too hard to be unique. A lot of bands spend too long trying to be different."
Although the violin was Seth's first instrument, he's conscious of its often clichd use in contemporary bands. Seth increasingly uses the violin as a rhythm instrument, backing off from its lead role on Equation's recent U.S. debut, Hazy Daze. "It's quite a piercing instrument. In Hazy Daze it's quite produced violin. It has got the gimmicky lines, the hooks and things like that. But I think it can play a really good part just as a rhythm instrument. That hasn't really been explored."
Seth shares his older brother's love of the countryside, and enjoys the challenge of interpreting the landscape through his music. "You go up on the moors and take a dog for a walk and you're in the middle of nowhere, you're deserted," he said. "It's almost undiscovered, it's untouched." He hastens to add that the atmosphere is just as much about the people. "Everyone's laid back. ...People have got time. No one's rushing, fighting to hear what you've got to say. Everyone's got a lot of time to think."
Although Seth professes to have never heard of the "new acoustic wave" his band is said to be leading, he does acknowledge that they're committed to perpetuating the vanishing tradition of live music, which he proclaims "is virtually dead in the U.K. If you don't live in London or in the north of England you won't see any live music."
As for Equation's live show, Sean explains that it's "a lot more up and electrified and exciting. Hazy Daze is quite sedate, misty-like."
But that doesn't mean the show's a sleeper. "The show is a little more in your face than the album is," he added. "We get in touch with our younger sides. I mean we're not taking drugs and running around stripping off or anything; we're meeting in the middle."