Summer is winding down all too soon, but it seems like London-based alt-pop duo Arctic Lake didn’t get the memo. Emma Foster and Paul Holliman have just released their hottest and steamiest track yet – ‘Lonely’, it’s electronic undertones and silky vocals repeating “come in closer baby, no don’t you ever leave me,” more reminiscent of balmy summer nights than grey Autumn mornings.
However, it seems that their day-to-day is proving to be nearly as dull as the weather. When I first start chatting to Paul and Emma Pauls just had a drama while trying to buy a new phone. “I just wanted to pay money in exchange for an item”, Paul explains exasperatedly “and then I failed the credit check – and I didn’t really need reminding that I had no money”.
However, his gloomy demeanour swiftly changes when we start discussing how he met Emma. “We both went to Westminster; however, the campus is in Harrow, that’s how they get you,” he jokes. “I sought out Emma because she was one of the best singers on the course, and when I asked her if she wanted to make music together, I thought she would say: ‘no, who are you? Leave me alone’, but she didn’t! And the stuff we made in the first few years is not available on the internet for a very good reason”, he laughs. “We found our feet after a long time, and ever since then we’ve been plodding on, and now here we are, living together in a flat in Hackney.”
Despite living in London together now, neither are natives. Emma was born in Birmingham; however, there’s no trace of the accent left, “much to my family’s chagrin”, she confides. In contrast Paul is from Surrey, or “the leafy bit” as he describes it. Their respective upbringings seemed to have a great impact on their music. Emma explains: “my dad was a massive 80’s new romantic, and brought me up on Depeche Mode and Prince, my first crush was Freddy Mercury” she laughs. “When I became a young teenager, I got really into jazz music and I still think that Ella Fitzgerald’s and the Nina Simone’s, they’re the types of singers that I still admire the most.” Paul, however, was a self-admitting middle class white boy who wanted to play guitar solos all day. “I was a little metal head”, he continues. “Probably something to do with teenage rebellion, but I couldn’t really rebel from a nice house in Surrey”. This difference in taste caused friction at the start, but they’ve since learned to turn it into something positive. “I think we still have style differences now, but we’ve just found a way to put them together in a way that hopefully works a lot better. The style of production I’m into isn’t what Emma would listen to in her free time, but that works well as her top lines will always sound different. So instead of trying to jam our own styles down each other’s throats…” says Paul, “we’ve found a less aggressive solution”, interrupts Emma.
Potentially due to this unique mix of sounds, the duo has found themselves categorised under the somewhat ambiguous label of Alt-Pop. I ask them how they feel about this. “I actually love pop now” says Emma. “When we went to university no one wanted to admit to liking it but now, I’m like pop music is actually sick. It’s such a bigger mixing bowl now that when I was younger, it was all Christina and Britney (not that they don’t have their place) – but we’ve also really appreciated writing something that’s relatable.” Paul comes at it from a slightly different angle. “I think the key word is alt – we do love pop music, but for us we never want to go full on pop because we never want to be a ‘single’ band. The alternative bit is the bit that gives you the freedom, we could put a 10-minute outro on one of our tracks and afterwards if anyone said anything be like ‘mate its alt-pop’.”
We move on to discussing their latest release, with Emma begging Paul to explain it as she feels like she’s “been gabbing on.” “Yeah, because you’re not meant to talk in an interview”, Paul jibes but before he can continue Emma cuts across him with: “Our back catalogue was very chilled ambient pop. That was my safe zone and it meant lyrically I could be really ambiguous; I could talk about my personal life without saying ‘this shit happened to me and I’m really fucking sad about it. But then we went through some savage-ass breakups together – which while that gave us a lot of material, we came out on the other side like actually we’re really happy now – and we can explore things and talk about sex.”
These two sounds, self-described as “still lonely depressed Arctic Lake and the ‘woo-hoo’ Arctic Lake”, both feature on their upcoming album. On discussing this move into more up-tempo styles, Emma explains: “we felt like we’d put ourselves in a box – and we were like why have we done this? It’s not like we’re massive anyway, we’re nobodies. We’ve created these rules and we don’t have to stick to them.”
Also featuring on their upcoming albums are a few exciting collaborations that they’re not allowed to tell me about just yet. However, Paul does say that his dream collaborations fall into two camps: realistic and unrealistic. “Realistically, I’m totally in love with Fred again… (multi-instrumentalist from Hackney), his spoken word vibe could be really cool. And unrealistically, I love Slipknot. Growing up I was a metal head and while I love playing live with Artic Lake and my good friend Emma here but sometimes, I’d like to get out from behind the keyboard….”. “Oh, so I’m holding you back?” Emma asks playfully. “No,” Paul laughs, “but sometimes I’d like to grab a guitar, wear it really low and do some fucking head bangs.”
Despite their steamy summer worthy track, it seems that the duo’s season has been a little lacklustre. When I ask them what they’ve been up to this summer Emma replies: “what summer?”, she laughs. “My summer has been characterised by being in a platonic relationship with Paul, we don’t leave the house now, we’re like an old married couple.” Paul takes this depressing note a little further. “You know what- I think it’s been characterised by hope followed by disappointment. We were sold down the river by 2021, everyone said it would be the year, and the first 6 months, lets be honest, were terrible. And then June hit and we were like: ‘this is it! It’s going to be great!’ And the weather said: ‘no fuck you – clouds for summer.’”
However, both Paul and Emma are both quick to mention that while socially it may not have been the summer of their lives, professionally it’s been a massive success. “We went into summer signing our record deal and we got to properly work on music that we’d been dreaming about releasing for the last two years”, Emma explains. “This is the first time in our life that we have the three next projects lined up and ready to go. It feels like we’re at the beginning again in a sense, and it feels great”. So, it would seem the pair do have some well-deserved positivity to hang on to as we move into October. I’ll be busy finding mine by listening to ‘Lonely’ on repeat.
Photographer Abeiku Arthur
Stylist Sian O’Donnell
MUA Laura María Vallejo
Hair Sandra Hahnel