QUICKIE OF THE WEEK: A short interview with Anthony J. Brown (Hungarian Lanterns)

written by Marko Jakob

Pix666: Hello Anthony. Thanks for taking the time for the interview. How are you doing? Are you healthy?

Anthony: I’m generally very well thank you, which is a constant relief in these turbulent times. I have a foot problem that is currently preventing me from my regular jogging excursions, but I don’t think your illustrious readership will be especially interested in that, so I won’t bore you with the tedious surgical details.

Pix666: How did you actually come up with your unusual band name?

Anthony: It’s culled from the Leonard Cohen song ‘Take This Waltz’ – There’s an attic where children are playing/Where I’ve got to lie down with you soon/In a dream of Hungarian lanterns/In the mist of some sweet afternoon. I’ve always considered those lines to be both beautifully evocative and somewhat disturbing, which is naturally the best of all poetic juxtapositions. I spent my honeymoon in Budapest, so I have an affection for Hungary, and I’ve long felt more European than English so the moniker seems to fit me like a vegan pointy boot. Although the Hungarian government’s recent anti-LGBT legislation has lamentably tarnished that association.

Pix666: Oh very interesting, does Leonard have an influence on your work and your music?

Anthony: Irrefutably so. I consider him one of the most poignant wordsmiths to ever scratch ink onto paper. A mighty ship adrift on a sea permeated with underwhelming minnows. I’ve been a committed devotee of his for over 30 years. I admire his seemingly endless capacity to be bleakly humorous about ostensibly sombre subject matter. And a lot of his finest work feels impressionistic, and thus open to the listener’s interpretation, which is extremely beguiling.

It is an approach that I often aspire to, particularly when writing words for other people. There has to be enough of a sense of mystery in the text to enable the vocalist to place themselves and their circumstances within it. Because as soon as they begin to sing the lines it becomes their story, not mine.

Pix666: Your Hungarian Lanterns logo mentions both Sheffield & Berlin. What is the connection?

Anthony: I live in Sheffield. Happily so, it’s a charming underdog of a city, and Berlin has long been a significant presence in my life. I’ve written lyrics for albums from the Berlin bands Scream Silence and The Whispering Sea, and my colleague in the electronic duo Dreadpan, Rob DeVille, is a Berliner. Rob also edited the new video. He’s a very creative and thankfully, an extremely patient chap. Plus I’ve played numerous Hungarian Lanterns gigs in Berlin and they are always very well attended and appreciatively received. They have immaculate taste, bless them. 

Pix666: Last week your new song and video ‚Death Will Do For Now‘ was released. What is the story behind the song and how and where did you shoot the video? Were there some funny moments during the video shooting?

Anthony: The lyric itself is over half a decade old. In fact one of the lines became part of the Lord Of The Lost song ‘The Love Of God’ as it suited that particular theme perfectly. So it existed as just words on a page without a tune for a long time as I was reluctant to attempt to marry it to a melody, for fear of creating a sterile chord structure that would not do justice to the words. Then in a spasm of abandonment I relented and it emerged fully formed in about ten minutes of fingerpicking, which I took to be a positive sign.

The video is filmed in Heeley, very near to where I live. I had been musing about possible filming ideas, but hadn’t established a suitable location. Then one drizzle dominated Saturday I stumbled upon a disused car park which had evidently become an illegal dumping site during lockdown. The dangling house brick that masquerades as my heart skipped a beat as I knew that I had discovered the ideal setting. The only concern was ensuring that I got to film there before it was tidied up. On the actual day of the video shoot there were two council vans loitering, but I carried on with the filming regardless as it felt like too potent a landscape to potentially let slip through my talons.

Fortunately the vans disappeared, possibly prompted by the perturbing sight of my creepy cavorting and I was left to prance away in private. The whole site was cleared up the next day, presumably to prevent ‘debris dancing’ becoming a viral trend that the impressionable adolescents seized upon. The rubbish strewn wasteland is meant to represent the narrator’s cluttered mind, and their inner demon is wreaking havoc in it, whilst the aforementioned saboteur is also torturing what remains of their youthful optimism (the eerie looking doll). Apologies in advance for the subtext spoilers!

Pix666: How would you describe the music of the band to someone who doesn‘t know Hungarian Lanterns?

Anthony: Minor key majesty. Or misanthropy. Depending on my mood. The songs are sad or dark (or both) but there is always an element that is mordantly amusing. I like to garnish the sorrow with a soupçon of wit. I have a 5 piece band in Sheffield of remarkable musicians who imbue the songs with a rather robust demeanour when performed live, which is a scintillating sensation to have going on behind you.

Pix666: Do you have plans for more songs and videos, or is that a secret?

Anthony: Yes, I have, there will be another new Hungarian Lanterns single and video released in the next couple of months, a ballad I’ve written called ‘Lifeless’. It’s a duet I perform with a superlative Russian singer and pianist called Sophie Valentina. I’m also in the midst of recording new material, which I plan to construct more curious little videos for, as I really enjoy the process. And the finished article tends to give me the weirdest, rarest and most unusual feeling. Pride.

Pix666: You are a relatively frequent visitor of Germany. What was it like for you to travel between Germany and the UK during Covid?

Anthony: I haven’t travelled overseas in the Covid era, it struck me as a little daunting. I’ve not been in Germany since December 2019, when I attended Lord Of The Lost’s magnificent series of 10th birthday gigs in Hamburg. Alas for all involved, there haven’t been any gigs to attend, and of course, courtesy of the bizarre voodoo magic of technology, songwriting can be continued remotely.

Pix666: How did the Corona crisis affect you as a person, but also as a musician?

Anthony: Fortunately so far it hasn’t had a drastic impact on any family or friends. Though it has undoubtedly caused me to refine my definition of ‘friend.’ Streamlining is salubrious! I perform comedy professionally as well, which was inevitably stymied by lockdown. It has meant I’ve been at home a lot more, with none of the usual demands of gigging and the associated travel and organisational issues.

Instead I’ve dedicated a substantial amount of this free time to song-writing, for both myself and for other artists. I’ve really valued this opportunity and feel that I have definitely developed as a composer through the experience. It will be a special little milestone achieved when there is music as well as lyrics of mine recorded and released by other acts.

Pix666: You are also in demand as a lyricist. I heard that you also wrote lyrics for Nino de Angelo‘s number 2 album, is that true? Which other acts have you ‘supplied’ with lyrics recently?

Anthony: Your use of ‘supplied’ made me smile. It sounds like I’m a dealer. I get them hooked with a free wistful verse, then charge them when they are hopelessly addicted to the melancholy. Yes, I wrote lyrics for the only English language song on Nino’s album, Angel Lost In Paradise. I contributed a lot of lyrics to ‘Judas’, the new double album from Lord Of The Lost, which was also #2 in Germany. Their new video for ‘Viva Vendetta’, a sweetly malevolent song that I contributed lyrics for, is premiered on August 17th.

There are other collaborations that I am not at liberty to discuss, as the acts themselves haven’t announced anything, but I can say that I’m writing some lyrics for Highland Saga, which is a breathtaking stage show celebrating the mystical glory of the Scottish Highlands performed by bagpipers, traditional drummers, rock musicians and astonishing singers. Quite the goosebump inducing combination.

Plus I’ve written music and lyrics for several songs on the forthcoming debut album from Celine Hakelberg. Her voice sounds so pure and true, so it is a privilege to be involved. It always is when I get to work with artists that I respect. And that has been the case every time so far. I’ve not had my integrity tested yet. I’m pretty sure that I have an emphatic ‘no’ within me when necessary.

Pix666: Thanks for the interview, good luck for the future – and above all, stay healthy.

Anthony: That’s the plan! 


photos © Anthony J. Brown