Lord Huron have an origin story like that of a hundred other bands: It started as a solo project for Michigan-to-Los Angeles transplant Ben Schneider, who released some EPs, then recruited a band after realizing things were getting too big to handle on his own.
The group's full-length debut, 2012's superlative "Lonesome Dreams," owes more than Schneider would probably care to admit to forefathers like the Eagles, who plowed a similar furrow of earth-melodic country-rock with an overlay of Wild West desperado mythology-decades earlier.
The disc's first single, "Time to Run" is a doozy, a jangly, propulsive, faux old-timey folk-pop number like no other. It's a story-song, minus much of the story. It may be about a mysterious character on the run after committing an unspoken crime, trying to convince his girl to go with him, or it may not be — Schneider is loathe to talk lyrical particulars. "It's kind of personal, I guess, in some ways," he says politely. "It's too early to take that kind of a dark turn in the conversation."
"Time to Run" served as a Technicolor conversation piece, a blog hit-turned-mainstream-semi-hit that landed the band its first big break — a slot on "The Tonight Show" — coinciding with the album's release. In advance of Lord Huron's sold-out show at the Metro, Schneider got on the phone to strip "Time to Run" down to its bones, to explain how a song travels from a tiny pocket recorder to one of the biggest showcases in the world. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
1. Come up with an idea
"It was about a collection of things that happened to me over my life," Schneider says. "It was about the trouble you can get into over girls, basically. It's been the eternal problem for men such as myself. We tend to get into trouble. You don't know exactly what this person has done. It could be any number of things. But the point is that love can drive you to do all kinds of crazy stuff."
2. Be as vague about your idea as possible
Schneider purposely kept the lyrics oblique. "I've fleshed out ideas (for myself). I don't really impose it on anybody else," he says. "For me personally listening to music, I love to put a bit of myself in a song. That's what really makes you connect with a song. I can cast myself as a character in that song, and having less than a complete picture helps with that. ... People fill in the blank with their own experiences."
3. Put it all together
"I had an idea for the story I wanted to tell, then deciding what type of groove would best complement it, then taking it from there. I tend to write over long periods of time. I collect fragments along the way when I'm traveling. I take notes in a little voice recorder, then piece it all together. It was one of the last songs I wrote for the album. I had this story in mind, and I wanted this propulsive rhythm under it."
4. It's okay to go heavy on the mythmaking-you're trying to get people to notice you
Schneider invented a midcentury novelist, George Ranger Johnson, a fictional mixture of Cormac McCarthy and Hunter Thompson, to help market the band's debut. Johnson has his own website, complete with purple-prosed excerpts from his "Lonesome Dreams" series of adventure tales. "He's a Louis L'Amour-type guy. Maybe he's a little more out there, but definitely in that vein," Schneider says. "Since I was a kid I've been really into that sort of thing, westerns and adventure novels and pulp fiction kind of stuff. It's kind of an appealing trope to me, especially the western stories or the frontier stories, because they're kind of human experience laid bare. Man against the wild and the harsh reality of a new land, which to me is a great setting for all kinds of human experience."
5. Make a great video
The band enlisted director Arms Race to create a John Ford-style video, in which they dressed in old-fashioned western wear and ran Instagramatically through the desert. There's a shootout, a mock hanging, opening credits, and at least one (probable) fake moustache. "We tried to be as true as possible to George Ranger Johnson's book," Schneider said in an interview with National Public Radio.
6. Be prepared for what comes next
There's a fundamental, miraculous strangeness to watching audiences sing along to a song you wrote by yourself in a room somewhere, Schneider says. "The first time it happened was shocking enough, but we're starting to play bigger and bigger rooms. It's really an incredible feeling."
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark St.
Tickets: Sold out; 773-549-4140 or metrochicago.com