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“This shouldn’t scare you,” Lord Huron leader Ben Schneider offers without much ado as we near the peak of our hike on the Beaudry Loop Trail in the Verdugo Mountains that sit between Glendale and Burbank, “but last time I was here, I saw a mountain lion.”
We’re exploring one of Los Angeles’ less publicized features — the amount of natural space still contained within the city’s immediate vicinity. Sure, everyone knows about the long stretches of oceanfront and the palm trees that seem to sprout out of every sidewalk crack, but the Hollywood Hills, Griffith Park, the Angeles National Forest, the Verdugos, and many other areas provide almost immediate reprieve from city life for anyone willing to put on some sneakers and brave wild cats that, according to Schneider, aren’t as big as you might think. Even in a city stigmatized for its laid-back persona, exploring these areas where cougars still prowl and coyotes howl in the distance is a much-needed chance to slow down, and put the human footprint in perspective.
For a small-town boy from Michigan like Schneider, being close to areas that are still wild is essential. Though he’s lived in Los Angeles for 13 years, it’s taken almost that amount of time for the region to become home. When he meets me at the trail’s base for a hike in Glendale to one of the vicinity’s highest peaks, he explains his solidifying relationship with LA. “This part of the hill I love,” he says, looking around at the expanse of green shrubs and ascending rocky terrain. “But the stuff on the other side, the city, that’s become something I really love, too.”
On the band’s third full-length, the ambitious and eclectic Vide Noir, Schneider is more comfortable exploring both sides of the proverbial hill in song than he’s ever been. Vide Noir is a record that slinks through the shadowy corners of downtown, following trails and lingering smoke after someone who’s always just out of reach. But it’s also an album just as interested in the parts of the universe that we don’t understand as the ones that can be accessed on any given night in the bustling metropolis. After the record was mostly written, Schneider would often take this same hike, and it helped him shape and finalize the lyrics, gaining inspiration from how the stars would shine down on him after sunset, virtual reflections of electrical pulses that could be seen across Burbank and Downtown LA in the distance.
“A lot of the album is about our cosmic place and insignificance in the world,” he says, “and how that melted into the city below, twinkling, too. And all the endless stories and experiences down there that could potentially be happening.”
Schneider likes being outdoors and likes thinking about big questions and big mysteries, but still, he shows up for our trip looking as casual as can be. He’s only brought a water bottle with him, while his grey jeans, walking boots, and comfy brown jacket would be as comfortable on stage as they are on an early-April evening in California. The hike is not exactly as mellow as Schneider’s appearance would suggest; a steady uphill jaunt the climbs 1300 feet over the course of three miles before looping back. It’s a notably wide dirt road that could be driven up in an emergency — say, a mountain lion mauling — making it feel less treacherous for our eventual descent after the sun has set.