These days, more and more, the band is becoming the suits.
When Lau sat down to plan their new album, Race The Loser, they had to work out ways of financing the recording, production and manufacturing of a work that had no record-company backing. Despite being generally regarded as the most adventurous band on the UK folk scene, with acclaim including three successive Best Group titles at the BBC Folk Awards, and racking up successful (certainly in folk terms) sales figures, the Edinburgh-based trio have not been snapped up by one of the remaining record industry giants, and are happy to be independent.
"Not being beholden to a record company means that we don't have to rush things out that we're maybe not happy with," says accordionist Martin Green. "With Race The Loser, we felt we were ready to release another full Lau album and we wanted to record with the producer of our choice, Tucker Martine, and the way we did it is one of the few heartening things about the music business currently."
The band – Green, fiddler Aidan O'Rourke and guitarist-singer Kris Drever – offered fans a deluxe edition of the album, strictly limited to 1000 copies and complete with signed art print and an exclusive live recording from their 2011 tour, for £30, paid in advance. And it worked.
Subscription recordings are an increasingly popular way of releasing music. Earlier this year, American singer-songwriter AJ Roach, who visits Glasgow next week, issued his splendid third album Pleistocene using this method and, more recently, the Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer raised over $1 million from fans beforehand to record her Theatre Is Evil album. Lau obviously aren't quite in the million-dollar league but Green nonetheless finds it touching that people will pay for a recording before it's made and trust the band to deliver.
"We did spend quite a long time thinking about ways to make the deluxe edition special, how we were going to package it and what we were going to include," he says. "I think we are in the age of the CD as artefact. They've become like souvenirs of a night that people have enjoyed. I find it exciting that we're moving in this direction.
"It's like, unless you're one of the real giants, music has become a cottage industry. We have control. Not that I've ever had a blank cheque from a record company but this is a more grounding experience than, say, putting out a record that hasn't sold and being ditched. This way we can keep going and keep making the music we want to make because no-one can sack us."
Making Race The Loser meet their own ambitions hinged in large part on securing Tucker Martine's services as producer. Martine, based in Portland, Oregon, has worked with such diverse artists as REM, Beth Orton and jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. Having especially admired the sound-quality that he brought to his wife Laura Veirs's work and to Abigail Washburn's City Of Refuge album, Lau decided to approach him.
"He's a busy man, and finding time in his diary for him to come to Scotland wasn't easy," says Green. "But we'd been able to meet him and speak to him in London through our live sound engineer, Tim Matthew, who worked on Laura Veirs's tour when Tucker was playing in her band, and he listened to some of our stuff and agreed to work with us."
Race The Loser was recorded over seven days – twice as long as the band had previously allowed themselves in the studio – at Castlesound in Pencaitland, and every day began with a freely improvised jam to give Martine an idea of the textures that might be brought to the album's sound. For Green, whose job description as accordionist has expanded over the years with Lau to include myriad electronic sounds, working with Martine was really inspiring.
"Like many of the great producers he has this ability to immediately fit into any group of people," Green says. "He becomes like a band member and he was really encouraging when it came to experimentation. I'd go away at night and work on sounds and come back the next day ready to work with them to save time, although these days the technology has advanced to the stage where it's almost become like an acoustic instrument as far as playing's concerned.
"I've spent a long time, outside of Lau, working with electronic music and it can be a dangerous game, trying to blend two different kinds of music.
"But I think we've achieved a natural blend on the album and in the band sound generally. However, there's nothing we play now that we couldn't play round the kitchen table or in the back of the van with just the three instruments – accordion, fiddle, guitar – and Kris's voice. The folk trio is really where the fire still lies for us."
The Race The Loser sessions in the spring came at the end of a 12-month period during which, even for a band of Lau's experimental disposition, the threesome had found themselves breaking new ground in collaborations. There was the EP, Ghosts, recorded with London-based, fellow folk-experimentalist Adem, where new instruments and colours were added to the Lau palette; a TV programme and concert with the legendary bass guitarist and singer Jack Bruce; and an orchestral work with maverick Irish composer Brian Irvine. Green, even now, seems still to be feeling the buzz of working with Bruce, who as he approaches 70, has lost none of his appetite for playing music.
"When we got the call I was excited because he's Jack Bruce and everyone knows about Cream and his rock-star years," says Green. "But I have to be honest, I wasn't prepared for what turned out to be a genuinely moving musical experience with someone who has such a generosity of spirit musically and socially. He came in on the first day, and we weren't even filming or anything at that point, and he gave a performance that I'd have expected from someone appearing at Wembley or some place.
"He obviously feels that whatever you're doing and wherever you're doing it, you have to do it passionately. I thought, wow, I'm gonna have to put everything into this – and I did. But he has such stamina.
"He'd take a bass solo and I'm thinking, this must be the last chorus because he's really going for it. So I'm going for it behind him and - there's more. Unbelievable. But what I loved about him especially was, there was no 'I am the king and you're here to play with me' stuff. He genuinely gave the impression that we were all musicians, there to do the same job."
With Brian Irvine, who must be one of the few composer-conductors who has been known to burst his britches – literally – to provoke a response from musicians, Green felt similarly inspired and in some ways relieved.
"I'd met Brian before on the Distil weekends that Simon Thoumire organises to encourage folk musicians to think of career development, and the orchestral workshop he gave us was mind-expanding," he explains.
"But with the orchestral project with Lau, he obviously thought there was no point in trying to have us play the part of the soloists that the orchestra was accompanying or have us follow his conducting or have us all playing a reel, which is the way these things often go. It wasn't about us playing the same groove, more about the two entities somehow co-existing. It was like Jack Bruce; there was just so much music coming out of him that you couldn't help but go along with him."
These experiences, he says, have all found their way into Race The Loser in one way or another.
"When Tucker said: 'Why don't we try this?' we had no problem responding because we'd had a year of people saying: 'Why don't we try -' whatever it was," Green adds. "It's tightened us up as a band and made us more adaptable. We can move really fast now as a unit and feel ready to slot in with almost anything, although at the same time, we have a really strong core in ourselves.
"We're really happy with the album and we're really happy with the tour that's coming up. We're just looking forward to getting out and playing some gigs together."
Race The Loser is released through Reveal Records on Monday and is reviewed in the Sunday Herald tomorrow. Lau tour the UK from October 18. For further details, see www.lau-music.co.uk