Sunday, 18 March 2012

Essays on Mutineers

It was only a couple of months ago that I learnt of the existence of this distinctive Manchester band, but thank God I have discovered them!

Mutineers released their critically acclaimed first album Friends, Lovers, Rivals in November 2010, when the musical scene saw the birth of a little jewel.

Relaxing yet energetic, melodic yet powerful, words are superfluous when it comes to describing the sound in this album. Lyrically and musically beautiful, it could easily make up the soundtrack of many people’s lives.

I feel utterly privileged and honoured to have interviewed Nicholas James Mallins, vocalist and guitarist of Mutineers, and the author of every single verse of the 11 golden teardrops that flood the album.

Ladies and gentlemen, take your seats and read to the end, because what you are going to witness is a true piece of art.

1. The first question is quite a typical one in this type of interviews. Actually, I must confess that I have already read the answer somewhere else and found it very curious indeed, but it would be even better if my readers could have the answer first hand! So why Mutineers? Why that name?

The name felt quite apt at the time as we were all moving on from other projects and we were eager to remove the shackles. We were taking over the ship. The paradox being I had never considered myself anything other than the captain.

It was about 4 people with the same motives and desires. We had a great sense of urgency, ambition and togetherness. I can speak for myself when I say previous endeavours didn’t quite feel like that.

Mostly to our advantage, we were all good friends, interested in the same inconsequential nonsense that unites wandering minds.

The name has regressed and sounds immature to me now, but most do. I would only steal a sentence to express a truly beautiful moniker. But that’s for emo bands and they waste that opportunity, without doubt.

How about your debut album's name, Friends, Lovers, Rivals?

During the writing of the album I would obsess about my then friends and perceived rivals. As a rule, I went out more than I stayed in and sampled all the city had to offer, good and bad. I still had my shit together, it was more an observation on the social environment I found myself in at the time.

2. The band is made up by you (Nicholas James Mallins) (vocals/guitar), Michael Reed (guitar), Iwan Gronow (bass) and Jack Mitchell (drums). As far as I know, you are the main songwriter in the band, but what is the song composition process usually? Do all of you contribute to the instrumental part and the melody of the songs?

Generally I write the song first, mostly on piano as I don’t have the stomach to pick up a guitar these days. Since a certain age I’ve sensed that guitars are for kids, a mid-life crisis or the truly famous. I’m wrong, of course.

I might have the odd motif rattling around my head but usually we play about it for a while until something would formulate. Sometimes we will sit round the home studio and play out various ideas. Waiting for that almost homoerotic moment when someone would play a sequence of notes in tune. We’d gasp as if we’d discovered the pyramids and commit it to memory.

The key for me is not to distract from the song. If you’ve got the groove but not the melody then there’s very little point. The song gets 99% of my attention.

On a side note, Jack is no longer with mutineers, he’s kind of in indie semi-retirement and doesn’t feel he has the energy or sheer will to be with a current band working on new material. We’ve drafted in some youth in Chaz Salt, who’s maybe not quite so jaded and keeps things fresh for the new album.  

3. I am truly in love with your lyrics. A bit shocking sometimes though! You can go from singing deep, beautiful verses like “In death, love and squalor the sordid details were removed, straight from the heart of a suicide girl” to witty, funny lines such as “Well if you’d paid more attention during sex education, you would not have stretch marks the length of Piccadilly Station”! I know this is a tricky question but what can you say about your writing style?

I don't think there is a considered style. It's probably influenced a lot by whatever I'm reading at the time, which could be at any end of the literary spectrum.

A lot of the more comedic, social observations were left off the album as I felt all together they cheapened it. Although I relish a good insult, I prefer to tell a story that doesn't give it all away.

I love that writers create worlds and characters that we all interpret in unique ways. The listener's imagination is powerful, there should always be an extra layer to find if they so wish. I suppose this is all considered. 

4. I have been analysing each of your songs, which I would define as 'tell-tale poems', and it seems to me that your writing is full of rage and nostalgia, obviously reminiscent of past relationships of any kind. That reminds me of the saying "Happiness writes white". What are your thoughts about this in relation to songwriting?

I admire that description. I do feel writers struggle to express positive emotions. I think it's the human condition to concentrate on the less ecstatic moments of our lives. It's surely the purest self-improvement. Every pleasant existence is punctuated with specks of misery. It sometimes appears that the only things that can seduce us into euphoria are sex and money. Most are getting little of either. Those who claim this to be false are getting little of either or have an insatiable appetite for more. I'd of course love to sing about it but I'm not a misogynistic hip hop artist, yet. I'm possibly a stereotypist.

It's easy to write about love. I'm reading the latest De Botton title in which he suggests we all put our love into one person so that we don't need anyone else. I feel that to be potent. We're always alone with our thoughts and is it possible for anyone to ever completely and utterly understand us? Do we understand ourselves? Writing is generally therapeutic unless you're a tragic self loather. And despite our solitary minds, it's also most importantly, universal. Like life, writing about how great things are, is only setting yourself up for a fall. No one really calls me up tell me how wonderful it all is. I re-iterate without grace, it's either about sex or money or to assassinate a gent's character. Maybe that's a reflection on the company I keep. I have a few close friends who are writers and despite their eloquence, these are by far the universal frameworks. Filling in the blanks will create the beauty. Writers create the foundations, the audience should be part of the architecture.

I don't consider myself full of rage, though I'm never happier hiding behind a barbed line. I confess to doses of nostalgia but I don't look back and think my life was any better. Looking back on how ugly I was yesterday makes me pretty as roses today. I'll think better of it next time, therefore it's a positive experience. I do look forward to being old more than you'll ever know. The new material is more hopeful I would say, though I've never advised anything other than rising above it. It's just that we're all the centre of our own universe.

I can assure you that the lyrics on FLR were unquestionably a little lazy in places. The words are now my primary concern. It's a wasted opportunity for most songwriters. I have a real love of language. Not so much the stuffy rules of grammar but interpretations of the form. I'm convinced a lot of artists are just spewing it up when they get pushed into the vocal booth by some producer who cannot stand to look at them. I was watching an interview with Lightbody from Snow Patrol last night. He was actually trying to convince me that he spends hours and hours editing his lyrics. Dear God, imagine he hadn't have bothered? How low can we take the vivid English language? He has a co-writer too. It took two of them to come up with that tripe. I can out tripe them on my own.

5. There is no doubt that you have an elegant and characteristic singing voice. If I had to describe it, I would say it is Will Young meets Morrissey meets The Verve's Richard Ashcroft meets Journey’s Steve Perry! All that with a polished singing technique that most pop/rock bands these days do not possess. Do you think that this may be one of the reasons why your music sounds so appealing in a first listen?

That’s quite a comparison. To be honest I’ve always considered my voice to be an eye opener. I remember one label guy literally throwing the album sampler out of the window as he loathed my warble that much. He then tried to sign us. He’s been fired now I’m guessing. It was too late to get all over the crunk scene, or whatever.

I did naively think that if I was going to be a singer it would be prudent to actually learn to sing. I had a few lessons back in the day. It’s a woeful industry in which you don’t have to be remotely competent at your trade to succeed. If the songs are good and the lads think you can drink as much Stella as them, there’s every chance you’ll be huge despite sounding like you’ve swallowed a bag of razor blades.

Technical ability aside, I’ve always liked singers with an individual character in their voice. Tones and emotions that ring true. Bowie, Young (Neil as opposed to Will).

6. Nowadays the internet is the best place for a new band to promote their songs. Still, it is funny that there are hundreds and hundreds of new talented bands that are making themselves known on the web and are followed by thousands of people, but only four of them will reach the music charts! What do you think is the missing link for an extremely good new band to go up the ladder?

The internet has been a revelation for Mutineers. It’s reassuring that people are genuinely interested in new music and don’t need it shoved down their ear lobes from commercial radio. It’s really cool that we’ve connected to so many people and we are actually quite touched about it. We never foresaw the reaction or album sales. Radio has yet to fully come on board but that might change with the next album.

I certainly think you need the songs, that’s the currency really. But what every successful band has is a brilliant manager. It can’t be underestimated what doors the right guy can open for you. Unfortunately I’ve never worked with that right guy, or maybe I don’t have the currency. It’s all so trend-driven.

I observed a local act on Letterman recently. They were just chanting nonsense over a marching drum, I did grit my teeth. Of course some people digged it, they were passionate, most were as perplexed as me. 

There are some bands that are just so goddamn unlistenable that you wonder if someone somewhere is actually pissing their pants. I mean there’s no limit to how stupid a handful of these labels actually are and at times they are capable of signing literally anything. The press, like lap dogs jump head first into a pool of cat piss, they swear to us its nectar. 

Ultimately there’s no point in your megabucks deal if you’re not going to sell any records. I’m all for cool bands, yet any cool band who has managed to scrape together their rent have always knocked out some pop songs – The Strokes for instance. If you’re a cool band without songs, welcome to the end-of-year lists of sociopathic nerds across the county. 

There is also the notion that music is just expression. So maybe just go express yourself and see where that gets you.

7. I have heard that you are planning to play a gig in June this year to celebrate the end of the Friends, Lovers, Rivals album and the start of the next chapter. Are there any other upcoming gigs? I cannot wait to see you play live!

Yeah, there will be a show in June. Tickets are to be announced soon, although the number of names on the priority list is actually double the capacity so it should be a sweaty one. We may venture out of the studio should the right festival come along. I’m sure we’ll do something unique as a thank you to the fans but past that we’ll be building anything around the new album.

I do love playing live but we’re being a bit more selective, I think we all got a little tired of sleeping in the back of a transit. It gets harder to hide the wrinkles.

8. It is great news that you are already working on your second album, for which, according to one of your tweets, you have 30 tracks to choose from! It seems you have been fully inspired lately… When is your second album to be released and do you have a title yet?

We probably have a lot more than 30 songs. We’ve got recordings left over from the FLR sessions that we didn’t have the budget or motivation to finish at the time. We also demo’d a lot of strong tracks last year.

I then got a little stale and took a year out of it all. I took a real job, even got out of Manchester for a bit. Hung out with people who didn’t care where I bought my brogues.

I think removing the foolish pressure of trying to succeed was the most creative thing I could have done. It allowed me just to write without expectation or agenda. The new album will be mostly based around these songs.

Narrowing it down will be quite haphazard again I’d imagine. I always think my last song is the best so it’s difficult to say it’s definitely finished.

I do have a couple of titles that I’m hot on, which I’m obviously keeping to myself for now. We’re looking at a late summer release with the possibility of a single in the summer. Of course there’s the inevitable industry nonsense that we will have to navigate or ignore to get it out on time.

I’m also working on a solo album which I want to get out this year, finding the time is the real issue and the cost of a full orchestra. It’s a bit of a departure from Mutineers, a sound I’ve always wanted to try; Rufus Wainwright minus the Camp Cabaret. I’ve written the songs and dipped my toe in a little but will attack it with vigour at some point.

We’re really excited about the new album and hope we can please the fans. In some ways it feels like a reprieve and we’re all fresh and focused to release something we’re proud of. I think we’ve come to accept that we’ll never be rich men but we’ll always make music in one guise or other, and that keeps us sane.

You can follow Mutineers on Facebook and Twitter. Have a listen to Friends, Lovers, Rivals on their MySpace and then go purchase the album on iTunes – you will not regret it!

1 comment:

  1. A quick note to all.....Jack is very much alive and kicking and not so 'Jaded' playing in Manchester Britpop favorites Marion ! UK tour starts in a couple of weeks ! Boom.