Chris Tapley 29/06/2010
One of 2008's sleeper hits was the debut album from Edinburgh's Meursault, released on the label offshoot of popular blog Song By Toad it was a flagship representation of the city's burgeoning diy scene. Particularly given it's very limited initial release the bands distinctive mixture of lo-fi acoustics, noisy electronics and heart wrenching vocals caused quite a stir, earning a slew of rave reviews. The follow up goes some way towards perfecting that same style and should almost certainly see them reach an even wider audience, I spoke to vocalist and primary songwriter Neil Pennycook to find out more about the new album All Creatures Will Make Merry.
Given the acclaim that Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing with Tongues attracted, did you feel any kind of increased pressure with this record?
I did feel a certain pressure but not necessarily because of the first record. I've always been of the opinion that a songwriter should treat themselves as their own audience. All I ever try to do is write what I would want to hear. So the only real pressure was from myself and what I expected of the songs.
What would you say are the main differences between this and the first album?
It's a lot more positive than the first. With 'Pissing on Bonfires' I really wasn't in the best frame of mind. It sounds to me like a really bitter/angry record, which isn't to say that 'All creatures...' doesn't have those elements, it's just that I feel it's a lot more focused.
Last year you added a couple of new members to the band as well. Were the tracks for the album written prior to this? How much of a difference did they make in the writing/recording process?
A fair few of the songs were written before phil (guitar) and pete (cello) started playing with us. However, there have been so many versions of a lot of the songs that by the time the guys joined they were fairly open to interpretation, by which I mean that I hadn't given myself much of a chance to get to precious about the arrangements.
Meursault started as a solo project. Is it still the case that the songs are predominantly written by yourself as acoustic, or do you write as a band?
Yeah, I still write the majority of the songs on my own but not always as acoustic. I worked out a lot of 'All creatures...' with harmonium and an old sampler. After 'Nothing Broke' I was keen to move away from acoustic guitar.
I'm intrigued by the title, where did the phrase All Creatures Will Make Merry come from, and what does it mean to you?
It's actually from the film 'Flash Gordon' but it could've been from anywhere really. It just struck a chord with me and seemed to lend itself the themes of the songs. The overall theme of the record seems to me to be the pursuit of happiness and how it's the one thing that ultimately everyone has in common.
You've previously noted the difference in lyrical themes for the new one, they certainly seem more optimistic in a sense. Is there some kind of overarching theme that connects the songs?
As above, the songs mainly concern the ways people find peace of mind, and how that can bring out the best/worst in them as a result.
Production wise it seems as though everything's been notched up so to speak, the loud bits are more distorted and the quieter sections even more fragile. Was this a conscious effort or just an extension of what you've always wanted to achieve?
Aesthetically, the way the album sounds is something that I've been aiming towards for a while. I felt that with 'William Henry Miller Pt.2' from the 7" version, I'd made a definite step towards what I wanted 'All Creatures...' to be. I like the idea of lo-fi recording and fairly orchestral, rhythmic arrangements clashing together and I love the point where instruments blend into each other and blur slightly.
There is quite a distinct 'Meursault sound' which it's hard to note clear comparisons for, is there any particular influences you would cite as important to your style?
Recently, Sam Amidon and Microphones/Mount Eerie have been a fairly large influence but tastes change so quickly that it's hard to pinpoint.
There's a track on there called 'Song for Martin Kippenberger', is there something specific about Kippenberger which you relate to as an artist?
Not especially, but the words 'Please don't send me home' hung above the front entrance of the flat I used to live in. It was only much later that I my flatmate explained to me what the words were a reference to but by this time they had taken on their own meaning.
You seem to have various other side projects as well, including the Cold Seeds album which is out soon. Can you tell us a bit more about the origins of that?
Cold Seeds is kind of a 'one-off' band which is comprised of Francis Donnelly, Kenny Anderson (King Creosote), Pete Harvey (The Leg, Meursault) and myself. The record was made over the last 6-7 months and I'm as proud of it as anything I've done.
Speaking of which, the Edinburgh music scene seems to be incredibly vibrant of late, with a lot of great artists having released/scheduled to release stuff this year. Is there any particular artists you think people ought to be taking notice of?
Yusuf Azak has an album on the way which I've heard already and am very excited about. Enfant Bastard is doing some really amazing 'Chip-tune' stuff. Both Pete and Phil form the band have other projects they're pretty busy with, Pete with Paul Vickers & the Leg (their latest album is out and a stage show is in the works!) and Phil with his debut solo album as 'Debutant'.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2010?
We'll be playing a lot of shows between now and winter. Festivals mainly (over summer) followed by a UK tour and another European tour. Over Christmas/New Year I would like to be working on the next album.