Thursday, 21 October 2010

Shopping With...Neil Pennycook from Meursault


[It often seems to me that music journalism and blogging can be all about 'the next big thing' and the newest and buzziest bands around. I feel this often breeds flash in the pan trends and bands, which means the concept of a good album or back catalogue is lost on a lot of people nowadays. It is important to talk about bands and albums we adore and cherish and to exemplify this I have devised Shopping With...]

If anyone asks me about the Scottish scene which bands I'd recommend there is immediately one band that comes to mind almost every time and that band is Meursault. Both their albums have been critically lauded. Debut Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues was voted as the 16th greatest Scottish album of last decade and their second album All Creatures Will Make Merry, released this year, saw a rise in their popularity with them playing Glastonbury, T in the Park, Rockness and End of the Road in the summer. They effortlessly mash together different influences and genres to create something truly unique so, to me, there was no one more interesting to speak about important and diverse albums than their songwriter, Neil Pennycook.

Meursault - Crank Resolutions

Meursault - William Henry Miller Pt.1



Neil was adamant upon which local record shop I would take him shopping, The Hog's Head in Newington, Edinburgh. Filled to the brim with second hand CD's and DVD's, Neil comments that it is exactly what a good record store should be as there is always something new and different in from the last time he was in. His point is proven when the shopkeeper informs him he has Songs of Pain by Daniel Johnston in stock and will keep it back for him. Unfortunately this is not on the shopping list for today but Neil quickly picks his five albums and we head off to the pub to discuss them.

Dinosaur Jr - Where You Been

I first heard this record when I was about 17 or 18 and I originally hated it but I forced myself to like it because a bunch of bands that I really like, you know, like Nirvana, would all wear Dinosaur Jr t-shirts so I thought that there must be something in it for me and I persevered with it and it turns out they are like one of my favourite bands ever. This might be my favourite album ever, ever, ever. Definitely my favourite album artwork, it is just awesome, you just don't...I know I sound like an old man.. get album artwork like this any more. The first song I heard off this was 'Start Choppin'', infact, I think I bought it as a single before I bought the album. It has a song called 'Pumpkin Farm' as a b-side which is really good aswell. They are just one of these weird bands. They are a proper fucking hardcore band but with solos. I just love everything about this album. I love the fact that it is the original three-piece, I love the fact that in terms of their sound they have never really...they aren't what I'd would call a progressive band. J Mascis clearly has this thing that he does really well and he's just spent the last couple of decades absolutely perfecting it. It's probably not the favourite among Dinosaur Jr purists just because it doesn't have the original line-up, but I suppose I didn't know any of that when I was a kid any way. I think the weird thing was that I had already been listening to Sebadoh before I had been listening to Dinosaur Jr. and I didn't realise that Lou Barlow had anything to do with the band or that he was even in the band until a few years later when I started listening to old Sebadoh stuff and you hear all these songs blatantly about being really, really cross with J Mascis.

Dinosaur Jr. - Start Choppin'

The Magnetic Fields - Distortion

We were just talking just now about how the general consensus is that 69 Love Songs is Stephen Merritt's masterpiece and how many people think he is never going to better that, I think he has. Distortion and The Charm of The Highway Strip are better records than 69 Love Songs. Not by a lot, I still think 69 Love Songs is a great album, it's just that I think they are a little bit better. Again, the art work is fucking amazing. The artwork on all the records I've chosen is nice, just tasteful choices, I suppose..

Is that something you find important?

In artwork? Yeah. Hugely, in fact. To the point that if a band that I like or a band that I've been following releases an album and I feel the artwork doesn't particularly strike me I do find myself maybe not rushing out to get that record and it take me a little bit longer to want that album. I think it is a subconsious thing more than actually going "the artworks crap I'm not going to buy it."

Have you ever bought an album based purely on the artwork?

Em...Mogwai. The first Mogwai album. When that came out I didn't really know who Mogwai were and I bought Young Team just because of the artwork which I thought was incredible, really weird. I've not really got a design background so I can't talk about why I like it but I've always been a fan that if you can get a really simple image that just absolutely compels you to buy a record and this [points to Distortion] is a really good example.

Well that whole theme is carried on to the next album..

Yeah, which I don't know yet. That could be, like I was saying, because the artwork isn't as cool as this one.

It's not pink..

It's not pink, exactly! There is no other album in your collection that is going to look like that.

Back to the actual album itself, the music on it is just really, really great. It is essentially the idea that Stephen Merritt has really bad hyperacusis and wanted to make an album that would let other people experience music like he experienced music. Which I guess is a bit of a fool's errand as you are next going to really recreate that. How could you possible do that? But I think he actually gets pretty close and at the same time manages not to make it unlistenable. The last thing anyone who follows The Magnetic Fields would expect is for them to make a shoegaze album, which is kind of what this is. It's got that kind of blissed out feel and everything is just covered in layers and distortion. It reminds me more of stuff like My Bloody Valentine than it does other Magnetic Fields albums.

With The Magnetic Fields, you can draw parallels between them and Meursault in how they go from folk-based music to electronic-based music seemlessly. Do you think that's fair?

[sounding unsure] ..Okay. I think it's fair. They influenced me big time. Especially Charm of The Highway Strip was a really big influence, it was constantly getting played. Charm On The Highway Strip and On Avery Island, the first Neutral Milk Hotel album, that was what I was listening to on constant repetition over and over again. Just because everybody gets that thing when you hear a band that just doesn't sound like anything else and that was Magnetic Fields for me. You can draw parallels between other bands but...

Well I didn't mean you sounded like them...

Yeah, yeah. But the thing I liked about them is that they used folk instruments but didn't play folk music. That has been a thing with me as well. I like acoustic guitars and I like banjos and whatever but the music I am playing on them isn't necessarily what you would call folk music. Particularly because folk music has just been ruined now. It is not that it has been done to death and there is still some really good folk coming out. In an ideal world I'd be quite happy to call the music I make folk. The kind of music people call folk music these days is just fucking garbage. It is absolute garbage. I could name names....and I will..[tells me off-record two very big folk acts who he despises]. It is just this sort of commercialisation of folk music has happened before, it is not the first time that has happened with that genre. It is just annoying that it is happening again every twenty years. It is depressing, I'm like. "we have been through this before!" Hey-ho, whatever. Magnetic Fields' Distortion...not a folk album.

The Magnetic Fields - California Girls

Neil Young - Mirror Ball

This is by far of all the artists I picked the most commercial. Is that fair to say of Neil Young? He is one of these guys, isn't he? No matter how massively famous he gets you could never call him commercial, you know, like Tom Waits or Springsteen. They just are who they are. Mirror Ball...everyone fucking hates this album. Especially Neil Young fans...they just hate this album and I've never got why people don't like this album, it's amazing, everything about it. It's got tunes, the production is great, really nice and scrappy kind of like Ragged Glory...that sort of idea. I think the reason why there was such a backlash against it was because for this album his backing band, instead of Crazy Horse or The Stray Gators, he had Pearl Jam. Who, to be fair, at one point quite a good fucking band. I don't know what happened to Pearl Jam critically. They became really 'uncool' to like and I'm not sure why...

Maybe because they were tagged with the 'grunge' label which became quite uncool?

I suppose, but they were always more just rock rather than grunge. Then I can't really think of what a grunge band is...I can only think of Nirvana. You hear people saying Dinosaur Jr. is grunge and that Neil Young is the 'Godfather of Grunge' it is just fucking sweet guitar music, get over it! This album is incredible. It might not be my favourite Neil Young album but it has my favourite Neil Young song on it called 'I'm the Ocean'. He seems to write effortlessly these ten minute long sprawling narrative sorta songs. He has done it before in his career when he writes about getting older and settling down and having kids which you don't really connect with, but somehow on 'I'm the Ocean' I do totally get it. You don't necessarily have to take it as an age thing that he is talking about he is just feeling disconnected about these people around who he feels he should have a connection with. There is a line in the song, 'people my age they don't do the things I do', just the disassociation he has from his peers because of that. You should listen to that song. I'm not going to go into why that particular song means so much to me as that would be boring. I'd recommend this album as a whole to anyone...it's got everything there. The massive rocking song, he has the ones he does on organ like you see if when he does in things like Neil Young Unplugged. There is a reprise of I'm the Ocean at the end that just has the melody...Fallen Angel, that's the one, beautiful. It just sounds like he has had fun making it which is nice to hear someone of that age still enjoying making music. I can't remember the last time I listen to Bob Dylan and thought 'it sounds like he's having a hoot!' [laughs]

That Christmas song he wrote?

[raises his eyebrow and gives me a look...laughs]

Neil Young - I'm the Ocean

Fugazi - The Argument

Now I have got a funny feeling that after we speak about Fugazi's The Argument that if there are any Fugazi purists at the next Meursault show they are going to fucking bottle me. I don't really like Fugazi, I just really like this album. I'm a little turned off by Fugazi and Minor Threat because of the Straight Edge politics which I don't agree with and I find that if music is overly politicised and I don't agree with the message...it's the biggest turn off in the world for me. Anyway, that is that said and done..this album is fucking amazing. To be fair, it was the first thing I had heard by them. When I listened to it I just thought if a band can make an album this good then surely the rest of it is going to be great to dig out and discover. Unfortunately it just wasn't a rewarding experience for me. This album is just a masterpiece, though. I can't imagine a band making a better record and it was there last album. Artwork again is gorgeous. [pulls album out] It has a lovely pull out gate fold and beautiful photography and pictures...

Do you find that important when you are putting out an album, the finished article, packaging, the artwork?

Yeah it has to be sort of a finished piece. It has to be...

Worth buying?

It doesn't have to be worth buying it just has to be worth making. If I was going to not give a fucking about the album artwork then I would just give away CDR's from a plastic bag. I got lectured by one record shop over that bands don't seem to care enough about album artwork these days and I think that it is the total opposite. Bands realise the importance of it more now than ever. If you want people to buy the album and not download it then you have got to make damn sure that it's something that you want, it is not just the music on the record, if you have images that go along with the music...it is just that thought process...you might never have to explain why you have chosen those particular images to any one else. It just shines through. A random image on a record cover and you can just tell. I thought I could talk about this album until the cows came home but I can't, I mean the main talking point is why I don't like Fugazi. There is not much to say about it...lyrically the themes aren't too overbearing which would possibly make it unlistenable but with this one it is more personal. I don't know what Ian Mackaye was particularly on about when he recorded it but it seems to be more from the heart than the head. That sounds corny as fuck but it's true.

Fugazi - Full Disclosure

AC/DC - If You Want Blood

This is probably one of the bands that all the guys in Meursault and probably all my friends have in common. We all like-stroke-love AC/DC especially the Bon Scott stuff. I don't mind Back in Black, to be honest. I think after that everything kind of went down hill and their best stuff is definitely the Bon Scott stuff. If You Want Blood is my favourite recording by them, it's a live album but I don't care. I like live albums I think they get a lot of shit and obviously you do get a load of trash with stuff you feel like they have just thrown it in and it does happen. Albums like Live Seeds by Nick Cave are absolutely incredible. It's weird, you listen to AC/DC songs...have you ever heard What's Next To The Moon by Mark Kozelek?

Aye.

Well that made me reevaluate AC/DC and really go back and listen to it. Instead of listening back and being all nostalgic about it and thinking, "oh yeah, I used to listen to this as a kid" and dance around the room, it made me sort of listen to it...I was a bit more open-minded about it. Instead of listening to it as a kid and thinking, "hahaha, this song is about rape and my mum will hate me listening to this"..it sounds really childish, well, it is childish as I was a child but you listen to it now and, this is going to get me in trouble from a lot of mates, I almost think Bon Scott wrote about what it was like to be young and lustful and a bit of a misfit a lot better than a lot of people, including people like Springsteen. I think he nailed it as he kept the fun and sort of danger aspect of it and, I shouldn't go on about it as I fucking love Springsteen, but I think with him it was always dramatised. It was like 'Teenager; The Musical', whereas AC/DC was more warts and all.

Springsteen has aged better don't you think?

In that Springsteen didn't die?!! It is quite hard to age well as a corpse! [both laughing]

I mean post-Bon Scott and AC/DC as a whole. Do you even listen to the newer ones?

I mean Bon Scott was their lyricist and Angus Young's lyrics just aren't the same. I've just lost interest, I think. It is one of those things were it just doesn't capture my imagination any more. I think the albums that I did have as a kid were previous to Back in Black as well, and including, I don't think I realised as a kid that Back in Black wasn't Bon Scott but obviously now I do. I just think by the time I would have gotten round to listen to the rest I had reached a point in my life, late teens and early twenties, everything just became really earnest. Only the last four or five years I have sort of come around again. I find it really hard when music is overly earnest to engage with it. That might sound a bit weird coming from me giving that our last album, by all admission, was really quite earnest indeed.

Do you think you are going to make an album of 'I am young and want to have fun songs', then?

Maybe not 'I'm young and I want to have fun' but maybe 'I'm middle aged and I would like to have a bit of a better time'. I'm 29, man. I'm not that young. It's not that old, I know. Certainly when I look at what I am listening to since we made the last record...the stuff we've got here was maybe in the back of my mind. The stuff I am listening to now is sort of a regression into stuff that is a bit more....I don't know how to describe it...

Easier on yourself?

Yeah. Fuck yeah. Music should be enjoyable and it doesn't have to be this thing that you have to purge yourself every time you want to write a song or listen to a record. I think that is a big thing for me at the moment.

Can you see yourself stepping away from making your music so personal?

I think it will always be personal. It is just...life's a bit better now. I listen to the first record and I think there is a lot more range of emotion on that record.

You've said before you thought the first record was quite bitter...

It's weird how your opinions change, isn't it? That is totally the reverse for me now. The bitterness I had on the first record seemed to be towards certain things. The bitterness on the second record...I think I gave myself a bit of a hard time. I'm still glad I made the record though. You realise a lot of shit when you made a record like that.

Was it quite cathartic then?

That one was, aye. Unnecessarily so. Meursault have another tour and then after that there is going to be a break. After that we are going to have an album ready and for all intensive purposes it is going to be a new band, which is quite exciting for me. Same people and pretty much the same process to writing songs it is going to be a little bit different content wise. A different approach sonically and just...

Would you say it is going to be as different...to say...Nothing Broke compared to All Creature Will Make Merry?

Yeah absolutely. Maybe not in that direction though. I won't say any more as it is still early days.

So basically you want to be Bon Scott?

I just want to get on a stage with my top off! [we both laugh]

AC/DC - Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be


Meursault are playing The Caves, Edinburgh on the 25th (Monday) they are then extensively touring Britain and Europe. Go see them live, eh?

25 OCT 2010 - THE CAVES : EDINBURGH : UK
26 OCT 2010 - HEAD OF STEAM : NEWCASTLE : UK
27 OCT 2010 - THE HARLEY : SHEFFIELD : UK
28 OCT 2010 - ROYAL PARK CELLARS : LEEDS : UK
30 OCT 2010 - THE LUMINAIRE : LONDON : UK
31 OCT 2010 - THE PLAYHOUSE BAR [free entry] : NORWICH : UK
02 NOV 2010 - SAKI BAR : MANCHESTER : UK
03 NOV 2010 - STEREO : YORK : UK
04 NOV 2010 - DEXTER'S : DUNDEE : UK
05 NOV 2010 - BEACH BALLROOM : ABERDEEN : UK
06 NOV 2010 - STEREO : GLASGOW : UK

9 comments:

  1. Great interview! "Shopping With..." really leads to interesting insights that conventional interviews don't. Loved reading all of this, especially Neil's thoughts on Magnetic Fields. My favorite song of theirs is "All My Little Words" and I could never really articulate why it strikes me so much. I knew it had to do with the banjo...but basically it's because they use folk instruments for non-folk music! So awesome.

    I LOVED this: "It doesn't have to be worth buying it just has to be worth making." Something only a solid musician would say.

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  2. I really enjoyed this and I've never even heard of this band before! Shall be checking out recommended albums.

    PS It's Charm Of The Highway Strip not Charm On

    PPS It's so much fun to read this in a Scottish accent in your head.

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  3. I knew there would be at least one typo in this! Cheers for the heids up, pal!

    Check them out, fo sho. He has also collaborated in a band called Cold Seed who I think are great;

    http://songbytoadrecords.com/media/ColdSeeds-LeaveMetoLieAloneintheGround.mp3

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  4. Cold Seeds. TYPO IN THE COMMENTS...two post mentalism.

    Aye, buy it on vinyl cos it is proper lovely;

    http://songbytoadrecords.com/meursault/cold-seeds/

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  5. Did you steal the idea for this from "Shopping Around... with Beryl" from the Herald and Post? They'll sue you.

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  6. I hate how you always remember everything and then use said knowledge to plot my downfall!

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  7. That's what big brothers are for. Show some respect. If I wasn't so into Mull Historical Society when I were a lad you'd be blogging about The Saturdays now, or something. And your twitname wouldn't be OhJawbone, it'd be Bieber_Forever88. I made you, I can destroy you!!!!!

    P.S. "Bon Scott was THEIR lyricist". Good grief.

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  8. Great work - can't wait till the next Shopping With... feature!

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