Ahead of their return to Dundee next Friday, I had the pleasure of a chat last week with Meursault singer/songwriter Neil Pennycook.
Meursault are undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most challenging and innovative acts. They released their third LP ‘Something for the Weakened’ in the summer and anyone who has heard all three albums to date will readily agree that the records, whilst they all undeniably have a distinctive Meursault identify, are all quite different in emphasis. At the start of our interview though Neil confessed this is more by accident than design.
“It’s a bit of a mystery how the overall sound of the album comes into being. When we start, we don’t have much of a blueprint and it’s quite a natural process.
“I think the songs inform the direction and the instrumentation. Also the environment I’m writing in can be quite a deciding factor as well. The first album was essentially just myself in a room recording on my own so we were just using what was at hand.
“Slowly it’s developed, other members of the band have come in and had more input and influence on the songs. On the last record the songs were written with 6-10 people’s input and also their different characters and traits as musicians filtered through. “
The Caves, Edinburgh – June 2011
Neil agrees that ‘Something for the Weakened’ undoubtedly has a wider scope than past Meursault records
“Definitely. Just having someone else engineering the record, never mind producing the record, just someone to set up the room and the mics that already was a total revelation to me.
“Before it was a case of me running back and forward, tripping over wires and trying to figure out the recording process as I went along. This time I had someone to take care of the technical side of things so that myself and the other guys could focus purely on the performance and record the best possible track. I could then listen it over with the rest of the guys and have an informed conversation on it.
“We made this album without any specifications in mind and Pete our cellist was doing all the arrangements. I just let him go crazy with this record and he was quite happy to. It’s really good fun so you end up with this record which sounds like it has a string section and then we try and replicate that live. Yeah!”
The band first replicated that sound live at the album launch in July with the addition of an 8 piece string section and a couple of similar shows are in the works. Neil is enthusiastic at how that’s working out.
“It’s absolutely amazing. It’s a great feeling with all that sound. I don’t know how easy it is to explain but just as a musician and to be on stage with that many amazing players is always going to be great. It’s a real novelty to be able to do that.”
If the records have been a demonstration of a restless creativity, the fluid line up of the band (I’ve never seen the same line-up play twice) has probably helped fuel those changes. But, again, Neil puts that down to a combination of circumstances rather than choice.
“At the moment we’ve got a core of 8 musicians, who are directly involved with Meursault. There are a few other people who are involved at the periphery that will come in when we record and put a few things down and throw in a few ideas. But essentially whatever variation you see of us playing will be a variation of those eight people.
“At the moment we do feel like a band, a proper unified band. But if you’ve got that many people there’s always going to be some shows that people can’t do and some that can. You just have to work around it. Thankfully the musicians that we have are very adaptable and very keen to try these kinds of things.”
Never quite knowing what to expect from the band live is something that appeals to me as a fan but, again, it’s not part of a masterplan
“It’s a happy by-product of what we’ve done but probably the opposite of what we’re striving towards! For the people that come and see us regularly we get a lot of positive feedback for operating the way we do.”
Dexter’s, Dundee – November 2010
The band have been busy promoting the new album and are not long back from several weeks in continental Europe.
“It was a real mixed bag. You go from venues which would be familiar to any Edinburgh gig goer, maybe about the size of the Wee Red Bar or Bongo Club. But they’ve still got quite a strong scene of living room concerts, especially in Germany, where they cram as many people in as they can. Not an acoustic show but a full volume electric guitar show from Meursault but you’re still in a living room!
“Nine times out of ten they’re absolutely amazing shows and they’re one of my favourites to do. It’s not something you see an awful lot of in Scotland any more. If these shows exist, they tend to be more pared back acoustic shows.”
I was curious as to how a band like Meursault would translate to a European audience. Neil reassured me that labguage is not a brrier.
“It’s pretty positive on the whole. We’re still at that point where we’ve only done a couple of European tours so we’re still finding our audience in certain areas, I guess.
“But in certain places we get a really good turnout and the general feel for the album seems to be very positive and people have latched onto the album and like it quite a lot. Certainly the German press seem very, very keen and our German PR guy’s getting very excited and it’s quite funny! He came out to see us in Hamburg clutching this folder of radio PR reports and he was over the moon.”
As well as the European band tour, Neil also recently played a solo Meursault gig in Moscow, along with FOUND.
“That was something else and one of THE strangest gigs I’ve ever played in my life.
“One of the guys at Dewars set up this trip over to Russia to play in a Scottish theme bar which actually isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. You imagine a Scottish theme bar and picture Mel Gibson! But it was just Scottish food on the menu and a selection of Scotch whiskys.
“It wasn’t a regular Meursault show but a lot of fun. It really is just another world over there in terms of the culture and what have you. It was an eye opener.”
In terms of what to expect in Dundee next week (and on the band’s other UK dates) things have moved on from the album launch – although unusually in a slightly backwards direction as Neil explains.
“When you come and see us now after the European tour it’s a real mixed bag of songs from the record, which we’re obviously trying to play as much as possible, and older songs as well as brand new songs.
“We’re at the point now, a few months after the album’s come out, where we’re actually now just introducing old songs into the set. The intention was never not to play old songs it’s just taken a little while to re-introduce them. For some of the songs we had to find new ways of playing them with different instruments as they were very electronic heavy but others songs are a bit more faithful to what was recorded.”
Neil is also promising brand new Meursault songs after playing a couple at the launch for SFTW in July.
“I think it’s just something we’ll always do. I think the songs for the last album especially developed a lot over the course of 6 or 7 months. They wouldn’t have existed in their finished form on the record if we hadn’t gone through that process of playing them live.
“It seems to work very well for us and the audience seem to like it as well. But if we got up on stage tomorrow in front of a packed out Edinburgh audience and only played new songs, I’d imagine people would get pissed off! But to play two or three new songs in a set is always going to be acceptable.”
Homegame 2009 – The hangover set
With SFTW recorded some time ago and having now been toured, Neil feels that he is starting to get a perspective on the record.
“My opinions towards it are slowly solidifying. But they’re all subject to change. You build a relationship with your own work over time and it will change but, at the moment, I’m really happy with it and I’m quite proud of what we’ve done.
“Three or four years down the line when I’ve done some more albums I might think ‘why did we do that in that way?’ But certainly it feels like the right album to have made for just now in terms of where I’m at and where the rest of the band are at.”
Thanks to Neil for his time for the interview and if you’re in the area, I’d certainly urge you to come along and see the band next Friday. You won’t be disappointed.
Meursault play Beat Generator Live next Friday (November 9th) with doors at 7:30 p.m. Support comes from the wonderful Man Without Machines. Unfortunately the Won Over have had to pull out from the show and they have been replaced by new Dundee act Blood Indians.
One of the LP highlights taken from the LP launch show: