Interview by Hannah Green
It would by now be stating the obvious to say that the past few months have been a difficult time for the music industry. Closed venues, restricted studio access, and the malaise of uncertainty and pandemic stress are less than ideal conditions. However, for Bristol-based band Melotone, this has been a uniquely creative period, with an astonishing array of new music and accompanying videos in their Melotone @ Home project.
We last caught up with Melotone mid lockdown. Speaking now, they describe that time as a period of forced creativity, as ‘lockdown and the postponement of live shows gave us a real incentive to shift our focus onto writing and creatively thinking of ways to produce online content.’ The experience also offered a bit of self reflection. ‘It’s given us the time to really explore different avenues of sound and imagery, helping us to develop a better understanding of who we actually are’, they tell ARCCA. ‘We’ve ended up writing like never before’.
Melotone’s first lockdown offering, The Nicklin Show, was a cozy, atmospheric live set straight from their living room. ‘What started as a house clean became a stage setup; except, without proper lights, a crowd or a bar we had about as much ambience as warm bedside lamps could muster’, they told Bristol in Stereo back in April. Named for their bassist who was isolating in Birmingham at the time, it was at once a glimpse into the foreseeable future of music, the possibilities of living room releases and a gorgeous production in its own right. Now, for their Melotone @ Home project, the band are releasing a series of videos through August and September, culminating in a live set to be released next weekend.
Melotone @ Home is, according to the band, ‘the world we have brewed for ourselves amidst the music industry shutdown’. Practically, that has manifested in a weekly series of videos for songs they’ve written over lockdown, which offer ‘more than just a listening experience’. The videos are endlessly creative: from Cherry Sour’s sweet, simple lyrics written on a flip chart next to a bloom of red poppies, to the near-slapstick narrative of Balancar, which charts the troubled relationship of a basketball coach and his star player. Every Night features smokey forest visuals with its campfires and canals, whilst Shiver Like a Ghost’s pinks and purples quickly spiral into a dreamy succession of visuals. Their latest video for Essa Mulher captures the sun-soaked gold of a summer’s day with sensitive shots of light reflecting off the surface of the sea and friends perched on shoreline rocks. ‘It’s all creative experimentation’, they say, ‘there’s no set pattern of theme, genre or style, meaning that we have free reign over how we project ourselves and the people we work with.’ The absence of a live audience doesn’t stop the band ‘performing’: ‘we make music, create sets, get in front of cameras and are as characterful as we would be onstage.’
As well as producing a gorgeous set of videos, the process has been its own reward. The band tells us that ‘it’s been a joy to develop a completely different idea every week. There’s been no pressure of maintaining a ‘sound’ as you would for an EP or album: we’ve just free-flowed’. They also highlight the collaborative nature of the videos. ‘It’s been a hell of a lot of fun developing and executing the concepts alongside our incredibly talented mates’ they say, ‘Melotone @ Home would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and energy from our creative friends.’ Outside involvement has increased with each new video. By the filming of Every Night, the third release, ‘we were reaching out to directors we know (Alex Nicklin, Brad Perry, Max Tobin) and creating casts of actors out of our friends, so our sets had upwards of fifteen people helping out.’ They were also blessed with access to a BBC prop storage unit, which ‘allowed us to go wild on set design.’ They hint that for the finale they’ve gone bigger and more ‘Hollywoody’ - ‘but we’re not allowed to talk about that yet!’
When asked about the creative process of realising this project, Melotone explain that the music videos ‘tend to start off as vivid but unattainable ideas. Like dreams!’. Although the concepts will often have their genesis in one person, ‘that individual vision is inevitably transformed by the collective effort of everyone involved.’ The first two videos stayed pretty close to the initial ideas, as they were filmed, acted and edited solely by the band. Later videos called for more collaborative efforts, as the band talked to directors Alex and Brad about ‘vague ideas like colours, outfits, environments’, then ‘planned a storyboard and approached the day with open minds, letting the filmmakers take more direction with the final vision.’
Melotone’s music has a distinct bossa nova sound, and smatterings of Portuguese from vocalist Alec are not uncommon. ‘Balancar’ is entirely in Portuguese, though luckily for non-speakers the accompanying video contains its own engaging narrative. In reference to their bilingual tracks, the band explain that ‘Alec’s Portuguese lyrics (as a result of his Brazilian background) began to really compliment Pete’s (the guitarist) experimentation with staccato-like rhythms on the guitar, and Ed’s (the drummer) growing interest in adopting a raw-sounding Latin swing on the kit. Our jams were beginning to acquire a bossa-nova, samba tinge to them, which really came into its own with the Portuguese inflection.’ They describe themselves as creating ‘an imperfect lens upon the roots of Latin-jazz, making music that bops to an authentic pulse whilst strangely distorted by a lo-fi presence’. Difficult to define then, but completely delicious listening. Stay tuned for the big release!
Melotone will be playing at the Grain Barge on 09/10/2020.
Check out the Melotone @ Home series here.