Five Minutes with ... Mesh
UK electro mainstays Mesh are about to release their new album, ĎA Perfect Solutioní so we thought it would be a great time to get on the phone and chat to Rich and Mark about the inspirations and ideas behind the new material, alongside an overall view on the current UK electronic and Industrial scene.
This new material is a little heavier and more guitar-orientated Ė was this an intentional move?
Rich: I donít think there has ever been a conscious effort to move in a heavier direction. I mean we have always used guitars right from the beginning and they may have been disguised or filtered so that they donít sound much like a guitar, but I have always like the imperfections of drum loops and guitars because it gives it that kind of live feel. I think the more you can emphasise the live element then more "rock" it sounds. I think that with this album our confidence has grown and we feel like a real band and because of that, weíve used real instruments. Thereís a definite heavier edge but thereís also the sense that underneath that, itís still truly electronic. I think we got tired of the whole synth-pop tag and so we tried to push things into a more alternative direction. Sometimes when Mark comes round with a song, even just in demo form, you can feel the angst in the lyrics and we didnít want to make anything light, so we certainly pushed the more distorted sound and so, thatís how it has turned out.
You guys are obviously one of the most respected electronic bands in the world, but we wanted to ask what you think of the current UK electronic and Industrial scene?
Rich: I think that thereís a lot of interesting bands coming out at the minute. I suspect many people have heard of the likes of IAMX. To me thatís brilliant! I think thatís the way electronic music is going, people are doing something thatís innovative rather than copying. I am so bored of all the bands trying to do the future-pop thing over and over again. It just seems so recycled when you have these four-on-the-floor drums and to me, thereís enough of that now, and someone needs to do something a bit different and get back to writing songs and producing well-crafted stuff. If you take all of IAMXís production away at the end of the day, he has some really good songs. I think thatís what will see these kind of bands through. Thereís too many people out there now who are really good at doing the EBM-dance-club thing to compete with. Also, I think the band Kloq are fantastic, we have one of their mixes on our single. Itís innovative definitely.
Do you think the worldwide electronic scene is in a good state right now?
Rich: Yeah, I think itís good. I mean we play lots of festivals in Europe and they are so well attended but whether we get a slightly blurred picture because the European scene is so good, I donít know. But, like I said I think the problem is for me that thereís so many bands doing exactly the same thing that I think the whole scene is probably getting a little bit stale. It needs some kind of interest and the genre needs a figurehead band to make the industry prick up their ears and see that thereís life here. I think that especially within the lighter side of things thereís a lot of bands recreating the 80s thing, like Little Boots and La Roux and itís flooding into the charts right now Ė itís just 80s stuff done in a cool way. Itís reasonably healthy but it does need somebody to come in and do something original.
Can you tell us the inspiration behind ĎOnly Betterí and the lyrics, "Your lips are cracked and blistered like the faces that you draw"?
Mark: Itís difficult Ė itís almost like an exorcism and about trying to get things out of your head by writing and drawing things. It was that kind of thing that was going on at the time when I was writing that one. It was written a long time ago. It was almost the first track that we did for this, and it got lost a bit in time. We started recording this stuff about two-years-ago. I mean that song was the first one we did. It was also a very difficult time for us and we were trying to move away from what we were doing with Neil [Taylor, former keyboardist] and a lot of it came out of that. We were struggling for a bit and we were trying to find a different balance because even though it was almost always myself and Rich in the studio, it was almost like a three way dynamic. So they were lyrics coming from that period and us trying to get everything straight. Going from three people to two was a really hard path. Everything was kind of uncertain at that time and so there was also this sense of optimism where we were trying to get rid of things that had been done before. So, that was the sentiment behind that track particularly.
Can you explain if there is an overriding theme to the new album, ĎA Perfect Solutioní? Ė Obviously you have always concentrated on very personal ideas, experiences and emotions in the past?
Mark: I think it tends to come out when you stand back and look at it all, you know? I think with the last album, ĎWe Collideí particularly, I tried to move away from a lot of those things but on this one I have just gone straight back into these ideas of relationships and a lot of the stuff thatís gone on around me really, and itís concentrated on that rather than on me personally. The theme also ties in with the artwork too and thatís all kind of gelled everything together. We donít really set out to do anything itís just about what comes. I think that once we had a title - which we came up with before we finished about half-way through the process Ė which is unusual, we just started writing stuff to support that. We donít generally do stuff like that, and we donít really have titles for the songs even as weíre writing them. But I had that title in mind for the last five tracks that I wrote and that title came out of what weíd already done anyway. So it gels really well, and now weíve got everything finished it really works as one kind of thing and the title really fits what we are doing.
Is there a specific track on the new record that represents Mesh as a unit, now in 2009?
Mark: Thereís a couple of tracks that push us in to a new direction. Thereís usually some spill-over from the last album and ĎOnly Betterí is almost like a continuation of something like ĎMy Hands Are Tiedí where we were using acoustic drums and guitars. Though those tracks are not really similar in tune they are certainly similar in the way that we were writing things. Thereís a track on the new album called, ĎHow Long?í which is a working title at the minute, and thereís a tune called ĎWant Youí which is almost like a jazz-kind-of-thing. I mean it doesnít really sound like a jazz track but itís got that tempo to it. Thereís a lot of high-tempo stuff on there, I mean the last track, ĎThe Bitter Endí has really grown on me. We have got some tracks that takes us into a new direction and then some others that sound like us, but I think that itís moved in a very up-tempo way. The whole mood of the album is very different, and itís almost like, ĎThe Point At Which It Falls Apartí Ė itís got a good atmosphere on it like that but itís more upbeat that anything we have done previously. The songs are still growing on us to be honest. Itís a weird situation in as much as weíve recorded and mixed everything here, and then Rich has gone to Germany to work with a producer and mixer over there, and so I am hearing things almost like they are new when they come back. In fact, some of the things that I thought wouldnít turn out to be so good, have actually come back so much better than when we began working on them. Everything is sounding really together, so itís difficult to pick out one specific track.
Random album question - If you could each pick anyone to sit down for dinner with and listen to the new album, who would it be and why?
Mark: I would probably pick my son actually. Strangely enough. He is only young but he loves music and he hasnít heard the new album yet but heís a big fan of mine and I like that. I think that he would be receptive to it and the way itís put together, and my sister too Ė she is always receptive to that kind of thing. The rest of the family donít get involved in it really.
Rich: I would pick a friend who I work with named Kev. I kind of respect his opinion as he listens to a very wide-range of music. I very much respect his opinion when it comes to stuff that we have done. I think he would be a good choice. Not wishing to copy Mark I would pick my sister as well, as I think she would probably be honest about things. I think she would be a very good critic for it.
Random music question Ė if you could rip the soundtrack from any film (you can each pick one) and replace it with your sound, which film would you chose and why?
Rich: It would have to be something very dark; one of my favourite films is The Crow, just the whole kind of atmosphere of the film. Not necessarily the concept or anything else, I just like the way that itís filmed and the whole feel of it. It inspires me in the same way as our music does and it takes you on a bit of a journey.
Mark: It wouldnít work, but it would probably be very funny. I like Napoleon Dynamite. It would be pretty cool to have our music playing in the disco scene at the end there.
You've always been very passionate about your hometown of Bristol, has that location or your surroundings on tour or in general ever influenced you musically?
Mark: Itís probably 50 per cent. We tend to write separately, though that has changed to a degree since itís become just the two of us but not massively so. I tend to pull a lot of stuff from friends and family and maybe someone I have heard about or know. You can get yourself into the position where you can write from an imaginary perspective and I guess the other half of this album is like that. Itís almost like writing a story I guess. Itís not every day you can do it, but some days you will find that you can write something in a couple of hours and come up with something easily but you have to condense it down into something and itís not always easy. You very rarely hear something and then itís like, ĎIím going to write about that now.í For me, itís usually something that has been playing on my mind, and something thatís been a long running saga. Then the other half can be a purely creative thing that you can deal with and create when the feelingís there.
How do you feel that you have developed as people throughout your vast musical career Ė we ask, because your music seems to be a catharsis for others and we wondered if it was the same for you?
Mark: Yeah, definitely. For us it is very much the core of our lives really. I donít think weíd manage if we didnít do this. Itís a strange thing to put your finger on. For us it would be almost inconceivable not to do it. I mean, music has taken us all over the world and it gives us a feeling that something is missing when we are not doing it. So, itís a strange feeling really. Thatís the case right now, as we have almost finished writing and we want to get on with the next thing, but itís too much. Itís always in the back of our minds that we need to start writing again. Whether itís cathartic I do not know but when we do live stuff, I donít usually like doing it and then I wonder what I would do if I wasnít able to do it. Itís satisfying to finish a record - to write a track, and then you mix it, bring it to the studio then listen Ė itís the central point of everything we do. Weíve managed to fit families around it and work around it. Itís not an easy thing to do if you have got other things going on, so, we must love it really. We probably should check ourselves in somewhere.
Finally what are your most exciting plans following the European tour which ends in November, are you relaxing for Christmas before you work on other stuff next year?
Mark: No, I have a fairly hideous three months now. Iíve got to do all the video for our entire live set. So, weíve got to start from scratch. Weíve got a new video system that weíve put together for the stage and weíre going to have to do pretty much everything from scratch and test all the equipment. Really itís like writing another album for me. And then we have another project to do with music which we will tell you about soon. Itís stressful because we can only kind of relax because we have many deadlines to meet. Most of the stress is over though.
Rich: Yeah, itís not going to be easy I mean when we do a show we always try different versions of the songs or program them in a slightly new way or in a different direction. We might go off on one and do some dance bits at the end of some of the track on this tour, so thatís my project. We are now playing more and more live. I know most electronic bands just stand there with a track playing and pretend but we actually do play. So, I have to kind of re-programme all the backing, minus all the bits and pieces we are actually going to perform live so, itís a big job and itís filling me with dread. I will give the finished thing to Mark and then he will come up with a video for it. I think itís going to be really good and I am looking forward to the tour but I will look forward to it more when I have most of it behind me.
Okay guys, set the scene, you are in the studio right now and what are you doing?
Rich: Well, itís alright for some, Mark has just been on holiday in Spain for two weeks and this is the first time we have got together and weíve got loads of things that we have to get through. Weíve just got the mastered album in today, so we need to sit down with it, and try to pick out any faults and be constructive. Weíve currently got someone finalising the artwork, and we have someone working on ideas. So, itís a busy time! But, we do thrive on the stress and the chaos of it all.
Dom Smith, Soundsphere