INTERVIEW: Melodie Nelson

DARK END OF THE STREET

WITH HER SOPHOMORE ALBUM AS MELODIE NELSON, LIA TSAMOGLOU HAS CREATED A MORE DETAILED AND COHESIVE SONG CYCLE WHICH, AS SHE EXPLAINS TO CHRIS FAMILTON, IS BASED AROUND HER FASCINATION WITH THE CULTURAL SHIFT OF LATE 60S SUBURBIA.

In 2011 Melodie Nelson released her debut album Meditations On the Sun, a collection of songs deeply indebted to the sound of late 60s girl groups filtered through the glow and haze of 90s Mazzy Star. Now, only a year later, she is releasing its successor To The Dollhouse which takes the premise of that first record and expands it with confidence and clarity. Although the gap between releases seems short, the new album was in fact recorded only a few months after her debut release and finished early in 2012.

“It’s been about a year since we went down to Melbourne to record it which is crazy, I can’t believe how quickly the year has flown by. I mixed it in January and then I wasn’t 100% happy so I took it to Chris Townsend in Tasmania who mixed the first one. That was a little bit time consuming and then we got caught up in doing a single and video clip and I was still looking for a label as the last one dissolved a week before my album launch which wasn’t great! It was those types of things that delayed it. My manager even wanted to push it out to next year but we thought it’s done and ready to go out so we may as well just get it out. A year is still quite a quick turnaround and I’ve noticed a few others doing that. I mean really, what else are you doing? I didn’t pick up massive tours and I wasn’t traipsing overseas all the time so what else am I going to do other than hang out at home and write some new songs,” says Tsamoglou.

Heading into album number two Tsamoglou had a much clearer view of what she wanted to achieve  in terms of the narrative of the songs and how they would sound. “I had a bit more of a plan with this one. I had a deadline and I stuck to it, I made notes and I had more of an idea of what I wanted. Now looking back I can see that the first one is more of a collection of songs over a period of four years so I knew I wanted a particular theme on this one. I knew how I wanted the songs to sound, with a suburban, late 60s/early 70s vibe. I recorded the first album in the country so there were themes of nature, if there was any theme that tied those songs together. This one I actually had an idea that because I was recording it in suburban Melbourne I wanted a seedy, suburban side to it like the Polanksi movies Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion. The concept was the seedier side of the late 60s and that shift in western culture. It is a fascinating era. I realised I’d been interested in the pop culture around that for years so it made sense.”

Musicians often talk about records that loom large during either the writing or recording of their own albums and for Melodie Nelson there were a number of important influences that soundtracked the making of To the Dollhouse. “I couldn’t stop listening to The Beach Boys Surf’s Up because it is such a weird album. I think that is where Brian Wilson had pretty much lost his mind and only contributed a few songs but it has these insane four part harmonies and some great songwriting by Carl Wilson. I was listening to Isaac Hayes which influenced the bass lines and Serge Gainsbourg was a big influence as always, even more so on this album. Another one was The Manson Family album which has these crazy girl harmonies. Listening to that got a bit scary after a while though.”

this interview was first published in The Drum Media.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Melodie Nelson | To The Dollhouse

by Chris Familton

 

Melodie Nelson’s debut album of 2011, Meditations on the Sun, was a wonderful slice of hazy 60s pop which she has promptly followed up with a record that takes that template and builds on it with an air of confidence in both its songwriting and sound.

To The Dollhouse is very much a period piece in that there is little to give away the fact it was recorded in this day and age. Much of it could have appeared in the 60s or 70s and barely an eyelid would have been batted. Just as equally, when placed in the present tense it doesn’t come across as pastiche. There is a dreamy, almost prescription drug mist that drifts through the album and contributes to a notion of music from another time and within that Nelson (Lia Tsamoglou) has carefully created individual narratives that soundtrack an imagined world, often centred around dreams, heartbreak and romance – generally of the doomed kind. This is pop of the dark variety but not morose or overly sombre. Take Me For A Ride is a great example of how Nelson and producer Simon Grounds have succeeded in bringing well placed levity to the music. That song’s bassline is verging on dare I say it – funky… but very much from the school of Tindersticks and the slowcore Spain. Pre-release 666, a duet with Geoffrey O’Connor and particularly the new single Martha both stand out for their pop nous with choruses that bury deep in your short term memory while elsewhere Nelson layers her vocals in interweaving torchsong patterns to great effect.

This is a more mature and assured set of songs than her very good debut and finds Nelson revealing a genuine ability for writing this type of music in an authentic and utterly entrancing manner.

this review was first published in Drum Media

 

FEATURE: Girls Aloud

In the last five years an increasing number of female artists have been making themselves heard above the generic indie clatter. Many of them have stepped away from the softer folk leanings of artists like Feist and Cat Power and established a stronger, more assertive aural template.

In the electronic realm the likes of Austra, Fever Ray and Zola Jesus are creating dark electronic pop music with great critical success. Their music takes influence from post punk, goth, industrial and synth pop but they meld and advance those forms with an added coat of modern digital sheen and futuristic glamour. Across the hallway in the indie room there is Anna Calvi conjuring up swooning guitar-led songs full of passion and drama while next door Florence Welch is taking the baroque sounds of Kate Bush and others and magnifying the music to maximum grandeur.

What links all of these artists is a bold and commanding vocal presence that is of a maximalist nature, projecting outwards. That strength of delivery isn’t something new – Bjork, Patti Smith, Nico, PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sioux were all there first –  yet this new generation of songwriters are embracing both their natural voices and a desire to invest passion and drama in their music while creating new and interesting work from established musical forms. Simon Reynolds recently wrote of the current trend for overblown sonics and production styles in his Maximal Nation article for Pitchfork. There his focus was on the electronic world yet the themes and trends he discussed are also fertile developments in the pop and indie worlds.

As these artists continue to gather an audience the trickle down effect will increasingly become apparent in other like-minded singers. Locally, acts like Brous, Melodie Nelson and to some extent Washington are embracing big bold artful pop shapes with differing levels of intensity while internationally Feist was one artist who noticeably moved away from some of the sweetness of her earlier work on last year’s Metals LP. Musically it felt like both a retreat and an advance but most of all it was an example of her desire to expand and evolve her craft. It all makes for interesting times as both nostalgia and now increasingly futurism become permanently embedded in the evolution of popular music. The number of female artists among those creating forward thinking and ambitious sounding music is an encouraging and important sign of the times.

this was first published in The Drum Media

Favourite Songs of 2011

So many people are starting to base their listening on songs these days, such is the reduction in attention spans, the proliferation of YouTube browsing and the ease of compiling ones own playlists featuring the best stuff you want to hear. Separate to my Top 50 LPs of 2011 I’ve also put together a list of songs that caught my ears and became hard to shake. There were of course dozens of others that could be included here but this is a lucky dip of sorts into some of my favourite tunes of 2011 that might lead you further into the artist’s work if you havent checked them out yet…

In no particular order as they are all great…

Dick Diver – On The Bank

Those Darlins – Screw Get Loose

J. Mascis – Not Enough

Total Control – One More Tonight

Light Asylum – Dark Allies

The Strokes – Under Cover of Darkness

Iron & Wine – Tree By a River

Timber Timbre – Bad Ritual

Little Dragon – Ritual Union

Wilco – I Might

Two Tears – Eat People

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong

Iowa – Complete Control

The Laurels – Black Cathedral

The Adults – Nothing To Lose

Austra – Lose It

Atlas Sound – Te Amo

Twerps – Dreamin

Royal Headache – Really In Love

Melodie Nelson – Waiting

Black Lips – Spidey’s Curse

Crystal Stilts – Shake The Shackles

Jamie XX – Far Nearer

The Felice Brothers – Ponzi

The Paper Scissors – Lung Sum

Robag Wruhme – Thora Vukk

Wavves – I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl

Wild Flag – Romance

Leader Cheetah – Crawling Up A Landslide

LIVE REVIEW: Pinback @ Manning Bar, Sydney 22/08/11

written by Chris Familton

Melodie Nelson was in solo mode for her support slot which was a shame as her band are really starting to find their legs. Playing to backing tracks courtesy of her iPod and filling in the gaps with keyboard and guitar she did however draw the audience further into her simple yet warmly enveloping songs. There is a real melodic richness and sense of calm to her music in the same way that Beach House filter their songs through a gauze of drift and drone without straying too far from the essence of the song and traditional structures. My Johnny was the most upbeat and immediately gratifying song with its tale of love/lust going awry set in the world of 60s pop and like all of her songs it received a warm response from the crowd.

This was Pinback’s first visit to Australia, surprising for a moderately successful act now into their thirteenth year and with four albums to their name. ‘Moderately successful’ should be taken in the context of the indie world they inhabit – the same world as Modest Mouse, Built To Spill and others who gained recognition in the post grunge climate of the late 90s. Post rock and math rock were big at the time and Pinback melded indie rock with those more exploratory sounds to create a particular hybrid that was  built on clever lyrics, prog-leaning composition and and heart on sleeve performances.

Taking the stage as a trio, Pinback received a heroes welcome from the sparse yet wholly devotional audience. Both Rob Crow and Zach Smith played the role of frontman, with Crow spending most of the time playing bass and Smith on guitar. With only a few exceptions they proceeded to plough headlong into their back catalogue, pausing momentarily to replace bottles of beer on Crow’s customised mic stands replete with drink holders or quickly tune guitars.

Live they beefed up their sound considerably with a much heavier rhythm section and a sharp and direct vocal delivery, particularly from Crow. For a man who looks like a roadie or socially inept video store clerk he has a voice that can soar into falsetto or step its way gently through detailed vocal melodies. His guitar acted more as a rhythm instrument while Smith’s playing shone as the musical heart of many of their songs. He strummed, slapped and picked his way through the performance with apparent ease, belying the complexity of what he was playing. On Barnes he was superb at replicating the intricacies of the recorded version of the song while reeling off counterpoint vocal harmonies without a trace of strain or exertion.

There were innumerable highlights but some that stood out were Good To Sea with its weird mix of Modest Mouse and They Might Be Giants quirk and perfect pop hooks. Bouquet reminded of a more immediate and engaging Sunny Day Real Estate while Loro from their first album floated on magically and generated a great audience sing-a-long. It all came together on Devil You Know from Autumn of the Seraphs with tumbling and overlapping instruments and vocals that felt much bigger than the sum of three musicians. Mid set Crow shed his guitar and indulged in some bouncy dance moves before taking the mic into the audience for some celebratory singing and interaction. It showed another side to a band that generally plays serious music and further endeared them to the already devoted fans.

Pinback were clearly buzzed to be playing in Australia and long time fans rewarded them warmly. This was a show that reaffirmed how enjoyable live music can be in the right environment where everyone is playing their part and enthusiasm is the order of the night from all sides. With a new album out early next year hopes will be high that a return visit is already being planned.

this review was first published on FasterLouder.

INTERVIEW: Melodie Nelson

STEPPING OUT ALONE

WITH A NEW NAME AND A NEW MUSICAL DIRECTION MELODIE NELSON IS CREATING AUTHENTIC, BLISSED OUT 60S SOUNDS. SHE TELLS CHRIS FAMILTON HOW MEDITATIONS ON THE SUN CAME ABOUT AND WHERE SHE IS GOING NEXT.

Melodie Nelson has emerged blinking into the bright lights on her debut album Meditations on the Sun. It is an album that represents her first solo foray into relatively straightforward songs after years spent as one half of the experimental drone duo Moonmilk with partner Kell Derrig-Hall and as bassist for Rand and Holland. By day Lia Tsamoglou is a producer for radio station 2ser but musically she has chosen to record and perform under the Nelson moniker taken from the 1971 Serge Gainsbourg LP Histoire de Melody Nelson.

“Well basically my surname is unpronounceable. I’ve always had trouble with it and thought I’d pick something a bit different and cheeky. I don’t know if I’ll stick with this moniker throughout making music but I thought it’d be good for this sound that I was going for. Plus I love that album,” she enthuses.

Moonmilk was much more experimental and freeform yet Nelson draws some parallels between the two projects and views the new album equally as a reaction to, and an evolution from her earlier work. One major change was the way she approached her vocals and lyrics.

“It was a bit of a reaction because I felt like we’d done as much as we could do. We’d put a few releases out on overseas labels and I just thought it was time to put it to bed. When we started dong it it was a strange thing to do and it was hard to get gigs. At some of our first gigs at the Lansdowne we were getting coasters thrown at us and now bands that are doing sort of the same thing are popular and so we thought we’ve done that and we should move on.”

“Melodie Nelson is music that I was listening to the whole time we were in Moonmilk and I thought maybe I should give this 60s sound that I love so much a shot and write some cool harmonies and see what I can do with it. There are elements of Moonmilk in the songs. The first two songs I wrote – Waiting and Meditations on the Sun – they are quite repetitive and loopy, the sort of stuff I made in Moonmilk building up loops. It was kind of a good transition in that sense. It was difficult to go back and write songs again though, writing lyrics you have to think about that shit again and get emotional with words. In Moonmilk I could just moan and make noses and loop it without really saying anything, just let the music speak.”

With the new songs written and recorded the next step was to recruit a live band who could replicate the warm and spatial sound that producer Tony Dupe (Jack Ladder, Holly Throsby, Jamie Hutchings) had captured in an old sandstone Methodist church and Nelson feels that the band are now really beginning to capture the essence of the songs on stage.

“I thought it would be hard but I’m so lucky to have such talented people to work with. They learnt the parts and they are quite simple really so it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. The first few practices were just technical things getting it right, as were our first few shows. Now the emotion and mood is being added. Some of the songs only have two chords so Travis our guitarist is adding some texture. I didn’t really envisage having a band though so I’m just taking it step by step.

Nelson isn’t resting on her laurels and on the back of positive reviews for the album she is already planning the follow-up to be recorded by Simon Grounds (Underground Lovers, Rocket Science) in Melbourne at the end of October as well as indulging in a USA holiday and playing in Derrig-Hall’s band The Singing Skies. Busy times indeed.

this interview was first published in The Drum Media