Ghosts of our lives

interview by Gabriele Benzing

We missed Misophone. Since the release of “Lost At Sea”, back in 2013, they disappeared without a trace. Now, finally, their infectious psych-pop music boxes are back, in a more ambitious form than ever: a double album of no less than 30 tracks, “A Floodplain Mind”. We asked M.A. Welsh, one half of the British duo (together with S. Herbert), to tell us what happened and what the future has in store for Misophone.

Let me start with a somewhat obvious question: it’s been about ten years since your last record (and our previous interview), a very long time for a band as prolific as yours. Can you tell us a little about what has happened in the Misophone universe in the meantime?
I lost contact with S. a while back. He’s always been an elusive, reclusive figure but he seemed to fall off the edge of the world. I think for a while that I thought the possibility of a new Misophone album was dead. Thought that was it. Then a parcel arrived on my doorstep. Nothing in it but a clipping from a newspaper and a memory stick with a little label stuck to it that said, ‘it begins…’. It was him! Then the digital files began to arrive and “A Floodplain Mind” began in earnest once more. We’ve been working on it for years.

“A Floodplain Mind” sounds both like a classic Misophone album and like something new, from the vocals to the overall mood of the songs. How different do you think it is from your previous records? Do you see it more as the end point of a journey or as a new starting point?
I don’t know if it’s different or not. We just wanted to make it right. Years have been spent tweaking each and every sound on it and I wanted to make sure that the words felt knitted together. Together we wanted to make something that maybe we felt we hadn’t before. Something to be proud of! Also, the more people who said they would play and sing with us on the record the more we thought we better pull out the stops. This isn’t an end point. This is the beginning of what we’ve always wanted to record. Although I can’t quite believe we’ve got it finished… can’t quite believe it’s entering the world as a fully formed thing…

How did the recording of the new record take place? Your creative process usually saw M. in charge of lyrics and vocals, while S. took care of the music. Has this balance changed in any way on “A Floodplain Mind”?
There is a file filled with hundreds if not thousands of songs. Not a digital file, a heavy box file with songs going back 20 years. I’m sure we are not alone in this. It gave (and gives) us a lot to draw from. These songs in most cases follow the pattern they always have. Words, music, singing, tinkering. There were a few more experiments on this one I suppose. The spoken word tracks played with sound manipulation in different ways. But mostly a familiar pattern has emerged but somehow it has felt better this time. S. has crafted something magical at times… to me at least - he has found great richness in the sound worlds of these songs that perhaps was not present before. He is a genius to me.

MisophoneRight from the opening verses of “All The Ghosts Of Evening” (“These are the days I’ll remember/ Always with a hint of sadness”), there’s a nostalgic sense of the past in the whole record. Do you think your music can be compared to what Mark Fisher (quoting Jacques Derrida) called “hauntology” in “Ghosts Of My Life”, the “persistence of the no longer” that haunts our present?
“Hauntology” - we like this idea! We’ve always been drawn to the past. I think like a lot of people. It is a foolish, naïve and romantic fascination. Fictional but comforting and strange in equal measure. Some of these songs are really old and we found through the album’s evolution that we kept linking different things together. The album grew through these connections. For the few people who’ve listened to our other songs, we hope they appreciate these small moments.

With “William And Mary”, you decided to reinterpret a song from the English folk tradition. In your opinion, what makes these songs still able to speak to our heart today?
Old songs have gathered dust over the years but it’s in the dust that we leave our prints. That’s important.

Another recurring theme of the album is the image of nature (hills, moors, fallen leaves, snowy landscapes), which often reflects a sense of inner anguish. How important is it for you to rediscover the time needed to observe reality, to linger on the things around us?
I think the woods and hills and rivers and sea are the space where time seems less important in the short term but you feel the importance of time in ways the unconscious mind absorbs. They are places to feel alive. Spending time watching is a great privilege but not something anyone has enough of. I wish we had more time.

“Sky” is a spoken word track in Spanish with the voice of Zazil Yakín Xipé: how did you come up with this idea?
There were some words that I’d written that were too personal for me to sing but that I wanted to be on the album. Yakín Xipé has been listening to Misophone since the beginning but also writes very beautiful songs. We thought that her translation would allow these words to take on a new identity. We love what she has brought to the song - but also the album. It’s been a real pleasure to have her involved.

Misophone“A Floodplain Mind” is an album full of guests. What do you think is the secret to a fruitful collaboration?
When someone can bring some extra magic outside of your grasp - that is the secret!
This is probably the thing that has made us most happy about the album. People who we really admire have brought their curious talents to the mix. It’s glorious. Every person who has offered a contribution has made the songs something more. Something we couldn’t have made.
Chris Vibberts is an absolute craftsman and artist combined, bringing sitar, lapsteel. Khim, marxophone and melodica to the mix with such unbelievable generosity. A Misophone album with a marxophone on it feels very lovely to me.
Tom Rocton, an old friend, arranged and recorded a mini orchestra for “The Flood”, out of the kindness of his heart, but also brought his brilliant trombone playing in again. This is incredible to us. He’s amazing!
Maxence Danet-Fauvel brought his acting talents, talents we simply don’t have and brought alive an instrumental experiment. Robin Allender, someone whose playing we’ve admired for such a long time, sent use an amazing guitar part as did Boys Age. Maja Lena, Noa Mal, India Blue, Aubben Renee, Rachel Hayward all lent their beautiful voices, Satoko Takahashi, Noémie Akamatsu, Jeremy Lussiez, Florent Charpentier, Loris Martinez, Bastien Ponsart, Matthew de Roode, Lewis Jones all brought something that we never could.
We are beyond grateful for that. There were a few collaborations that almost happened on this one that fell through at the last minute. Pinch yourself collaborations that I hope we might return to on the next album.

If you could conjure up the ghost of an artist to record a song with, who would you choose (and why)?
Ivor Cutler. Because he was and is and will always be entirely magnificent.
Closely followed by Nicolae Neacșu. The great Romanian violinist, singer and storyteller. He felt like both a direct link to the distant past and a reminder of music’s fundamental role in the present. And when he played the violin with a single horsehair, it sounded (to paraphrase Garth Cartwright) like the sound of the Earth opening up.

The aesthetics of your records are often made up of sepia-toned photographs and postcards. Where did the choice of the autumnal artwork for the new record come from?
We’ve always loved those frozen images of the past. This time we wanted to try something different. I’ve been painting since I was a child. This is the first time my paintings have been used in Misophone’s world. I hope they work. They seemed to fit with the themes of the music.

A certain reticence to appear has always been one of the characteristics of the Misophone project (there’s also a song on the new record that has something to do with hiding from the outside world, “Curse The Crows”). A few years ago, Hamja Ahsan wrote a sort of (ironic) manifesto for the introverts (“Shy Radicals: The Antisystemic Politics of the Militant Introvert”), claiming the contemplative value of introversion against a social system based on forced extroversion. Do you recognize yourself in this kind of contrast?
It doesn’t really make sense, does it? We hide from the world but yet allow these songs into it. I think that introverts will often hold the greatest insight but seldom the most prestigious of roles. Prestige isn’t everything. A kingmaker often holds the crown for longer than the king but in rooms unseen… I’m not sure whether we are introverts or not.

M.In addition to the CD edition by the French label Another Record, you also released a cassette version of “A Floodplain Mind” on the Japanese label Galaxy Train. What is it about cassette tapes that fascinates you, compared to other audio formats?
It’s funny. Like so many people, we grew up with the almost holy reverence of the passed around mixtape. Sharing compilations, taped straight from the radio, or tape to tape (for this I remember we would go to one friend’s house that had the tape to tape facility and obsess over the perfect mix). So for me for a long time it was vinyl that had that ghostly appeal of something lost. Particularly 78s. But tape has taken on that strange melancholy beauty. It’s funny to think of our music being on tape with this album but it is very lovely too. Galaxy Train have put out some really interesting music over the years and we’ve been fans of their output for a long time. It’s great they wanted to help get this album to a new audience. We were hoping for a vinyl release but we are our own worst enemies in that regard. At over two hours long that’s a lot of wax!

After Bandcamp's recent acquisition by Songtradr, there has been a lot of talk about the risk that even one of the most artist-friendly streaming platforms might change for the worse. What do you think about the possibilities offered to artists by streaming services today?
I don’t use Spotify to listen to music. It’s a world I don't really understand. Clearly people are worried and that is a sad thing. The internet seems to have both democratised and disempowered music/musicians in a curious paradox. Bandcamp was a platform for a lot of creative, imaginative people and for some a window into a brighter future. I hope it can continue to be that and, if not Bandcamp, that something else can become that. The world is an incomprehensible and increasingly terrifying place but music and art and creating have to be the pin to tie our hope to.

What would you recommend to people who fell in love with “A Floodplain Mind” to listen to (and why)?
Too many… but these are some old friends we often return to: “Nothing Important” by Richard Dawson, “Groung” by Zabelle Panosian, “Les ‘Haïdouks’ D’Autrefois” (by Taraf de Haïdouks, editor’s note), “Bagpuss”, the incidental music of “Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased)”, “I Lost Something In The Hills” (by Sibylle Baier, editor’s note), rain, “Kalimanku Denku”, “Gena’s Birthday Song” (from the soviet animated film “Cheburashka”, editor’s note), “Ivor Cutler: Looking For Truth With A Pin”, “(Tumble) In The Wind” by Jackson C. Frank, the early tapes of Daniel Johnston.

You have already anticipated that you are working on a new record (you talked about “damp leaves in a tired old wood” and “the edges of a circus tent”…). What can we expect from Misophone in the near future?
We have a new album written. We are hoping to record it soon. It’s set in a very particular place. A real place but also a place in our mind. It’s different from “A Floodplain Mind”. It’s a set of songs but also one song. A long song! We are looking forward to getting started on it. And then the next one… It is good to be back.


Broken music boxes and lost songs

by Alessandra Reale

Pop melodies with a nostalgic taste, sound experimentalisms with sinister echoes, softened voices that seem to come from a distant world, evocative stories able to rouse the most atavistic fears. All these elements fuse together in the pastel psych-pop by M. Welsh and S. Hebert, aka Misophone, two prolific English musicians who published fourteen albums (among which the marvellous “Be Glad You Are Only Human") in about ten years, who have thousands of songs ready and who unrelentingly keep on writing new ones. M. Welsh opened for us the door to Misophone’s music world, clearing the veil of mystery that seemed to be hovering over the band and literarily conquering us with his lightness and great accessibility.

Let's start from the very beginning. Can you tell us something about your music paths? When did you guys discover your love for (making) music? How did each of you realize that he wanted to be a musician?
I've always loved music... but there was very little music played when I was growing up, it was very silent, but there was a tape of "Sgt. Pepper" that I remember finding aged about 7. I became obsessed with it... It made me want to hunt new music out... I still feel like that....
S. can play just about anything he picks up, but I pick up anything I can just about play.
When Misophone started making and recording music it was firstly just fun, and it was always new each time. If anything the enjoyment in making music is even stronger now. It's a great feeling...and because we don't write and record songs as a band would, or a live musician would, it's a steady building process, and what you finish with isn't necessarily what you thought you'd started with...the recording becomes part of the writing process... I'm sure we're not alone in doing that.

When/how did you guys meet? How did your music project Misophone take shape?

It was about 10 years ago and we started messing about on this old four track Tascam tape recorder. One chord with garbled gibberish recorded at 2 in the morning. Nothing written down, just sound vomit. Mostly un-listenable.
Then we started to write "real" songs before we pressed record...and it all went from there. Hundreds of songs.   We never thought anyone would ever listen to them.... But after a while I used to hand out free copies of the "albums" we would make at the off licence I worked for years, and some people seemed to like it. We even had Rob from Massive Attack collecting his copies of the next album from the shop, though he may have been doing that out of politeness... or mild unease...  Or a bit of both. The albums changed in style...but we were making them for ourselves, so it was what we wanted them to be...it still is.  We often talk about what we could do next... make an album with just one instrument...or only on electric things, or only on instruments we have made etc...

We read somewhere that the name "Misophone" came out from a pitch bender... Can you tell us something more about this story?
On the old four track, there was a slide pitch bender and we found that if you recorded anything, piano, guitar, glock, whilst rapidly pushing the pitch bender back and forth, it came out on tape like a kind of lost children's tv theme from the 50s/60s...or a broken music box...we loved that...
We called the sliding button the "misophone"...just a made up word, and the name kind of stuck.
It wasn't until last year that I heard the word "misophonia" is a medical condition which means the hatred of everyday sounds...

One of the most intriguing aspects of your project lies in its aura of mystery. Very little information about you two guys can be found on the web, and even your names are limited to their initials. What is there behind this choice?
We're an anti-social pair, but in the flesh, far from mysterious.

You write the lyrics and S. writes the music. How do you guys combine these two parts together? Is there a recurring scheme in the making of your songs?
Mostly, it's first I write the words, then S writes and records a melody, I record vocals and other elements, then we produce together... but not always...it normally involves rummaging through the kitchen draws... but there's thousands of scribblings ready to be turned into songs.

Where do you get your inspiration from for your obscure lyrics? Are there any authors or readings that that have a major influence on your songwriting?
I'm easily influenced by what I've just seen. Or what I've just read. If someone says something that I like, I'll make a mental note. I like the sounds of words. But I also love old folk songs because they have fantastic narratives too. John Jacob Niles is a good one for regurgitating those, but I love the stuff that Alasdair Roberts, or Will Oldham does. Like the line "the way nooses hold necks still in excellent poise" is bloody tremendous. Or digging through the old murder ballads, broadsides, medicine shows and minstrels, what Tom Waits called the "oral tabloids of the day." But I like to read a lot of different things, short stories, poems, big beasts...there is no set style or genre to adhere to.  Just consume what comes next...

The magnetically eerie atmospheres in your music are highly affected by the numerous haunted sounds and weird noises that you put into the songs. What is your relationship with experimentation? How do you approach to a song when you work with those sounds? What are the weirdest effects you ever experimented?
We've both always been drawn to certain noises...I remember hearing "I Am The Walrus" first time aged about 8 and wondering what the hell was making that sound... I like noise that adds to the images in your head when you are listening to a piece of music, or that feel like they are just part of the song, not just thrown in... especially those that remind you, and you're not sure why, of some previously forgotten child hood misdemeanour or memory... But some "sounds" I think are actually incredibly musical in their own right too, like the groans and creaks in some of Gavin Bryars compositions, or the sound of rain on the window at night.
A lot of the sounds are stumbled upon during recording, like a bird by the window; some are sought out... The new record "Before The Waves Roll In" has more sampled sounds than we've used previously, including some strange home made and field recordings from the 1940 and 50s which are very perturbing little relics.
I think experimentation and freedom to experiment is important and there's stuff that I like to listen to now and again that really pushes sound into new directions... but I like it when experimentation adds to the melody or builds the tension before the melody kicks in more than anything. I listen to "Safe As Milk" a lot more than "Trout Mask Replica" for example.

What is your relationship with psychedelic pop? How do you relate to the past and present psych-pop scene? Are there any artists you especially appreciate?
To be honest, lately I've been listening to a whole lot of early music from America... "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" is a great compilation from old 78s... But I like a whole load of different things.
I could list a thousand bands or singers that I love. Long ‘Cleve' Reed & Little Harvey Hull singing "Original Stack O' Lee Blues" is one... but Waits, Beefheart, Lee Perry, Daniel Johnston, Operation Ivy, the Bambi soundtrack (there's a demo called Rain Drops which is great), Washington Phillips, Eels, Pulp, Will Oldham, Sparklehorse, Ivor Cutler, Gavin Bryars, Bacova's Ceska Kapela, Abdel Halim Hafez, Fred Astaire, Half Cousin, Moondog, Neutral Milk Hotel, Micah P. Hinson, Johnny Cash, Cohen, Elliott Smith, Smog, M. Ward, The Beach Boys, Jeffrey Lewis, Arvo Part, Lord Tanamo, Bill Ryder Jones, Richmond Fontaine, Falling Sickness, Danny Elfman, King Creosote, The Specials, Noah Lewis... They're all there...  I love finding something you haven't heard for ages and putting it on...that feeling. But "psych"... I don't know, it is nice at times to take yourself to other places.

So far you released two of your records ("Where Has It Gone, All The Beautiful Music Of Our Grandparents? It Died With Them, That's Where It Went..." and "Be Glad You Are Only Human") in limited, numbered and very accurate editions under the tiny Swedish label Kning Disk, and a new album ("Before The Waves Roll In") is scheduled to be released soon with this same delicious label. What can you tell us about your story with Kning?
Kning are an amazing label, who really care about art and music. Mattias produces such beautiful designs and handmade sleeves, and has a lot of vinyl and limited edition releases.  They've even released music on phonograph! We're really exited about the album "Before The Waves Roll In" coming out with them, the music has been ready for over 2 years, they like to take their time.  It's our biggest record yet in scale and scope. Kning are putting out ever interesting releases right now, like the Jockum Nordström och Joakim Åhlund LP, which not only sounds great but has some really original and amazing visuals. It's nice to be heading back there.
We also have another album coming out called "Another Lost Night" on a Japanese label, Lirico which we're really proud of; the release date will be confirmed soon and there will be more information about it then. It's got some quite quiet stripped down stuff on it, and a few very noisy moments. Looking forward to getting the songs out there.
French independent Another Record have also released the albums "I Sit At Open Windows" and "Songs From An Attic" over the past few years, as a label they've been great to work with and some of the bands they have released, like Frànçois And The Atlas Mountains, are doing great, which is great too.

In your songs there is often a kind of Balkan mood. Do you think that Misophone have roots in eastern European music? What is your relationship with that culture?
I don't see the music as being totally rooted in a place, though we have been influenced by elements of the east. S. lived in Hungary for some time, not too far from the Romanian border, and we have both spent time all over Eastern Europe. I love the people and the different folk music from these countries and from the Roma community. But there's music from all over the world that I like... though "world music" is a term I kind of hate. There are some great compilations out there: "Give Me Love -Songs Of The Broken Hearted", "To What Strange Place - Music Of The Ottoman American Diaspora", "Hot Women", "To Scratch Your Heart Out", "Texas Czech Bohemian Moravian Bands"... all amazing... all different.

Sometimes your music sounds like the soundtrack of a horror movie. For you what does it take for a movie or a song to be really scary?

I have an over active imagination. It doesn't take much in a film to scare me...

Lo-fi and bedroom recordings seem to be a significant part of your aesthetics. Do you think that imperfection may be used as a way of expression? What aspects of the home-made recording process attract you most?
I think it can be, but it shouldn't be the only thing it's based around. Obviously some early Howlin' Wolf record is going to sound more expressive than someone buffed and auto-tuned by whoever in an expensive studio, but then that's not necessarily the fault of the studio... But leaving in those elements of imperfection can be great. Like the thunder roaring on "No More Workhorse Blues" by Palace Brothers. It's atmosphere; the song becomes about the place as well as the melody. That can be great.
But that's not really what we do. Our recording equipment is cheap because that's what we've got, we record at home because the thought of anything else fills me with dread, we often don't record in the same room. I don't think we could have done it another way. We've found our own ways of getting what we want out of our limited equipment. Recording in your bedroom/basement, like early Daniel Johnston or Yonlu, it's not the creaking microphones or out of tune vocal or hiss of the tape that makes it sometimes breathtaking. It's the fact that you feel like your listening to someone else's secrets... its intimate, sometimes painfully so; and it allows people, insecure or nervous in a crowd, to express themselves in a way that they could not have done in any other situation... Capturing that moment is the magical part. I would never claim that is something we are capable of.

You often mentioned Daniel Johnston as one of your biggest influences. What are the sides that you prefer in his songwriting and artistic approach?
He has an ability to craft a beautiful melody, and his lyrics are so honest and sad and manipulative and brutal and happy and heartfelt all at the same time. But when he combines this amazing melody with a line that makes you want to cry it's just un-beatable. Take a song like "My Yoke Is Heavy", or "True Love Will Find You In The End", or "Grievances", or "Lonely Song" or "The Sun Shines Down On Me"... they have so many different emotions in them and from them and then there's a line that just knocks you down. My favourite album is "Don't Be Scared"... for me it is the songs that he made in those quiet secret moments that set him apart. Those first tapes from the 80s... For about three years I listened to nothing but Daniel Johnston and the connections within and between his songs when taken as a whole is mind bogglingly brilliant. It's like it was all mapped out, pre-determined. His songs make me feel more than any other individual's music has ever done. But some of it's pretty awful!

Do you like to cover songs by other artists? For you what is the key to really make someone else's songs your own?
Sometimes... We have done a few cover songs. Petroleum Lampa, several Daniel Johnston songs. "Before The Waves Roll In" has a few covers on it too, but you'll have to wait and see what they are. Whether we make them our own or not will have to be up to others to judge.

The visual side of the Misophone project has a lot to do with old images and a sort of "out of time" feeling. Do you personally look after all of these aspects?
We have been given a lot of freedom by the labels we have worked with to influence the visuals. Mattias at Kning is an amazing designer who has understood what we wanted and has produced some stunning art. Another Record have sourced a lot of their images from turn of the century French postcards. They've been great to work with, because we do have a vivid idea of what we want visually and they've been incredibly generous and patient with our involvement in that. I'm really excited what art Lirico will produce for the album "Another Lost Night" too, they've already been gathering some really great things together...

Has the beautiful music of our grandparents really died? When we listen to your records we could say that it isn't gone...
Thank you...

Now let's go from the past to the (very next) future. We know that you have a new album, "Before The Waves Roll In", ready to be released this summer. Can you give us any anticipation about it?
"Before The Waves Roll In" is 20 tracks long. It is more orchestral (to my ears) than anything we've released before. I am very proud of it. There are some contributions from American singer Aubben Renée and French trombonist Alone With King Kong. Aubben has worked in a lot of different ways, with a lot of different acts, under the name Craven Canary, but she has a lot of other projects, Shedding Feathers and a band called French Films About Trains who write very beautiful folk songs. She has a lovely voice and it always a privilege to work with her, though we have actually never met. Alone With King Kong is a French gentleman, a solo artist in his own right and a superb trombone player. He has contributed some great trombone work on a number of tracks, which has been very exciting for us, it opens up the scope of the songs into new territory. We hope you like it.
"Another Lost Night", which has 13 new tracks on it, is to be released very soon... both Aubben and Kong crop again, Aubben doing backing vocals on one song and Alone With King Kong storming his way along one of the albums louder, clattering moments. I'm just excited to get these songs out there...

And what about Misophone's plans for a more far-distant future?
Keep recording and see what happens. There's always another song... And I'd like to try to live a little healthier. 



Plastic Flower (self-released, 2002)
Tree Songs (self-released, 2003)
If Music Be The Food Of Love, Why Am I Still Hungry? (self-released, 2004)
At The Water (self-released, 2004)
What Is Lacking (self-released, 2005)
From Beyond The Bridge (self-released, 2006)
I Sleep Like The Dead 1 (self-released, 2007)
I Sleep Like The Dead 2 (self-released, 2007)
Life Is Good (self-released, 2007)
Where Has It Gone, All The Beautiful Music Of Our Grandparents? It Died With Them, That's Where It Went... (Kning Disk, 2008)
Be Glad You Are Only Human (Kning Disk, 2009)
I Sit At Open Windows (Another Record, 2009)
Songs From An Attic (Another Record, 2011)
Laughing At The Moon (Lirico, 2012)
Another Lost Night (Lirico, 2012)
Songs From The Cellar (self-released, 2013)
Before The Waves Roll In (Kning Disk, 2013)
Lost At Sea (Another Record, 2013)
Dust In The Corners(Another Record, 2013)
And So Sinks The Sun On A Burning Sea... (Another Record, 2021)
A Floodplain Mind (Another Record / Galaxy Train, 2023)
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