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...
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.