Anti-, a label known for handling such legendary and groundbreaking artists such as Tom Waits, Neko Case, Calexico, and Mavis Staples, have recently been adding an impressive roster of young artists blazing new and exciting territory far beyond the folk and americana realms. The Melodic is just one of the many exciting acts to have recently joined the label, along with recent signees The Milk Carton Boys and Saintseneca.
When I first listened to The Melodic's new self-titled On My Way EP, I was instantly reminded of the likes of Belle and Sebastian and The Decemberists. Employing such worldly instruments as the charango, kora, and melodica, the band's sound is one filled with globe-bouncing catchiness, young spirited harmonies, and melodically whimsical rhythms. After reading up on the band more, I agreed with the press materials that their sound would also be a welcome addition to the collections of fans of the Magnetic Fields too. As someone is a longtime follower of each of these artists, I was eager to learn more about the band.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Rudi Schmidt and Huw Williams of The Melodic to learn more about the band's formation, the making of On My Way EP, and what lies ahead for the band.
Can you describe your musical history and experiences before The Melodic?
Rudi Schmidt: We all have different musical backgrounds but were all active musically as teenagers. While Huw and Lydia have grown up playing and singing british and American folk songs, Lydia is also classically trained pianist. But all members always had a focus on creating.
John was a prolific electronic producer from an early age. I was born into a musical family with a big focus on creating. We all made varying amounts of electronic music when we were younger, but "discovering" the depth and wealth of folk music and joy of playing acoustic instruments was somewhat like coming home.
Somehow we started taking music seriously when we were studying other subjects: Philosophy, International Relations, Sports Journalism and English Literature. But it was all part of growing up and realizing where we wanted to put our energy, and learning how to develop as musicians.
Nick Pynn, has been a big influence. He is an amazing composer and player, so we've been lucky to learn from him. Penguin Cafe Orchestra were a massive influence on the textural approach of our music. Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal's Chamber Music is a wonderful album of the old world meeting the new.
The Melodic employs a wide variety of instrumentation. Can you each speak to how you were drawn to your specific instruments, and when the band formed, how this culmination transpired into the band's unique sound?
Rudi: Having grown up playing and listening to a lot of folk music Huw's natural instrument choice was the guitar. But the aesthetic choice of the classical guitar as opposed to the steel string helps shape the bands sound.
Our friend Emilio Reyes, who is half Chilean, had a charango and introduced us to a lot of Andean music. I played it more and more and got increasingly interested and focused on it. I ended up going out to Bolivia and learned with Ernesto Cavour before touring with the National Folk Orchestra of Bolivia and the La Paz Folk Ballet.
Lydia was classically trained on the piano, but can play just about anything! She is currently playing the melodica, autoharp and looping pedal in the band. More recently she was been taking singing more seriously, training with the folk choir leader at Cecil Sharp House.
John was always the bass line creator in the electronic music we made together when we were younger. We knew he has a natural so we actually bought him a bass and said you have 3 months to learn ahead of a big gig we had at the festival Bestival. His first outing was playing to 700 people, headlining the Club DaDa stage... He done us proud.
What compelled you to begin working together?
Rudi: It was a very natural process that came out of a love of music, and friendship.
Can you describe your writing process?
Rudi: This varies from track to track to track, but quite often has begun with one person presenting a melody or chord progression, and the group seeing what responses it inspired in them. Some songs are completely collaborative lyrically, other times we once person will write a song and the group will arrange it together.
How would you say you challenge and push each other, as well as compliment each other in writing, performing, etc.?
Rudi: We are all on our own individual musical journeys, and have personal interests which we follow. This way, we learn from the work that each other has done, and this encourages us to explore more.
What were some of your biggest connections in the beginning?
Rudi: Folk music (both sides of the Atlantic), reggae, and west african music were early connections. The three of us went to school together and that friendship has carried us along.
Who are some of your biggest individual influences? Collective influences since being together
Rudi: I have become interested in 20th century classical music lately, and how all the conventions and the romanticism of 19th century were completely blown apart. Also classical guitar and baroque counterpoint and what you can learn from these art forms to create new popular music.
Collectively, we share a love of lots of different musicians from across many genres, a mutual appreciation of folk artists like Bert Jansch and Anne Briggs springs to mind as influences on the style of singing and guitar playing that Huw and Lydia like to incorporate into the band.
How do you see these influences coming through in your own performances?
Rudi: I have incorporated a lot of classical guitar techniques into my charango playing. The most important thing i have learned is how to produce good tone. Classical guitar has opened my eyes to the fact every note can be played almost infinitely more beautifully, and that is something to strive for.
Did you have any preconceived ideas, themes, goals for the On My Way EP?
Huw Williams: The EP is our debut release as The Melodic, so it will be people's first taste of what we represent musically. We were very conscious of wanting to put together a collection of tracks that displayed the breadth of our influences whilst complimenting each other at the same time. We work hard on incorporating different musical styles to create our own sound and i think the combination of tracks we have produced will continue to make us harder than most to categorize.
Please share some of your insights and experiences and describe how some songs came together.
Huw: It is interesting for me that half of the EP represents a different time and process of writing and recording to the other. The first two tracks ("On My Way" and "Hold On") have been mainstays of our live set for some time now and have developed and evolved through performing to influence the arrangement of the recordings.
"On My Way" had been written in a isolated mountain shack in France one summer and "Hold On" was the product of a weekend together when some of the band had hitched hiked down to Brighton from London to visit Rudi after a long time apart. The themes of both tracks reflect the context in which they were written. "On My Way" is a tribute to escapism, adventure, and exploration, while "Hold On" confronts how relationships and friendships change over time.
The other tracks; "Roots" and "When I Feel Free" emerged completely differently as they weren't developed through performing at all but were created almost entirely in the studio as part of the recording process when we were working on tracks for our full length album. They had no expectation to live up to, so in some ways we didn't think of them as something we necessarily had to recreate on stage. So we worked on them in totally different ways.
What were you listening to during the writing and recording of the EP?
Huw: A wide range of things, especially as the band members have differing musical passions. Lee Scratch Perry, Fela Kuti, Toumani Diabate, Ali Farka Toure, Inti Illimani, Simon and Garfunkel, some UK garage, United Vibrations, Nick Pynn and Bert Jansch were all definitely knocking about during the process.
How did these influence The Melodic's songwriting and recording proces?
Huw: I'd like to think we explicitly try to recreate or imitate what we are influenced by, but we let it creep in subtly to what we are doing. It is hard to say how they influenced us.
What were some of your non-musical sources of inspiration?
Huw: As a band we all feel inspired by being outdoors and folk culture and traditions, generally speaking. The politics and life of Victor Jara have been a source of inspiration for us too, as well as the poetry of Adrian Mitchell and Pablo Neruda.
How did you connect with Anti- Records?
Huw: They got in touch completely out of the blue one day to see whether they could license a track of ours to the US and discovered we weren't actually signed as they had previously assumed. So they did the honorable thing and stepped up to the plate to be our label and we're really pleased they did. The artists on their roster are really special so we're chuffed to be part of the club and are looking forward to putting out our music with them. We know Anti- respects their artists' music and creativity.
What have you been listening to lately?
Huw: Two Canadian acts: Mac DeMarco and Sean Nicholas Savage have been getting a lot of airtime lately on our latest tour around the UK.
Will you be touring for the On My Way EP? Can we expect a full-length album from The Melodic in the not-so-distant future?
Huw: We're gonna have a launch party for the EP on June 25th at the Lexington in London before setting off on our first tour of the US, which we're really excited about. We're gonna be hitting the west coast in early July and then an east coast tour with Sarah Lee Guthrie in September. We will be releasing our full length album Effra Parade in November. There's lots to look out for!