Saturday, 10 April 2010

Meursault: Escape From Auld Reekie

feature for the skinny
(crappy photo taken by me on my phone about a year ago at The Bowery)

In the 16th century, after defeat at the Battle of Flodden, Edinburgh built a wall around its limits to protect itself from an expected invasion by the English. They never came, but the Flodden Wall proved useful to the city's rulers as a means of penning citizens in, making criminals easier to catch and traders easier to tax. The wall is mostly gone, but some mysterious force still seems to pen the capital's musical citizens in.

Every August, Edinburgh becomes the cultural capital of the western world, yet its own contemporary music rarely travels far. For two years, the chatter around these parts has been dominated by Meursault, and if you've been to a small-scale gig here recently, you've probably seen them. Meursault have performed live hundreds of times now and won new fans every time. Our readers poll saw their debut album, Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues, qualify as one of the best Scottish albums of the last ten years. But despite their obvious talent, the hype has remained dispiritingly local.

It's time they burst through the wall.

For the uninitiated, Meursault are a six-piece (formerly four-piece) led by singer-songwriter Neil Pennycook, a big bald guy with a breathtaking boom of a voice. Other members combine autoharp-strumming with Ableton-programming, korg-playing and banjo-picking: they play modern forms of indie-rock and electronica, but with strong roots in Scottish folk. Pennycook has a versatile voice, but when he yells, jaws drop.

We caught up with Neil to hear more about Meursault's upcoming second album, All Creatures Will Make Merry.

How did you want your second album to be different from the first?
The main difference would be that I'm a lot more certain of what it is that I'm trying to say with these songs compared with those on the first record. If I've learned anything, it's to trust my own opinion and to work at my own pace. Also, playing with a full live band has helped shape this record considerably.

Do you mean - expanding to a six-piece?
Yeah. The two new members, Pete on cello and Phil on guitar, have opened up a huge range of possibilities with these songs. As well as other less obvious benefits such as Phil also acting as our booking agent which brings a whole new level of organisation to things. With Pete joining it gave me the opportunity to work closely with someone who understands music from a completely different perspective than myself, what with his being classically trained and his ability to understand every facet of a song as he hears it.

What would you say your influences have been for this record?
I've been listening to a lot of The Microphones, Mount Eerie. And I guess that's influenced my production style a fair bit.

How do you expect people will react?
I hope people get what I was trying to achieve with the production and arrangements as well. It's this idea that just because a song has a grander arrangement, or is more than just guitar, bass and drums, that shouldn't necessarily entail that it needs slick production, which always seems to be the case and has been for as long as people have been making records.

Edinburgh's happy to have Meursault, but logistical problems have undoubtedly played a part in keeping them here. They're signed to a bedroom-sized local label, Song By Toad, better known as a blog run by Matthew Young, and there's only so much he can do. And with six members, co-ordinating time off work to tour has proved extremely difficult. Hence most of their gigs in the last couple years have been in the homely Bowery basement, downstairs at what is now the Roxy. They were able to rehearse there regularly, and played so often they became like an unofficial house band. Just around the corner from the Bowery, on Drummond St, is a still-standing portion of the Flodden Wall. They're very close to getting beyond it.


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