mez are one of the stalwart mainstays of British indie rock. Their first album, Bring It On, won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize in 1998. The band has continued to remain an indie staple and musical influence over the last decade. RELEVANT caught up with bassist Paul Blackburn to talk about the band’s new album, A New Tide.
“Charley Patton Songs” is one of my favorites off your last CD. I find it really interesting that Pitchfork didn’t understand the song. Is that kind of annoying?
I haven’t read any reviews for quite some time. That said, if the reviewer has done their job and written a considered and informed review then that’s fine. Music is a pretty subjective matter after all.
Sometimes there are examples of lazy journalism. I guess many bands will experience it at some point. The kinds of articles where they are very critical and yet fail to supply any real support for the comments being made, that can be annoying.
How much of songwriting do you think is your experiences versus just dreaming up interesting ideas? Is highly autobiographical songwriting usually best?
I think that most of the writing for the songs comes from personal experiences, a story will then be created around those experiences. Sometimes they are completely fictional though.
I guess with any kind of writing you want to create or tell something that people can relate to or empathize with. Something to draw in the listener. I guess this could be autobiographical or not. Either way it’s the skill of the story teller that makes it interesting.
You’ve had the same line-up since 1997. That’s notable in music these days. Are you all friends?
Yeah, we’re all friends or like family or something to that extent. We don’t tend to see each other as much as we used to but we lived in each other’s pockets at one point. We all have our own families now and live in different areas of the world.
What do you see as the main difference between American and British rock these days?
There’s probably more focus on the musicianship in the U.S. In the UK, the attitude tends to come first. I can think of examples the other way too, but those American acts seem to do better in the UK than in the U.S.
The new album is more serene, fine finger picking. Why the softer touch this time out?
There tend to be a number of genres we experiment with on each record, and these come through to a greater or lesser degree each time. Different members of the band will lean more toward certain styles and it’s usually who has been writing more or which songs we feel are working better at the time of recording.
At the same time I think there’s a sense of balance between records. Maybe the last record leaned more towards the rock element of our music, and as a reaction to that we’ve been enjoying the folk atmosphere more this time.
What were some new lessons about instrumentation and your recording process this time out?
The main area of learning has come from working with a producer. For the last record we worked with Gil Norton and on this record we worked with Brian Deck. Both are very good producers, both have a very different approach to the recording process. We’re still very new to the producer situation, but the reason we choose someone is because we respect the work they’ve done before and want them to bring their experience to the record. Hopefully, when we walk away with the finished record, we’ve all managed to bring the most out of each other and have learned new ideas and approaches to the whole process.
The band has done some experimental stuff in the past, is this new CD a return to form?
I don’t know if I would say “a return to form” as I think we’ve continued to grow and improve as a band. The results of working with the producers over the last two records have been very positive indeed. I would say that these two records are the most interesting and yet most cohesive records we have made. We’ve been able to really focus on certain elements of the song writing, and I feel that the improvements we’ve made over the years have been realized in these records.