Mashemon Interview: Making Lists with Mashemon
Synth-glam-punk-rock practitioners par excellence talk to Nerve about the economics of making records, sourcing inexpensive musical equipment and the Glam Rock Premiership.
Two-thirds of Mashemon, Rocky and Ronny (they claim these are their real names but we’re unconvinced) sit in The Albert Pub, Lark Lane discussing the latest activity in their self-created Glam Rock Premiership.
David Bowie and T-Rex are near-permanent table leaders, while a plethora of other bands scramble for places in Europe below them. Lesser lights such as Mud and The Sweet largely find themselves mid-table, but frequently rise high enough to vie for entrance into UEFA.
A major influence on the group, do the band see the glam acts of the seventies as kindred spirits then? ‘Yeah’ Rocky nods. ‘We’re like hod carriers without the spandex.’
Getting down to business, Mashemon recently released superlative single ‘Guts’, their second of the year, a bovver booted stomp that storms along like a pissed off droog from A Clockwork Orange with codpiece trouble.
Anchored to a sleazy bass riff the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club would be proud of with blazing axe work to match, it sounds suspiciously like their finest work to date. ‘Low Pressure System’ on the B-side meanwhile demonstrates how off-kilter the band can get, a slowly oscillating electronic soundscape with bursts of white noise overlaid with sparse, melancholy lyrics.
Harking back to an era of mega-selling singles replete with B-sides (which are now becoming sadlyextinct), the band are sticklers for physical formats as they are now called.
‘We are old fashioned in that we wanna have a product that people can take away,’ Rocky nods. ‘ I could go home and download an album and burn it on to its own CD, but it wouldn’t be the same as me going to Probe, buying an album, opening it up and seeing the artwork’ he explains.
The transaction between the listener and the musician at this point however is something the band are interested in doing differently. ‘Whenever we do a gig, whatever particular thing we’re promoting at the time, be it a single or an album, we just wanna put copies on tables, we don’t want people to come up and ask for them’ Rocky explains. ‘There’s that awarkwardness of someone having to be there and hand it over, that thing of ‘Do I have to pay for this?’ ‘Should I have to pay for this?’
The current approach is far more straightforward the pair feel. ‘We put it out, almost like beer mats’ Rocky continues. ‘You could say it’s devaluing the whole thing, but fuck it, that’s an argument for another day. In the past we’ve put things out, people have took them, gone away and then contacted us later. I like that’ he states.
Indeed, the economics of making music, recording and distribution are something the band very much has its own take on. Any monies received from their CDs is seemingly near-irrelevant to the band.
‘If it ever got to the stage where whatever we wanted to do we couldn’t afford; then we’d have to ask people who’d come along for some money to help us do it’ Ronny explains. ‘But so far, everything that we wanted to do we’ve been able to afford. We can record the music, we can print it up and all that sort of thing and people seem to enjoy what we do when they come along.’
Ronny continues, ‘If we were to do a big gig in a park and we couldn’t foot the bill, but we thought there would be enough people coming along to justify it, then we might ask them to contribute. But that’s the only time money would come into it’ he explains, almost wincing. ‘A lot of this is about our own entertainment. We’re in the red with this whole project!’ he says laughing.
‘We love what we do’ Rocky continues. ‘And if we can come up with a product which we think is fucking great, I’m a fan, I wanna try and get it into the grubby mits of as many people as I can. I don’t wanna turn round and say, ‘That’s three pounds’, that’s two pounds’ and there has to be some sort of transaction, I want as many people as possible to get that’ he says pointing to the ‘Guts’ single.
Opting for a new approach in terms of payment, a memorable experiment the band conducted with the release of their excellent Removal Music LP last year was to ask people to do a good deed in exchange for the disc.
‘Yeah, with the last album we had the ‘good’ thing, which kind of fell on its arse a bit!’ Rocky laughs. ‘We got a tiny bit of aggression from some people. One person said ‘I ain’t gonna do what you tell me, I’m gonna give you money like anyone else.’ We got a fiver thrown at us by one person in the Everyman!’
After that venture, the band decided to change tack. ‘What we decided with the ‘Lips, Limbs, Lungs’ single, wherever there’s light, there has to be dark’ Rocky explains. ‘So we asked people to do a dark deed.’ Before anyone accuses the band of fermenting unrest or being revolutionaries in the literal sense, the duo’s suggestions for the ‘dark deeds’ should quickly disabuse anyone of that notion. ‘One suggestion we’ve had is to lick a policeman’s face…’ Ronny grins helplessly at the complete absence of evil in his plan.
Named after a Guatemalan fertility God, Ronny arrived at the band’s moniker from his time with a previous group and revived it for the current set-up with Rocky. ‘We’d both get the ferry over to work in Seacombe, and Ronny would come down with his headphones on’ Rocky explains. After discovering a mutual love of The Velvet Underground and the writings of Bertrand Russell, the notion of the duo working together musically began to formulate.
Listing The Pixies, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Led Zeppelin, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Can and Faust as influences, the two both select the man who set much of glam rock in train as personal favourite. ‘The main thing that crosses over between the two of us is Bowie, specifically the Diamond Dogs LP’ Ronny notes. Positive proof can be found in ‘Dull Boy’, which marries the kind of melodies Goldfrapp unwisely abandoned a few years ago with a surging Mick Ronson guitar riff.
‘We’re no the sort of people who try to replicate things that we like, it’s more a case of ‘What can we do?’ Ronny suggests. Meanwhile a production technique inspired from Brian Eno’s groundbreaking 1970s work, where the details only become apparent after multiple listens is also emulated by the group. ‘When we record stuff there’s a lot of stuff you hear on the second, third, fourth listen, which wouldn’t be apparent the first time you hear it’ Ronny says.
Despite their expansive sound, the band are resolutely DIY in their approach to music making. The most expensive purchase they have in their armoury is a vocal mike costing £120, while Ronny’s refracted guitar sound comes courtesy of a hulking amp left ‘rotting in some guy’s shed’ that was given to him for free.
Elsewhere Mashemon’s electronic spine proves to be a classic case of magpie-like purchasing. ‘OMD bought a Fairlight, a primitive sampler for twenty-five grand in 1982, you could have bought a house for that back then’ Rocky explains. ‘I remember coming home with that on a CD I’d just bought from some bloke that also had Prophet 5 on it, the thing you hear on Soft Cell’s stuff. It was the ubiquitous synth sound everyone had at the time.’
‘Your whole software can be bought from a car boot sale like ours was for a fiver’ he says of the group’s pulsating backdrops. Capable of producing symphonic sweeps or endlessly unspooling synth drones, the software provides much of he trio’s multifaceted musical backing.
While the band are huge fans of some areas of electronica, (‘The Human League’s first three albums, first two Depeche Mode, early electro stuff’ Rocky says) the band resist being considered a full-on electronic act.
‘There’s always an attempt to corral us into a synthpop thing and we don’t belong there’ Ronny says. A case in point was a recent gig in Sheffield where the group played alongside none other than Floating Death Picnic who comprised of ‘Some geezer with a sampler, a plank of wood, a drumstick and some other various things,’ remembers Ronny, still mildly traumatized by the experience. ‘Drummer, guitar, bass, laptop doing its stuff, that more clearly defines what we sound like, which is fairly raucous’ he says. Drummer Andy, added to the line-up six months ago gives the band more power live, with the group now sounding ‘a lot more muscular’ according to Ronny.
On the subject of playing live, Next to Nowhere (in the basement of News From Nowhere) is the band’s first choice for gigs, the subterranean gig parlour/meeting place/café the scene of their best performances they feel. ‘We did gig at the basement which was bonkers enough but the second one, for Love Music Hate Racism (formerly known as Rock Against Racism) that was wall to wall sweat.’ Grins Ronny.
The band’s gigs are notable for their back projections that accompany all their songs, an idea that was planted early in the band’s mind. ‘The very first gig I ever went to was The Human League in ’81 at The Royal Court’ Rocky recalls, ‘all these random images would flash up on the projection screens, that’s definitely seeped in to what I’m about. Probably the best gig I’ve ever seen was The Flaming Lips, it really was an assault on the senses, I thought I was gonna pass out.’
Seeing this made the group want to use visuals for their own performances, which has proven to be an inspired move. ‘We’ve got that footage of Pan’s People dancing to ‘Sanity Check’ and you would swear that they’re dancing to that song’ Rocky states.
Indeed, the film which serves as the track’s music video, featuring the 1970s dance troupe from a vintage Top of the Pops episode looks uncannily like it was made for the song. The ‘Alistair Sim remix’ meanwhile features a spacegirl clad Raquel Walsh unwittingly dancing along.
‘Sanity Check’ rails against the proliferation of FHM, Maxim et al, an era ushered in by Loaded which now dominate the magazine shelves in every supermarket and newsagents. Their subsequent move from the top shelf onto the middle-racks directly inspired the lyrics.
Ronny takes up the story, ‘The song is about me going from work to buy my lunch at the local Tesco’s and everytime having to walk past all the lad’s mags. I’m just sick of it’ he says, shaking his head.
Rocky offers his own interpretation, ‘To me, that song I always envisage someone on a bus at 8.40am going to work and then looking at another bus that pulls up with a big pair of boobs on the side saying ‘Cosmetic surgery available at Matthew St’. At 8.40am you don’t want to be looking at that.’
Lyrics such as these has possibly led to the ‘political’ tag that occasionally gets applied to the band , which slightly irks them. ‘We’ve done a couple of fundraisers, I think we generally come from that kind of area, we could be viewed as being a political band by association, but the songs aren’t overtly political’ Rocky offers. ‘Godspeed! You Black Emperor got tagged with being political and they’re instrumental’.
‘I don’t know if it’s Political with a big P, possibly with a small p. Personal politics is probably a good way of describing it’ Ronny offers. ‘Some people seem to have us pigeonholed as Chumbawumba, which is completely not the case.’
‘‘Music should be melodic, rhythmical or entertaining’. Those are three things that it shouldn’t be. You can do whatever the hell you like’ Ronny states. ‘If anyone tells you to stop doing it, unless you get chased out of your home by people with pitchforks it’s probably because no-one likes what you’re doing. But until you get to that stage, do what ever the hell you like’ he shrugs, smiling.
All of Mashemon’s releases are now available from News from Nowhere, Percy Gulliver’s Print shop and Social (81 Bold St.) and from the band’s website:
Comment on this article: