Meursault - The Furnace
Meursault are a beguilingly diverse operation, with a noisy sound that skips lightly across genres, and evokes great bands from Arcade Fire to the Postal Service, without really sounding like anyone else. The music has got folk roots. At its heart is the tender songwriting of lead man Neil Pennycook, yet the touching and heartfelt scenarios that arise from his lyrics are almost hammered back down again by the layers of electronic noise (especially pounding drum breaks) that cover the acoustic melodies. It's a stunning effect that leaves critics struggling to place the band. A compromise would be that they sound something like Crystal Castles and Wolf Parade messing around with each others songs, but this doesn't really do justice to Meursault's rare ability to combine folk and electronica while keeping the sensitivity of the former and the innovation and energy of the latter. Their first album, Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues was a big critical hit, pushing the Edinburgh band into the hazy world of magazine and blog notoriety. Neil Pennycook explains how the sound comes together, and reveals what's next for this increasingly popular outfit.
Meursault is kind of a loose group of musicians based around you. How did it all come together?
I started playing under the name Meursault about three years ago. It was just myself at that point on acoustic guitar, and occasionally a drum machine, but I didn't have any means of recording. That's how Fraser [Calder] joined the band, by helping me to put together an E.P. We started playing live shows and the rest of the group joined shortly after that. After a year and a bit of playing live we began recording the album.
Which came out this December?
No, we released the album ourselves, under our own imprint, earlier in the year, just before summer. But that was a really limited release; we couldn't put the money behind it that we can now. The new release version is on Song by Toad and came out in mid-December.
It got a lot of great reviews. Were you surprised by the attention?
Yeah a little bit. Pleased though... chuffed to bits. It felt strange because the album was about eight or nine months old at that point.
Most of the songs have two distinct elements: folky guitars, banjos etc. and then quite fierce electronic drum breaks. Do these things come together simultaneously or are parts added in later?
They come together separately. Before we end up on a finished song we'll maybe go through two or three different versions of it. I'll write songs on my own and then try them with a band, and eventually end up with two or three recorded versions of the song. They can be quite similar or completely different to each other. So, the first song on the album, 'Salt, Pt. 1', that's got about five different versions that we've played over the last two years - from me playing it solo acoustic, to it becoming the huge techno thing that it is now.
At the heart of it though, you're still a singer-songwriter. Your lyrics seem quite bittersweet but still optimistic. Are they based on any particular person or event?
Yeah, most of the songs are autographical but they're kind of put through this abstract filter so you wouldn't necessarily pick that up. The idea of Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues is that it's a break up album, but it's not necessarily a break up with a person. It's not particularly romantic, though there are songs that touch on that, it's more about themes of separation and disconnection. I hope that's not too wanky an answer.
No that's just wanky enough. Speaking of which, is the name Meursault a Camus reference?
Yeah it is. When I was first year in college I read The Outsider and it made quite an impression. It's a good name, it looks good on paper.
What's coming up in the band's future?
We're booking a lot more gigs, trying to spread further afield, and trying to get a short tour together. Hopefully that'll be before the summer. The album will be a year old in March or April so we're now working on the second album. That should be done by summertime as well.
Meursault play Limbo at The Voodoo Rooms Thu 29 Jan, Captain's Rest, Glasgow 1 Feb, Sneaky Pete's Edinburgh, 13 Feb