and The Pop Preservation Society
By Elisabetta Pezzaioli
For Michaelmas, a band that has recently been described on an Italian
website as playing “delicate pop songs with a deep, yet not flaunted,
sense of Englishness”, The Clissold Arms pub, at the heart of
the Kinks’ much celebrated Village Green Preservation Society,
must be the ideal place to meet for this interview. We leave the “dedicated
followers of fashion” behind – you can argue that England
t-shirts are back in fashion – and we plunge into this sunny afternoon,
sipping a drink while discussing music in the beer garden. Everyone
is in high spirits - the sun is shining, the plans for the weekend have
been made and David has just finished his exams.
Michaelmas - Michael (guitars and vocals), Jude (vocals, keyboards,
violin and melodica), Dan (vocals and drums) and David (bass guitar)
- have been part of the London music scene for a few years and are now
benefiting from the current resurgence of interest in independent music
– independent pop music, to be precise. They ran their own monthly
Sunday afternoon club – The Light Programme – for a while,
which made possible for them to meet and become friendly with many bands.
They have recently been supporting in concert the likes of Essex Green
and Camera Obscura; oh, and they have just released their first EP –
“The Phone EP” – which has attracted positive reviews
on British and foreign websites.
Music was not something they randomly fell into, but a passion they
nurtured during their teenage and university years by forming their
first bands at the height of Britpop, by dreaming of the perfect collaboration
(Morrissey–Marr, Anderson-Butler) and by picking up guitars and
singing about wanting to pull boys (Jude, that is).
The first incarnation of Michaelmas under the name of Adekola Sound
dates back to 1999, after Michael had met Dan at the Bowlie festival
and Dave had answered an ad in the now defunct Melody Maker. After 3
years of gigs and monthly EPs, Adekola Sound disbanded temporarily.
From originally being the drummer at the back, Michael made a step forward
on the stage as a solo guitar act. He enjoyed the experience despite
being nerve-racking at first.
Michael: “I wouldn’t tell anyone [about the solo shows]
because I felt really nervous. This didn’t happen with Adekola
Sound because I was at the back, I was the oldest one with paternal
thoughts: ‘these are my boys at the front, and I keep the beat
at the back’. It’s good when you are on your own and people
are clapping. I was even doing a ‘Thank you for Coming’
The band reconvened a couple of years later, with Jude added to their
Michael: “It was always going to be Michaelmas - a band - this
is why I never used my own name. From a 3 piece band - we started with
acoustic guitar, bass and drums - Jude started adding violin and vocals
to the odd songs. We realised that the best songs were those with Jude
playing and singing.”
Pop seems to be the common denominator in Michaelmas’ music, the
source of a good part of their influences and their chosen music direction.
As they point out on their website, Michaelmas play pop and they are
not ashamed of saying so. And, indeed, their songs are pop/country feasts
with captivating contrasts of happy melodies and lyrics of longing and
sadness. With pop as the music genre of choice of many important bands
that have shaped the British music landscape – see under Beatles,
just to name a band – why should there be the a reason to be ashamed?
Michael: “People might think that pop is a bad thing because there
can be simple words that might not mean anything. We are not afraid
of having choruses, the subject matter is not miles away from what singer-songwriters
do. I quite like depressing lyrics with a jolly tunes.”
And it was in this spirit of being true to their music beliefs that
they set up to record and release their first EP, “The Phone EP”.
Being all busy with full-time jobs, the process of recording and choosing
the songs to feature on the EP took longer than expected, with a gap
of six months between recordings. As Dan points out, it was at this
stage that the true Michaelmas sound was finally shaped and that some
of the songs gained a certain predilection within the band.
Dan: “I think the nice thing about going back to them (the songs)
after so long is that we went back to them with a different perspective
and we realised that the songs we chose (for the EP) were those we played
live the most.”
Michael: “It was the first time that something really sounded
like us. ‘Whenever You Are Near’ came out quite well. It
was something that grew between us, with the spoken part originally
meant to be a rap.”
Jude: “My favourite is ‘Letter to Jo’. I also like
‘Sadsack’ but I am Welsh and when I sing it, it sounds like
‘I am so saaad’; it’s a bit like singing ‘I
am so Welsh’.”
As the conversation shifts from present to future, the word “album”
seems to re-occur with a certain frequency and it doesn’t take
long to realise that an album is indeed their next priority. “An
album with a proper distribution. An album which should represent a
step forward, but still pop”, I am informed. Michael particularly
enjoys albums that represent “little worlds” into which
you can be totally absorbed (“a bit like an Elliott Smith album,
where you feels you are in the basement for 40 minutes with him”).
They seem to have enough material to make the prospect of a double album
– even though not on the cards – a possibility . Every member
of the band plays several instruments and they would like to spend some
time trying some new interesting things. There are even plans of having
an actor reading the spoken lines of “Whenever You Are Near”
and the band’s choice falls jokingly on John Hurt. And when the
band will play Wembley (Wembley’s Working Men Club, that is –
as Jude points out), they will have a different guest appearance every
Dave (jokingly): “We want to record these fantastic songs that
we have so that they can become public property. We would like to have
the opportunity to sell out.”
An album is not the only future plan for the band. They would like to
re-start their own gig night, and even though they would like to have
a break from gigs to concentrate on writing new material, they would
not turn down a good slot.
The step is short from conventional forms of promotion – gigs
and recordings – to discussing what is now regarded as the promotional
tool of the moment, Internet and MySpace, in particular. This online
community, responsible for bringing the audience in direct contact with
the artists and with a power of exposure that can match the fat marketing
budget of a record company, is in great part behind the fast rise to
fame of pop starlet Lily Allen and current number one artist in the
charts, Sandy Thom.
Michaelmas have their own page, with a cute Simpsonesque profile picture
and the catchy music of “You Should Bug Me” playing on the
background. Friends and fans leave their comments and the number of
‘friends’ on their list is constantly increasing. The band
welcomes the exposure that MySpace has given them; they like the idea
of a website which breaks those barriers which only five years ago confined
new bands’ music to computers and to CDs, but they don’t
agree with pages being used as an instrument of hype.
Michael: “It’s good for us. It’s like having someone
there playing music for you to people. We see the profile viewings going
up, and it’s not all me, someone must be looking at our page.
We see reviews on Italian websites, in Italian. There might be bad things,
such as hype, but instead of having to wait for four weeks to listen
to a band’s music, we can just go on MySpace and listen to it.”
Jude: “It is nice to receive messages from people we don’t
know and never will.”
As things stand now, the band follows the routine of being full-time
employed by day and musicians by night. However the prospect of becoming
full-time musicians is a possibility that the band would not exclude.
For Michael the band already represents a full-time commitment (“This
is what I think about all the time. If I am not playing, I am thinking
what song I want to do next, I put my ideas on my Ipod and I listen
to myself on my way to work.”), and the others agree that they
would rather do something they enjoy than be stuck in an office all
day. And who wouldn’t?
Whatever their future in music will bring, one thing is sure - there
will still be pop.