I recently had an email exchange with LEE TAYLOR, artist for the comic DEAR JOHN and guitar/drums/bass/everything for the band MERRIDEW. His previous punk/screamo outfit SPERARE disbanded earlier last year and he was nice enough to answer my questions. The interview is split into music related stuff first, followed by art. Enjoy!
also check out OPENmind/SATURATEDbrain's review of his bands here.
ZBR/OMSB's favourite quote: "I'm pretty convinced that there are only a small minority of folk on the planet that really understand bands like FUNERAL DINER, but if you're one of them, you're a very lucky person.
What is the primary reason that you create music?
To be honest, I don't think I've ever had a reason for it, and I don't think I could pin down a specific time that I decided on it being something that I wanted to do; the whole 'creative thing', encompassing drawing, making stuff, and of course music, has always just been something that I've done. I've never been taught anything musically; I just kind of picked stuff up and rolled with it. I guess there are a couple of reasons these days that I continue to make music, primarily that when I pick up my guitar, things happen, and I subsequently HAVE to make stuff out of them.
What are your influences you to write?
As far as feeling influenced to create music, I do think it's largely just excessive creative impulse. When I sit down at home, my default thought and impulse is to reach for the guitar, even if I only play it for a couple of minutes, and it's out of those couples-of-minutes here and there that songs eventually get constructed.
How would you describe MERRIDEW?
MERRIDEW is currently a solo thing that started shortly before the disbanding of my old band, SPERARE. At that time, I was writing quite a bit of stuff that didn't quite gel with what we were doing in SPERARE, so I put it together and worked it into a little three-track called 'Fears That Kindle Hope', and planned to run it alongside. Then when SPERARE parted, it became my primary musical project. It's tough because there's so much work to it, programming the drum machine, writing guitar and bass parts, recording, mixing, and mastering, but I do get a lot out of it.
What other bands inspire you?
I don't know if it comes across in the stuff that gets written, but I listen to a real mix of stuff, and it's a pretty broad selection that influences MERRIDEW in particular. That kind of epic, post-hardcore sound is probably the most obvious, which comes from listening to bands like ENVY, RINOA, MAHUMODO, etc., but then I like 90s-style proper emo, like TEXAS IS THE REASON. For years, I've been at the mercy of a Japanese singer called COCCO, whose stuff is absolutely unreal, and I love the film score composer JAMES HORNER for the magic he has with epic-ness and touching, memorable melodies. I try to take something positive from anything I listen to, and I think the only stuff I try to avoid is stuff that includes gimmicks and excessive style and fashion over substance. I like sincerity and honesty.
How do your influences play into your sound? Do you sound like your influences?
I think some are more obvious than others with regards genre, and some are only peripherally noticeable, for example, in certain sections, melodies or vibes, but yeah, I like to think of MERRIDEW as a nice and personal amalgamation of everything (or at least lots of things) that I love.
Why the name, MERRIDEW?
The name MERRIDEW is taken from one of the lead characters in the book 'THE LORD OF THE FLIES' by William Golding, and I was quite surprised to find that it hadn't been taken yet, as it kind of leapt at me as soon as I saw it; it flows nicely both visually and verbally, but has all of those sinister yet youthful connotations that are attached to the character and book. I'm not sure if what I write evokes any kind of similar feeling in people that anything in that book does, but the name stuck anyway.
What happened with SPERARE?
Well, since me and my brother Dean (vocals) started doing that band, we always struggled to make a line-up of people that would be interested in playing what we wanted to, and throughout the seven years or so that we ran, we had a fair few member changes, which included shaping people's playing styles a little, and making the most of the people around us that we could, for want of a better word, 'recruit'. In our final year, 2013, which was incidentally the year that we finally put out a proper EP and played outside of our home-town, both our drummer and bassist decided to leave. We gratefully managed to replace our bassist for a while, but during the seemingly futile search for a new drummer, we felt it best to call it a day.
That band was quite different from MERRIDEW. How would you describe SPERARE and where did the band’s inspirations come from?
Yeah, SPERARE had a much more prominent leaning towards old-school screamo, along with that epic, ENVY-esque thing that I still have going on in MERRIDEW. Everyone that played in SPERARE came with their own, often quite varied music taste and consequent playing and writing style, so the product became a big mix of these different influences, which I think is something that is reflected in our last EP, 'The Sea Takes the Rest'; it doesn't seem to fit into a single genre or category comfortably, but instead seems to straddle a lot of fences between punk, emo, hardcore, and screamo.
Where did the art concept come from?
Dean had the title floating around as a possible song title for a while, and I generally take a lot of photographs of quite scenic things (largely because I have a weird appreciation for nature), and this shot, taken somewhere up in Scotland, seemed to come together quite neatly as a cover. Once we fitted the title to it, the rest, including back cover and disc, for which I found photos from the same trip for, kind of fell into place graphically. Conceptually, a lot of Dean's writing is pretty metaphorical, and thus ambiguous and specific to the viewer, so for me it's about emotional remains, but you're welcome to put your own slant on it.
What is Carnage Club?
CARNAGE CLUB, which put out our EP last year, is a label based in our home town of Stourbridge that puts out releases and puts on shows locally, largely with music of an 'experimental' capacity, encompassing screamo, hardcore, punk, post-rock, doom, crust, grind, and anything else interesting. We're really fortunate to have these guys pushing something like that, and always looking to get people involved in their local scene, or just to help bands out. It's definitely a good little community that they've helped to build, and they've put out a lot of good stuff. I highly recommend people check them out, if only to see what you can do in a small town that otherwise is home to little more than charity shops and coffee shops.
What does the future hold in store for MERRIDEW?
As I'm writing this, I've just finished mastering a couple of new songs that I'm hoping will go out on a split pretty soon. Beyond that, I'm not really sure yet; I have a bunch of almost-songs that I'd like to turn into another EP, and some day I'd love to get a few people together and play live, even if it's just once or twice. I guess that's about it for now though, so we'll see...
What formats would you like to release your future songs on and why?
I've always been a big fan of cassette for a number of reasons, so I'd like to put more tapes out, either with MERRIDEW or another project. I guess CD is my default format though, especially for practicality and because I like making CD-R sleeves, so I'll probably stick with that mostly. A bit of vinyl may pop up if someone else has a say in it though...
What band/song would you like to cover?
I generally don't really learn or cover other folks' songs, but if I had to, I guess I'd go with instrumental versions of 'April's' by MAHUMODO for epic-ness, 'Thread in the Deep Forest' or 'Lay Down My Arms' by COCCO for layered melodies, or the main score from the film 'WILLOW', just because.
Is there anything that you try to avoid when writing a new song?
A lot of my songwriting 'process' involves muddling through finding a spark for a starting point, and then building around it; kind of like starting a fire, and then adding firewood: sometimes, if you're crap at building fires like I am, it'll extinguish the fire more than stoke it, and then sometimes, preferably, it'll help it build and grow into something bigger and brighter. I write stupid amounts of little melodies and sections that I save into my phone (it usually has about 500 or something saved in it), and I'm constantly building this database of stuff (the forest, if you like) from which I then take bits, and add it to the fire. If something that I've written doesn't hit me almost straight away though, it usually ends up getting scrapped; the only thing I try to avoid is stuff that sounds stale (or damp in this case...) before it's even gone into the song / fire... yeah.
How has your hometown/upbringing influenced your music? You, as a person?
Growing up I was, at most times, around one or two people that were at least peripherally interested in playing music, so I usually had some kind of outlet for at least some of my musical creations, but I think SPERARE has been the only 'real band' that I've been involved with. The CARNAGE CLUB scene, as mentioned, has been an amazing thing to be a part of, as it provided opportunities to play locally (and with similar bands instead of just at 'Jam Nights') and to discover new bands, and meet folk that are into similar stuff. As far as home life goes, I grew up with two brothers that were and are both into heavy / aggressive music, and my Mom has always been pretty supportive of anything that I make, so that all helped.
What is the most positive and negative influence in music? Your local scene?
All of the stuff that goes on in our local music scene is obviously a big influence, as it gives you something to contribute to, be involved with, and take a lot from in terms of inspiration, but for me it's in everything creative, and it's all linked; I find inspiration in DIY music scenes, the international zine scene, and even the local knitting group to be honest. Anything that I see, experience, or even make myself, especially when it contributes to a community, locally or globally, of creativity, is all good... well, a lot of it anyway.
Who were your primary influences when you started playing music and who are they now?
I grew up with and still listen to a lot of skate-punk and 90s melodic punk-rock, like FACE TO FACE and MILLENCOLIN, so I'd guess that's where a lot of my melodic influence comes from initially. AFI were a favourite band for what feels like my whole life, especially the stuff they did once Jade joined; I still think he has something magic, and I'd have to say that 'The Art of Drowning' and 'Sing the Sorrow' were two of my most influential albums in my youth. Since then I think it's just been bits of everything; the bands I mentioned earlier, all of the stuff I review for zines, and, albeit subconsciously and as much as I hate to say it, subjection to awful pop-music that comes on the radio at work.
Do you find it hard to balance objectivity with emotion when listening to/playing/talking about music? Can you keep emotion out of music when listening, playing and talking about it, or is emotion inherent in music?
Yeah, with regards to a lot of stuff that I listen to, I feel that music has a duty, and of course power, to do more than just entertain. Maybe stuff like pop and chart-rap are there for entertainment only, but punk-rock / hardcore / screamo, etc. should definitely challenge, and make you think and feel something, and I do think these things are inseparable; you play and listen to these genres because you WANT to feel; they're not just distractions, or shouting for the sake of loudness, or melodies written for the sake of just 'being catchy', and I know that with regards to my writing, having said that when all of my stuff is heavily melody-based, it's all about emotion. Every song, section, or melody is written with the intention to evoke something in people that listen to it, and I hope that at least for some people, this is the case. I guess it's the same with books and film though; would you do ANYTHING if you knew you weren't going to feel or learn anything at the end of it?
If you had to slap a genre label on MERRIDEW so potential new listeners could get a good idea of your sound without hearing you, what would you label yourself as?
This is something that I've struggled with from the start, so I used to settle on just listing a bunch of adjectives like 'instrumental melodic ambient emo / hardcore', but I've lately come to summarize it as 'post-hardcore'. I'm no good with genres though to be honest, so to me it just sounds like very melody-based post-hardcore. Plus those other words I listed.
I love Funeral Diner. You love Funeral Diner. Talk about Funeral Diner.
Well, what can we say about FUNERAL DINER? For me, they epitomise everything that I like about proper-screamo; it's dark, harrowing, passionate, and above all, sincere. My brother Dean introduced them to me (by lending me 'The Underdark') a good many years ago, along with bands like TEXTBOOK TRAITORS, ORCHID, and SAETIA, and bands like that have since always been the benchmark for anything else in the genre. I'm pretty convinced that there are only a small minority of folk on the planet that really understand bands like FUNERAL DINER, but if you're one of them, you're a very lucky person.
Where do you find out about new music?
I tend to come across things pretty gradually through local gigs, the local record shop, zines, and a bit of scouring the net and blogs here and there. There are a bunch of labels that I keep my eye on, for example SPEEDOWAX RECORDS, which is an awesome local hardcore label, and DOG KNIGHTS PRODUCTIONS in Brighton, who put out a lot of screamo and stuff over here. I'm always keeping an eye out for a new compilation too though; you can't beat a good comp.!
Can you guide us chronologically through your musical life?
Here's some vague, rough estimates:
2002-ish: Bought first guitar from a second-hand shop / wrote awful pop-punk and played in an awful pop-punk band at school...
2006-ish: SPERARE formed / I write a million and one things that either get used for SPERARE or go into the 'idea bank' (which still includes lots of awful pop-punk)...
2009: SPERARE's first EP, 'The Solace' is released through GLASS OF SPIT...
2012: A solo EP called 'Snow in September' gets released...
2013: SPERARE's second EP 'The Sea Takes the Rest' is released through CARNAGE CLUB / SPERARE disbands / MERRIDEW starts, releasing two EPs through GLASS OF SPIT / a couple of other solo bits and bobs are released...
2014: Continue writing for as of yet undefined future releases...
A lot of writing that has never seen the light will also have been done consistently throughout this time.
What is the primary reason that you create art?
Again, it's kind of difficult to define anything specific unless there's a project attached to such creation, for example a comic or a zine. I've always had some kind of small affinity for drawing, and it just goes hand in hand with the impulse that I have to make stuff. If I'm not working on a comic, zine, or music release cover, then I just roll with my urges. I guess it's a bit of a release, of excessive creative energy or something.
Who is your primary artist influence when drawing?
To be honest I like a lot of quite old stuff, and I like stuff that's very expressive and / or textured; I do like to wander galleries and see new stuff too, to keep things fresh. EGON SCHIELE (despite his desire to draw nude young girls) has always been an old favourite; there's just something in his line-work that's very characteristic, especially in the sketches that only look half-finished. I love to see work that has been created with seemingly no intent; more character and energy seems to be formed that way, because you're not restricting yourself with any pressure. People today are too concerned with the idea of the 'finished product'.
Do you have any other influences or muses when trying to come up with ideas?
I'm into all sorts of stuff in various mediums; zines, books, and films all play their part in broadening the ol' imagination, as well as just stuff that you see and hear on a daily basis. I try not to force anything, or take direct influence, but rather let it shape what I'm doing peripherally and subconsciously.
Talk about why you agreed to do DEAR JOHN.
I was pretty blown away by the concept of it as soon as it got pitched to me; it's an angle on a huge element of comic history that for some reason, at least to my knowledge, hasn't really been tackled before, and it's done in such a real and sensitive way that I knew it was something I'd enjoy working with. I still think it's a brilliant idea, and I'm as excited as anyone else to see it progress, and to see how the futures of the characters involved unfold; I'm massively grateful to have been given the opportunity to work on something so epic, and it's also given me a consistent outlet for my drawing, so I'm grateful for that too.
Do you have a favourite character in DEAR JOHN?
It's kind of strange how similar the Reid family is to my own family, so choosing favourites would feel like a bit of a strange thing to do! They're pretty complex characters, each with a lot of their own issues that we're yet to discover, so I'll keep my options open for the time being...
What do you find drawing the easiest? The most difficult?
I've had my drawing of 'expressive eyebrows' mentioned more than once (whether in a positive or negative light I'm not quite sure), and I don't find drawing them too difficult, so I guess they could go down here. Expressions are always tough to get right, and involve me taking lots of stupid pictures of myself, and I spend a lot of time trying to get hands right, because though they're relatively simple shapes, they're difficult to make look realistic. For me, feet are impossible to draw. Full stop. The biggest challenge but most enjoyable part is usually finding interesting but relevant angles, and then trying to draw them accurately; it's not easy, but I hope it gives 'COLLATERAL: DEAR JOHN' it's own feel.
The zoom in/fly by thing you did on pages 17 and 20 are really cool. What gave you the idea?
I guess this is where the whole film influence comes into play; when I'm drafting page layouts, I really place a lot of importance on how a sequence of panels will flow, and I often consider it like camera-work, so I always have zooming in and out, perspective shifting around a character, and all these kinds of 'camera techniques' in the back of my mind. A lot of the time, being a comic artist is like being not only the director of a film, but a good many other members of the crew as well.
Future developments with 'DEAR JOHN'?
The current volume has twelve issues planned, so right now I'm just looking at getting those done, one issue at a time. Beyond that, you'll just have to wait and see...
What would you recommend to someone who may be starting out as an artist? Producing a comic book?
Hmm, I guess that's specific to the person; I would say that if you want to create art, just do what you feel drawn to (*editor’s note = ha). In my experience, comics are a HELL of a lot of work for very little in return, so unless you really, genuinely enjoy doing them, then they're not really a plausible platform for becoming recognised as an artist. If you feel the urge to throw paint around, then do that; if you want to take photographs or make installations, then do that, and whatever you do, work hard at it. If it doesn't come from the heart, then it's not really art.
What is your favourite graphic novel?
There are a few that rank pretty highly, but I'd have to go with the classic that is Art Spiegelman's 'MAUS'; it's funny, grim, gripping, heart-breaking and heart-warming, and I'd recommend it to anyone, whether they're into graphic novels or not. It's absolutely brilliant, from the at times harrowing and at times cute inking style, to the dark but sensitive way that the story is told. I read both parts while I was studying at Uni, and it hasn't left me since.
What graphic novels would you recommend to people who may not know much about comics? What recommendations would you give a seasoned veteran?
Admittedly, I'm not a huge comic / graphic novel reader myself; I've read a few that really appealed to me, but I'm not one to follow large series, so from my limited knowledge, I'd recommend 'MAUS', as already mentioned, 'WATCHMEN' by Alan Moore, and 'PERSEPOLIS' by Marjane Satrapi. The Manga / graphic novel of 'BATTLE ROYALE' is also definitely worth a look.
Talk about the zine ‘The Screever’.
'The Screever' is a little black and white photocopied zine that me and my friend Nat make issues of every now and again. We fill them with interviews, articles on a load of interesting stuff, reviews, recipes, puzzles, and a bunch of other stuff that we like. We've been making it since '09, and we're currently working on issue five, so we're not too consistent, but we do love making it, so we're hoping to keep it going.
What series of events led you to start ‘The Screever’?
Me and Nat met at Uni, and we were both into a lot of similar stuff on the DIY, music, and personal politics front, including vegetarianism and being sober, so it began with that slant, and then developed to include more of that stuff that you see in it now. I pitched the idea of making a zine to her one day, she said it was something that she'd always thought of doing, and thus, after a bit of messing around stylistically with both digital and cut'n'paste methods, the first issue was born for free from a Uni photocopier, using a lecturer's copy card. The rest, as they say, is her story.
Which article was the most fun to write?
Nat's generally the article lady, so she could give you a better perspective on that, but I quite enjoyed reading her lil' feminist rant, and her guide to 'Green Graffiti'; she always talks about interesting books too, and her love of theatre is always a lovely thing to see. I'm pretty chuffed with all of the interview responses that I've had back too; interview questions are always difficult to construct, and you never know how people are going to respond to them, so it's a good feeling when an issue comes together with a bunch of good interviews and articles.
Besides music and art, what do you spend your time doing? What are your other hobbies, assuming you have time for any?
Well, I currently work thirty hours a week as one of the managers of a coffee shop in a charity shop, so most of the time I spend outside of that goes between zines, comics, music, and reading. I like to keep myself busy; it's tiring, but it all seems worth it when you find a minute to actually look back on everything that you've created.
What is/are your:
top 10 records, including favourite release of all time?
This is always difficult, because I always forget things, but here's a rather varied list that exists largely from nostalgia:
AFI - 'The Art of Drowning'
MILLENCOLIN - 'Pennybridge Pioneers'
TRUST COMPANY - 'The Lonely Position of Neutral'
JIMMY EAT WORLD - 'Bleed America'
OSKER - 'Idle Will Kill'
That's five; doing another five would just get too complicated...
favourite cover art/packaging?
A DEATH IN THE FAMILY's album 'Small Town Stories' has some of the best artwork that I've ever seen, and it's a cracking album that would probably make it into the next five of that last list. We also mentioned FUNERAL DINER's 'The Underdark' earlier, and the artwork for that is immense.
Regarding live shows:
the best show you've ever been to?
Hmm, possibly the last show that SPERARE were lucky enough to play on last year, up in Manchester. All of the bands, THEO, SHALLOWS, and BAYONE were class, and the headliners, recently deceased screamo band 'FOR THIS WOLRD IS HOLLOW AND THESE HANDS HAVE TOUCHED THE SKY' were unlike anything I'd ever seen before.
the band you would like to go back in time and see?
I've managed to see a lot of the bands that I grew up listening to and hoped to someday see, but I wouldn't mind getting to see a reformed OSKER, though I know Devon's still doing stuff on his own. Oh, and CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL. And probably TRACEY CHAPMAN too. Actually, there's a band that I used to play on Jam Nights with around here when I was in school called THE SEDITION, and their tape 'To Be Announced' is one of the greatest EPs that I own; I'd love to go back and see them again.
What are your recommendations for:
Ooh, anything by STUDIO GHIBLI, anything with SANDRA BULLOCK in it, 'AIRPLANE!', 'THE NAKED GUN', 'SPACEBALLS', 'CHILDREN OF MEN' (plus the book), 'THE ILLUSIONIST' (the French, animated one)... there are loads to be honest; my film collection largely consists of a few favourites, a couple of odd foreign ones, and a constantly rotating mess of low-budget horror.
'1984' by Orwell, 'FAHRENHEIT 451' by Bradbury, 'DAYS OF WAR, NIGHTS OF LOVE', 'THE LORD OF THE FLIES' by Golding, 'NO LOGO' by Klein, 'ANOTHER DINNER IS POSSIBLE' by Isy and Mike, and anything by Matt Nicholls who writes 'COLLATERAL: DEAR JOHN'. Again, there are tonnes, ninety-nine percent of which I always forget when asked, but these will have to suffice. There are also a million amazing zines out there to be discovered; you just have to look for them.
Is there anything else that you would like to recommend or say?
Thanks also to anyone that reads this and checks out or supports anything that I do; it's genuinely MASSIVELY appreciated. So yeah, here's some spam; anything I do is usually updated in the following places: