Words by Bryan Duncan
THE TRICKY thing about arts journalism is to interpret something without falling into a pit of clichéd nonsense. “What do you think?” replies Pete Wareham, saxophonist and bandleader of Melt Yourself Down, when asked by The Back Pages the meaning behind the ominous, Illuminati style cover which dons their records.
Given the ambiguity of email communication, “What do you think?” could either mean ‘I’d be interested in your interpretation’ or ‘Are you a thicko?! It’s obvious!” It could also just be an understandably half-baked response to a severely undercooked question.
MYD’s music can be interpreted in many ways too. The Guardian, for instance, describes new album Last Evenings On Earth as a collection of ‘frenzied jazz-punk fusions’, which sounds like something you’d find at the summer snack aisle at your local Sparks.
Have MYD ever come across any misconceptions of the band? Wareham’s response is quite diplomatic: “I think people always struggle to translate our music into words, so there will often be colourful descriptions, which I think is great.”
There’s no ambiguity in describing their live prowess however. Listen to 2014’s Live at the New Empowering Church, and you get a sense of their energy. Zun Zun Egui frontman Kushal Gaya takes vocal duties; Ruth Goller (from Wareham’s previous act Acoustic Ladyland) plays bass; while Tom Skinner and Satin Singh provide the rhythm section. Skinner’s Sons of Kemet bandmate Shabaka Hutchings provides more sax appeal and Leafcutter John mans the production decks.
This tour de force of talent was arguably sparked off by one song. “Habibi” by Ali Hassan Kuban was played by Wareham at a DJ set during his birthday party and went down a treat with the crowd. This motivated Wareham to make a few phone calls, and MYD was born.
Compared to the other acts associated with the band’s members, MYD sound more accessible. Their primary mission seems to be to make people lose themselves and dance. Was it a conscious decision to reach out to more people with this outfit?
“We are always hoping to expand our audience. Who isn’t? It will drive you crazy trying to second guess that when you write music, though, so I tend to keep that out of the writing process to some extent. Although I think it’s important to shape the music so that it communicates to and resonates with people.”
Their well received eponymous debut album took a rather skewed and heavy approach to world music. Wareham had talked in previous interviews of a natural writing process where ideas are put down and honed later. For this record, Wareham says: “the process was the same as the last album for some [band members], for others much quicker, for some it was about the band performance more than music written in solitude.
“The main difference I guess being that this album used a wide variety of approaches.”
Wareham talks of moving back to London about “halfway through the gestation period for this album” and living near Kushal meant the band were able to “work more closely together” on the songs.
The dreaded ‘second album syndrome’ beast didn’t rear its ugly head either. “Although it did take quite a while and lots of thought and analysis for us to understand how the band and music had evolved since the first record,” Wareham explains.
Last Evenings On Earth is an impressive follow-up too, with eclectic songs like ‘Jump The Fire’ – which Wareham describes as “satisfyingly chewy” – and a sense that MYD isn’t just some fad project that will wither away overnight.
With the band returning to London to play at Battersea Arts Centre’s Borderless festival we asked how important the city had been in shaping their sound.
“It’s a tricky one to answer because being London natives, the city inherently infuses everything we do,” says Wareham. “The urgency, the diversity, the sheer unimaginable scale of London is perpetually inspiring.”
Whatever the inspiration, it certainly has shaped the band into something unique, whether you like jazz-punk fusions or not.