Interview + Photo Series
During 2022 MOMO visited some artists in anticipation of their show in Rotterdam at MOMO Festival 2022. We found out more about their creative processes, their expectations from tours, life, love and much more. Watch our photo series and read our interviews with Jockstrap, Mysie, Famous and Meskerem Mees.
Zigzagging through genres: an interview with Jockstrap
Jockstrap is one of the most unpredictable music projects we had at MOMO Festival 2022. Put on any of their songs and you’re going to zigzag through lo-fi bossanova beats, orchestral sounds, glam rock guitar solos and trap drum machines. They exalt contrast with their playful experimentation and every track becomes a surreal room in their electro-pop fortress. We wanted to explore the realm of their influences, so we asked the duo about the evolution of their music taste.
Georgia Ellery (violinist, lyricist and singer of the duo) initiates the conversations talking about different phases of music she discovered, from researching alternative electronic music to going back to classic 70s albums. By the time she started Guildhall conservatory and met Taylor Skye (producer of the duo), she was switching from jazz to dance music, which is what he used to listen to and they became besties through that.
Taylor, who was studying Electronic Music in the same conservatory, refers especially to his peers as major influences. “The thing that changes when you go to music school is that you start listening to other people a lot, so you start being influenced by people you’re around, not necessarily by their style, but their energy. It’s really inspiring”. And that kind of energy spreads infectiously, generating an exciting and progressive environment. He mentions their friends Lewis Evans [from Black Country, New Road] and Ethan P. Flynn who were doing experimental performances, but also Guildhall alumni, like Mica Levi.
This vibrant atmosphere led them to merge different styles, including their own personal peculiarities: it’s the case of Georgia’s pop-ballad songwriting and Taylor’s dubsteppy production in the EP Wicked City. “Those elements clashing together…it started things”, says Georgia, and the friends’ synergy is an important component of their creation. One of the two comes up with an initial input (a beat or a song structure) and they start exchanging demos and ideas. Sometimes one of the two would take over some bits during the composition process and that inevitably crafts new sections, bringing the songs to unexplored directions. This is why you can hear vocals gliding on celestial piano chords, extremely processed and unrecognisable or drown in sharp synths.
Jockstrap’s strength is attention to details and their sophisticated arrangement are a consequence of their team work. “I think we both like to be meticulous about things and we both have our parts that we want to do in our space, just being able to experiment”.
The song City Hell really reflects their process: the lyrics present a feeling of emotional and physical instability, complemented by sounds that constantly sway in pitch and dynamics.
Jockstrap will kick off their spring tour at MOMO Festival and we’re imagining a bit of everything could happen in front of the stage: sing-alongs, club vibes, mosh pits. When asked what they expect from the new audience they’re going to meet, they simply reply mostly people our age, used to and fond of a variety of music genres. I guess the answer is very explicit in the video of their latest single 50/50, filmed during one of their sweat-soaked shows in London.
With its towering beat – constructed by Taylor in bed whilst recovering from tonsillitis – 50/50 hints at the increasingly unpredictable new gears Jockstrap are able to move through at any given moment.
Interview: Bianca Raicu, Luca Dattisi
Photos: Luca Strano
To love, to joyride, to heal: an interview with Mysie
Rotterdam has been waiting for Mysie for a long time now: the glamorous singer was booked for MOMO Festival 2020 and she was picked by The Daily Indie among their favourite acts. Good news! The wait is over, she’s going to be at MOMO 2022 next month and we had the occasion to catch up with her.
Mysie is an artist able to transpose the Personal and the Authentic into intimate indie soul songs, dividing the line between pop and experiment, using a whole range of influences. She spoke to us about composing, healing through music and her collaboration with Grammy-winning producer Fraser T. Smith.
Even if she’s very young, Mysie already has many years of experience in the music industry and talked to us about the many ways she keeps reinventing herself. In reaction to her years in drama school, she realised how important individuality and originality are, contributing to who she is today as Mysie. “I’ve got my foundation, I know who I am as an individual. If you strip that away, it is not really productive. It’s good to be vulnerable because people relate to you when you’re being yourself”. Mysie has a joyful and energetic energy, but it’s especially through dancing that she channels her serious, fierce energy into her work: this helped building a character based on her strong and mysterious nature, in the likes of Beyoncé’s alter ego.
Not only this creative force shows in her music, but Mysie is a visual learner who possesses visionary skills that inspire the music videos as well: whilst working on a song, she often imagines how the music video is going to look like. And thanks to the team she is working with, the final content is enhanced and enriched, in a smooth and clear process. It’s definitely the case for the videoclip of her single, joyride.https://www.youtube.com/embed/yGK1ISRg5y8?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1&origin=https://motelmozaique.nl
The song draws on her personal experiences with love and turning it into a healing, cathartic experience. “You learn a lot about yourself when you fall in love, or fall out of love. Love plays a huge part of my life, to the point where it sometimes distracts me”. But it also helps her understand other people more, and you can definitely place joyride in a moment in which she eventually lets go and heals. This is why it’s very easy for Mysie to get attached to the music she’s writing, especially the early versions of it – but she’s gotten better at detaching herself from early versions of a song as she advanced in her career.
For joyride the guitar came first, then a drum beat, and “very out-of-tune vocals” were added to a demo that Mysie listened to over and over: “the first ever thing you make is so important, because that’s coming from the gut, it’s the artist’s natural instinct.”
The single became then the foundation of new projects she is working on. In 2020, Ivor Novello named Mysie their new Rising Star, which propelled her into a new stage in her artist career. She started her collaboration with producer Fraser T. Smith, and last year she signed to his label, 70Hz. She speaks very highly of her mentor, who has become a close friend of Mysie as well. “The greatest thing is to have someone who is making music with me and he’s there throughout the whole process. He’s not just the producer, he’s an artist, so he gets it, he understands the dynamics and how to move through it. It’s good to be on the same level with him.”
The collaboration elevates Mysie’s writing process for the lyrics as well: she feels more confident now and developed a strong ability to look even deeper in the meaning of the lyrics. Everything has been very intentional for her next EP, even more so than her last release. Joyride is the result of joint work ethic: bigger and bolder goals that she and Fraser set together. “It was a great process, we had a big whiteboard where we were writing: ‘How do we make good songs great?’, which is an amazing intention to have behind”.
One of Mysie’s ambitions is to really grow as an artist, and not fall into the monotony of releasing similar music over and over. She wants to constantly push herself and see music from a different perspective. “You’re developing, and pushing, and going further, and that’s what it should be about.” She mentioned Rosalia as an artist that she really admires for elevating her flamenco influences, making her music become modern, pop and unique.
During her show at MOMO Festival will showcase unreleased tracks from her new EP joyride, co-written and produced by Fraser T. Smith. Her latest single, Birthstones, is a meditative chapter of the story: Mysie’s voice is floating over warm electronic beats, contemplating a relationship that’s going through a lot of pressure.
Interview: Bianca Raicu, Luca Dattisi
Photos: Luca Strano
Famous talk self-myth making in The Valley of young adulthood
In anticipation to their show at MOMO Festival in April, we met up with Jack Merrett, singer of the British outfit Famous. Rising from the London underground scene with an eclectic style that mixes post-punk, Americana and electronic sounds, the band is experimenting its way to an unapologetic pop style. Layered by his performative American accent, Jack’s on-stage persona is a mix of spontaneity and drama, inspired by personalities like Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash and David Bowie.
The singer and lyricist dives into his outspoken storytelling, explaining how he draws from personal experience and melts it with fantasy, creating a sort of romantic self-myth making. The Jack of his songs-confessions becomes then a fictional character, and both the author and the listener can see the tragic hero in perspective.
This writing allows to cut his own experience into shape, to be honest with himself and with the people involved. “I work really hard on that, to make sure that I am as fair as I can to everyone who might pop up in a song, because I rarely think that I’m in the right”, he admits.
The writing process takes over spontaneously with curative effects then, because it reconciles negative experiences, relieving tension from private issues and real facts that might feel uncomfortable otherwise. “I suppose I find it effective because it puts your own struggle into perspective and I guess I can slightly laugh at my kind of pettiness”.
In that sense, the band’s name is also dualistic and self-ironic: there is a part of Jack who is afraid it could all be ridiculous and in his modesty he’s genuinely surprised at any success they had. On the other hand, a part of him wants to prove wrong that feeling of inadequacy and be on the spotlight. But “that’s one interesting thing of music: you start with something so personal and the moment you share it – from one person to the record – you lose control, it has its own life now. Whatever amount of work you put into it, you can’t control the way someone feels, it takes on their life and that’s actually really great and exciting”.
Famous’ last EP The Valley is a metaphor of the passage among the peaks of life, wandering in the ups and downs of the twenties, but also struggling to find the best path towards adulthood.
The many facets of the quarter life crisis reflect in the heterogeneous soundscape of the record. Take the title track for instance, the muted bass guitar mimics a muffled walk in the Valley, where the vocalist’s ASMR is distressed by samples of tapping guitar solos coming from the sides.
It’s especially with the song The Beatles that the themes become universal through their music representation. The anthemic track, showcased for the first time during an iconic rooftop concert, revolves around a glorious piano progression that builds up to an epic closing performance of the EP. Different Jack’s personas layer up here, he claims: “in moments like that I think I was connecting to a more intuitive and more emotional place, overthinking it probably less”. The nostalgic sentiment takes over the music with a melodic élan that brightens up the whole arrangement.
Speaking about their music composition, Famous’ creativity seems to be channeled towards an open canvas, where every sound palette is allowed, every shape is welcomed. On this side, Merrett is supported by drummer Danny Sanders and bassist George Gardner who also arrange the rest of the instruments and invite the best possible musicians to join during the studio sessions. That started from productive uncertainty, but became a strength recording The Valley, inspired by production visionaries like Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar.
“Our internal experience [as humans] is chaotic, confusing, contradicting and so, in some ways, a very abstract depiction of this room might convey more what it’s like to be in this room.”
Interview: Luca Dattisi
Photos: Alessandro Mariscalco
Hosted by: untitled (recs)
A little more about Mees
We already knew Meskerem Mees from MOMO Create & Perform: last year she and Utrecht singer-songwriter Spinvis met up for the first time in Ghent and took a musical walk around the city. At the time, we considered her a well-kept secret, but life is running fast for the Belgian singer-songwriter who is now stepping on big stages in Europe. We wanted to catch up, so we visited her sold-out show at EKKO (Utrecht): in-between a few hands of UNO, we talked about her creative process.
Meskerem Mees is a lively and vibrant artist, with a very clear vision of her creativity and her goals. Even though the lyrics, and the themes behind them, have a special importance for her music, she states she always starts writing songs starting from a melody: “Writing music is, not always but often, a therapeutic thing. I always write when I’m on an emotional state where there’s something on my chest or on my mind that I need to get off. In that moment I find it very hard to find words to describe it and therefore I compose a melody or a chord progression that represent the way I’m feeling, because it’s more abstract and not as direct as lyrics can be”.
Lyrics come afterwards, leading the stories to a new direction as a filter between personal experiences and songs, which are indeed tales, but not directly linked to any event that happened in her personal life.
“A good song is balancing your personal feeling and emotions, and of course you have to be honest, but leave room for the listener to interpret and adapt it to their own personal life. Otherwise there’s no point in them listening to your struggles all the time. It’s my personal perspective, how does that relate to the world’s perspective on these types of emotions? Because at the end of the day we are all humans and even if these kinds of experiences are very unique, we all go through the same things in life”.
Her inspiration came especially from musicians she discovered growing up, through her dad’s music library: classic artists like Bob Dylan or Randy Newman who “understood the meaning of life, as in: there is no meaning”. She was inspired by the way these singer-songwriters could translate their thoughts into something very intelligent and meaningful. So, she experimented her own way of turning her overthinking into something that’s less daunting, in order to craft it into witty song, because life becomes more bearable.
The songs from Meskerem Mees’ acclaimed debut album Julius were written in the past years without any real plan of playing them in public, but now that her career is (really) kicking off, and that she finds herself in front of big audiences, things are turning around: “now the song-writing has a bigger purpose I feel, and my personal attitude has changed”. Furthermore, now that there’s producers and other musicians involved, she is getting inspired by other people’s way of making music and influenced by their talent and personality.
During her show at EKKO she performed some new creations, including a unplugged-grunge cover of Let it Be and the original poem Dandelion (sung a cappella). We’re longing to discover more previews of her work during her show at Arminius for MOMO Festival.
Interview: Luca Dattisi
Photos: Aviva Bing
Hosted by: EKKO