Live4ever Interview: The evolution of Melt Yourself Down on new album Pray For Me I Don’t Fit In

Melt Yourself Down Pray For Me I Don't Fit In artwork

Where do I fit in?

It’s a profound question that everyone at some point in their lives asks themselves. We are tribal creatures, and society has always dictated that we must be part of something bigger, even if that’s just one side of an opinion.

It’s not a healthy attitude, and only now do we see that the recent deliberate attempts to set us against one another have been a distraction technique for more malevolent, despotic aims.

However, Vladimir Putin cannot claim credit for the original musing, which is a fundamental human question. As many of us did, Pete Wareham – founding member of Melt Yourself Down – asked it of himself in 2020:

“I think a lot of people had this thing in lockdown of sitting back and having a chance to reflect,” he says during an interview with Live4ever. “I was able to reconnect with all this sort of stuff and things that I had when I was a teenager that I’d lost touch with. Stuff that I was into that, I felt, was more authentically me than the other stuff I’ve been into. I was able to see the wood from the trees a little bit.”

As you may be aware (and if not, where have you been?), Melt Yourself Down released their fourth studio album Pray For Me I Don’t Fit last week. Continuing their fusion of punk, jazz and,well, any genre you can name really, it feels like a watershed moment for the London-based outfit.

“The previous album took so long,” Wareham tells us. “It took us quite a few years to put it together, but this time round I wanted to just smash on. I was working a lot through lockdown as I’ve got a studio at home which I didn’t have for the previous album so I was able to work in a very focused way.”

“In the meantime Kushal (Gaya – lyricist and guitarist as well as countless other things) moved around the corner from me so he was able to come over quite a lot. We’d have regular slots for work, so between October 2020 and March/April 2021 we didn’t really have any distractions because we weren’t gigging or touring.”

“If 2020 had gone the way it was supposed to I would have been exhausted because I was in four bands and they were all releasing at the same time. I would have constantly been on the road, so actually it was really good, it meant I was able to focus my skills. With that focus, we were able to get good momentum going for the new record when we started working on it.”

“I didn’t overthink it. That was one of the things we wanted to do. Kush and I are very good at overthinking stuff, and I think we overthought the previous one a bit too much. On this one we just wanted to make it really quick.”

Ironically, previous album 100% Yes had a long gestation but, sadly, a short promotional life. “It was a strange one for us because we had a bit of a gap between our second album and the last one,” Wareham explains.

“With the first and second albums we were touring constantly and it was really full on. We got a bit burnt out so we had to stop; Kush and me had to ask, ‘Are we really doing what we want to do here? Is this really where we wanna go?’. So we stopped and took stock, took our time and changed our process.”

“That took a while and in the meantime we changed management and changed label so the whole culture around the band changed. We finished this album, played it to Decca who were immediately like, ‘We love this, we want to sign it’. All that stuff fell into place instantly, but it’s been quite a long journey.”

“When it came to the album being released a week after lockdown we couldn’t tour it. The only thing we could do to promote it was our Instagram. Our platform wasn’t as big as it could have been, and then suddenly that’s our only outlet so we had to really work hard to promote it that way.”

“We did interviews with people every day for five weeks or something ridiculous! But we managed to gain enough followers to just about move forward. 6music were really supportive, which was fantastic. We managed to keep our skin in the game.”

“We started doing a couple of gigs. We supported Nadine Shah at the Moth Club and we did BBC 6Music Festival which was a big gig for us. That was on 10th March or something, and then everything just stopped. We were getting good momentum and it just…stopped.”

As is the wont of all creatives (and Melt Yourself Down are more creative than most), Wareham and Gaya knuckled down to work: “I made all the demos with Kush and a lot of the keyboards, saxophones etc that were on the demos actually made it on the album.”

“The demo and album tracks merged with one another. We did go into a bigger studio and put some drums on, but there was a close relationship between what I’d made and what ended up on the record.”

The pair enlisted Ben Hillier as producer, and Wareham is gregarious when he speaks of the man who can count Blur, Gang Of Four and Depeche Mode among his many credits:

“He’s also the drummer and one of the main writers in Nadine Shah’s band, and I played in that band as well. I got to know him really well from doing that. We’re just really good friends and we see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.”

“He’s really good at communication; he’s able to be really clear and decisive. I trust him implicitly and it’s good to be able to get to the point, where me and Kush are scratching our heads indecisively he’ll just say, ‘We should do this,’ and it always works.”

The album’s title, Pray For Me I Don’t Fit In, has found a real resonance in these uncertain times – Wareham reveals that the phrase has been with him for over 30 years:

“The funny thing about that phrase is that it can work in so many different ways. I first saw it written on someone’s skateboard in 1987 when I was at a skate park. I saw it and I thought, ‘That’s really cool’.”

“I’ve always remembered it as a bit of a mantra. I started skateboarding again during lockdown which, at 49, was a nice way of reconnecting some energy I had when I was a kid.”

It was a nod to that and a nod to, musically, not fitting in and that being OK. Letting that be a strength rather than a problem. These days, where you’re dictated to by an algorithm or a genre structure, or if you don’t fit into an archetype of some kind, is it a weakening of position? I don’t fit onto that playlist or I don’t fit here or don’t fit there. So where do I fit? There’s nowhere for me to fit, therefore it’s a problem. Maybe that’s a strength?

“It’s funny, the number of people that have said to me, ‘Oh, this is the mantra for my life, I don’t fit in anywhere either’, I start to wonder if the number of people who don’t feel like they fit in are in the majority.”

“Then what is it that we don’t think we fit into? I really ponder this sort of stuff. I originally wanted there to be a huge choir on the chorus of that song (the title-track). I had this idea of thousands and thousands of people saying, ‘I don’t fit in’. But I just got my kids in to do it and that was fine.”

While Melt Yourself Down are a collaborative effort, Kushal Gaya writes the lyrics. Your interviewer was aware that Wareham may not wish to speak on Gaya’s behalf regarding some of his lyrics (as is so often the case, the lyrics can be personal to their writer), but that fortunately wasn’t the case.

The opening line from the title-track (‘My best friend said I’m not black enough/My neighbour said I’m not woke enough’) gives an insight into his partner’s headspace, as Wareham explains:

“It’s something we talked about quite a lot. I know that Kush feels like he doesn’t fit in squarely to any one genre. He’s an African man of Indian Hindi heritage. He doesn’t look particularly African but he is African, so he gets put into various boxes, none of which feel right. He speaks French, Creole, Spanish…he’s at the point where many, many cultures meet.”

“Only ever in musical marketing terms do you have to fit squarely into a type to be easily marketable. If you don’t fit into that box, you’d better come up with a box, otherwise it’s going to be really hard.”

“It was the same thing again; not fitting into any of these particular tropes. You just can’t please everybody all the time – ‘I’m not enough of this, I’m too much of this’.”

“It’s interesting for someone like Kush – who has moved to London from the Reunion Islands – and to us the idea of someone from the Reunion Islands is really exotic and beautiful, but to him London, the birthplace of punk rock, is a really exotic place. It’s this whole idea that nothing is set in stone.”

So we do: “It’s easy to be pigeon-holed and it’s easy to be reduced, especially as a jazz musician. The reason I love jazz is because I thought it was an opportunity for me to be myself, but I got to a point where I hit a wall.”

“I think of it like poetry; not everything has to sound like poetry for it to be poetry, it’s a certain way of speaking. I think of jazz like that, but we hit a point where people said, ‘It has to swing, and you have to do a solo, and we have to be able to clap after the solo’ – that’s not me at all.”

“As a saxophone player who loves guitar music, it feels like those two worlds are very separate. It was, ‘How do I join those worlds?’. Kush is a guitarist as well, so we’re crossing all these different things.”

“I think it’s interesting to try and find a workaround and your own way through. I don’t necessarily think of it as ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ anything, it’s just trying to express everything at the same time.”

“People are surprised when you say you like Messiaen and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. These things seem disparate but to me they don’t. The aesthetics are different but it’s still humans trying to do something interesting.”

It’s interesting that, throughout his career as a jazz musician, Wareham has encountered such preconceptions. After all, jazz music is regarded as the musical genre with the least inhibitions and constraints, so binding itself in such a way seems counter-productive.

“Pop music, as a genre, has always been a blank canvas. People are able to bring these influences together and it’s not questioned because it’s under the banner of pop music.”

“You can be something that sounds like heavy metal or you can be something that sounds like Top 40 pop music, but it’s all pop. Whereas as soon as you say you’re jazz the door’s closed.”

“I just want to be everything all the time! When we’re working on a track and we think this bit sounds like Nine Inch Nails, and this bit sounds like Can, it’s great! We don’t think, we should take that bit out because it’s not consistent.”

Audiences will soon get the chance to check out the band’s joyous eclecticism later this month, with a short UK tour imminent and the songs road-tested last month at a gig at Future Yard, Birkenhead as part of Independent Venue Week.

Wareham’s excitement at both that gig and the tour is palpable: “It’s a funny one, because in 2019 we got a new drummer who’s an old friend of ours. I played with him in many other situations, he’s brilliant.”

“He joined the band and it was great and then, literally a week before lockdown, we got a new percussionist. He did one gig with us, the 6Music Festival, which was the last gig before lockdown!”

“Those two together are just a meeting of minds, they’re incredible, but we didn’t have any chance to explore it. So when we recorded the album we went into the studio and did some stuff, but it was working on a very focused thing.”

“The gig in Birkenhead was the first time we had got together and played as a band. The percussionist has done one gig but he’s been in the band for two years! It’s an interesting dynamic.”

When you record some music and then gig it, you always find these little pockets where you can play. Little things that expand the music that then goes on to inform the next set of music. All of that’s going to happen, which is going to be fun.

“This line-up is definitely going to stay. We got signed to a big label, we went into lockdown, so we’ve had two years of talking and thinking about it. It feels like we’re all really keen to find out what we can do as a unit, which is a slightly different approach to before where we just did the best with what we had.”

Looking further ahead, Wareham is aware of some disgruntled fans, but takes the opportunity to allay their fears: “We’ve got a few festivals which are being confirmed now and then we’re going to tour in the autumn.”

“We’ve had a lot of people from Scotland, Ireland and other places we aren’t visiting asking, ‘What about us?’. I’m hoping we’ll do another UK tour and then expand into Europe but everything is a bit unconfirmed until the last minute because you don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

“We’re working on new music all the time. We hit our stride stylistically with the last record. The last record was a lot of different styles and that process enabled us to zero down on what we are. Now we’ve found that, we think it’s going to be reasonably quick to get some more music together.”

Befitting for such a restless and dynamic band act, our interview concludes with the line:

“That’s the plan anyway, just to keep moving.”

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