The former frontman of psychedelic-pop act Race Horses has gone solo. Race Horses, previously known as Radio Luxembourg, had hit a stride for eight years, yet just as they were championing into fine Welsh thoroughbreds, which meaty tune “My Year Abroad” suggested, they fell at the hurdle.
But Meilyr Jones arose from the field, releasing his debut album 2013 this year. It’s absorbed critics approval, being described as a “renaissance-tinged marvel”, “beautiful chamber pop” and a “joy from start to finish”. A fair reflection, Jones’s debut album is a rather fascinating proposition; encapsulating political statements over his unique blend of orchestral pop.
I had a chat with Meilyr Jones and discussed authenticity in music and refugees. So yes, an uplifting Tuesday afternoon ensued.
PARTY LIKE IT’S 2013?
I thought I’d start with the most puzzling of all questions. Why is an album made this year, named after the year that brought us the dance in which unfunny groups of friends frantically pump the air?
Unsurprisingly, the Welsh artists’ debut isn’t about “The Harlem Shake”. Jones deciphers the mystery, “in 2013 I went to Rome and ideas that had been building up started up in a new way, and Rome is where I wrote most of the music on the album”. Finally, he adds “I thought it would be cheeky”.
Cheeky it was indeed. Jones in his deep Welsh accent said, “I got a group of around thirty musicians, who worked in very different ways. I paid them as much as I could, they were very kind”.
However, working with thirty charitable musicians wasn’t without its difficulties. Jones admits, “the songs were difficult to arrange. So I started working with a composer friend of mine from Cardiff. Because I was organising all the players, hiring the studio… it felt like it was needed.”
Despite his collaboration, you still get the sense that you are in the presence of a gifted musician. At times during the interview, I felt like Nick Carraway marvelling at The Great Gatsby’s awe. In spite of this, he is definitely one of the most humble artists you could meet.
IT’S PICASSO, RIGHT?
The opening song on 2013 is “How to Recognise a Work of Art”, which confronts music authenticity in a peculiar way…
The video is spectacular satirical look at the world of conspicuous art. Jones seamlessly weaves through a production set, checking vases for the lack of watermark. However, he is engulfed by a rather nasty surprise, bellowing “But it’s not there/ it’s a fake/ it’s a fake/ of that’s there’s no mistake”. Further, at one point he even meets Kurt Cobain, yet in a moment of divine enlightenment, realises that the grunge legend is not there. I ask about the video…
“The idea was my imagination, I wanted to make something as it was in my head. I did it with the people at the time, done in two takes. One person moving the lights, another getting the actors to change their costume. Actors then reappear at different times”.
The result is spectacular, the choreography is seamless. Jones describes it as a “long process, it took about six months”.
However, such light-hearted satire is bundled in with deeper connations, hitting the nail on the head in the debate surrounding authenticity in modern society.
“I sometimes get my conversation out in humour. When people pretend, they are very serious in the way they pretend. Pretending that they know about things, yet they don’t really know about it”. The Welsh artist got the frustration of his chest…
“People can mask intuition. People don’t respect intuition enough and don’t learn enough. I really enjoy learning and work hard at that”.
Such a point is indisputably rife. With litigation from the Gaye family challenging Robin Thicke’s misogynist anthem or even the undeniable similarities between The 1975’s ‘Sex’ and LCD Sound System’s ‘All My Friends’. It is clear that authenticity, and acknowledging where influence stems is paramount. Yet currently, and treacherous for creatives, that line is yet to be consistently drawn…
I questionned other songs, including first single ‘Refugees’. I was curious at the political dimension behind Jones’ song, given this mesmerizingly haunting piano ballad finishes with the line “There’s work to be done”.
“I accidentally made it political…I watched a lot about the NHS. A film about Ken Loach, 1945 after the war. The lack of coverage inspired me. The world before Jeremy Corbyn. Lots of things going on in my head”.
His words wander excitedly, like he’s trying to tell you all his ideas before he is about to explode. You get a sense that 2013 is just littered with references and influences, that would still engage the listener after ten listens.
Another standout song is Strange Emotion, sounding like an estranged, slightly folky cousin to David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”. I ask him about the similarities…
“I started playing the chords. It was like a cut and paste in to my song. I wasn’t worried about being sued or “arrested”. It felt really liberating to do my thing, just to go for it”.
I ask the ex-Race Horses man if this song will become a tribute…
“It felt a bit weird when David Bowie died. I just wanted to play the song, not with the weight of other people questioning my decisions. I felt a bit self-conscious playing it live for a bit”.
However, I’ve been informed that such scepticism has been squandered, and the song sits firmly on his set-list now.
Meilyr Jones kicks off his tour April 25th, and you can catch him at Live at Leeds 25th of April. He’s an incredibly humble and talented guy, and a must see.