It’s amazing how time flies. Seems like yesterday, when we’ve interviewed Geordie Greep and Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin – both guitarists and vocalists of then next big thing and british noise rock phenomenon – Black Midi. Almost two years later and they have the world tour in their portfolio (and they didn’t have too much time for that, since Covid hit 6 months after our interview during OFF Festival), a temporary change of line-up (Matt took a break from the band to focus on his mental health) and second album – “Cavalcade” – coming. What’s a better time to check on them? This time I spoke with Morgan Simpson – Black Midi’s genius drummer.
Last time, when we’ve published our interview with your colleagues, I believe we’ve broken all our records. People wanted to know everything about the next big thing in british music. All eyes of alternative press and music fans were on you. How did you feel about it?
I think we obviously… Well, I’m not going to speak for the other guys, but personally, you can’t ignore the fact that people are watching you. We go to, for example, OFF festival and there’s hundreds of people. I think I might be the first time in Poland as well. I can’t remember. But, you know, we play our first time in Poland and there’s like almost a thousand people watching us. That’s incredible. So I think, of course, it’s quite evident and obvious that we were being watched. But I never felt the pressure, to be honest, because we were and still are living the dream. So with that, there’s not really time, there’s not really space for pressure, because it’s like: “Wow, we’re touring the world at 19, 20 years old.” It is incredible. So for me, it was very much reeling in the special year that we had in twenty nineteen.
Yeah, but I think there were a lot of myths and expectations regarding the band at the time. Did it fit your imagination of the band or how you wanted the band to be?
Uh, no! [laughs] It’s the simple answer, I think. If you’re going to try and sort of use what people are saying and try to measure that to how you view the band, you’re never going to be happy. You know, if people compare us to X, Y, Z, then in a lot of ways, it is like the biggest compliment that someone can give you because they’re comparing you to one of their favourite bands. Which is definitely not a bad thing. But also it was great because we discovered what’s interesting around “Schlagenheim” that we weren’t really listening. Again, I don’t want to speak for the other guys, but generally we weren’t really listening to the type of music we were making at that time, if that makes sense. We were really all taken in those “noise and math” tags and… I mean, even the term math rock felt a bit lazy because our songs are played with technicality on a guitar, which is considered “math rock”, and we were like: “Well, no, not really”. We had one song in five fourths, so that means: “Oh, they’re a math rock band”. There was so much lazy journalism in my opinion. But yeah, I think one very cool thing was the fact that we discovered a lot of bands that we never had heard of before.
And how do you feel about what’s happening around your band right now?
Very excited. This album is more in line with what we actually want to do going forward. There can always be a slight disconnect if you make a record and you’re not really listening to that music and you’re playing all these songs, which are fun, but after playing them like 200 times in a year, they’re not as fun anymore. And I think now actually feels that we’re heading in direction, which collectively resonates a bit more because we’re actually really enjoying the music more.
I’ve read that you don’t really like “Schlagenheim”. What’s wrong with that album except the thing that you didn’t listen to that kind of music at the time?
Well, I’m not sure if we said that don’t really like “Schlagenheim”. Maybe that was said, but personally, that’s not the case with me. I think for what it was, it was cool. For that kind of energy and that sort of stratosphere of chaos. It was a cool thing. But I think we just wanted to do more. It was a great marker of where we were at as a band at that time. I feel as if records are only a sort of documentation of an artist at a particular time. You just want to release stuff and not hold on to a project for five or six years, because you’re then stopping the flow of material that could also be written in that time. Once you process the fact that it’s literally a documentation, it’s like: “OK, let’s put this out”, because people can say what they want, but this is all a very long journey. I thoroughly enjoyed Schlagenheim, but I think we always just wanted to do something slightly more adventurous melodically and musically.
Before the Covid started, you were almost on a constant tour, played a lot of concerts and you already played some new songs there. When did you have time to compose them?
Yeah, you’re right! We were playing “Chondromalacia Patella” and “John L” towards the back end of the US tour. Especially with “John L”, that was kind of a song where we had different sections for a little while, we didn’t really know how to put it together and then maybe in a couple of rehearsals in the back end of twenty nineteen, we actually put some things together and made a section of it and blah, blah, blah. And “Chondromalacia Patella” was kind of the same. Yeah, the US tour was sort of a litmus test for those songs in particular. But, yeah, I think we did have the time to write. We just didn’t really use it that well, because touring was like the first real experience that we had and it was very, very intense and amazing at the same time. It’s a very interesting contrast, being on the road and getting home and a lot of people struggle with it. I totally get that. But yeah, I think there was some time… I’m trying to think of the other songs. “Ascending Forth” for example. That was definitely 2020. Geordie brought that in and we played that on the UK tour last February. 2019 was very kind of broken in terms of material being written, because we just couldn’t really get into the flow of things.
You still made that album very quick. It’s not that long since “Schlagenheim”. How did the process look like?
Well, it would be almost two years when it comes out. It was June 2019. I mean that was sort of like a pillar of the band from the start that we always wanted to put out as much as we could. And sort of as quick as we could. I don’t really think that’s the right way to phrase it, but we just wanted to keep moving and keep writing and keep pushing ourselves. So ideally, we wanted to put out an album a year after “Schlagenheim” or a year and a half after, but of course, covid and everything happened. I think we are very, very optimistic in that sense and maybe not too realistic, but, yeah, I think it’s a quick turnaround, but I think as always, how we wanted it to be.
So probably we won’t have to wait too long for you third album, right?
Could be end of this year, baby!
Cool! And before you started recording, Matt took a break from a band. I don’t want to talk about him as he has all the rights to do so. But how did you react on that and did it force you to change anything in the way you work in a band?
I think the the situation kind of speaks for itself. I don’t really have much to say on that. I just think we just had to adapt and make as best of the situation as we could, which meant Matt not being involved and it’d be more like a trio. So we just had to adapt and we made it work, really.
But you have invited some people to work with you on that album and play strings, brass instruments, etc. How did letting people from the outside of the band in change the dynamic? How did it work?
The material kind of led those decisions, which is how it should always be like. There’s far more colours and textures and tones that we can hear on given track. In comparison to “Schlagenheim”, in my opinion, “Cavalcade” is far more expansive. It’s much wider. “Schlagenheim” is like this [shows a narrow space between his hands] and very, very intense. But now the spectrum is being opened. I think it just made sense. It wasn’t like we always said from the start of the band that we want to have other musicians involved and blah, blah, blah, but it just made sense with the material that we had. Seth [Evans – keyboards] and Kaidi [Akinnibi – saxophone] came in, Rosie, my girlfriend, came in and sung on a tune, Blossom Caldarone, one of our close friends as well, played cello and Jerskin Fendrix is playing violin. And it just made sense, really.
Speaking of Jerskin Fendrix and other people. You also cooperate a lot with Black Country, New Road. There’s like a scene right now which is getting more and more popular and i think it’s built around you. How do you feel being in the centre of something that popular right now?
For me, I don’t really associate the word “scene” with what’s going on in London. Of course, I think that’s sort of a label that allows people to sort of understand it, but I would definitely call it more of a community. I think with that word, you can kind of go further. You know, I think when I hear “scene” and I think of something contrived and forced. And when I hear “community”, I think: “Oh, genuine relationships being formed”. So I definitely think it’s more of a community. And – as I’m sure you’ve heard many times before – the Windmill [a venue in London that serves as a HQ for that community] is absolute, massive part of that. Obviously it’s amazing. It’s really, really cool that there’s so much going on. Not even talking about “rock bands” per se or the UK Jazz guys like Nubya [Garcia], Shabaka Hutchings and Ezra Collective. There’s so much going on right now and it’s a very exciting time and has been for the last couple of years.
Speaking of The Windmill. I heard that you had to do a fundraiser for that venue. Did it went well?
Yeah. The fundraiser went far, far, far better than any of us could have imagine. That was great. And purely from a point of view of just trying to keep The Windmill alive because I don’t know what the hell is going to happen if The Windmill goes. It can’t happen. It cannot happen.
It probably won’t happen as it’s probably the end of the pandemic. Let’s get back to the album. It’s obvious there are more progressive inspirations on that album. Have the music that inspire you changed in the last two or three years, or maybe it was a conscious decision to go into a more challenging direction?
I think naturally, we listened to far more music than we did while writing “Schlagenheim”. Again, going back to the music that we were making around the time of “Schlagenheim”. Around that time, I think we also… Not to say we could have written “Cavalcade”, but it’s kind of like our musical influences around that time didn’t reflect what we were making, but we still wanted to make a record like this. I think in some ways, yeah, the influences have changed and we were all individually trying to push ourselves on our respective instruments . You know, I’ve really tried to hone in on some jazz vocab or language – whatever you want to call it – and we were all just pushing ourselves and our instruments and hands musically and just trying to listen to as much as possible.
You’ve also decided to improvise less. So how does the creative process look right now for you?
Quite a few of the songs on the record were written in sort of Schlagenheim-esque style – sort of piecing fragments of ideas together. So those tracks would be “John L”, “Chondromalacia Patella”… What else is on the record? [laughs] There are a few tracks that were written that way, and there’s also a few tracks like “Marlene Dietrich”, “Ascending Forth”, “Diamond Stuff”, “Hogwash and Balderdash”. Most of those were written solely by Geordie and “Diamond Stuff” was written by Cameron and kind of brought to the table, because Covid literally meant we couldn’t be in the same room. It’s as simple as that – it’s a different way, but we still get to a place where we’re all really stoked. I think the whole improvising notion around the band is being a bit exaggerated, because it seems to me that people think that the whole first record was entirely improvised and that was never, ever the case. It’s just the creation of a lot of those songs came from the improvising, recording those bits. And also it’s not to say we’re not going to completely shun that way of writing – it just means we now have more than one way to write.
Yeah, and as the guys brought the songs to the table, how did it change your work as a drummer?
It was different. Again, it was a challenge. I mean, I always see coming up with parts as a challenge. You know, a challenge in the sense that I have to really try and make something that I like. And whether it’s in the moment or if I have to try and do that with a song that’s already being written, this is a great challenge and one that I enjoy either way. There was definitely a different way of doing things. And I think at first I was a bit like: “Oh, my parts don’t really feel like me”, but with playing it more, it becomes you, doesn’t it?
Listening to that album as a whole, I feel like I’m listening to or watching a really weird musical. I think Geordie said that the drama on that album is like a key feature. What’s behind that idea and can we expect more of that mix between music and drama in future?
Definitely. Drama is cool, amazing. That’s what gets us as humans really going and I think we just want to combine worlds far more. It’s about creating worlds, really – that’s what music is. So we kind of view it as escapism and an opportunity to create something that doesn’t relate to the world that we live in, especially after the year we’ve had. I feel like a lot of people want to try and escape their thoughts and just have a breather mentally. Drama is a big thing and music that we love has a lot of drama in it. There are, of course, different types of drama. Musically speaking, there’s like dynamics and everything, but a song like “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye in comparison to like… What’s a very dramatic tune?
Perfect. So they’re both amazing songs, because they both have drama, but it’s different kind of drama, right?
Yeah, of course. And speaking of the future – what’s next for Black Midi, except that third album that’s coming out anytime?
What’s next? More music. More challenging music, I think. For us, really, it’s about making stuff that really pushes you. It’s important to have the music that there’s a level of comfort that comes with it, but I think it’s also important to have music where, you know, you’re uncomfortable. And with that, I think great things are made.
Main illustration – Anthrox Studios
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