As darkly seductive and cohesive, as it is sombre and engrossing, the debut album “Refer”, released late last year via Cold Transmission Music label, from Isle Of Man, UK based duo, made of Mark Sayle and Phil Reynolds, broods, and burns with the heartfelt passion, energy, and romanticism of the classic post-punk, permeated with obscure and evocative gothic atmospheres, embellished by vibrantly deep vocals, and literary-tinged poetical lyrics.
Thanks so much for the interview. Let’s trace back to your personal roots, where did you grow up and how did you get into music? Who were your musical inspirations growing up?
M: I grew up in a small village called Onchan in the Isle of Man. The radio when I grew up only seemed to play the 50s and 60s music. I remember quite vividly visiting a cafe with my parents when I was about 6 years old and hearing ‘Sunday Girl’ by Blondie on the Jukebox. It opened my eyes. I loved it. It was like nothing I had heard before. From that point on I consumed music like oxygen. I would listen to anything and everything. I remember I particularly liked the new wave and electronic music scene though. I would sit in class. In school humming to myself, songs I had learned, like some human jukebox. As I grew up my tastes became more refined. I got into bands like the Sisters Of Mercy and the Cure, Iron Maiden and the Sex Pistols. Later I got into Bauhaus, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Husker Dü. When I met Phil my musical horizons were further widened as he introduced me to bands like The Chameleons and Wild Swans.
P: I was born and spent my childhood in Liverpool, so I’d love to say “The Beatles”, but my earliest musical influence was my mum, who loved terrible, awful country music but also wonderful stuff like Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Roy Orbison, and Neil Diamond – all of whose music I still adore. The next was my brother. He was older than me, so I was able to stay in Liverpool. He started sending me tapes in 1981/82 full of mysterious stuff by people like the Sisters, Fad Gadget, Ultravox!, B-Movie, which led to discovering John Peel. From then on, Peel was everything.
Why and how is born your attraction for the cold, dark, noisy, uneasy and gloomy sound?
M: One of the first records I bought was ‘The Reptile House’ EP by the Sisters of Mercy. It’s still one of my favourite releases and that dark, cold sound has informed a lot of my songwriting.
P: As I said, my brother was sending me tapes and from very early on, I loved what the Sisters were doing. Then I discovered Joy Division – the greatest band in the history of the world. Darkness ensued.
What were the trigger factors that lead to forming the project? Did you have already an idea of what the sound would have been?
M: I was working with Phil on a track called ‘Electronic’ as a side project. I didn’t really expect to do anything much with it except getting to hang out with my best mate and make music. As well, I had a couple of songs I had recorded for my ‘other band’ Slow Decay with me singing the vocals. The band decided that the songs weren’t representative of what Slow Decay should be (with Sabina singing) and that we should ditch them. I thought the songs had merit though and asked if they minded me using the songs (‘Amanda’ and ‘Euphoria’) for my side project. They agreed I could and the rest is history.
P: Yep. That’s pretty much it. In fact “Amanda” was originally demoed for the Slow Decay album and features Steve & Stu from the band.
What do you most admire and detest from each other?
M: Phil is a great human being. A loving father and grandfather. He has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of music and is more than willing to help young musicians whether it be by helping out as a sound man at local gigs or as a producer for up and coming local bands. His politics and my own are very closely aligned, left-leaning, Liberal, humanist. If he has a flaw it is that he second-guesses himself as a producer, he’s a perfectionist and nothing is ever quite ‘done’. But that is a good flaw to have in the music world in my humble opinion. I can honestly say I don’t detest anything about him. His love of ABBA is somewhat baffling to me but then my love of Hard Rock is probably just as baffling for him.
P: If I detest anything about Mark, it’s probably the revelation in this interview that his first record was by Queen. I’m constantly awed by his raw talent. I’ve known him for 25 years, and he still manages to surprise me. I’m proud to be his friend.
I can’t ask you about the music scene of the Isle and local bands to recommend…but is it influenced your music in some way? but it’s known for its medieval castles and rugged cliffs after all…
M: Not for me. Perhaps the isolation of being on an Island has seeped its way into my soul but I don’t think my homeland has consciously affected my musical process.
P: I suppose it’s fair to say that moving to the Island when I was 12 had a massive impact on my musical development, as I retreated into music pretty early on because I didn’t feel part of the place I’d been brought to life in. In many ways, I still don’t.
What about Mark’s Slow Decay and Phil’s own Phil Reynolds and the Dearly Departed, still active projects?
M: Slow Decay is still a very active project. We released a new album (‘Pre-Dawn Light’) on the 13th of December last year and I’m currently working on new material.
P: I do have ideas for some new Dearly Departed stuff, but I’ve learned not to force the writing process. It’ll happen when it happens.
From where do you draw lyrical inspiration and how you compose them?
M: I draw lyrical inspiration from all over. My lyrics do tend to lean toward dark subjects though. Heartbreak, death, drugs, and sex. I tend to write the initial song by writing a bassline on my guitar and writing the lyrics after.
P: I don’t write any lyrics for MEM, but when I do write, I just tend to take everyday things and dress them up on flowery metaphors, so they sound a bit less like the rantings of an old man who’s annoyed by the traffic and more like bohemian ennui.
What are the individual efforts and strengths that each of you brings to the band’s creative process? Could you talk about your way of composing and recording?
M: As I say, initially I write a bassline and some lyrics, perhaps a riff or two and then bring that basic idea of a song to Phil. We then record the outline of the track, add a demo vocal then add guitars and keyboards. Phil programs the drums and analog keys though, he’s just much better at doing all the technical stuff. All in all its very much a 50/50 effort.
P: I think effort’s the wrong word, as everything falls really easy for us. Our strengths complement each other perfectly, so we often don’t even have to discuss what we’re doing; we just get on with it.
On your profile, I notice between the influences some horror directors (Carpenter, Argento, A. Romero) but also Shane Meadows, literature (Ian M. banks) How much the non-musical cultural resources inform your creative process and in particular have informed your album?
M: Some of the tracks on the album (‘Amanda’, ‘Time Enough For Love’, ‘Delta Of Venus’ and ‘Abandon’) have literary inspirations to one degree or another. Sometimes it’s a borrowed title (Heinlein‘s ‘Time Enough For Love’, Anais Nin‘s ‘Delta Of Venus’), sometimes an idea (‘Amanda’ being a modern-day retelling of the character Ophelia from Shakespeare‘s ‘Hamlet’) and sometimes imagery (‘Abandon’ has lyrics referencing Moore‘s ‘Watchmen’ graphic novel).
Could you explain the album’s title, its influences, the encompassing tread/themes, that have brought to the final result?
M: ‘Refer’ is so-called because it is filled with references to literature (as previously mentioned), musical genres, other musicians and artists.
Do you already have a cold perspective about the LP? Have you any favourite songs that would you pick out from the LP, if you had to, and why?
M: If I had to pick a favourite song it would probably have to be ‘Abandon’. It’s an epic gothic dirge that would sit comfortably on an early Sisters Of Mercy record. The darkness and the bleakness is palpable. I just love the imagery and the music.
P: I have to admit that ‘Hollow Eyes’ is probably my favourite. I think it just kicks arse in a huge way, but I have a fondness for the whole album, just because it wasn’t supposed to happen. We’re just two friends hanging out and making music. And then here I am, answering interview questions. It’s a bit hard to get my head around.
How do you deal with the live dimension? What are your highlights and lowlights so far? Do you remember your first gig?
M: The live act is still a work in progress. We’ve only had one live gig so far as Mark E Moon, although myself and Phil have many years of live experience in bands, so highlights and lowlights would be hard to tell from just one gig.
P: I have to say my personal highlight of the one gig we’ve played so far was the absolutely massive noise my tiny synth made during a new song called ‘Obliviana’. It felt like the room was about to take off!
Which were those pivotal concerts, records, songs… that gave you that overwhelming sense of excitement and wonder that has marked forever your musical sensibility and life?
M: For me, songs like ‘The Kiss’ (The Cure) and ‘Last Train’ (Ghost Dance) along with ‘Valentine’ (Sisters) and ‘Shake The Disease’ (Depeche Mode) have formed a lasting mark on my musical landscape. As for concerts, seeing Iron Maiden play the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool in 1990 was breathtaking. The melodies, the sense of theatre, the audience singing along to every word, was intoxicating.
P: The first gig I ever saw was John Foxx in Liverpool in 1983. My tiny mind was blown utterly. It was magic like I’ve never experienced. Since then, I have to say that every time I see Low I come away utterly refreshed and inspired. I’ve seen them a huge amount of times and they’re always the same, but always different. The noise those three make is just astounding. As for records, I always say that there are three albums which utterly changed my life, and they’re ‘Still’ by Joy Division – which helped me realize that you didn’t have to be a virtuoso to write and play amazing music, ‘Psychocandy’ by the Jesus and Mary Chain – which taught me that there was no shame in liking pop music and making it your own, and ‘Songs About Fucking’ by Big Black – which just changed EVERYTHING.
I’ve always been fond of marginal bands, often even more than the lead ones. I did like UK Decay for example far more than many celebrated ones… Can you mention any influential bands that actually meant something to you, but they’ve never been too popular and why?
M: I really love Skeletal Family. The songs were always so different, so diverse. Really good songwriting too. She Cries Alone and Promised Land are two of my favourite songs.
P: The most obvious one for me is Ultravox! – the John Foxx era. They got huge following ‘Vienna‘, but the three albums before that are all absolutely perfect. Life-changing and amazing. Then there’s Big Black, Fad Gadget, Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Suicide, Cindytalk. So many to choose from…
How do you weigh music-wise the pro and cons of the internet era? Are you comfortable with social media and platforms like Spotify, Bandcamp, etc. as tools to promote your music?
M: I’m not particularly tech-savvy but I’ve learned how to use Bandcamp and Facebook to some end. How effective my messing around on computers has been remained to be seen I suppose.
P: I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I still buy cassettes.
Which bands would you love to make a cover version of?
M: It’s funny you ask. We just recorded a cover of Yazoo‘s song ‘Nobody’s Diary’ for something different to do. Personally I’d love to cover ‘Underpass’ by John Foxx. Whether these ideas will see the light of day is another matter. We’d like to think our original material is strong enough that we don’t need to do covers.
P: Don’t remember ‘Underpass’ being mentioned. I’m up for that!
Do you remember the first record you bought?
M: The first record I bought with my own money was probably the double A-side of Queen‘s ‘We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions’. I must have been nine or ten and bought it at a car boot sale.
P: Mine was much better than Mark’s. And it was also a double A-side – ‘Confusion/Last Train to London’ by the mighty ELO.
What kind of music and who are you personally listening to at the moment?
M: A lot of post-punk and goth stuff unsurprisingly. Sonsombre, the Kentucky Vampires, ACTORS, White Mansion, S Y Z Y G Y X, She Past Away and Whispering Sons. Also some Depeche Mode and an electronic band called Foxtrap.
P: Right now, I’m listening to ‘Refer’ by Mark E Moon! But generally, I’ve been listening to an awful lot of dub reggae and 70s Khmer pop from Cambodia (I know that sounds pretentious, but there’s a great website called https://radiooooo.com/ where you can stream all manner of amazing stuff from around the world from across pretty much the whole 20th century). I’m also listening to a lot of Throbbing Gristle and early Simple Minds as well as dipping into some of the stunningly awful stuff you can find on the Poche Music website.
Could you name one of your favourite albums, movies and books and why?
M: My favourite movie is the 1995’s French film ‘La Haine’ directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. It’s an absolute masterpiece and what an ending! My favourite album is probably the instrumental ‘Ultraviolet’ by Ed Alleyne Johnson (formerly violin player on New Model Army‘s brilliant track ‘Vagabonds’). My favourite book is either ‘Time Enough For Love’ by Robert Heinlein or ‘Use Of Weapons’ by Ian M Banks. Both are spectacular works of science fiction.
P: Pretty easy for me. Album is ‘Systems of Romance’ by Ultravox, book is ‘The Bridge’ by Iain Banks and film is either ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ or the ‘Baader-Meinhof Complex’. Although possibly ‘The Killer’ or ‘Bullet in the Head’. Or ‘Independence Day’. Hmm…oh. ‘Blade Runner’.
What are your plans for the future?
M: We will be rehearsing like mad for our slot at W Festival this May. Followed by more rehearsals for this Cold Transmission Festival in August. We are hoping to recruit a drummer as well to expand the line-up. We’re also busy writing our second album which will be released through Cold Transmission in 2020.
P: Yep. Rehearsing, recording the second album (which is largely written and demoed), re-learning how to use analogue synths after buying a whole bunch of new ones…
Is there anything you’d like to add?
M: Yes. Thank you so much to everyone who has bought our music so far and to all the fantastic reviewers, bloggers and vloggers who have said such great things about the album. Also, you can check out our merch at Mark E Moon Bandcamp and if any radio stations or DJs want to get in touch they can contact the lovely Suzy or Andreas at [email protected]
P: I’d just like to agree with that, and to throw all the thanks in the world at Marie and Voirrey for looking after us and Andy and Suzy for making this all happen.
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