You might call it folktronica, ‘nu’, dark or weird folk, whatever, Jayne Dent (aka ME LOST ME) makes music of singular quality and significant distinction that simply crosses any divide. Intriguingly experimental and enticingly non-traditional, ME LOST ME music occupies those same rubbly furrows as Caroline or Shovel Dance Collective, following a course set by Olivia Chaney right up to Stick In The Wheel with a PJ Harvey/White Chalk era earthiness. Richard Dawson is a fan, as are Pigsx7 whose guitarist Sam Grant produced ME LOST ME’s new album RPG out on Upset The Rhythm on 7th July.
It’s Dent’s third full length release which revolves around her growing musical relationship with Faye MacCalman (on clarinet) and John Pope (on bass), her compelling vocals and equally emotive electronic detailing. Ahead of ‘RPG’ lifting off, Jayne took some time to chat with Backseat Mafia about making the record, what folk really means and her Zelda playing influences.
Hi Jayne, big thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule ahead of the new album release – how are you feeling with a couple of weeks to go before it’s due?
Well it still feels like it’s months away and then I keep looking at my diary and I’m thinking no it’s really soon now. We recorded it in August last year and we sent the masters and stuff by mid-October, so its felt distant for a while and hasn’t quite clicked into the ‘soon’ brain yet. I’m really excited about it though!
So reflecting back on the recording and everything, has ‘RPG’ come out as you wanted it ?
I guess it did- I’m not sure I knew how I wanted it but I guess it came out how it should have been, if that makes sense. There were some tracks that I changed absolutely loads then went back to how they originally were and I played around with others a lot …but now it makes sense to me as a whole thing.
You worked with Sam Grant (of Pigs x7) as producer on the new album, how did that go?
Well the songs were all done, pre-written and demoed by the time of the final recording. Something like ‘In Gardens’ I had already gone back to about 10 times, changed the lyrics then went back to the ones that I originally had! So by the time I actually got to working with Sam everything was how it kind of is apart from where John and Faye and the other instrumentalists had sort of improvised moments. I would take the songs to them and say could you do something that sounds a bit like a car alarm or some other strange instruction. So those bits of the album were being formed as we recorded and Sam, he just made everything sound amazing.
Some people might find the ‘Pigs’ connection a bit surprising. How did the hook up with Sam come about?
Newcastle’s not huge so you kind of know who everyone is even if you’ve never had mega-long conversations with them. So I’ve known Sam for a while and when I was thinking about who I wanted to work with, I knew I wanted to work at Blank studios and I love the way Sam mixes stuff so I just emailed and it turns out he’d been thinking of us working together anyway! I really like his approach to recording he would put a million mics on an instrument and get so many different takes to make everything sound extra organic. That’s really important with some of the electronic stuff because there are so many beats and loops, so to have the instruments sounding real you need to get all the little creaks of the clarinet as its played.
‘RPG’ sounds like it has an even broader range. Was that easy to come by and how did you hold back from wanting to add more and more?
I think I approached it in terms of what the songs needed. I’ve been working with John and Faye for a while and I knew that I wanted to get them on a good chunk of the tracks and there are a few other instrumentalists that I ‘ve worked with that I wanted like Niles Krieger, I knew I needed to get him on something and then when I wanted violin on ‘Festive Day’ I knew that’s the track…so it’s sort of done organically, I didn’t feel that I wanted to push it too far it terms of the sound palette.
With a title like ‘RPG ‘and virtual world themes running through album I guess this was an important driver for the songs?
Yeh sure in terms of both the lyrics and the instrumentation. For this one particularly I wanted to talk about things in the virtual world that aren’t real but they have a real impact, like an emotional impact, you can feel connected to these virtual places, these stories because to me it’s very human… all the lyrics feel very human even when they are about games and stuff.
What about ‘Heat’ the next track that is coming out as the final album preview?
It’s a song about how it’s really lush when the weather’s nice but then in the back of your head you’re thinking ‘It shouldn’t be this hot’ in February in the north-east of England. I wanted to make a song about that kind of weird tension between ‘I’m so happy it’s summer’ and also this is a bit scary. So the lyrics are quite positive but it’s in two keys at once, it’s got these clashy unsettling musical elements, I wanted pleasant lyrics about having a picnic with quite a creepy backing. It’s got the duality of that and “the ocean is on fire” line is taken from a headline on the Metro which was really terrifying and which prompted the song to begin with.
Is playing the songs live ever a challenge, do you have to adapt things much?
Some things work straight away which is nice – I love those songs – and some are quite hard to work out solo versions for example …I used to get quite frustrated about it I used to be like oh I just want to do this properly but now I feel like I can think ’this song doesn’t exist live and that’s ok’ …it’s like a sculpture and a painting, some things just don’t translate to a painting. So now I am a lot more laid back with it.
Has being on a label now made things easier?
It’s been really good –it’s useful to have people to bounce ideas of like which things make sense as singles or is this a time line that works. Having that has been great then also just having to send less emails. It’s encouraging as well, I mean I wouldn’t stop making stuff anyway ‘cos I can’t help it, it just comes out but it’s encouraging when other people want to put it out.
Your upbringing had a lot of folk music and that narrative tradition around it, so is that story telling important in your song writing or do you see your songs as more reflective and personal?
I think it’s sort of a mixture of both. I feel that my songs are necessarily about me, not me as a human being singing in that song but they obviously have elements of me that are exaggerated …I am imagining a character but I am never going to be completely detached from what that character is. It does feel like there are places, stories that are not completely autobiographical but they feel personal…like ‘Until Morning’ which is about Zelda. That one feels really personal about what I got from the game and more than maybe ‘Eye Witness’ which is a thing that actually happened ….
How do you react the age-old question of keeping to the folk tradition and keeping it pure?
I see folk as quite an expansive thing and to me the purist idea is a bit silly like you’ve decided that you stopped developing narratives at what point? Ok stop now we are fully formed as a society and we never have any more stories to tell…that to me feels like very unfolky in a way. The old songs are important I love so many of them but I also think it’s a bit silly to declare its finished now and we should just sing the old ones…things have to move forwards otherwise we are just telling other people’s stories and that’s not folk to me. Folk is about making things with the stuff you have to hand and what’s happening to you right now and if you are playing a video game right now then that’s what’s happening. It’s important to keep adding those stories…there’s not a finite space for songs to exist in.
Your voice seems to be central to the songs, is that how it feels to you?
It’s definitely one of the threads – I play other instruments and I stuck with electronics but my voice feels like the instrument that I know how to use the best. Playing with words and voice has been with me the whole time. I’ve experimented in style a little bit but it still comes out a bit folky. But I do feel that in instrumental tracks you can still tell a story, it can still be descriptive and emotional which is kind of like a folk thing as well.
You have a distinctive voice – are there any particular folk singers that you could say have been important to you?
My favourite, favourite singer is Anne Briggs – I love her voice so much nobody else sounds like her, so her voice has had a big impact and Maddy Prior and also people I went to sessions with…I spent my teen years going to folk sessions down the pub and it was like the singers that were singing with me there were the voices I heard the most of anybody and that’s a bunch of really brilliant people I’ve absorbed…
And what are you listening to at the moment?
I feel like as soon as anyone asks me that my mind goes a total blank…if I was sat in the same room as all my records that would be so much easier . I’ve been re-visiting the most recent Self Esteem album ‘cos it feels very summery and I’ve been hammering Jenny Hval’s ‘Classic Objects’ my favourite album from last year and I’ve kind of been listening to a lot more early music stuff…Oh and the new Ursa Major Moving Group that came out a couple of week’s ago, that I’ve been hammering.
And before we go, what’s next on the schedule ?
I’ve got quite a lot of exciting things on. I’m doing a song-writing commission for Sonic Arts Week in Middlesbrough at the end of July, lots of workshop leading which I really enjoy. I’m planning on touring this album in the Autumn which is really exciting because I really enjoy going about the place playing gigs. Then I’m doing some theatre stuff after that and the next album is demoed already so got to get that going. It’s not that I never sleep or anything…..
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