The mystique and urban legends that surround the music industry work wonders in adding some intrigue to an artist – especially around the release of a new album. Every artist seems to have one. A personal favourite is the alleged Phasmophobic Chad Smith (of Red Hot Chilli Peppers fame) who, when the band recorded their seminal album Blood Sugar Sex Magik at the former residence of Harry Houdini, chose not to stay overnight at the mansion but instead ride his motorcycle in every day such is his fear of ghosts. The stupider they are, the better.
For Leeds quintet Menace Beach, two stories that circulated prior to the release of their latest album ‘Lemon Memory’ were that it was all conceived in Ibiza – proper Happy Mondays in Barbados stylee – and that it had come together in an effort to lift a mythical citrus based curse. Whilst not strictly true, the press in the lead up wasn’t far off.
“We found a book – called ‘Myserious Cults’ – it just had everything, from the earliest occultism and that kind of thing, the Manson family and witchcraft and stuff. One of these spells was about how to curse someone with a bag of lemons, you bury it on their land or whatever. I remember when we lived in Derby, I found a carrier bag full of lemons and I was like – it could’ve been a curse!”
Ryan Needham – one of the two ‘front-people’ in Menace Beach – is talking me through this citrus based curse and its relevance, something which the rest of the band (sat around the table with us) still find amusing.
“I don’t honestly think it was, but it was kind of like a jumping off point.” He continues. “…Well that house was pretty grim, maybe we’ve been cursed. Then I just got into that, it chucked up a lot of stuff for lyrics and things. Went down a bit of a rabbit hole into occultism.”
We’re backstage at The Deaf Institute in Manchester, where on arrival I noticed a sign on the door past the entrance, identifying that guitarist Nick Chantler was sleeping (and for potential knockers to take heed!) The rest of the band, very much awake, briefly discuss their last appearance here at the Deaf Institute, a show with False Advertising and Weirds back in late 2015. Their return to the venue comes just over ten days into a headline tour across the UK, and there’s a noticeable buzz amongst the four members (and one can only imagine Nick too), with Ryan noting they’d been out to a few places that had been firsts for Menace Beach.
“The shows have been pretty busy and it’s all been going weirdly smoothly.” Says Liza Violet – second ‘front-person’.
“I think best tour yet.” Adds bassist Matt Spalding. “The shows have been really well attended and it seems like people are really liking the new record, I think.”
Their UK run appeared to be their longest continual bout of shows in a while, seeing them take in fifteen different shows across the country, as well as a few in-stores.
“Yeah, we had pretty much a whole year off.” Says Liza. “I think we did four shows last year. So we were just like writing and recording most of the year.”
“…and saving money so we could have a busier year this year as well” adds Ryan, laughing at the notion. One money saving strategy for the band was ‘Dry January’ in preparation for tour, though drummer Nestor suggests that none of the band really drink too much anyway, with Liza adding that she’s trying to work it back in. The drinking is near enough down to the elephant in the room (or lack thereof).
“Just Nick – hence why he’s sleeping.” Laughs Ryan.
The lack of touring does sound slightly peculiar for Menace Beach, given that at one stage it felt like they had a show on every other month in Manchester, supporting Pulled Apart By Horses one minute and then some rum-promotion tie-in the next. The lack of time on the road has definitely worked wonders however, with Menace Beach certainly enjoying the fruits of their labour in the tremendous Lemon Memory. In an interview prior to the album’s release, Liza stated that coming into the new record, they had a thought/rule in mind – do things differently.
“I think we did loads of things differently on it – the way we recorded it.” Says Liza, citing this method as beneficial for Lemon Memory. “We wanted to not kind of rely on just having walls of fuzz guitars through the whole thing and have a bit more space in it and play around with that.”
“It’s more just about not repeating the tricks that we’ve done before.” Says Ryan. “Structurally as well, we’ve kind of tried to do something different with that.”
“The way we wrote it was pretty different, kind of a bit upside down from before. So we started off with things like drum loops and synth lines and textures and stuff, then chopped it up after.” Adds Liza. “The way we recorded it with Ross, we did it track by track, rather than doing all the drums at once and all the bass and guitars. We totally stripped down the studio for each song and started again, so that’s probably why it sounds quite different song to song. It was actually written as more of an album than the first one, probably.”
Man of the moment Ross Orton has been the go to for producing all your favourite records over the past couple of years. Based out of Sheffield, his work with Menace Beach changed things up in part thanks to his history as a drummer (Add N to (X), The Moonlandingz). They even joke that there’s a drum shop within eyesight of the studio, which got Ross excited on a daily basis and made for frequent trips during the working day (“…literally you can see it from the door of his studio – and I’m pretty sure he is keeping it in business. – Nestor”).
“It’s weird ‘cus, with this band we’ve only ever recorded with MJ before, at Suburban Home. So everything was kind of new, really.” Says Ryan. “He kind of sat back the first couple of days and was gauging the personalities and who was doing what. Nick knows him pretty well, but I’d only met him once before.”
“It was very much like get the drum sound, and we kind of built everything up around that. It’s just different in all aspects, really.” Says Ryan.
“I think Ross in the studio lent a lot to that. As you say – let’s finish a song in one.” Adds Matt. “Every time we’ve previously recorded, you record all the drums so they all sound consistent, all the bass sounds consistent. That’s normally what you go for.”
“…Then the drummer fucks off. Then you’re just left at the end on your own and you’ve gotta do vocals for like fifteen songs in two days…” Groans Ryan.
Unsurprisingly, drummer Nestor had a whale of a time in the studio with Ross, brightening up somewhat as we discuss the various bits of kit he was able to use and play with.
“I appreciated that massively.” He beams. “Taking my kit and setting it up, he was like – I’ve got all this stuff. So it was great fun going through all his cymbals and all his snare drums – changing out skins just to get exactly the right sound was good. Someone who was that – I’d describe an intense person – I really, really appreciated that ‘cus it gives a kick up our arses.”
“It’s dead rare for a producer to be a drummer.” Adds Ryan. “Obviously they’re interested in it and they can probably play a bit, but not like – he’s a drummer. I think he’d still consider himself a drummer more than he would a producer, probably.”
This drummer focus and building up tracks separately makes for an album of many strengths, with Lemon Memory being an eclectic mix. But the band see it as more cohesive than their debut album ‘Ratworld’, with a definite narrative throughout.
“That was just a collection of songs that were written and played live as a set really, whereas this one’s been written as a whole with a specific goal in mind.” Says Nestor. “So even though there are different styles and different kind of sounds, I still think there is quite a sense of unification there as well. To its strength, definitely.”
From sunny Sheffield to sunny Ibiza, the second talking point in the lead up to Lemon Memory was its writing location for Ryan and Liza. Prior to the release of the album, it was reported that the record had been written in Ibiza – in typical rock-star fashion. Whilst the circumstances might not have been shooting off to a foreign land on the label’s money for sun, sea, drugs and debauchery, it is true that they did take time off to go to Ibiza where they did pen a few album tracks. Ryan chuckles at the thought.
“It was mainly a holiday and then to kind of have a break from just always thinking about… If I’m at home, I’ll just pick a guitar up after 10 minutes of being at home, so I’ll just get away. But then there was a couple of guitars in the Airbnb that we stayed in, so it was like – ah fuck. So we just ended up writing a few bits and bobs, maybe like five songs. It wasn’t all done out there, but it was a good starting point.”
With Leeds being so notable for a thriving music scene, with much loved institutions like the Brudenell and Jumbo Records being held in high regard by its patrons and touring bands that come through, it is inevitable that it comes up as a topic of conversation. Leeds is afterall not only the spiritual home of Menace Beach but the actual home of Nestor, Ryan and Liza, with Nick living up the road in Sheffield and Matt in Derby (“It’s kind of handy – all just different stops up the M1.” – Ryan).
It’s notable that the current incarnation of Menace Beach has been the most constant (likely owing to the aforementioned handiness of the motorway), with Nick coming in as near enough the last person to complete the ever-changing puzzle.
“It’s been fairly steady, it’s just every so often one will nip in and out.” Says Matt. “The four at the table here have done everything since the first release, but initially it was just us four and then MJ started playing. He played for about a year, then he went off. Ben from Bruising played with us for a bit…”
“Nick started driving us.” Adds Ryan, which the others all crack up at.
With the line-up steady, a new album a few months old and a new lock-up back home in Leeds set up for whenever suits the band (“We can just leap in at a moment’s notice, which I’m really looking forward to” – Nestor), there’s already been talk of starting to write again. Could we be looking at the follow up to Lemon Memory already?
“We never really plan anything that far ahead in advance. Like now – stick the album out and see how the tour goes and see what the reaction is. People are into it… that kind of will either close doors if they don’t.” Says Ryan with a laugh. “You do something and you get an email going – do you want to come to this festival in Europe – and you go yeah. That’s how we’ve just done it, rather than going – what’re we gonna be doing in December? We just kind of stick summat out and then normally something comes back. I feel like if you throw something out to the Universe, the Universe chucks something back to you. We just kinda do that – Keep throwing shit out.”
The rest of the band laugh as Ryan eyes up his uneaten meal on the table, taking a bite out of a chip. ”We should probably take it more seriously, really.”