Æ: Aglet Eaters

Interactions in Installments: Mansions and Junipers Part 2

Posted in Discover by R on July 19, 2012

Listening to Mansions and Junipers, I come to the unavoidable conclusion that you’d find them under ‘indie’ in your nearby music shop/record store, provided, of course, that you still frequent these places. In all fairness, though, I have not once seen a ‘shoegaze’ section.

have seen a ‘beer’ section though. Of course, this was in Australia:

beer in mind, this is Australia

Yes that CD reads ‘Beer, Blokes and BBQ’

If there was a parallel world where shoegaze sections exist, though, I wouldn’t expect to find Mansions and Junipers there. There is definitely an aesthetic reminiscent of the scenes, new and old, in there, but it’s not the dominating feature. There are clear vocal harmonies, the instrumentation is distinct and individualistic, and, most tellingly, I can comprehend every word.

In this section of the interview, Matthew sheds some light on the story behind Mansions and Junipers’ sound. I also find myself quite intrigued by the name so decided to ask about that as well. In the process I seem to have revealed that I am not as well read as I appear to be. This is also the place to marvel at M’s Subhead Skills.


The Name

In May of 2010, I was deep into the writing and recording of what was to become Mansion Beach, the first MaJ LP. I had taken a lot of time away from writing, as I had devoted so much energy into playing other people’s music, and I was grabbing at every bit of inspiration I could for lyrics, themes, and so forth. At the time, I was getting really into John Barth, an American postmodernist novelist. I was reading his first novel, The Floating Opera, which he wrote when he was 24 years old (1955). While reading, I would write down all sorts of phrases, words, sentences, or inspired ideas. In fact, I was constantly taking notes on everything during this time — I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted this band to be, but I was really really open and everything around me appeared to have a ‘creative sheen’. Anyhow, Mansions and Junipers was derived from the following passage:

 “The sheer oppositeness of his enthusiasm from anything I myself could conceivably have been enthusiastic about at that time — though I had been interested enough in social reform not too long before — drew me to him, and, as I learned later, he was attracted by my “transcendent rejection” (his term) of the thing that meant life to him. In short, we were soon friends, and walked blindly to my rooms at dawn for more drink, singing the Internationale in French through the mansioned and junipered roads of Guilford.”

The image struck me — the language, the phrasing, the pace gives this feeling that the mansions and junipers lining the streets are just these hazy, peripheral accessories, or these distant bystanders or onlookers. Barth gives conveys this comforting feeling of being alone in company. It just felt so basically and profoundly human.

The Style and Development of the Sound:

This is always a difficult thing to explain. When I was conceiving of the group in 2010, I had no conscious compass for what type of band I wanted us to be. In brief, I just kept writing and recording, we tried out different potential members, played shows, took lots of risks etc. and now an identity is emerging. In my experience, this isn’t something you can force. We all start by referencing our influences, but until you’re able to really locate your voice, it’s difficult to stand out as something unique. I think it just comes from time and repetition and being together. That being said, I think our most relevant influences right now are Depeche Mode, Pixies, Bowie, Scott Walker, OMD, Siouxsie… as for contemporary bands, I’m really digging Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, A Place To Bury Strangers, Crystal Stilts, and  Chairlift‘s new LP is fantastic.

As a songwriter, one of the most difficult things I come up against is trying to convey more with less. I think we’re getting much better at writing meaningful parts for each instrument rather than just to make things dense or harmonizing just because that’s something we generally do. It’s very difficult to be objective about your own music. Subsequently, it’s very easy to bury your hooks and themes under density, simply just because you might not even know what your hook is! But I think that lack of clarity is most often a symptom of trying too hard to be something. At this point with MaJ, I feel strongly that we’ve found our thing… it’s become super easy. The creative choices that once seemed so daunting simply make themselves now. I think that social elegance is often conveyed through simplicity, or more accurately, the appearance of simplicity. The goal is to simplify everything that we do — from the way we write to the way we rehearse to the way we perform to the way we record — so that we might continue to eliminate any boundaries that might exist between us and potential listeners. We have a ways to go, but that’s the point… it’s an infinite process that’s extremely gratifying.

Emphasis added.

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