Mwen Music - Interviews - Soundblab

Mwen Music

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

I first encountered Mwen back in 2006 when she stood in on drums for a reggae band at a Leeds night called Hang Out where I was the resident DJ. The band's name is long since lost to the mist of time, but I can still remember the impact Mwen's elemental, wildly different drumming style made on me. So much so that, after wacking on Millie Small's 'My Boy Lollipop' at the end of the band's set, I felt almost duty bound to let her know how fantastic I thought her performance was.

Fast forward to late 2010: Mwen Music is the solo vehicle of Mwen who, after a successful stint in drum 'n' bass band Hayashi, is now a London-based multi-instrumentalist whose music combines dark electronica, trip hop, soul, jazz and innovative, experimental beats into a sound that's at once urban and expansive. Songs like 'Golden Roads' and 'Unknown Sentiment (Hysterical Lady)' provide a skipping, uneasily shifting soundtrack to inner-city alienation, while other tracks, like the gently swinging 'Summer Solitude', the numb ache of 'Control' and the malevolently churning 'Be Still' chronicle heartbreak and obsession.

In her music, you can detect influences ranging from the skittering female-centred rhythms of The Slits and The Raincoats; the bleak, bewitched emoting of Portishead's Beth Gibbons; the otherworldliness of Björk; the fire of Nina Simone, as well as more contemporary electronic sounds. There're some big names in that last sentence, and rightly, because you should expect big things from Mwen Music. Make sure you check her out. Soundblab caught up with her to discuss inspirations, influences and the dearth of female artists in electronic music.

You've relocated from Leeds to London. Have you found it easier to get attention for you music there?

The music scene in London is so vast that I couldn't say it's necessarily easier to get attention for your music here. I get this sense in the London scene that every band is in it to make it so there's a lot of competition and there's a certain level of professionalism amongst bands, venues and promoters that forces you to raise your game. If you're a band or artist not up for the challenge I reckon getting attention would be quite an uphill struggle.

Having said that, I do also think there are a lot more profile raising opportunities and opportunities to get your music heard by 'the right people' here.

You were previously in drum 'n' bass band Hayashi. Why did you decide to go solo?

The decision to go solo has been a relatively recent thing. When I left Hayashi it was mainly because I just felt I needed to do something different. I loved that band and all of its members, but I just got to a point where for some reason (which I still don't know) my heart just wasn't in it so much. I played with a couple of bands up in Leeds post Hayashi but when I moved to London it became apparent that the Leeds based projects wouldn't survive the move. I had a lot of musical ideas buzzing around my head by the time I got to London so I just got writing and recording and kind of just found myself being a solo artist. The creative freedom that comes with working solo is also really addictive and once I realised I was capable of it I just ran with it.

Do you play all the music on your solo songs? How easy is it to do that?

I write and program all the parts myself, yes. My primary instrument is the drums so I tend to program rhythms I would naturally play on a kit or play them on electronic pads. I'm a self taught musician so my approach to writing music is finding sounds rather than thinking about notes and keys. I hear musical ideas in my head and then find the notes and instruments to match my idea. To be honest I think working that way kind of makes it easier for me to be satisfied with what I come up with - I'm not one of those musicians that tears themselves apart worrying about which chord progression is the most interesting or 'out there', I just play what I feel and that's it.

Is it nice to be in total control of the music you make? Was it easy to adjust to that?

It's a great feeling to take complete ownership of your music but it's also terrifying. At first it was really easy to adjust to because I was full of ideas that were just waiting to write themselves really but then there's the trade off of not having that input from other musicians which I've always thought of as a kind of quality control. Since I don't have any particular musical training as well it's really easy for me to doubt myself. I tend to just power through that feeling though - what other choice is there?

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would you choose?

Hmm, there are loads of people I would love to collaborate with. At the moment I'd have to say one of three artists - Seiji (of Bugz in the Attic), Flying Lotus or Matthew Herbert.

You have a really interesting, innovative drumming style. What inspired that?

I'm not sure really. When I was about 14 I started teaching myself drumming listening to rock bands like Deftones and Incubus then I got a hold of the Cinematic Orchestra track 'Flite' and Luke Flowers' drumming on that opened my eyes to playing up tempo with a certain kind of jazzy feel and freeness that I just love. I'm always trying to achieve that balance but lord knows when I ever will! I love all kinds of dance music too, jungle and drum and bass were my first loves and now for some reason I'm really feeling garage and 2-step type beats.

How about general musical influences. What do you draw inspiration from?

I'm in to all kinds of music that I'm sure all leaks into my inspiration pool at some point - anything from Dj Zinc to Feist, Mount Kimbie to Roisin Murphy, Gold Panda to Friendly Fires. In terms of vocal style I was probably first and always will be inspired by ladies of jazz like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone - these are all voices that still floor me beyond 80 per cent of the voices we hear these days.

Your music achieves a great balance between electronic and live sounds. How easy is it to recreate that live?

At the moment I'm playing my live sets using Ableton, samples, keys and guitar so thus far it's not too difficult recreate! In fact I think my tunes are sounding loads better live than recorded... In the near future I'm going to put together a backing band that will probably push the electronic/live balance even more with hybrid acoustic/electronic drums, synths and live looping.

What's exciting you in music right now, and what's pissing you off?

I'm not sure if this counts but I'm really excited by how many tools there are out there for musicians to get stuck into the DIY mind frame with the by-product being loads of untainted great music readily available. Online platforms like Soundcloud I like in particular because you can just find so much new music and if the artist lets you, you can download their music directly from them. I've discovered loads of excellent stuff that way.

One thing that has always pissed me off is how there just aren't enough women making electronic music! There are more female vocalists and singer/songwriters out there than you can shake a stick at but you don't often hear of women producers or beat makers - so few seem to get stuck into the production side of things. That kind of under-representation will always piss me off. It's a dream of mine to one day put together an all female electronica band...

Is there any new music you think Soundblab readers should be checking out?

I've never really been one to know too much about 'new' music - I just like what I like and more often than not I'm well behind the curve! That said, I'm really liking Lykke Li at the moment, most of the artists on the Hotflush record label, Circle Traps, C.R.S.T., Betatraxx (aka Redlight) and I've recently discovered a love for synth-tastic Simian Mobile Disco but they've been around for ages.

What's next for you?

Well I'm still trying to gauge the London music scene so loads more gigging. As I mentioned before I'm going to be putting together a backing band so when that happens there'll probably be even more extensive gigging right through till summer festivals time. I'm always writing and recording new stuff so I'm sure there'll be some downloads released through my website (mwenmusic.com) sporadically 'til my next EP is written.

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