by Chris Young on June 14, 2013
Ryan T. Jacobs’ Melville is gearing up.
And although his new six-song EP, Maquette, doesn’t officially come out until September 14th, the bandleader isn’t simply sitting on the record until then. Rather, he’s preparing himself and his band for a series of gigs that span the state at the end of the month.
In fact, it seems like Jacobs is constantly in a state of preparation. That and change. After almost three years in Portland, Jacobs, a Southern Oregon native, has been battling to get his music out into the world as he’s dealt with a rotating cast of players while writing and recording new material as well as learning the local music scene, like how to get booked at respected venues like the Doug Fir and Mississippi Studios or how to get his music on the radio. (Melville’s been featured on both KZME and KINK.)
But, the product of this process is a second EP under the Melville name, and the first single, “Forked Tongue,” drops today.
A “caustic” rocker “about some of the unconscionable things people say or do to get ahead in any respective area (career, personal lives, etc.),” the track is anchored, as always, by Jacobs’ genuine, emotive vocals. “They don’t worry about what effects it may have on people they’re involved with as long as they’re able to, however incrementally, ‘get ahead,’” Jacobs continues. “It’s essentially just a roundabout way of calling those kind of people snakes. We all know those kinds of people and we all dislike them, yet they still somehow exist, and in certain unfortunate cases, even thrive.”
Jacobs himself has been on a path of steady growth, one that’s been more constructive and organic than the one he describes. Much like The Beatles who played the clubs of Hamburg to cut their chops, Jacobs spent four years in Berlin honing his songwriting craft and moving up in the world, from performing solo on street corners to selling out legitimate venues. Releasing his debut EP, The Places You Might Have Gone, in April 2009, Jacobs returned home to Oregon in 2011 but settled in Portland (rather than his hometown of Grants Pass). Deciding it was time to plant some roots and put together a band that could flesh out his songs, he started calling his project Melville and introduced this act at the LaurelThirst Pub in June 2011.
Of the six tracks on Maquette, a few are revisions of songs that appeared on Melville’s debut EP,Erstwhile, but Jacobs says that the band, which currently features Tim Skerpon on drums, Thomas Yates on bass, and Jim Meyer on keys, “was integral in shaping how the songs sound on the record and how we interpret them live.”
“Some of these songs have been around as long as two years, others as recent as this year,” Jacobs explains. “The songs are all written by me and then I brought them to the band, who wrote their respective parts to bring the songs as they were recorded into existence.”
As for the band, “It’s a good feeling to finally have a static, invested core,” Jacobs says. “We’re a lot tighter now and are really delving deeper into the nuances of what makes these songs what they are. We’re really trying to revisit all aspects, not in a nitpicking kind of way, but just to make sure they’re the best version of what they are. Just because something is functional doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it, so that’s what we’ve been trying to keep in mind a lot recently.”
After “a lot of lineup changes, especially at drummer,” which Jacobs says “has really stymied some chances we’ve had at sustaining momentum,” there’s definitely a feeling of happy cohesion in the band these days. Even though he misses the skill and sound of “our longtime bandmate, pedal steel/guitar guy Ben Cartwright [also of The Tumblers], [who] had to bow out after the EP to focus on day job stuff (so we’re currently on what seems to be an endless quest to find the right fit at lead guitar), we have a very solid core lineup now and we’re a band in the truest sense of the word—we hang out together outside of practice, do band potlucks, watch each others’ pets when we go out of town, and all that jazz. It’s kind of the cliche but really, it’s pretty great too when you’re involved in it.”
To delve a little deeper into Maquette, check out the album teaser below before reading a few answers from Ryan T. Jacobs on the new EP as well as the group’s upcoming live dates.
What’s the significance behind the name, Maquette?
It actually has a couple of significances behind it. First and foremost, the word means “a usually small preliminary model,” which is a reference to the fact that this is an EP and we’re going to be moving on to an LP (most likely this winter), something bigger, more fully fleshed out and developed, so to speak. It’s a leap we’re really ready to make and are really looking forward to from a group aspect. The word is also one of English’s many French-based words, so it’s also a subtle nod to the two years I spent living in France and the formative influence that experience had on me.
There are a few tracks on this record (“Questions” and “The Dead”) that appeared on your previous EP. Why did you choose to rework them? How have they changed this time around?
The difference between those versions [onErstwhile] and the ones on this record is principally in the players. The last EP I recorded in Berlin right before I moved back to the States with a group of musicians that I hadn’t played with too long. They also had more of an alt-country feel to them, so to speak. After moving to Portland and playing with the band that is now Melville, the more we played the songs, the more we realized they fit more under a typical “rock” nomenclature. Some people may still try to label it “Americana” or “alt-country,” but that’s usually because of certain touchstones that people equivocate with those genres, such as a pedal steel, and not necessarily what the song is saying if you give it more of a concentrated listen.
What can you tell me about the recording process of this EP? Who did you work with?
For the recording process, we holed up at Type Foundry Studios with Adam Selzer (M. Ward, Sallie Ford, Blind Pilot, The Decemberists, Peter Buck of REM, She & Him, etc.) for a weekend and banged out the tunes over a few live takes with minimal overdubs. Type Foundry is a profoundly cool space to work in, which is why we picked it. Well, that and the other people they’d worked with, of course. Adam’s a really nice, laid back guy, as is Gus Elg at Sky Onion, who we mastered the record with. (He also mastered Typhoon and a bunch of others around town.) It was nice working with Adam because he’s a musician as well, and thus brought a really musical ear to the recording/mixing side of things. We recorded all the bass and drum bits to 2.5-inch tape to give it a warm foundation, which was a cool option they offer there. The songs were hewn out of prior rehearsals and live performances and I think the record really reflects that. There isn’t a whole lot of veneer so to speak, meaning that we didn’t add any studio-only instrumentation that we wouldn’t be reproducing in a live setting. Very unglamorous in that respect, I suppose.
The track before your single “Forked Tongue” is another foreign word—this time German.What does “Einleitung” mean?
“Einleitung” is German for introduction, which is what the song serves as to “Forked Tongue.” We needed a title for it after splitting the songs into two individual tracks, and having lived in Berlin for four years, the longest concentrated time I’ve spent in any one place since I left where I grew up, I felt like it just fit. We chose to make it a separate track so people wouldn’t have to listen to it every time they wanted to listen to “Forked Tongue,” which is hopefully a lot. They’re definitely meant to be listened to in succession though and have a pretty strong effect together if you put on a pair of headphones—turn them up to 11 and let yourself get immersed in the song. Six minutes of concentrated attention to a song is a lot to ask of people these days though and makes radio play impossible unless we’re talking about “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Stairway To Heaven,” hence the splitting of the track. “Einleitung” actually falls right in the middle of the record, and as it serves as a bit of a instrumental interlude and is the introduction to “Forked Tongue,” I thought “Introlude” would be a good name for it. Then, I Googled that (thankfully) and saw that ’90s girl band TLC had already used that onCrazySexyCool. That would’ve been a less than ideal situation.
What about the album art—whose painting is that?
Album art is always one of the most difficult things about finishing a record. That wasn’t really the case this time. As we were finishing up with the mixing process, I started looking around for ideas, and looking through my little brother’s [Tyler A. Jacobs] paintings, I realized what a great cover this would make. It’s really eye-catching and really, like no other album cover I’ve ever seen.
This is your first official tour with this lineup. What’s the live show going to be like? Do you flesh out the set with anything else?
We have a few songs we play from other stuff I’ve done and some newer stuff that’s not on any record as of now. A normal show will probably feature 10 songs from us and we probably have 15 to choose from at this time. We usually have some instrumental interludes that lead into songs in a live setting.
Will these upcoming gigs be pretty much focused on the new material?
The upcoming shows will be about promoting the new record, playing it and getting some new material out there for sure. We’re currently working on getting a couple new tunes into the line up to vary the set from night to night. We’ve set up a little studio/rehearsal space at my drummer’s place and we’ve been rehearsing a bunch and woodshedding new songs pretty much every time we meet up so that’s been a good evolution. We just added a brand new song (written last week) to the set so people will have to come out to shows to hear it.
Melville is looking to finalize an album release date at Mississippi Studios in mid-September but until then check them out in Bend, Eugene, Portland and more over the next few months.
June 20: Luckey’s Cigar Club, Eugene, OR
June 21: Axe & Fiddle, Cottage Grove, OR
June 22: The Horned Hand, Bend, OR
June 26: Alhambra Theatre (formerly the Mt. Tabor Theater), Portland, OR
June 28: Bombs Away Cafe, Corvallis, OR
July 14: Lavender Festival, Clackamas, OR
August 2: White Eagle Saloon, Portland, OR
Originally posted at: http://oregonmusicnews.com/2013/06/14/melvilles-upcoming-maquette-is-ready-for-release/