This is Part Two of my interview with Aaron McMullan. I'd recommend you read Part One first, otherwise it will make even less sense.
On Yonder! Calliope? you're joined by a number of other fine musicians, were there parts of this disc that were collaborative efforts with some of them – the music I guess is what I'm getting at – or did you show up for the recording sessions and know what you wanted from everybody and just say here do this for me would you?
The record as a whole is a collaborative effort between myself and Andrew Gardiner, the producer. I brought the songs and he set about sneaking around the corners of the buggers with a torch, coaxing each and every one of those phantoms out the shadows, wrapping them up in no end of musicological wonderments. Had it been produced by me, it would’ve sounded very different.
Things I wouldn’t have done, Andrew knew instinctively HAD to be done, and he was right. And then, things HE would’ve done, I knew we shouldn’t, and we didn’t. I thank God for meetin’ the man, and thank God that he met Luke Page beforehand, the co-founder of Ex Libris Records. Luke Page, we all agree, is the very fellow who is most responsible for Yonder! Calliope? ever getting past the mixing stage. The trauma that fella has endured.
But yeah, it was very much a collaboration between us, and a collaboration carried out over the ocean a good chunk of the time, particularly during the actual mixing stages. Tracks in varying states of undress were cast back and forth from Newcastle, England to here in Northern Ireland a thousand times or more, Andrew pointing out some new addition or some new level fix or reverb-swathe or whatever, and me giving my thoughts on the matter and so on and so forth.
The recording process itself was spread over both patches of green, too. Here, Andrew recorded myself and Mr Ryan H Fleming who I adore to the back of the guts and who plays most of the lead guitar parts on the record, and in Newcastle he then recorded the various other musicians who appear on there. Various Ex Libris artists and friends, some of whom are busy making their own records or have recently finished doing so. People like Rebecca Jones, for example, who is an amazing songwriter and has a voice the likes of which I imagine lines the streets in certain azure avenues in Paris, or Sarah Gill, the cellist, an incredibly talented classical musician and composer. Beautiful work they’ve done on this record, every one of them.
You recorded Yonder! Calliope? with Ex Libris in London. Why the move down there away from Ireland – or is it just a temporary thing for purposes of getting the recording done?
As I say, although a good deal of the recording was done in England, actually in Newcastle, I never had to record anything over there, I did my bits in a studio in Portrush, Northern Ireland. I did go over there for all sorts of promotional malarkey, mind you. But I will be moving to London within the next month, for reasons of A – the distributors, NDN, are workin’ out a grand London-based scheme and I’d really best be there, and B- whilst we’re maybe all living in each other’s digital back-pockets nowadays, still, if you’re physically positioned anywhere outside of a few key areas, it’s very hard to meet the right kindsa folks at the right times, i.e, when they’re very drunk and notably aroused and in dire need of opening some doors to a lad.
Back to the CD again – a lot of the songs are about personal type subject matter, relationships etc. Have you drawn upon your own experiences for subject matter directly at all, been influenced by things that have happened to you, or just made everything up off the top of your head?
Everything on there comes directly from personal experience. Sometimes two or nine personal experiences have been juxtaposed, mind you, for the sake of The Grand Narrative, but there’s very little fiction, for all of that; poetic license taken, maybe. I’d forgotten just how much it felt like a diary, actually, till about two months ago. From the moment we started making the record till about a week after it was finished, any time I’d heard anything I’d been hearing it as a work in progress and directed my attentions accordingly to this or that fresh-added drum beat or trumpet line or whatever.
Then, one evening I sat down to listen as a normal listener and it hit me at a more, I dunno, holistic level maybe. The whole thing came tearin’ out the speakers at me and I remembered what had led me to write that particular line, what I’m talking about there and so on and so forth. It tore me in bits, is the truth of the case. There are songs on there – not all of them by any means, but a few – that deal with particularly unpleasant experiences, and to be confronted with all those phantoms all a sudden in that short space of time was a touch overwhelming.
But that’s all we have, isn’t it, is our experience. It’s all we have to draw from. There’s a brilliant line in Burroughs’ The Ticket That Exploded where he mentions “A million actors with the same corny part” or something like that. We’re all basically telling the same story. Vladimir Propp went to great lengths to show us all just how simple that story really is. So anything that I can talk about that might colour my stories that bit differently to the next fella or lass… I suppose it’s the only currency I have.
There’s more to it than that, obviously, mean – a good deal of why anyone writes with any detail about personal things, other than they’re incredibly self-obsessed, which I am, is to do with a certain cleansing; an exorcism, maybe. Certainly I’d prefer to have those things wavering about the grooves there as wavering about my head. I worry sometimes about the ethics of it all, mind you. Mean, other people are involved in most everything anyone might be experiencing in one way or another, and Bad Shit rarely hits anyone without staining the tweeds of the folks stood closest. The fella falling naked out the ambulance isn’t the only one who felt that tarmac on the face. The folks who were stood watching felt it too. So to then be wringing profit from those things, by which I don’t necessarily mean monetary gain – artistic gain – it troubles me at times. But certain things refuse to leave via anything but the fingertips or the yap, so what can you do?
What would you like people to take away with them after listening to this disc? What was your intent I guess you could say – or was it simply the need to create motivating you?
I never thought about how folks would react to it other than – I hope they like it and I hope I don’t sound a self-pitying bastard. Mean, I write a lot, I write a lot of songs, and these 12 happened to be the ones I liked most and the ones also that fitted best together. Any themes or lines that can be drawn between them are probably coincidental, in that they weren’t written to play into some larger picture, it’s just that those things are what I’m obsessed with and they show up in everything I do. But I hope folks can connect in some way to those things. I’d like that.
I was told by somebody I interviewed that I should ask what's next, it's the thing to do. Since then everyone I've asked has just said – whatever happens I'll go with it – but I'll ask you anyway – What's next for Aaron McMullan?
The move to London is the next thing. Gigs and promotion and what not, and hopefully making Ex Libris back the money they put into the record. And the songs are still comin’, so that’s nice. Aside from all of that, I’m working with a production company here in Northern Ireland with regards a screenplay and scribblin’ at a novel and pretty much getting as much done as I can before the inevitable screech of the factory at my doorstep and I’m off to tin beans for the rest of what I have to live listening to beautiful men and women either side of me telling me about the books THEY wrote one time, too. Maybe I’d read it some time? I’d love to, I’ll say.
Well I don't think Aaron McMullan needs to worry too much about ending up working a factory job and talking about the times when he was, because he will always be what he is now. This isn't the work of someone for whom creativity is a passing fancy that will fade as the blush of youth fades from his cheeks. He's in a long-term relationship with his muse whether he knows it or not now and nothing he or anybody else can do will part them asunder.
Thanks to Aaron for taking the time in his hectic schedule of promoting to sit down and pen such thoughtful answers to my questions. All that's left to do is everybody go out and buy Yonder! Calliope?. Go the website of those nice folk at Ex Libris records and say can you send me one and for a very reasonable amount of change you too can own one of the most exquisite CDs that it's been my privilege to review in a long time.