Interview - Melody Klyman
By: Brett Spaceman
’Truth and beauty’…a life philosophy for many and a succinct way of describing Melody Klyman’s latest album, ‘Bending the knotted oak’. [sic] Magazine caught up with the lady herself.
Spaceman: What started your love of music Mel? Piano lessons as a kid? A song on the radio? What kicked it all off for you?
Melody : Piano lessons as a kid would be the obvious one but having a mother who carried me while going for her bachelor of music probably was the earliest stage of subliminal programming. Growing up around classical music led to classical piano lessons from the age of 6 until 16. This naturally progressed into my own songwriting starting about 12-13. I was always singing so I was never going to just be an instrumentalist. That’s it really –music always mattered. Eighties rock and the punk and new wave stuff born out of the late 70’s and 80’s underground are my biggest influences.
Spaceman: And how did you start professionally?
Melody : I suppose it started with the generic band scenario, funny enough my first band was called ‘Muse’. This was brief, as I always wanted to go it alone. I then started demoing and within 2 years was offered an album deal with MCA as more of a ‘prestige’ artist, a term the label used for the more artistic self-indulgent and less commercially viable signings think ‘Sinead O’Connor’. My direction at the time was skewed. I was too young and within a year under the wrong guidance I was ‘dropped’. Things had just dragged out and I wasn’t inspired or writing the way I should have been. Funny enough not long after the same guy signed Alanis Morrisette. For years after that I wandered in and out of session vocals, singing at raves and for pop groups.
Spaceman: Is it true that you’ve been to number one? Dance chart or fully-fledged UK singles chart?
Melody : Nope-I think you may have me on a pedestal there (laughs)- not #1 ever. Maybe you’re referring to the reference to a gold record in my bio? I recorded 2 songs one original, one cover with a top 40 kind of bubblegum pop band from Canada that were very big in the late 90’s. The album went gold in Canada hence me getting a gold record as part of the group. The only UK dance chart reference may be a song I did ages ago which was literally 1 line and an ad-lib of my vocal, so virtually meaningless for me. It was a house track called ‘Gonna Make You Move’ by Boomshanka and it went to top 10 as far as I know in the dance/club charts at the time.
Spaceman: You’re Canadian but you re-located to UK. Why was that? Professional reasons?
Melody : This is my second UK relocation, once before in the mid-90’s. I’ve been in love with London since I can remember and after several visits as a teen that was it, I HAD to live here. All the music I grew up with (well most of it) was from the UK. London just speaks to me and the UK in general. It’s my first love and I feel at home here. I relocated permanently 4 yrs ago and haven’t looked back since.
Spaceman: At some point you decided to turn your back on the mainstream and follow your own, more alternative, path. What happened? Was there any one thing that made you think ‘enough’? Or was it a gradual succession of dissatisfaction?
Melody : My own music and songwriting has never really been obviously mainstream but the stuff I’ve written and/or sung for others may have been. I tend to be a bit chameleon like depending on whether I am writing for someone else, singing for someone else or doing either for myself. The line tends to blur a bit sometimes. My options though were always limited because I wanted to do my own music yet I didn’t just want to sit at the piano and play live. I needed people to help bring it to life. I would do demo after demo but nothing was ever ‘right’. Basically my life in music has been in two segments and there was a large gap between them in which I pursued another path altogether and became a nutritional therapist. This was fulfilling but not enough and moving to London brought back all the creative juices and dreams I tried to suppress. Initially here I got involved in the club scene again as that was what I knew. I was writing and singing for producers in that arena in a genre of dance music called Breakbeat which I love. I still do this and its fun but it’s a small fragment of who I am musically. Finding someone to work with creatively whom I could trust and respect and that was versatile enough as a producer/mixer was always the biggest challenge and what I was really looking for. Four years ago that person/producer Glen Nicholls came into my life, which led to Sovereign. It was then, finally, that the time was right to attempt a proper album. I was ready, not necessarily 100% clear of my direction yet like I am now (with “Bending..”) but READY! (smiles)
Spaceman: When you first went solo under your own name, how did that feel?
Melody : I’ve always been solo apart from a year in a band as a teen I’ve just never done an album solo or put myself out there so to speak until now. Everything I’ve done has always been under my name- and/or an alias as a ‘featuring’. I am a control freak with my music and doing my own thing is the only way I feel fulfilled.
Spaceman: What you’ve done – is there a danger of falling between two stools? You know, mistrusted by both camps.
Melody : Probably. I think in my experience my music can be hard to market in that on the one hand it is quite commercially accessible and on the other more unique and perhaps an acquired taste. There is a real dichotomy there but that is just indicative of me and my musical taste, nothing more. Honestly, analyzing it would be too much effort. I have no interest in playing the corporate game and currently I don’t have too much faith in the music industry on the whole or shall I say the buying public when I see the sh*t being revered. Thank god there is still some great music getting through.
Spaceman: There is a swelling market for the ‘bonkers’ girl, singer-songwriter. But one of the reasons I liked ‘Bending The Knotted Oak so much was that you don’t really play the idiosyncratic card. I find your material more personal, more honest, and subsequently more believable than a good deal of your contemporaries. Where do you see yourself in terms of niche/genre?
Melody : Thank you. I’m a pretty straightforward ‘shoot from the hip’ kind of gal. I am sure some things about me might seem a bit bonkers to others who know me but generally I don’t emphasize it or utilize my idiosyncrasies for dramatic effect. We are all a bit bloody bonkers. I just write what I know however deep or mundane that may be. Maybe that’s why it’s believable. I am crap at lying and playing the ‘game’. I think I just generally classify myself as alternative as that gives me a lot of room to play with. The singer-songwriter thing is fine as that’s what I am but I prefer to do it in context of a full back up band not just a piano and me. That doesn’t inspire me. I need power behind me.
Spaceman: Your influences include Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil. I don’t really hear Cocteau Twins so much apart from the vocal (chorus) on Calico which is very late period Liz and the drum machine on Superhuman which is very early period (Garlands) – Those are really two ends of the CT spectrum. Were you setting out to sound like Cocteau Twins? Or indeed any of your influences?
Melody : I never actually set out to sound like any of my influences but there is no way you’re not going to. It’s inevitable. This Mortal Coil and earlier Cocteau Twins (up until Treasure) had a profound influence on me musically. I’d say more This Mortal Coil with Sovereign. A few critics gave the Cocteau Twins comparisons, I never really saw it. You are 100% correct though in the Garlands reference with Superhuman. Very well spotted and my favourite album of theirs. With Calico, yes, the chorus, I can see that but I never set out to do it. To me Calico is a fusion of the Cocteau Twins and Def Leppard- that is me in a nutshell!
Spaceman: The Guardian called you gothic. I don’t see it myself. Do you?
Melody : Nope, but a couple of songs on my last album leaned in that direction and the production also gave it a darker vibe. There are lot of things I would change about Sovereign if I could have a do- over. Of course it’s part of me, the songs were intensely personal and I don’t dishonour them but in retrospect I was just figuring things out. I was listening again to a lot of This Mortal Coil and wanted to create something in a similar vibe but subconsciously it came off a bit more commercial and perhaps adult contemporary. We were caught up in financial concerns and trying to make ends meet. SO generally the album is a bit all over the shop and things sort of backfired. I am much more of a rock chick than a goth chick.
Spaceman: Ring Tailed Liar is an interesting song. The call-out line is like a schoolyard taunt. (I imagine pointed fingers). But the rest of the song is lilting, drifting dub. That’s a real contrast. Very sensual one moment and mocking the next. Is it about somebody in particular? And does he/she know?
Melody : It’s not about any one person but collective people in my life over the years who like to tell white lies. It’s not the big lies I encounter it’s all the silly little ones that really irk me. I am so on the ball with people, to a detective-like fault and I always know when people are lying to me. The lies are seemingly trivial but it’s a habit that disgusts me. It shows poor character. I like Ring Tailed Lemurs too so the marriage of words seemed obvious.
Spaceman: There are a lot of fresh start/renewal songs on Bending The Knotted Oak, yet it isn’t your debut album. You already released ‘Sovereign’. Is ‘Bending…’ a development from ‘Sovereign’? Or something else entirely?
Melody : I’m not too sure I’d call them renewal songs. They are just songs of the moment and about where I was in it. . Nothing too cathartic. Some songs are more of endings then beginnings i.e. Julius. The beloved cat I lost to a tumour in summer of 08. That was one of the MOST painful endings ever. I had him for 14 yrs and he moved with me to London. I adored him. ‘Bending..’ though is definitely a development from Sovereign and maybe better in some ways to just say something else entirely. Some people who liked Sovereign may feel that. I think there is a still a thread of me running through both of course but ‘Bending’ is the most ‘me’ of anything I have ever done and I know this because I don’t question it whatsoever. I am totally at ease with it.
Spaceman: Listening to ‘Bending….’ I get a sense of a woman still clinging on to her inner child. Fair?
Melody : Fair, yes (big cheesy grin)
Spaceman: Also, there is a fair bit of self-analysis on evidence (e.g. I isolate – which IMHO is a very underrated track) did you really do a number on yourself? Is constant introspection healthy?
Melody : Well yes I really do a number on myself, haha, I am trying to give myself a break a bit more these days. I do think self-awareness is very healthy but not excessive introspection although life unexamined is not worth living according to Socrates. That being said this song is more a statement on society and seclusion. The options we now have to completely isolate ourselves i.e. the computer, internet, email and texting. Basically we don’t have to truly communicate with people anymore in the way we used to. It also represents a person clinging to the past, wanting to stop time and living in a self-created, isolated bubble not really wanting to leave the house. There is a lot we can hide behind in society today. This is often me at times.. Also I should mention that “ I Isolate” was initially written for the band The Crystal Method and has also been released as an electronica track by The Crystal Method vs. Future Funk Squad another breakbeat/electronic act. It is simply called “Isolate”. It’s a completely different version. I just really liked what I had written and wanted to adopt it to my album.
Spaceman: “I’m more scared than you, of being perfect” – Can you explain that lyric?
Melody : Sure. The meaning of Chrysalis here is to say that when we are born we are all perfect and then stuff happens and we get ‘affected’. Most of us grow up with baggage and lose the ability to see the perfect beings we really are underneath it all. We become too afraid to allow ourselves that freedom – we can’t believe we’re worthy. Hence the lyric “ I am genuine BUT I am defensive” that precedes it. It’s the tough on the outside soft on the inside façade we develop to protect ourselves likened to the hard shell of a chrysalis during development.
Spaceman: Egos and human complexities are fascinating subjects. There’s a thin line between self-confidence and arrogance. Are Superhuman and Chrysalis dealing with this?
Melody : Well no those songs aren’t really haha…though the ego is definitely a fascinating subject with me. One of my b-sides from Sovereign is called “The Ego The End” so that’s self-explanatory! I’ve explained what “Chrysalis” is about but “Superhuman” is really more tongue in cheek. It’s simply about a period a year ago where I was taking tryptophan an amino acid to induce feelings of well-being and a proper sleep. When taking it I used to have the most crazy, prolific and powerful dreams where I felt what I’d call ‘Superhuman’. I would take it before bed. I didn’t really need it but had fun with it for a while. You can buy it as an OTC supplement in most countries, no hidden mystery and as an ex-nutritionist I like to experiment. (smiles)
Spaceman: Sea Of Satellites deals with the overload of wi-fi, messaging, mobile phones etc. Do you believe our heath is at risk by the new technologies? Anybody you know been affected by the ionic disbalance?
Melody : We are affected. Believe me! Wireless technologies have a massive impact on our health. It’s very scary and scientists and physicians are gathering a lot of evidence to prove this. It’s only a matter of time until our ignorance will prove detrimental.
Spaceman: If you had a time machine and could make one (musical) return trip, would you travel backwards to see one of the old legends or forward to see what people are listening to in the future?
Melody : Well I certainly have no interest in going towards the future if what the bulk of people are listening to now is any indication. I’d probably want to go back to the early 80’s. I love that period in music. I’d like to have experienced the ‘musical’ anarchy of the 70’s and punk, seems to be the time when things got interesting. That would have been cool.
Spaceman: Will you tour this album?
Melody : No actual tour, no. That costs a lot of money and I am a self-funded artist. I have put a band together but financially it’s a strain since they are all professional musicians. Basically I am available and ready for shows if I’m booked but slogging it out on the circuit is not who I am at this point in my life.
Spaceman: Sink Then Swim is my favourite song. Is that true of you Mel? That you really feel you have to suffer before you can move forward?
Melody : Less now than I used to but it seemed to be the case for a large part of my life. Martyr syndrome, 20/20 hindsight, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and… I’ll stop with the clichés now…
Spaceman: Have you a personal favourite?
Melody : Hmmm that’s a tough one. Julius is the most personal to me. I cry every time I hear it. For listening my faves are Chrysalis(Being Perfect), Calico and Thrill Seeker. Chrysalis has my favourite lyrics. Thrill Seeker is my favourite to perform. Requiem, I am simply proud of and of Sea of Satellites I love the concept and the beats. I love the lyrics and dubby bits of Ring-tailed Liar as I love dub reggae. I’m not really answering your question am I?? I really do love them all; they’re my babies (smiles)
[sic] Magazine thanks Melody. Bending the knotted oak is available now. Click the link below for full review. Photos with kind permission from Melody Klyman, myspace and not for reproduction. Photography by Joanne K.