Names: Pete Wareham, Kushal Gaya, Ruth Goller, George Crowley, Adam Betts, Zands Duggan
Interviewees: Pete Wareham, Kushal Gaya
Occupations: Saxophonist, composer (Pete Wareham), guitarist, vocalist (Kushal Gaya)
Nationality: British (Pete), Mauritian / Reunionese (Kushal)
Current release: The new Melt Yourself Down album Pray for Me I don't fit in is out via Decca 24th February 2022. The first single, the title track, is already available.
If you enjoyed this interview with Melt Yourself Down and would like to find out more, visit the band's official homepage. They are also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, twitter, and bandcamp.
Over the course of its existence, Melt Yourself Down has featured a wide range of musicians, including Shabaka Hutchings of the Comet is Coming, Tom Skinner, and Tristan Banks.
[Read our Ruth Goller / Vula Viel interview]
[Read our Danalogue of The Comet is Coming interview]
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Pete Wareham: The impulse has been there constantly since I was a kid, when I first started drawing and banging things. I haven’t ever had a period where I’m not listening to and following that impulse, so it doesn’t appear to ‘come from’ anywhere as it is always there.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Pete Wareham: The aesthetic of the band is a preconceived idea, as is often the tempo and energy of a track. There will often be a reference track which we want to channel as well.
But as for the actual process I deliberately separate the processes of creative imagination and synthetic imagination so whilst creating the music I’m not thinking, only feeling and whilst synthesising the elements I’ve then created, I’m not feeling, only thinking.
It’s a method I’ve been using and teaching for a while and it works for me! In the creative stage I’m just improvising and in the synthetic stage I’m organising and planning.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Pete Wareham: Yes the songs always start as demos, always very very open with lots of improvising and freely trying anything out which comes to mind. Kush and I just go with everything and don’t judge or value anything during that phase. Then there’s a long enough break to completely forget the piece of music, and then a return to it with brand new ears.
Then it’s chipping away and sculpting what’s there until the essence of what we intended is still there but it also sounds like a coherent piece of music.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Pete Wareham: For me it’s about inner alignment. There is not enough action anyone can take to compensate for lack of personal alignment. No amount of cycling, running, meditating, coffee or incense will help if you’re not happy inside. And if you need those things in order to be happy you have no power because if those conditions aren’t there you’re unhappy. So as long as I’m really happy, I can make music.
Being really happy involves lots of appreciation and gratitude. Then wellbeing comes from that, and any action that’s taken from that place of happiness will align with that wellbeing. I’ve slaved away at pieces of music from a place of non-alignment and turned great songs into complete rubbish, and I’ve worked at things when fully aligned which just fall together effortlessly, which are just great fun to make from start to finish. It’s the same every time.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Pete Wareham: If I’m in alignment I 100% trust that that first note is perfect - although I might end up deleting it, it could lead me twenty minutes later to the writing I will use. I choose a beat to play over without thinking only feeling; I play without thinking only feeling, then I edit without feeling, only thinking.
I get a backing track started with as much information as I was able to gather from that position and then Kush comes over and improvises over the music. Sometimes we will then work on the song but often we leave it so we forget, and then work on one we did before and that we have forgotten. The secret is to think as little as possible. Thoughts are best when they’re steering you towards the essence of something you’re searching for but can often stop you taking risks if you let too many in at the wrong time.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Kushal Gaya: With Melt Yourself Down most lyrics have come after the music is done or over a beat, a demo.
We have this track called ‘’Oligonucleotide’’ which is probably the only track we built from having lyrics first. It would be great to use this process more often and see what happens.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Kushal Gaya: Lyrics work when there is a great degree of prosody between the words and the music. In other words, when the tone, delivery, rhythm, feelings of both are perfectly matched, we’re onto a keeper!
I am still working on it, being a decent lyricist requires exercising a very different muscle than making the music, I used to sing in my own made up language and that got kinda boring as it had only very limited communicative power. English not being my first language I am always striving for more clarity and simplicity in my delivery. I used to write in English but using a French style which was hilarious at times ...quite flamboyant to say the least … I have had to tone certain things down to fit the anglo-saxon tongue twist, and it’s been actually quite fun.
My ambition in this regard also highlights the challenge, and it is to be able to communicate emotions clearly and effortlessly, without losing the sense of ambiguity if indeed the emotions involved are complex. There is also something to say about not overthinking lyrics, if it sounds good, feels good and means something to me then it’s probably good to go.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Pete Wareham: I usually keep working on the demo, producing it as best as possible before eventually handing it over to a producer like Ben Hillier or Youth. Quite often the demo will be used in the final recording, so saxophones, synths, sometimes vocals and drum samples that we have done in my studio at home will stay in. Then we record everything else - drums, percussion, bass and any extra saxes or vocals in a recording studio as a band.
So we’ve managed to find a balance between playing and recording live and studio production.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
Pete Wareham: It’s a bit of both really - we listen to the music and the music listens to us.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Kushal Gaya: Yep it happens all the time! There’s a fine line between following a new spark and being completely unfocused. Experimentation is important to me, following new roads that present themselves ... allowing time and space for the creative journey to unfold is fun, that’s the fertile ground for a good tune.
The tricky thing is to condense the results of new experimentations and mix them with your original intention. Experimenting within some parameters, breeds more potent output than lashing out at everything. Being open to all roads but selecting the ones that feel the best seem like a good mantra to follow … That said, happy accidents also happen from time to time …!
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Kushal Gaya: Many people have described the creative state as channelling a certain type of energy and materialising it through your chosen medium, be it music , visual art etc … I think it is especially true for music, when you are improvising or writing parts in the moment as a reaction to what you are hearing, the ephemerality of it all is beautiful and unique. You cannot reproduce those magical moments … in that sense yes it is spiritual…
Music creation through improvisation or rituals can also be very trance inducing, the trance is a deep creative state, this is when you can maybe feel connected to the universal consciousness, the ‘’oneness’’ and therefore feel a spiritual connection … The trance state stops the thinking process, maybe that is what feels spiritual about it …
On the other hand, I believe that the creative state can also be induced and can be very cartesian, calculated … You may want to impose a certain form and length to your piece of music and stick to it rigidly. It’s a skill to write something that retains substance whilst being short and impactful. I love that challenge.
The creative state and ‘’inspiration’’ also happens when I force myself to work and produce, through quantity comes quality for me. The more I do the better things become, the more focused my creative state is. I like this quote of Francis Bacon: “May inspiration find me working …”
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Kushal Gaya: Having a strict deadline is actually amazing! It’s a simple tool, but it’s so effective for me, it sharpens your senses.
I work better under some degree of pressure. You do your best to get it to the finish line in the best possible way, but there’s always something you could do better or change, you just need to be happy for it to be a document of times during which you were producing that particular song or album. Some people take years over albums, other months … It really depends on how creative they feel at any given time … I think of bands like My Bloody Valentine or Portishead who seem to have very long processes, and that works for them because they produce amazing music at the end of it ... The Beatles did two records a year …also amazing music produced … different people, process, situation, context …
Maybe the barometer is how the song makes you FEEL, the feeling is everything. Away from any intellectual consideration - do you consistently get a strong feeling from the tune? If yes … it’s DONE!!!
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
Kushal Gaya: When a piece is finished, it’s good to leave it a couple of weeks and listen back. After that interval, you instantly know what needs to be improved or changed … Again … if it FEELS good, that’s it … it’s DONE!
You can do so much harm to a piece of music by trying to better it. Perfection is an overrated notion, only progress matters in my opinion, perfection is only a consequence of working at it for years, not an end in itself. People lose their mind over it, to only get back to initial versions…
We have been guilty of looking for what we already had …many a time …
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Kushal Gaya: Production is a very broad term, but from an artistic and technical point of view I feel like the role of production should be to enhance an already great composition and not to polish a turd.
A great song should be able to work without a lot of artifice. I review mixes and masters, I often suggest ideas and tweaks in the studio, but in Melt Yourself Down, Pete is the producer and we work with different co-producers and mixers. I like to keep a distance from that process, allows me to have fresh ears when it comes to listening to various mixes and give more accurate opinions.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Kushal Gaya: I have a family to feed, the state of creativity very soon returns I can tell you … I am driven by basic survival and it feeds my music.
I don’t relate to this sense of emptiness; I always have something cooking musically. I collaborate with various people, try to learn new techniques and keep putting myself in situations where I have to experiment.
I like fixing my motorbike and kickboxing, these are great focusing activities for me outside music, they provide me with a greater sense of balance which then rekindles me with my thirst for making tunes.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Kushal Gaya: I would not make a sensual or angry cup of coffee. Maybe a loving one ... (Laughs)