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Somewhereto_ Profiles: Meraki

09/10/15

Bass player Adam McCourt on the multi-national sextet's story so far and brand new music video by Derry filmmaker Paul Brown

Each month Culture NI teams up with Big Lottery-funded social enterprise somewhereto_, to spotlight emerging young talents it has helped access free physical or digital space to explore their creative pursuits in Northern Ireland.

If you're aged 16-25 and need hooked up with free space to make your ideas happen then get in touch with somewhereto_NI. Contact Joe at joe.c@somewhereto.org.

How did Meraki form?

Adam McCourt (bassist): Meraki initially started as a uni project, for Hannah’s (McKinney, singer) second year recital, but the more we wrote and rehearsed together we all thought maybe a few gigs wouldn’t hurt. So we booked a few gigs in small venues around Leeds just to see how people would react.

Receiving nice feedback and comments from the audiences we performed in front of, we thought “this could be more than just an assignment” so we decided to keep ‘er lit, and kept going. After firmly establishing our sound, we knew we would need more to fill the textures we were producing in the studio, and added a cellist and a second guitarist.

The band name is an interesting one - where did you first come across that term? Does it capture your ethos in a nutshell?

Funnily enough, Hannah found the word 'Meraki' on a 'Word Porn' Facebook page and sent it to me at about two in the morning. After reading the description that stated ‘the art, creativity and the essence of yourself put into your work’ we knew that was it.

It captures our ethos very well in the sense that, we all love music, we all love to perform, we love the freedom it gives you in writing a song with a message portraying whatever you want. Then to perform those songs live is especially exhilarating in that you have the chance to project your work fully.

Where is the band formally based? I understand you're active around your university in Leeds but Facebook lists your hometown as Derry.

It states Derry on Facebook because half of us are from there, however we are formerly based in Leeds. Due to each members personal aspirations, we don’t all live in Leeds, but we regroup here to write music, practice and gig.

What's your own background in music coming from Derry? Have you been in bands before?

Yes! We all grew up engulfed in music in lots of different ways! Jack (Carlin, guitar) and I were former members of (three-piece rock band) Tropic of Tantra, who frequently gigged the Derry music scene filling spots in Smalltown America’s All Dayer 2011, as well as having the chance to open for Fighting With Wire and Not Squares.

Hannah, being no stranger to the Café Del Mondo open mic nights, would have performed a lot with little accompaniment, giving her the freedom to experiment a lot with melodies as well as writing her own songs from personal themes – as well as providing the means to practice and build up the confidence as a frontwoman.

Both of these very different backgrounds as well as with Derry's history as a city provided us with the ignition to write 'POD', allegedly our most dramatic song. We use historical clips of Derry as a backdrop for our sets to reinfforce that and often begin our shows with the song, letting our audience know where we came from

How would you describe Meraki's sound?

Meraki’s music is very soulful, completely from the heart. If you listen to our tracks, you’re basically getting a biography of the band and an insight into our journeys travelled, be it through life or geography.

What kind of artists would you count as influences?

We love narrative artists, people who tell stories through their songs – Stevie Nicks is a massive influence of this, songs like 'Gypsy and Sara' that give you a direct insight into her life, without you even knowing. In saying that a lot of our songs aren’t set out to emulate someone else, but rather to raise awareness on the goings on in the world.

Does each of you hailing from different places have much of an impact?

Where everyone comes from doesn’t have much of an impact on us musically – it doesn’t necessarily make a difference that Jack, Hannah and I are from Derry, Eve (May Rowlands, cello) is from Cardiff, Andy (Davies, drums) is from Newcastle and Adam (Greener, guitar) is from Scarborough.

However, it does add to the story behind Meraki and the message we convey of travelling and experiencing different backgrounds and cultures. What does have an impact on our music is each member’s individual musical background, and what they bring to the table.

For example, Eve initially grew up in a classical setting, working through grades on the cello, before moving to pop and mainstream music – mostly writing and singing soft folk songs. Andy started on the jazz course at Leeds College of Music then moved to the pop course with both Adam and myself in the same year.

The rest of the band mostly just picked up the instrument we desired and began practicing, playing and eventually gigging with our friends. Each of the backgrounds can be heard through our recordings; Andy’s soft brushwork in our track 'Promised Land' is all down to his jazz background – it’s actually a bit of a challenge to get him to fully crash a cymbal!

What has your experience of the live music circuit in Leeds been like? Has there been any standout gigs? How would it compare to what you know of Northern Ireland's?

Leeds' music scene is a lot more vibrant than Nothern Ireland’s at the minute. It's great to be a part of when you know who to look for and where to look. That’s not to say we’re amongst it now – we’re still trying to fully break into it!

However, just from living here the past two-three years we know there are so many great venues which frequently put on amazing acts big and small, such as Belgrave Music Hall, where we saw James Bay two years ago. Elsewhere you have everything from hip-hop and soul nights at the university-run venue and record store live sets to major acts at the O2 Academy.

When And So I Watch You From Afar played the Belgrave last year a familiar accent could be heard shout 'Glasgowbury!' from the back during a quieter moment, which was a bit surreal.

Elsewhere the Oporto Bar has hosted two of our own best gigs – the first being a personal standout with the whole room singing along to 'Sky Blue' after we'd only finished writing it. In that moment I thought "This isn't just a uni project, and we're not just writing these songs to get a grade. This something we all love to do for ourselves and want to continue to do."

Are things like term times and travel difficult to work around and keep momentum going?

Not so much as everyone is in the same place the majority of the time. It was only really when summer came around that it was a bit slow paced – which is inevitable because everyone goes home for summer and has plans, holidays and all the rest. It’s still not to say it's difficult to work around, we all have Skype, and we’re all on Facebook and check it frequently. So there are ways to keep in touch when we’re not all in the same place.

It only really became a difficulty this year because Hannah has started a new course in Portsmouth and Eve has moved home to Cardiff after finishing uni, while those of us left in Leeds are entering our last year and need to get the heads down on other projects and assignments. Timetables are clashing quite a bit recently, but we make it work!

You approached Somewhereto_ to help you find space to film a music video for your new single 'Bright Lights'. Tell us about the song.

'Bright Lights' was a weird one to write. The parts were there for a long time we just didn’t know how to use them sufficiently. Hannah usually likes to write in pairs, mostly with the bass, that’s how a lot of our songs start, and this was no different.

Hannah and I came up with the main chord progression and bass parts in one sitting before Hannah's singing tutor suggested stripping away the guitar, which we felt worked well. We were sold on the direction but wanted to maintain that dramatic intensity of 'P.O.D.' and we couldn't come up with anything that worked.

In the end we felt the song's message – about covering up the truth – was sufficient drama in itself and having written, recorded and produced it all ourselves we couldn't be happier with the outcome.

Talk us through the video's concept and how it came together. Was the band involved directly in its creation?

The video’s concept relates very closely to the message of the track, not so much in getting the truth out of a situation, but in a way that not everything you are told is true or correct.

In the video Jonny (Everett) plays a very strict, by the book, dance teacher who is very hard to please, and Kristian (Logan) plays his slightly insecure student, who only wants to impress him by living up to his expectations, working hard and taking his abuse to be a great dancer.

In her head, she knows it is the wrong way to go about getting the result and gradually as the video goes on we see her reacting to his methods and going against what he says. Through mimicking being treated like a puppet, onto fighting back and breaking free from his bonds to eventually going completely against him and performing by herself for herself at the end.

The concept was Hannah's originally and having all gotten on board immediately we went about gathering a team to realise it. Through Paul Brown and his previous shoots at the North West Regional College we recruited Jonny and Kristian while somewhereto_ is to thank for securing a space at The Playhouse from Nadine Hegarty at Fireworks dance and drama group for Paul to film.

Throughout August Johnny, Kristian and I got together to choreograph the routine and having mapped it out in just two sessions it was just a matter of rehearsals from there.

What are your plans for the song from here? Do you hope to get a gig closer to home any time in the near future?

We plan to do what every band plans to do…reach number one in every country and headline Glastonbury next year! ...We have a launch gig this Saturday in Leeds’ very own 360 Club where we'll be screening the video while the track is due for release on November 10.

As for gigging in Derry - we would love to and think it'd be a great experience for the band members from elsewhere to experience so much of what's inspired Meraki.

Long term where do you see things going? Will the band outlive student life?

Absolutely. There is too much invested in Meraki for it to just finish when we leave uni. We think even when we do finish and head off, wherever we aim to go we will still continue to work together and write, and share musical ideas, lyrics and melodies with each other.