All photos by Maesmynis
Eight years ago I stumbled upon on a song. It was one of those kinds that, for whatever reason, just hit me right in the gut . . . the kind of song that evokes that unnamed magical feeling when the music becomes bigger than itself and resonates within every cell in your body. As a fellow music addict, I am pretty sure you know what I’m talking about.
The song was “Garden Song” and I found it during one of my frequent visits to the Strummerville (now the Joe Strummer Foundation) website, perusing their DIY section–an early innovation that appeared during the dawn of sites like Soundcloud. Strummerville DIY was their version and allowed visitors to hear a song by some of the selected talent (the stipulation being that the band was unsigned and had no record contract, therefore allowing bands some well-deserved exposure). The band in question in this instance was The Cuban Heels, and it prompted an immediate frantic search for more by them.
The first thing I discovered was there were a couple other bands with the same name, so, taking on the challenge I sampled music of various other origins (nope not that one, no I don’t think they’re from Scotland) and I started to wonder if the search would end there. But then the clouds parted, the sun blared in my eyes and I found a thread of information that lead me to the right place, the Cuban Heels, the ones from Bristol England, and oh shit!, a band that existed until about 3 years prior. It was a posting that then-Heels guitarist Chris Venables had made about the disbandment of the band, and offered to anyone who found his post that was interested, a disc containing all of the music they had recorded, for free. I was bummed to learn that they were no longer an entity, but, what!? I was thrilled to suddenly have hit the lottery with a treasure box of their songs potentially on the horizon.
The short of it is this. Chris did indeed send me a cd, kindly ignoring the fact that the parcel had to be sent overseas to get to me, and The Cuban Heels quickly became one of my favorite bands ever that no longer existed, and I wore–and continue to wear–a hole in that cd from repeat listening (Now that the cd has been converted for my iPhone, I have to stop to ask . . .can you wear a hole in digital music? I think the answer could be yes).
Flash forward to last year when a posting on the Cuban Heels Facebook page announced a new page to follow. Hmmm? What could this be? Alas! Hark! Yessss! and all those other extreme swearwords of excitement. It was the announcement about the reforming of a new band from the ashes of the Heels . . . Maesymnis had been born! I bought the album as soon as it came out and devoured it, making them one of my all-time favorite bands that are not no longer existing.
To celebrate the music, I got in touch with Chris to work out doing a transcontinental interview, which follows below. Before we get to it, you can check out some of their songs via YouTube, follow them on Facebook (tell them Sis Diss sent you!), and grab some of their music here.
You can check out The Cuban Heels on Soundcloud, including the now infamous-in-my-book “Garden Song.” I also discovered during the course of writing this article that their SoundCloud is even more evidence of their uncanny ability to ceaselessly and prolifically create beautiful music together. Searching for Garden Song yielded even more magic, as I discovered The Soundcloud now contains even more songs, many, many I have not heard yet myself, that were not part of the cd. I think I’m going to be pretty busy absorbing all these great tunes for the next few months. I suggest you do the same!
Special thanks to Aron, Marcus and Chris for taking time to make this interview possible!
AA – Aron Attwood
MA – Marcus Attwood
CV – Chris Venables
SD – Shan / SisDiss
SD – You were the Cuban Heels and then you weren’t for a while, and then you became Maesmynis. What where you in between?
AA – Most of us embraced normal life. Being in a band can be a very overwhelming experience. It makes you sort of selfish when you set your mind to a single almost impossible task. Things fall by the wayside, so it was nice to get back to a simple life and interact with friends and family on a more personal level rather than being constantly distracted with other things that seem more important.
I personally had to get as far away as possible for my own sanity so decided to move to Australia for a short while. Unfortunately while I was there I got caught up with EMI Australia through a solo album of mine and I was landed right back to square one. I did a short UK tour when I got back to England with a shit punk rock band called Towers of London. Fun and shit at the same time. It was like going on holiday with complete strangers then finding out you have nothing in common with them.
I ran my own studio for a while, played in a few local bands, one Birmingham band called Liner (with old friend Alex Callaghan) got a songwriting diploma, moved to stroud and am playing in a couple of really fun bands now. I don’t take it all that seriously anymore. I just try to enjoy the moments as they happen. It’s still very difficult to avoid the cycle of excitement and disappointment though. That’s still my biggest work in progress.
MA – So the Cuban heels came to the end of their run but the music continued. Aron joined Alex in his band ‘Liner’ and started producing other bands as well as developing his own songwriting. Russ joined Marcus in ‘Transit Cop’ (quickly being promoted from van driver to second guitar) and then later teamed up with Chris to form ‘The Ripleys’. After ‘ Liner’, Aron and Alex would later form ‘Mule’ with Joel. Steve and Joel subsequently hooked up with a third party Will to form the power trio ‘ Biff Bang Pow’.
CV – Steve also played in a couple of punk bands ‘Waiting for Taylor’ and ‘Dead Kids’. Working full time to support ourselves whilst being in a full time band on top became overwhelming. We remained friends and we’ve always loved making music and so that never went away. What went away was the practicing 3 days a week and gigging 3 times a week that took quite a toll.
SD – How has the lineup changed since the Cuban Heels, and what brought you all back together (perhaps you picked up my mental messages imploring you to)?
AA – I have been working on my psychic abilities and definitely picked up on some encouragement from over the Atlantic. Unfortunately I have also been picking up the shipping forecast and the local police radios.
Seriously though we always jam together whenever we can, and have played together in various line ups. This is the first line up that includes all the former Heels though. Chris and Russ had a band called The Ripleys which I contributed to. Me Joel and Alex had an on off project called Mule. Dan had his one man show The Nine Lives of Henry the Cat on Ice, where he would play prog versions of the damned and sex pistols while being pulled on a sleigh.
Russ getting married brought us all back together though. Rather than a traditional stag do, we decided to get together and have a songwriting weekend instead. All the heels with the addition of my brother Marcus, our school friend Steve and Alex from Liner and Mule. This proved so productive and fun that we did it a few more times. We eventually decided we should properly record some of the mountain of songs we had written and the obvious next step after that was to gig it too.
CV – We’re the same, Joel (Stevens), Russ (Mulligan), Aron, Dan (Wells) and me (Chris) but now have also Al (Callaghan), Marcus, and Steve (Payne). When it came to one of the ex-heels getting married for a “stag do” we decided to arrange a songwriting weekend for musical friends which included all original heels plus 3 others. Russ and I were inspired by Karl Coryat and Nicholas Dobson’s The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook, in which you are forced to individually write songs for 12 hours straight! We played around with the format quite a lot to make it more collaborative.
SD – I’ve seen the mini documentary floating around online and your recording space looks idyllic. What was the experience like and what part did it play in influencing your record? How did you find your space?
AA – The first place we got together as the full group was Russ’s stag do. At a house in Wales in a hamlet called Maesmynis. A beautiful, remote country hide-away. We returned back there a second time, but unfortunately the owners sold the property. We convened at Chris’s house in Oxfordshire for another session, then recorded at Steve Winwoods studio near Cheltenham. We have been very lucky to have managed to find very idyllic inspiring spaces to work in. That makes a huge difference.
CV – The video shows two different places. The place with the beautiful rolling countryside is in a hamlet in central Wales called “Maesmynis”. It was a cottage we hired for the writing weekend – we chose central Wales primarily because it’s cheap to hire a house in the middle of nowhere with no neighbours (in order that lots of noise can be made) but I also had a slight hankering to pay homage to Led Zep who also retreated to a cottage in Wales to write Led Zep III.
SD – It looks to me like everyone is multi-talented and plays and sings in different configurations. How was it decided for each song who played what? Did everyone have a hand in writing or do you have a principal writer?
AA – Everyone writes, and usually the person who comes up with the vocal idea sings. The songwriting process is an organised game. Generally in the morning everyone finds a quiet spot on their own and writes solo for about an hour. Then we come back and pick a name out of a hat and partner up in pairs. You play what you have to each other. Either a riff, some lyrics, a melody or a complete song, it doesn’t matter. The idea is to just flow and be creative with the prospect of other people adding parts to what you have. There are two very good lead singers in the band who would sometimes be used if we felt the song needed a more solid lead vocal but quite often the person who wrote the vocal would have their own inimitable way of putting the vocal across. Generally I would end up on the drums, and lead guitar would be either Marcus or Chris. Dan is our Garth Hudson and would cover all the keyboards and Steve rolled blunts and made us all laugh. On the whole though anyone could be asked to do pretty much anything so we have probably played in just about every conceivable variation eight people could play in.
CV – The answer to this is hand in hand with the original idea for the songwriting stag do. 30 minutes individually to generate ideas. Pairs formed by names being drawn out of a hat and another 30 mins to come up with music! The songs all then generally had a genesis from either one or two people within the group and then were worked to completion by anywhere from one to eight of the members. To foster the sense of camaraderie and collaboration we decided that songs be credited to all members even though in reality it was usually one or two per song who would be the writers. There was no principal writer. All members had a hand in writing at least one of the tunes on the album. There are 6 different lead vocalists on the record. Most of the group are competent on a number of different instruments. Generally when it came to recording everyone played parts in line with what was played during the writing process. However there were exceptions such as that although 3 or 4 of us are decent on the drums we have a world class drummer in Aron so it didn’t make sense for any of the rest of us to play drums on the recording.
SD – Who are some of your influences (long term growing up type) and who are you listening to these days?
AA – Me and Chris were at primary school together and were into retro music, 60s, 70s etc. It wasn’t something you talked about openly. I distinctly remember getting some Motown acetate records on a cereal box and dancing around to them at Chris’s and thinking we should be in a band and do this kind of stuff. We went to a few formative gigs together growing up. Reef, Supergrass and a few others. Later on people like the Flaming Lips and Beck.
I have gone through all the major phases since then. A Beatles phase, a bob Marley phase, a Dylan phase. My most recent obsession has been Tom Waits. I have so much admiration for his conviction and craftsmanship. His catalogue is so rich it never fails to inspire me.
CV – Amongst the 8 of us I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t appreciate the 60s and 70s greats; Beatles, Stones, Credence, Bowie. Outside of that there is quite an eclectic taste within the group taking in punk, soul, DnB, jazz. For me, when music started becoming important my first heroes were Pearl Jam, Lemonheads, Nirvana, RHCP, Pumpkins, Weezer, REM, Radiohead. Later Jellyfish, Flaming Lips, Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Pixies, Fleet Foxes. Most recently been listening to some old jazz blues records; Billie Holliday, Nina Simone, Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli.
SD – If there was one single word to describe what Maesmynis brings to the world, what would it be?
AA – Friendship
CV – Trouble
Shan – Besides the Cuban Heels and Maesmynis, is there any other music out there from any of you that is available online for our readers to seek out?
‘Magic 8 Ball’ – Aron Attwood – available on Spotify/itunes etc.
‘Nothing like before’ – The Ripleys (Russ & Chris) – available on Spotify/itunes etc.
All bands mentioned above have have various levels of presence out there on the infoweb.
SD – I know that you ha[d] a gig coming up very soon in Bristol. Barring me finding a teleportation device, will it be recorded so you can share with the rest of the world? And are there any future plans for more music?
CV – With all focus on the logistics of making it right on the night alas the gig wasn’t recorded as such. However there are some great photos and a couple of short (surprisingly reasonable quality) phone clips to at least give a flavour of the night on the facebook page.
AA – It is very difficult to organise eight busy people to get together for a beer let alone rehearsals and a gig so the prospect of another gig is unlikely but not out of the question. We treated the last gig like a one off but if something seems doable in the future then we would all love to do it.
[SD – dig around for clips of their live show, and also definitely check out their cover of Beastie Boys’ Sabotage from that night!]
SD – If you were each a condiment, topping or spice…what are you in terms of what you bring to the band?
AA – (all the below)
Alex, definitely chilli. He adds heat and spice. His energy is so irrepressible it’s infectious.
Marcus, salt or pepper. You probably want at least a little bit on everything.
Chris, cheese–he’s the topping that everyone loves. Comfort food you couldn’t live without that binds everything together. Until he plays a guitar solo then he’s jalapeño!
Steve, weed brownies–very sweet and makes everyone laugh like children.
Dan, hundreds and thousands–he’s the magic on top of everything. Sprinkling his fairy dust on top.
Russ, mayonnaise–cos he’s white and likes chips.
Joel, horseradish–cos he likes to go with something beefy.
CV – Aron, poppy seeds–nutty, magic powers, illegal in several countries.
SD – Maesmynis (pronounced ‘Maze-menace’ if you’re in the band, or if you’re Welsh ‘Mice-minnis’) is available on iTunes and Amazon– treat yo’self and go get it!