Arcane Roots talk politics and the making of Melancholia Hymns…
Prog experimentalists Arcane Roots finally follow up their acclaimed 2013 debut Blood and Chemistry this week with new album Melancholia Hymns.
We spoke to frontman Andrew Groves about how it all fitted together...
How would describe the experience of making Melancholia Hymns?
“Difficult. It was a big challenge, but a self-imposed one. We’re always trying to challenge ourselves and to push things forward as much as we can. We felt like we were getting a bit too comfortable and we want to incorporate more, to stop filtering out other influences to focus on guitars, we all learned new instruments for this album, so there was a lot going on.”
Did you have a lot of material to filter down for the album?
“In the run-up to our last EP, we had 200, 250 songs together for that and we ended up choosing six. After that, we lost our drummer, which was perfectly amicable, but unfortunate and that really shook us up. It gave us the feeling that this could be the last thing we did and did we want to be known for that?”
So how did that come across?
“I like to be progressive and keep going so we scrapped those songs and wrote 10 new ones, 10 songs that re-worked many, many, many times. I wanted it to feel natural, I didn’t want it to be a rock band who’d found a violin and a synthesiser and decided to have a go. It took a long time to get all those elements to feel natural, a lot of brutal revision. We wanted the heavier moments to be enormous and the more sensitive moments to be all they could be.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“In a weird way, it’s an album about making the album. For the lyrics, normally my lyrics are intensely personal, that’s how I felt lyrics should be, that it was crucial to the relationship with the audience. But this time around I wanted to be impersonal, I became obsessed with the people who come along throughout history and try to intelligently document and better the issues of the world. People like Alan Turing, Oliver Sacks, I wanted to create a timeless thing, a bit like The Dark Side Of The Moon, topics that are just as pertinent now as they were then. That was the plan.”
Did it go to plan?
“Well, every time I’d look at my phone, whenever we were making the album, it felt like the weight of the world just got in the way. Whenever I’d try to get in the mood for writing lyrics, I’d read about some awful attack or something Donald Trump had said and it’d change everything. I thought like we were past stupidity, but we’re not even halfway there. I wanted to do something good and we wanted to really push ourselves. I almost felt obligated to provide some kind of social commentary and channel everything into something positive. Politics is never something I’d dreamt of talking about, I find the idea of writing about it uncomfortable, but for this album, it really felt unavoidable.”
Where did the title come from?
“It was the last thing. I’d finished all the lyrics. It’s a bit like waiting to see a child before you name it. I like juxtaposing things and double meanings, playing with words with multiple meanings. I love Adam Curtis and the way he chooses words and the emotional ties they have. The title almost fell out of my mouth, I was trying to come up with a rhythm for the title. Melancholia came first, first, it was Melancholia Blues, then it became Hymns. It’s taken on more meaning the more I’ve thought about it. Hymns are historically meant to give comfort, but if you read a lot they’re actually quite morose, so it suits us quite well. Rejoicing in being sad.”