Black Country-via-Bristol band Melotone are not your standard psychedelic four piece – they trace the lines of Brazil’s unique Tropicália movement rather than the standard American-European model of following, tweaking, and adapting Sgt. Pepper’s or Pet Sounds.
The Western psychedelic movement tended to an emerging middle class in post-Eisenhower America and nurtured the individualist cultural ideas of godlike geniuses – to borrow a term from the title of an NME award – such as Brian Wilson, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, (and so many more since then), while promoting the socially liberal values of this class. In the aftermath of a 1964 American-backed coup, however, Brazil was staring headlong at more than 20 years of military dictatorship. Facing authoritarian nationalism on one side and ineffectual communist sentiment on the other, a handful of Brazilian artists cultivated Tropicália not as individuals but as a collective. The term Tropicália is one of many signifiers they utilised to explore the gap between what Brazilians considered caricatures of Brazilian culture, and what the West perceived as quintessentially Brazilian.

After releasing a video of a live session, The Nicklin Show, two years ago, Melotone have ostensibly spent the pandemic figuring out how to do better, rather than do more. The seeds of their debut single are present in the incipient Melotone of The Nicklin Show, but what has revealed itself is a deft collective more than a godlike genius. Singer Alec Madeley’s voice has matured into a mournful croon, redolent of heartbroken Elvis, and the airtight synchronicity of the rhythm section rings with Homeshak-y guitar and melodic bass. In the video, Tropicália’s exploration of gaps finds itself transferred to an exploration of the gap between performers and audiences, or performances and performers. Melotone release Dances on Tableaus today, 5th of May, via Spinny Nights imprint Underfoot.
When talking about your music, the words texture, ambience, and mood crop up more often than generic terms. Can you tell us more about the importance of feeling and mood for Melotone?
You’ve caught us red-handed here; the impostors who can’t speak about their music in proper jargon! I suppose feeling and mood are the only things that matter to us when we write. Our songs are written entirely from improvised jams, where one of us has happened to capture a few minutes of beautiful chemistry during an hour-long voice memo. We rarely pursue music that has been pre-written – everything Melotone creates is based on those golden moments in a jam where all four members of the band are in complete synergy. Because we write our music together and in the moment, feeling and mood will always be paramount to us.
Dances on Tableaus was written in response to a particularly hectic moment of touring. Can you tell us some more about how the song came about?
Lyrically, the song came to be after I returned home after playing a few shows on the bounce. I guess I brought back with me a memory or feeling that we hadn’t been truly heard by the crowds we had been playing to all week. In that moment of introspection, I thought it would be interesting to commentate on the tension that is sometimes present between artists and their audiences. It's funny, really – we’d never really given that much thought into what the song was about until Tom Whitson, our video director, prompted us to speak about it. We uncovered a lot of meaning from the song when revisiting it, like dusting off an old book.
The word tableau refers to a theatrical scene frozen on stage. What relevance does the tableau have to the song and the video?
As a band, we wanted to explore the sense of individualism you feel when presenting yourself as a collective on stage. We see a connection between performing bands and tableaus in the sense that, from the audience’s perspective, a band can seem like a singular element on display – with its members losing their individualism. The notion of being part of a wider scene (or tableau) is interesting to explore as a musician, so, in the video, the focal point is the mime artist, whose feelings of isolation are juxtaposed with his immersion within the troupe of actors and performance artists. In the video, the exaggerated camera motion and movements of the dancer turn the traditionally frozen nature of a tableau on its head.
Each of the band members plays their part as a performing arts archetype: the Mime Artist, the Ventriloquist, the Clown, and the Fairground Man. What unifies these four roles?
Bringing all the performative characters under one parachute was an important part of the concept. The main characters all put on a front to serve their role – it is this sense of putting yourself on display which unites them, something we also wanted to encourage the viewer to apply to all walks of life. There’s not many ventriloquists or clowns out there today, but hopefully the audience can relate with this idea of putting yourself on display and apply it to their own path.
The singer, Alec Madeley, was given the role of the mime. Mimes are traditionally silent roles. What’s the significance of the vocalist being cast in this role?
Alec wrote the lyrics after the band finished a tour some months ago, and he’s vocalising the less glamorous side of performing: the honest truths behind putting yourself on stage and throwing yourself into creating music. Behind the façade of a perfect musical life, casting the vocalist in the mime’s role plays into the idea we are giving a voice to the lesser heard side of being an artist.
On the contrary, what is the significance of giving such a prominent voice to the typically silent mime?
Bands, artists, and creators often have to let their work speak for them. Their creative life is viewed as intertwined with their personal. By nature, a mime taps into this idea – a role grounded in not having a voice. We wanted to play with this idea of an artist being given a platform to vocalise something they’ve not had a chance to before.
Given that all four roles are in the realm of performance and artifice, why did you choose green space – the opposite of where you might see these characters – for your setting?
The artifice of the characters contrasts well with the natural greens and it’s nice to hear that comes through in the video! Placing the characters in this surreal context detached them from their common associations, opening up the possibility of stripping away these layers of artifice and allowing our exploration of performance. As the fields open up and trees engulf the characters they are allowed to breathe, be chewed up, and spat out again.
And what is the relevance of the dancing – both in the title and video?
The dancing mainly relates to the mental pirouettes we do in our mind around the struggles of creativity and performance. Comparing oneself to others; looking harshly upon our own work; these are all dances we do in our mind. The dancer really represents our deeper relationship with the thing which makes us tick. The way the dancer moves is almost spiritual, ethereal. We really wanted to move away from the dancer being visibly human to imply this relationship was on a deeper, less physical level.
The sound of Melotone is gentler and more considered since The Nickin Show was uploaded over two years ago. How did you cultivate it since then?
Lockdown was huge for us. Like everyone, we stopped playing in big rehearsal studios, taking towards home environments instead. When all the noise was taken away, we started noticing new things in the music we were creating – a softness that, as you say, is more considered. When we started performing again, there was this new sound that was far more tender and emotionally driven than what we made before, yet we could still play it with the same power and energy needed for live performance. That’s probably the most direct transformation from The Nicklin Show to now.
The independent musical elements changed with the overall sound, too. Our approach to the bass changed from using it as an accompanying instrument to using it as a leading melody. Alec’s voice also matured and grew into something more natural – together, we’ve developed a more intimate style of playing to get us where we are today.
What’s next for Melotone?
We’ve got plans to get a second single out sometime in the summer. We are all keen to start working on a bigger project, so after the second single release I think we’d like to turn our attention to an EP. We are all really excited about taking new songs into the studio and releasing music that has a continual emphasis on the visual, so expect a few more videos over the coming months!
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