Let’s get the full title of the latest Mew album out of the way right off the bat. It’s called No More Stories Are Told Today I’m Sorry They Washed Away No More Stories the World Is Grey I’m Tired Let’s Wash Away. It takes a while to say (and type), but that seems apt, since the music that the album contains is worthy of spending some quality time with. The Danish band’s fifth full-length release, No More Stories is rich in sonic detail, with the group reaching beyond its signature brand of epic art-rock to explore moody synthesizer-based pop (on “Tricks of the Trade”) and songs driven by insistent marimba motifs (“Hawaii” and “Vaccine”).
Reached in Washington, D.C., where Mew is preparing to open for the Pixies at DAR Constitution Hall, singer Jonas Bjerre says that he and his bandmates, guitarist Bo Madsen and drummer Silas Graae, took deliberate steps to open up their sound. For Bjerre, that meant largely relieving himself of six-string duties. “I always really just played rhythm guitar, or I did, like, inverted chords and stuff like that, but I never really had any virtuosity with my playing,” he admits. “And I thought it was better to leave room for Bo, because he’s a really unique guitarist, and he has completely his own style that he keeps developing. So there’s more room for that. And he doesn’t play as many power chords and stuff like that on this record. So I would say it’s more spacious. It has room for a lot of mallet instruments and percussion and things that we usually don’t use as much.”
Another major change is the absence of founding bassist Johan Wohlert, who left the band after the release of And the Glass Handed Kites, the 2005 album that brought Mew to the attention of North American music fans. Bjerre says Wohlert’s departure accounts for the new disc’s dearth of burly rockers, such as live favourites “Snow Brigade” and “Apocalypso”.
“A lot of the rock stuff that we used to have was based on Johan and Bo playing up against each other with bass and guitar, and the grooves came a lot from Johan and Silas playing together,” Bjerre notes. “And now, Silas and Bo are developing the rhythm sections, and it’s based around chord progressions, but not in the same way as it used to be. I think we really explored, because we were a little bit tired of doing things the same way. We definitely needed to expand our horizons in the department of writing songs, and methods of writing songs. We tried out a lot of different things, and the songs actually came together in lots of different ways on this record.”
When most bands talk of expanding their songwriting horizons, that might mean trying out some new effects pedals or experimenting with alternate guitar tunings. In Bjerre’s case, it meant creating a song in a way that no one else ever has. The appropriately titled “New Terrain”, which kicks off No More Stories, is actually two tracks in one; play it in reverse and it’s a separate song called “Nervous”, with its own set of lyrics.
“I wanted to make something that could be sort of a palindrome song,” Bjerre says. “We were kind of playing around with palindromes. And obviously it’s not a palindrome, because the lyrics are different, but I just wanted the lyrics to be somewhat audible in reverse as well as forward-playing. And so I was just playing around with these words and these melodies, and kept reversing it until I had something that worked on the piano, and melodically and lyrically worked. Then we took it into the practice space and added the beats, and Bo kind of developed the chord structure with a baritone guitar, so it kind of grew from that. But it was meant to be something that could be played backwards from the beginning.”
Lyrically, “Nervous” (which is available on the vinyl edition of No More Stories) seems to make more sense than “New Terrain”. The former is apparently about paranoia (“It seems everywhere you go/They’re out to get you”), but the latter is more opaque: “Like most, you snip soft sheets/What’s this about.” Indeed, what’s it about? Bjerre’s not telling.
“If you go to art academy or something like that, you’re taught to always be ready to explain yourself,” he says. “And to me, that’s not really that interesting, because I don’t work like that. I don’t have a ready answer to any question about any of my lyrics. I just like to go with things and see where they take me, because I’m not a very analytical person. I just like the experience of things, and feeling them and shaping them. I don’t necessarily like to talk about them at great length or write essays about them or anything like that, you know?”
Good idea. Save the essay-writing for the album titles.
Mew plays Venue on Friday (December 11).