Constant Unfailing Night, the debut album from Manchester’s Elle Mary & The Bad Men, is in many ways an album about change. The album was written over a three-year period, following a break up. It is a record that seems to track not simply the break up itself, but the subsequent changes that resulted from it. It is a record seeped in painful emotions, but not one that wallows, focusing more on the internal journey and the self-discovery that comes with it.
The resultant record is almost like being presented with a series of Polaroids, each track a memory of a moment on Elle’s road to becoming the person she now is. On the albums center piece Pretend, a track Elle describes as a satire of her own love life, she seems to grapple with the contrasting feelings permeating a failing relationship as she sings, “do you want something short-lived, and afterwards we won’t exist, afterwards we can pretend we’re dead”. On Undead, to a backing of two so minimal they’re barely there electric guitars, she explores the raw, unprocessed grief that followed her father’s death. While the full-band accompanied Behave is equal parts tongue in cheek and brutal honesty, concluding with a crescendo of noise as Elle almost yells, “I’m trying to find a way to ask you, to go fuck yourself”. Talking of the songwriting process, Elle has suggested she often looks back on the music she has written and only then realises the message she was trying to get across to herself, as if a part of her knows the words to say and actions to do even when her conscious does not.
The shift in lyrical content from previous recordings is also mirrored in a sonic change, the Joni Mitchell-like folk of previous singles, has given way to a more mature and ambitious musical setting. Elle has suggested that a big aim of the record was to capture the feeling of space present in many of the artists she loves from Bill Callahan to Julie Doiron. The tracks here are often minimal, but they’re not missing anything; the light backing allowing Elle’s rich vocals to soar and dance atop the music, and draw the listener into her every word.
Today ahead of the album’s release and an upcoming Italian tour, Elle Mary was kind enough to answer our questions on the recording process, stylistic shift and the appeal of minimalism.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who is Elle Mary? And who are The Bad Men?
We’re Elle, Michael and Pete. We met the way everyone does these days. On the internet.
FTR: Your debut album, Constant Unfailing Night, is out in October. What can you tell us about the recording process?
We recorded with Karl Sveinsson at Queen Ark Studio. I like to record as closely to what we do live as possible, I want to give a real representation of what we sound like.
FTR: You’ve talked about the importance of space in your music, what does that mean? What appeals to you about that minimalism?
It’s a less is more thing. I sometimes find big production can drown a song, you lose the essence of it. Sometimes the most powerful part of a song are the few moments of silence, it gets you. I love the sound of bands that just use a handful of instruments like Bedhead, Bill Callahan, Otis Redding too, love what he did with a small band!
FTR: You’ve spoken about this album being about an emotional journey, did you learn a lot about yourself making this record?
Yeah heaps. The songs have been written over a long period as well so a lot has happened and changed. I’m constantly reflecting and trying to grow from my experiences. The songs are a release, very helpful for when things get confusing.
FTR: Your single Pretend has one of the most striking videos we’ve seen this year, is the visual part of your music important to you?
Thanks! I’ll tell Jim (director). Yes I think it’s important. Even with the video I wanted to keep it simple, ‘minimal’ like the music and Jim gets that. Jim is so dedicated to film, he has great taste and a keen eye so I knew it would look good. He’s directed the next video for Behave and it’s even better.
FTR: You’ve suggested you’ve made a musical shift on these recordings, what prompted the change of direction?
Classic break-up story. The break-up came as a shock to me and was such an upheaval. At the time, to carry on I felt I had to change. Everything. Internally, the way I think and physically. I wanted to be someone who was never with him. So I went blonde and electric.
FTR: Who are your musical inspirations?
Little Wings, Julie Doiron, Low, Smog/Bill Callahan, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin
FTR: You’re based out of Manchester, what state do you think the music scene is in there? Are new bands coming through?
Manchester has a really lovely community of musicians, I’m lucky to be part of it. There are so many great bands. I would check out Tekla, Secret Admirer, Playacting, Mother, Cult Party, OLA, Wedding, Blooms.
FTR: You grew up in Wales, was music always a part of your life?
My parents always had music around us. There was always a radio on or a mix tape playing. My mum has great taste. She introduced me to Nick Drake when I went away to uni. My father was an incredible guitar player, he was a master of ragtime and classical. Instruments and songs were always around.
FTR: What are your aspirations for Constant Unfailing Night?
I just hope people can connect with it. The album comes from a personal place but I hope it lets people know they’re not alone in what they’re facing.
FTR: Are you going to be touring this record? Do you enjoy life on the road?
We hit Italy in November! It’s our first tour but I reckon it’ll be great. We’ve agreed if anyone needs to go for a walk by themselves that we won’t take it personally.
FTR: What’s next for Elle Mary & The Bad Men?
Some great shows coming up! Supporting Peter Broderick and David Allred, and as a band we’re playing Indy Man Beer Con.
Constant Unfailing Night is out October 20th via Sideways Saloon/Kartel Music Group. Click HERE for more information on Elle Mary & The Bad Men.