Whoa Melodic is the anagramatic musical pseudonym of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Michael Wood. Having previously released solo music under the name Michaelmas back in the early 2000’s, Michael’s spent much of this millennium performing with a variety of other acts, including Steven Adams, The Hayman Kupa Band and The Leaf Library. Putting his own songwriting back in the front-seat, the debut Whoa Melodic album is out tomorrow on the ever reliable wiaiwya label.
Playing all the instruments, recording and mixing everything himself, the process of making his debut album, much of it improvised, was a laborious but rewarding one. The record is one that perhaps reflects a songwriter steeped in many years of musical trends, and not all that fussed about trying to fit into them. There’s a classic craftsman-like approach to Michael’s songwriting; the sound of a musician making exactly the album that they’ve always wanted to make. Throughout there’s nods to jangling Byrds-like guitars, the subtle sentimentality of The Loft, and the grand sonic romanticism of Jonathan Wilson. Lyrically, these are tales of ambitions, domesticity and the battle to find self-worth; like the musical equivalent of a classic kitchen-sink drama, it’s a record loaded with subtle understated emotions and quiet undercurrents of tension.
Today, ahead of the release, Michael has put together a mixtape full of the songs, and stories, that have shaped him as a musician, featuring the likes of Elliott Smith, Elastica and Girl Ray.
1. Paul McCartney – Teddy Boy
I’m well known for a being a big Paul McCartney fan. I love his first solo album and this was an inspiration for my record although my record not as stripped back as that album. ‘McCartney’ was mostly home recorded and Paul played all the instruments. I’ve got an instrumental song on my album called ‘Spring Forward Fall Back’ and that’s my little homage to his first album, which also has a few instrumental songs. When I was recording the guitars I also had a microphone sticking out of the window, recording the outside sounds at the same time to get a little bit of the Scottish farm atmosphere that Paul had on his first record, although I had the sparrows of Walthamstow singing on mine. I love the song Teddyboy even though it’s not one of his best, it was one of songs left over from his time with The Beatles and I think they hated it, but I think it’s sweet.
Also, Paul’s MTV unplugged helped me learn to play the guitar. He’s left handed so I could sit in front of the TV and play along and it would be a mirror image of my guitar. He played two of songs off his first solo album on Unplugged.
2. Kevin Tihista’s Red Terror – Sucker
This song reminds me of the early 2000s when I listened to a lot of music like this, melodic melancholy pop music and I was really into this album, to be honest I still listen to a lot melodic melancholy pop music, anyway, my band supported Kevin Tihista at The Water Rats in London around 2005 and I got my band to learn a couple of his songs so we could back him up as he was playing solo. I had visions of us joining him on stage at the end of his set to play 2 or 3 songs and everyone would go wild. I remember them being quite difficult to learn and when we got there he said he didn’t know how to play those ones.
3. Elliott Smith – The Ballad Of Big Nothing
Speaking of melodic melancholy pop music, here is the best. I first heard this song, and it was this song that got me into Elliott Smith, on headphones in my room listening to the radio. I was into a lot of Britpop bands so there was a lot of busy music around that time, horns, strings, big guitars etc and then here was a song that just two acoustic guitars (one in each ear) bass and drums and hushed singing. I completely fell for this music. This album, Either/Or, was his third solo album so I had another couple to get into and then got everything he did after this. It was around this time that I was also getting into recording music so I was fascinated by how it was recorded and how he played all the instruments, I wanted to do that. I was lucky enough to meet him after one of his gigs at ULU in London, I asked him what he recorded Either/Or on (half inch 8 track – I think) and I told him that I was basically listening to his music all the time. I’m glad I got to say that to him. I think I saw him every time he played in London. I don’t really listen to his music that much any more, maybe because I used to listen to it so much back then, but I think will listen again after writing this. He was the best.
4. Mason Jennings – Ballad for My One True Love
I think I first heard this in 2002 and in a similar way to Elliott Smith it was the simplicity that got to me in amongst all the other stuff that was going on at the time. Here, just one acoustic guitar, bass and drums and one voice and the way he goes from the finger picked guitar lines to the strumming instrumental parts. He was also a big home recordist and he played all the instruments on his first album (I think), so I was into to him because of that too. I think he’s only ever played in the UK a few times. His music reminds me of a couple of people so it’s special to me in that way. I’ve lost touch with his music a bit recently but I love his first four albums.
5. Fountains Of Wayne – Radiation Vibe
I love Fountains Of Wayne! They have a few silly songs, so seem to get lumped in with some bands of these American bands that only do silly songs, but there’s so much more to them than that. I will defend them to anybody. Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger are two of my favourite songwriters. One of my friends is a journalist and interviewed them a few years ago and got me their autographs which I have on my wall. I first heard Radiation Vibe whilst I was a runner at a recording studio in the late 90s. This was on the playlist on BBC Radio 1 and I used to work around the corner from the Xfm building on Charlotte Street and I used to listen to XFM and they played it a lot. I had to go around Soho carrying tapes and various parcels and I’d have my headphones on and this song was on a lot and it really reminds me of that time, that was a good time. I was so upset when Xfm got bought out by Capital Radio. Anyway, FOW also have a melancholic side to some of their songs. I think I saw FOW every time they played London, I went to their Manchester show too on their last tour. I suppose Radiation Vibe is a slightly silly song, but I love it. People who love Fountains Of Wayne are good people.
6. The Pernice Brothers – Crestfallen
In 1997 I went to The Camden Crawl festival in London and in The Dublin Castle I saw this country rock band in the middle of the bill. They were called The Scud Mountain Boys and I thought they were great. Their singer, Joe Pernice went on to form the The Pernice Brothers who have done a lot of great melodic melancholy albums. Joe Pernice tells a story when he plays live in London, I’ve seen him tell it a few times. He talked about being in a country rock band playing Camden at the height of Britpop and seeing a sea of boys in the crowd with ‘Julius Cesar haircuts’ and how out of place the band felt. I was one of those boys with that haircut in the crowd and have followed him every since and bought all his records so hopefully it was a bit worth it. I saw him play in London a few years ago and told him this story. He tried to give me some free records to say thank you, but I already had them all.
7. Rogue Wave – Be Kind & Remind
I first heard Rogue Wave on one of the CDs that used to come with the much missed ‘Comes With A Smile’ magazine. Again this first album was one of those I liked where the artist, Zach Rogue, played all the instruments this is one of the reasons I wanted to do that with my record.
8. Stephen Duffy – Sugar High
This is from Stephen Duffy’s ‘Britpop’ album although it was recorded in America with Velvet Crush I think. I loved this album and these songs, although I actually preferred some of the b-sides to the songs that made it to the album. I also really love the next album ‘I Love My Friends’ they are sort of joined together, to me anyway. The first band I joined in London, which I’d answered an advert in Melody Maker to join, we were all into Stephen Duffy so this reminds me of them. This song is very of it’s time, this video was recorded off The Chart Show on ITV and I remember watching this go out.
9. Elastica – Line Up
I loved Elastica. They played at my college, they were supporting Kingmaker. I’d never heard any of their music but had read a lot about them, so it was really exciting to see them. In those days you could read a lot about a band but it would be ages before you actually heard their music if they weren’t played on the radio a lot. They all wore Fred Perry shirts and looked amazing, they played loads of short songs and were off stage in 20 mins, I’d never seen that before and they had a song where the drummer did fake burps into the microphone. I don’t think I’d ever heard Wire before so they got me into them. This video is Elastica performing on The Word which we all used to watch to see the bands.
10. Broadcast – The Book Lovers
My friend and I stumbled across Broadcast playing in a tent at The Phoenix Festival and we loved them. I’d not really heard anything like that before, and they looked amazing: they all wore roll neck jumpers even when it was really warm. I don’t know if you’ve ever done a gig in a roll neck jumper but it’s hot, no wonder they always looked so serious. They had this great aesthetic as well as the sound, I remember being upset that they got a new drummer and he had a ponytail! I joined a new band and we all loved Broadcast so they remind me of that time. I lost touch with Broadcast in the last few years of their career and I really regret that now.
11. Bennett Wilson Poole – Soon Enough
This is a song from last year. I used to be really into a band called Grand Drive, Julian from that band was the keyboard player with Gene, who I used to really love, and through them I’d heard Grand Drive when they supported Gene at The Astoria in London. I met a guy last year and we were talking about all this when he mentioned this new group that Danny from Grand Drive had formed with Robin Bennett from Goldrush and Tony Poole from a band called Starry Eyed And Laughing and it was their second ever gig that Saturday at The Union Chapel, so we went to that and have seen them a lot since then. There’s just a joy to this music, it’s people making music for fun, because they love it, you can sense that when they’re playing live and it’s done really well for them and they’ve brought a lot people along with them because of that.
12. Girl Ray -I’ll Make This Fun
There’s not indiepop much on this playlist, but I like a lot of indiepop music. This is from a couple of years ago. Every now and then a song will come on the radio and I will think: ‘I love this and I need to learn the chords to this song NOW’ This was one of those songs, it’s very simple but great because of that and the melody is lovely. I really like Girl Ray, this song didn’t get on their first album but it’s my favourite. In some of their songs I like how their singer makes a one syllable word like ‘And’ stretch out to 5 syllables. I’m excited to hear what they do next.
13. Suede – The Drowners
I’m ending on this, I do think this might be the best single ever. Suede were the first band I got into that didn’t have dead people in them. Before this I was mostly just listening to The Beatles and The Doors and stuff like that, this was the first band I loved where the band were people my age/generation (although they were about 5 or 6 years older than me). It was the first proper big gig I’d experienced and the first mosh pit and all that stuff. Even now, if this song comes on the radio I will stop what I’m doing until it finishes.
This video for The Drowners was made for when the single was released in America and was a rather literal interpretation of the song that had the audience drowning in foam. They invited members of the Suede Information Service (fanclub) to be in the crowd. My best friend and I are in this video, if you pause it you can see me in there somewhere.
Bernard Butler was a bit of a hero of mine, he was amazing. At my first band audition from the advert in Melody Maker, I went to a rehearsal room in Hornsey in North London, behind the pub The Great Northern Electric Railway Tavern. I’d sprayed my Fender Squier Stratocaster black so it looked cooler. They asked me what my influences were and I said ‘Bernard Butler from Suede.’ I got the gig and was asked to join the band and although the band didn’t last that long, a lot of the good things that have happened in my life can be traced back to that audition. So I owe Suede and Bernard for that one.
Whoa Melodic is out February 1st via wiaiwya. Click HERE for more information on Whoa Melodic.