68th in Orbit, the opening track of Doubtlands, the upcoming album from Edinburgh’s Mt. Doubt out next month on Last Night From Glasgow, is the perfect scene setter to the album that follows. Set to a backing of steady drums and slow-burning electric guitars, we find vocalist Leo Bargery staring out his window, looking at the wonders of the universe and asking, “why is it all quite so disappointing to me?” There’s a darkness, he sees the beauty of the universe, but in his racing, catastrophising mind his own struggles outweigh them all. Suitably at the song’s demise, it suddenly gives way to the vocal and an acoustic guitar, as if shooting us back to its conception in Leo’s racing mind.
Doubtlands is very much a record of modern life, an album that observes the minute details of the mundane and every day. We as listeners are presented with failed relationships, mental health struggles and the battle between the urban sprawl and the wilderness. Throughout, Leo’s poetic lyrics seem to use nature as a metaphor for healing, whether gazing out to Scandinavia with a partner he doesn’t love on Caravans On The Hill, or having his world turned around by a flock of swooping birds on Eshaness. Even when trapped in the claustrophobia of the home on Waiting Rooms, it’s the, “house plants tilting towards the sun” that seem to offer a glimmer of hope.
The claustrophobia and release of Leo’s words is also mirrored in the sound of Doubtlands. It is a record that on first listen doesn’t perhaps offer all its charms, it feels dense, enveloping the listener in waves of pounding percussion and Leo’s rich, downbeat baritone vocal. Yet on repeat listens, the details, and the beauty, of the record begins to unveil itself. There’s a wonderful flow to the record, the prominent chiming guitar acting as a thread that seems to flow throughout, always offering a counterpoint to the gloom. The exception is the beautiful aside, Murmurations, an acoustic duet, a moment of respite, even if it remains achingly sad.
The whole record seems to build to the closing track, Peaks of Wreck, which acts almost like a summary of the album’s wider themes. To a backing of bright meandering pianos, and processed drum beats, Leo comes over all Bon Iver, with soaring processed vocals, and lyrics referencing musical heroes from Sparklehorse to Yo La Tengo. The track feels like a musing on the importance of music and the ability to become distracted from it, asking, “I mean have I every really listened at all”. If you were looking for a light at the end of the tunnel, this isn’t it, instead it ends not with hope but with a repeated shrug of the shoulders, “is it really worth the trouble?”
Doubtlands is a fascinating record, a record that rewards those willing to give it their time, a reflection on the modern world that requires an outdated attention span. This is an album that could easily become a slow burning success story in the age of hype and instant impact; there’s something here that’s very special, just waiting for the world to cast its glance their way.
Today ahead of the release we spoke to Leo about recording in his childhood home, being a musician in the age of Covid-19, and why he’d “sooner have one person cherish the album dearly than 1000 empty Spotify-curated playlist plays”.
For those who don’t know, who are Mt. Doubt?
Mt. Doubt started out a few years ago, basically as a means for me to release the songs I wrote in my bedroom (and kitchen) but things are less fun alone; Friends and collaborators have come aboard, left, come back, left again and so on. It hangs somewhere between being a solo-project, a collective and a band, and I do like the flexibility that that affords me. That said, there’s definitely been a much more consistent band set-up in the making of our upcoming album, which I think comes across in the textures and general scale of the record! For all intents and purposes and for now, Mt. Doubt is a band from Edinburgh, Scotland, built around and upon my songwriting. Same as it ever was.
You’re about to release you new album ‘Doubtlands’ what can you tell us about recording it?
The album was all recorded in my childhood home actually, in Edinburgh. We took over the house for two weeks, moved the furniture around and created two pretty effective little studios; makeshift vocal booths made of duvets, laundry racks and duct tape, Saxophone in the conservatory…that sort of thing. We drank a lot of coffee, played a bunch of Skate3 and somehow got an album made. It was definitely an intense period of time that definitely wasn’t without frustrations or boredom, but living together in that environment enabled us to focus on the record in a way that is all but impossible if you’re constantly coming and going and getting distracted by life. It’s was essentially a pre-pandemic, self-imposed lockdown!
You’ve released a number of EP’s previously, is there a different approach to making an album?
So this is going to be Mt. Doubt’s third full-length LP, alongside three EPs that have also come out since 2015. I don’t feel like I approach the writing any differently, it’s generally a question of quantity and finding a common thread between the songs. If you have four songs that ‘feel’ like a coherent entity then they’re probably best served by being released as such, the same goes for a collection of 16 songs. I suppose the challenge with an album is that you want to create something which can engage and intrigue a listener for a longer period of time, so you have to give much more consideration to ordering songs in such a way as to create a sense of flow and narrative if possible. Don’t want to end up boring people!
The album is coming out on Last Night From Glasgow, how did that come about? What made you want to work with them?
We had been working with an amazing label called Scottish Fiction (2016-2019) and things had reached their greatest stretch really. We owe so much to SF and Neil who’s behind it all but it was mutually agreed that it might be time to move on. Last Night From Glasgow are a wonderful, widely-respected label up in Scotland, so when they expressed a desire, and an excitement, about working with us we jumped at it. I love their subscription-based model which has engaged hundreds of active music lovers across the U.K. and beyond, and I also appreciate their no-nonsense ethos which places the worth of artists above profits; it’s a refreshing approach on a broader scale. They also have some great bands on the roster who we were really happy to join (see Cloth, Domiciles, Broken Chanter).
Who are your influences as a band? What were you listening to when you made the record?
They’re fairly wide-ranging actually. I’m a huge fan of Nick Cave, Broken Social Scene, The National, Leonard Cohen (the list could but wont ramble on). Throughout the band the listening habits are pretty diverse, from math-rock via alt-folk to hip hop and back again. I regret to let you know that there’s no math-rock to be found on ‘Doubtlands’, mores the pity. While we were making the album I listened almost exclusively to the songs we were recording and demoes of those songs, just constantly trying to finesse lyrics and think of little ideas that could elevate things. We also listened to a lot of Metallica, because if James Hetfield can’t inspire you to get it done, who can?
It’s a strange world to be releasing an album into, how has the pandemic affected your plans?
That it is! I think I might stay indoors forever. I think the biggest obstacle for musicians is that we can’t get out and play. We’ve been unable to go on tours we had lined up, play shows in support of single releases and play at festivals across the country. That’s pretty detrimental to building momentum but, finding a positive slant, we are lucky to live in a time where it’s so easy to connect artificially. We’re able to stay in touch with supporters of the band, we’re able to release our music into the world and we’ll just need to take things as they come. I’ve been performing short live-streams on Facebook every week or so too, which have been great fun. Everyone is in the same boat, so we’re at no particular disadvantage. Hopefully ‘Doubtlands’ can provide some sort of respite from, or soundtrack to, these odd days.
What’s the best way for people to support musicians at this time?
I think there are two primary ways. 1) Buy music, whether it’s a physical record or a download. Without live music, musicians’ income is decimated, so that would be really helpful! 2) Let your favourite artists (especially the smaller ones) know that you’re listening and enjoying. I know lots of people on the quitting-brink who might just need that nudge, we’re sensitive souls. So yeah, Buy the music and let people know their worth (that’s more widely applicable too…).
It feels like a lot of thought has gone into the artwork and packaging of the album. Do you enjoy that aspect of being in a band?
I adore it. I constantly make artwork mock-ups on my phone for albums years shy of release. I love making itineraries for tours that probably won’t happen, and lists of potential collaborators who probably wouldn’t dream of working with us. Got to keep the mind busy! As far as artwork goes, I think the physical, visual ‘product’ is so important. It really has to embody and encapsulate some of the album’s essence and I hope we’ve managed to do that on Doubtlands. The fact that with the vinyl sleeve, you’re able to ‘change’ the artwork is really cool, I like to think it mirrors the process of a listener finding their own meaning in a song! (Kudos to Last Night From Glasgow for pitching that idea!).
Once you get back out on the road, what can people expect from the Mt. Doubt live show?
Oh god, probably a rusting husk of what we used to be? I’m sure it’ll be pretty cathartic and exciting to be back on stage! Whenever that might be (2027 or something.) We’ll be performing a lot of the album songs for the first time and hopefully people will have had time to digest the record so we’ll all be on the same celebratory page! We’ll be back with vim and vigour and gusto. I absolutely can’t wait, it’s going to be a lot of fun to make noise with my friends again.
Why do you make music?
I’ve not really thought about that before. It’s definitely a release valve and an outlet for my unhelpful musings and negativity. I don’t think there’s anything greater than creating art, and I’ll constantly strive to become better, or at the very least, more coherent in doing that. I’m rarely ‘happy’ with my work so there’s always something to aim at and move beyond. As cliched as it sounds, I feel like I need to make music, it’s entirely bound to how I make sense of my life. I’m not going to stop, and probably can’t.
What are your earliest musical memories? Has it always been part of your life?
I do have memories of music playing in the family car, namely The Beautiful South, Patsy Cline and Dean Martin. I had piano lessons when I was about six or seven but they were short-lived. I’ve always liked music, and lots of my standout memories are accompanied by particular songs or bands, but I didn’t find myself well and truly down the warren until I was a teenager struggling to get some sort of control over a guitar; a struggle which continues! Writing, perhaps more so than music had been omnipresent.
Do you have any other creative outlets beyond music?
I used to be a keen painter and ‘drawer’ and I toyed with the idea of going to art college for a while, that has fallen by the wayside over recent years sadly. I’ve always been a keen writer and thought I’d write books (I’ve started many) but songs stepped in and took precedence. I’m constantly scribbling, so who knows maybe I’ll get back to a book one day.
What are you ambitions for this record? Do you see music as a viable career?
In the immediate future the financial viability looks shaky at best, I think most musicians are in much the same boat; working day jobs to fund the aspiration. As long as you believe it’s viable and are willing to make the sacrifices it takes, you can make it work. In the dream-world this album would be winning the Scottish album of the year, propelling us into Radio 6 rotation and leading to sold out tours. In reality, all I can hope for is that people connect with it on some level and spread the word. I’d sooner have one person cherish the album dearly than 1000 empty Spotify-curated playlist plays. It’s one step at a time and we’ve just got started.
What’s next for Mt. Doubt?
An alien invasion perhaps? A nuclear war? Hopefully we’ll be playing shows in the not-so-distant future and will be able to give the album some belated promotion in that way. I write a lot of music, so there’s a lot to come. A few more albums are already sitting here, written, gathering dust. You’ll hear them in a decade.