John Myrtle on his new home-made, homely album

Photo by Marie Dutton

John Myrtle creates the kind of music that is infectiously catchy. Through home recordings he’s developed a style that both draws from the past whilst being simultaneously fresh, warm and welcoming. Upon the first listen of his music you soon realise that the melody is each songs core, and these melodies are sure to be swimming around your head for days. He released his debut EP Here’s John Myrtle in 2019 and now has returned with his latest singles “How Can You Tell If You Love Her?” and “Get Her Off My Mind”, both cuts from upcoming debut album Myrtle Soup. Exploring themes of longing and loneliness, the album is packaged like a tin of soup to bring some home comfort. We spoke to John to learn about the new album, his songwriting process and what he’s looking forward to in the days to come.

Over where and what time was this album written and recorded?

Part of it was written in London and the other part of it was written in Birmingham where i’m from originally. I feel like some of the songs which were written back at home are more reflective. I mean the ones in London are more just pop songs haha.

You used the album to document the last year or so within isolation. What were some of the themes you were trying to explore within that?

I think I wanted to have an album that would document it more so in the process and ways in which it didn’t talk about the pandemic. So there’s a song on there called “Spider On The Wall” in which I assume the identity of a spider. So I talk about being at home with this spider, seeing everything you do and the spiders just as repulsed by humans as humans are by spiders. So I guess it was more looking at observations from home in that way rather than just being sad about being locked in. Although there’s one called “Ballad Of The Rain” which is essentially about someone who’s isolated in their house and all they can do is look outside, and they think of a tune which the rain has created haha. There are a few instrumentals which have quite weird noises like bubble sounds which is supposed to be someone making a bowl of soup. It’s all home spun and the home spun nature of it has been amplified by the fact that everyone including myself has just been indoors.

Is that why you chose the name ‘Myrtle Soup’ for the album?

I guess so, I thought it fit quite nicely! And I thought it was quite funny to call it Myrtle Soup. It’s homely, everyone likes soup. I think.

What made you sing within these characters rather than have them be from a personal perspective?

Even the love songs are me assuming a character in a way. I try and be personal but I always end up imaging different situations. Writing as someone else or thinking of different situations which you might not have experienced yourself gives you creative freedom to do whatever you want. If you’re just writing from your own experiences then there comes a point where you go “Yeah but that didn’t happen to me” or “That place doesn’t really exist so I feel like a fraud, I can’t actually write this” so you stop. So pushing yourself out there to try different identities just helps you write songs.

A theme that appears in some of your songwriting, especially older tracks is love and feeling uncertain about it. Why is that something you tend to write about?

I love pop music, older pop music mainly. And I like love songs, I think that’s what i’ve always been drawn to the most because I like trying to relate my own experiences to those songs. But I always feel that songs that are so sure about love aren’t reflective of how people actually feel. Everyone likes to write their own film for themselves with their own feelings and their own story and I feel it’s good to question that or at least acknowledge that in some songs. There’s a song on the album actually on the album that talks about actors playing parts within love.

What were some of those songs that inspired this sound?

I like a lot of 80’s and 90’s indie bands. I really like The La’s, with “There She Goes”, but I guess they’re not normally like that focused on love. The Servants, Shack, I just like all that British rubbish. I like the Kinks and The Beatles. When I was just starting out to record my own music I went to do “How Can You Tell If You Love Her?” and I had the song and I thought “Well everyone goes into a studio right?”. So I booked to record at a studio and it just sounded awful and I just felt like theres a better way of doing it. So I realised that with Ween, a band I really like, a lot of their early albums are just recorded on tape and as stupid as it sounds I never really knew you could record things on tape on your own. So I started researching different recording methods you could do at home. So now i’m described as “a 60’s guy” but its just tape! Sometimes I do want to sound like 60’s people but not all the time.

Do you think discovering that ability to record at home unlocked more freedom within your songwriting?

Yeah with going to a studio there’s usually other people there, and I always behave differently with other people and I feel the way you interact with them is gonna have an impact on what you’re recording. Whether it’s your performance and you feel a bit self-conscious about singing. Whereas if you’re on your own you can just do stupid stuff. You can probably sound really bad to eventually get really good, just let your hair down. In the long run it’s also probably cheaper. I think as well everyone does record from home to a certain extent but it’s the use of tape that people are put off with. Especially some label people they just think it sounded so old. You either sound like a computer or you sound like tape. I’m just ranting now haha, but it’s like if you’re a painter and everyone’s saying “Everyone’s using MS Paint now, why are you using paintbrushes?”.

Another part of your sound is having a juxtaposition between the upbeat feel of a song and the downbeat mood of the lyrics. Do you sometimes try and hide the lyrics behind this sound?

Yeah usually I will get the tune first and the lyrics come next. I struggle to write lyrics so the tune and sound of a song will come first a lot of the time.

The video for “How Can You Tell If You Love Her?” has you singing back in your hometown, what was your reason for going back there to film it?

Lockdown haha! But also recently i’ve also embraced things other than boring London. It’s nice that i’m from a different place and I thought people haven’t seen Bourneville in a music video!

Without shows at the moment what’s it been like releasing this music not having them to back it up?

It’s sad. It’s a lot of just having plans for the future. Thinking “Maybe in a few months we’ll book a tour” but it until it actually happens it feels very much like pipe dreams. Which is the same as doing music anyway, having people listen to it is a bit of a pipe dream anyway so it’s just that amplified.

What do you think that first show back will be like?

I hope it sounds good! I think everyone’s gonna be going crazy, glasses thrown everywhere!

What’s something else you’re looking forward to doing once everything’s a bit freer?

There’s a pool club that I play pool in with my girlfriend and we’re obsessed with playing pool! I’m awful but this place is cheap and quite lowkey so we thought we’d get a members card, which just means you don’t pay for entry when you go in. It’s not some sort of exclusive club though haha. It’s really fun and i’ve really missed it. I’ve also really gotten into snooker during lockdown and there’s something comforting about having it on the screen with all the colours. So playing it will be next.

What are your hopes for the album and beyond?

Well I hope it puts smiles on faces! It’s only supposed to sooth and please. I just want to keep making good happy music with maybe a bit of sadness and a bit of weirdness thrown in. I just want to keep writing songs, I just enjoy the craft of songwriting and it’s really fun to learn more about it and to keep going and hopefully other people will come on the journey with me.

Myrtle Soup is released digitally on June 18th and on vinyl on September 17th via Sad Club Records, pre-order here.

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