Mitternacht Interview: “we’re only ever going to do anything about climate change if we spend more time outdoors”

We talk to the Liverpool-based experimental artist, Jonny Davis Le Brun, about his new album, Bask.

Confession time.

Jonny Davis Le Brun and I are friends.

In 2017, new to the city and attending my first gig, this lonely inhabitant was in search of a cigarette lighter outside of the Camp and Furnace in-between sets at the Liverpool Festival of Psychadelia.

A young gentleman kindly offered me a light and from there life moved on. Well, until two hours later outside of District when déjà vu occurred.

From this point, we struck up a conversation and a strange kinship (conversation ensued where we found out that we lived across the street from one another).

That’s what art is best for. Bringing people together. It’s also an accurate depiction of the city of Liverpool.

Davis Le Brun plies his trade with local cult shape shifters, Rongorongo, however he has steadily carved out his own solo career with his sagely presented experimental project under the Mitternacht moniker.

Bask is the latest addition to the project and Davis Le Brun‘s first in five years.

A lo-fi collection of carefully constructed ambient compositions, Bask is a summer time treat in every sense.

Drenched in drones and field recordings, Bask is an album that unashamedly lends itself to open spaces. Something we’ve all come to appreciate more during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Davis Le Brun is a quiet soul. Shy and self-effacing, he doesn’t waste words. But when he speaks it’s always something profound. He possesses the sort personality that draws you in. Not intense. No awkward pauses. Just natural.

We caught up over a beer in the leafy climes of south Liverpool to talk about the perceptively good Bask.

Land Trance interview: “Everything we do we feel sits in the broad continuum of psychedelic music”

Sun 13: So Bask has been out for a week now. How’s the reception been so far?

: “Muted, but in line with expectations! I’m not particularly big on marketing my music so it’s really nice you reached out for this interview. I’ve had some great feedback from friends so that’s enough for me. It’s up on the streaming barons now so I look forward to quitting my day job and bathing in bathfuls of money.”

S13: I know you do a lot of field recordings, were a lot of these recorded pre-COVID?

M: “Yeah, maybe half before, half during lockdown. Working from home gave me more opportunity to capture sounds as and when they happen – I keep my recorder close at hand so if I hear something interesting I can just grab it.

“I find that specifically going out with the intention of recording doesn’t work out so well, as you can’t dictate when a bird will chirp or a plane will fly past!”

S13: So this isn’t a “lockdown” album, per se?

M: “Not really, although lockdown gave me a kick up the arse to finish it! Being able to spend time outdoors in the sun really allowed me to crystallise the aesthetic of the album.”

S13: There seems to be a real emotional vigour to this record. The more you dig, the more it reveals itself. Was that the intention?

M: “Yeah, I think so. I have certain emo tendencies in songwriting that probably came from listening to a lot of earnest, melancholy music growing up.

“So although the intention was to create a sort of summertime pastoral work, those melodies and chord progressions will always be buried in the DNA somehow. It’s only after a few years of doing this that I can recognise those characteristics and I quite like that whatever direction I go they seem to follow me around.”

S13: I know that open spaces are important to you and with lockdown I think many people have come to appreciate them a lot more. Would you say your music lends itself to this environment?

M: “I hope so! The songs are quite short this time around so are more like vignettes of personal paradises but I’d really like to create something more long-form and expansive to accompany long walks. Ben Duvall (Ex-Easter Island Head and Land Trance) got me into The Necks who create these incredible journeys over the course of an hour – I’d love to attempt something like that.”

S13: The artwork fits the theme, too. Although completely different worlds, it reminds me of Deafheaven’s Sunbather. Care to share how the artwork came about?

M: “That’s really interesting, I love that album! And the title is basically the same, maybe that was a subconscious thing. I was actually worried it looked too much like that Disco Inferno album D.I. Go Pop so I’m glad you didn’t mention that one.

“The title is very literal and I spent a lot of time basking in the garden over summer taking photos. That photo was taken from a horizontal position as the sun was beating down and I think it captures that feeling pretty well. It’s embellished with symbols which I hope to develop in interesting ways for future releases.”

Mitternacht’s Bask

S13: For me, Bask feels a bit like a companion piece to Walks. What do you say to that?

M: “I would agree with that. I think they are probably my two best works in that they feel like complete packages. They’re both soundtracks to nature too which has sneakily emerged as a theme of mine over the last few years.”

S13: We’ve talked recently about the conceptronica artists and how it all tends to get blown out of context. Bask seems to be the opposite of that. Subconsciously were you kicking against this movement in any way?

M: “I’m certainly not kicking against anything, I mean the album is literally about lying down! I did however find that [Simon] Reynolds article really interesting and timely. I don’t really take issue with high-concept work as long as the contents match the presentation.

“I’m a bit bored of reading press releases that sound like philosophical dissertations only to be greeted by an album of solo modular synth experiments. It just seems a little disingenuous to me.

“I was blown away by the recent Speaker Music album, Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry because the contents deliver on the concept. The same goes for the Tidiane Thiam album, Siftorde. Very different ideas and albums but both very honest in their delivery.”

S13: Given your heavy involvement with Rongorongo, do you see this as a side project? I mean, you’ve released six albums and three EPs under the Mitternacht moniker. Without pissing in your pocket, that’s pretty prolific…

M: “I’ve not really taken stock but yeah that’s quite a lot, isn’t it! I always thought I was quite lazy with it. I was doing the Mitternacht stuff pre-Rongo so I wouldn’t call it a side-project necessarily, but I do prioritise the band now because I think we’ve touched on something unique. Also I think making music communally is far more nourishing for the soul.

Mitternacht stuff is always created during lulls in Rongorongo activity. Lockdown presented an opportunity to complete Bask when we couldn’t cram six people into a room anymore. I can’t see us having a gig anytime soon so I’ll no doubt be recording more music at home.”

Mitternacht (photo by Simon Kirk)

S13: Onto the compositions themselves and the title track, is that a shower running?

M: “I think it might be the bath running. I had this series of thumb piano loops overlapping with each other nicely and thought they sounded like raindrops bouncing off metallic surfaces.

“I wanted to develop that further with rain samples, but the bath sample delivered a far richer watery environment. I guess it’s like those false Foley sound effects in films but I didn’t hide it well enough!”

S13: With Sanders, is that the sound of a lawn mower? If so, I guess that’s a continuation of the summer theme?

M: “Yeah, there’s a few bits on there actually, a sander being one of them. Sanding is a very dry and hot activity which I think lent itself to a sort of desert feel, which is where those whistling keys come in – like a Western. I get a dry mouth just listening to that song – I have no idea if that translates to other listeners as all I’m thinking about is the experience of sanding on a hot day.”

S13: That track seems to take us through a journey of a normal day, too – the mower stops and an owl begins to hoot signalling that it’s night time…

M: “I’m pretty sure it’s a wood pigeon, but yeah… it would have been at dusk because I rarely see dawn. That was completely unintentional as an effect but I like that idea a lot! All the animals reclaiming the environment as we go to sleep.”

S13: It’d be remiss not to mention Sun Punisher. I’d say it’s the best piece you’ve produced, thus far. Easy decision as an album closer?

M: “Ah nice one, thanks! Yeah it was also the last one I made. I wanted a drone to finish the album and I’d been thinking about that feeling of pure sun warming your face, just on the edge of being uncomfortable but ultimately a pleasant experience – particularly if you’re used to milder climates.

“I think it’s still okay to enjoy sunshine whilst acknowledging our need to halt the rapidly accelerating temperatures on earth. I feel like we’re only ever going to do anything about climate change if we spend more time outdoors, recognising changes in our local environment with our own eyes.”

S13: You had another composition that you recorded in lockdown that didn’t make the cut on Bask. Do you want to shed some light on that?

M: “There were about ten others that didn’t make it, mainly because they were either poorly performed or badly recorded and I didn’t feel they were worth redoing.

“I think the one I showed you previously was badly recorded and I couldn’t quite stop it from clipping. Sun Punishment was like the cleaner version, although I’m keen to explore something more distorted again – it’s just quite difficult to capture successfully!”

Bask is out now via Mitternacht’s Bandcamp page.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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