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Luke Mawdsley Interview: “It’s not just music to me”

We talk to the Liverpool experimentalist about their brilliant sophomore release, ‘Luke Two’.

“Listen, that’s is the sound of your family mourning your passing” announces Luke Mawdsley during Odours of a Lower Life, the closing cut from their wonderful sophomore album, Luke Two. Their delivery, oozing like a weeping wound.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that no one is making music like Mawdsley. While the Liverpool visionary’s 2020 release, Vulgar Displays of Affection (Maple Death Records), was something likened to splintered bones passing through a meat grinder, Mawdsley’s Luke Two is far removed, solidifying the notions of an artist leaping from one sound world to another.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. For years, Mawdsley has been an integral part of the Merseyside experimental tapestry. Firstly with Cavalier Song (which included Prison Behaviour’s Mark Greenwood), and most recently with violinist Agathe Max as the Morricone-infused drone odyssey, Mésange. Now Mawdsley goes it a alone, sweeping across the dark frontiers with some of their most striking collages yet.

Pitting together Suicide-inspired BPM and left-field off-cuts of Scott Walker with a dash of Morricone chime, it’s a spacious backdrop for Mawdsley’s spoken-word passages, caked in poeticism that is equally grotesque (Trauma Corset Part I  & Part II) and humorous (Higher Plains Suffering, Piss Poor Omens).

In many ways Luke Two is a genre-hopping exercise. The surf-rock serenade of Higher Plains Suffering; the slow-motion blur of Pomegranate Sees in a Matchbox, which captures the cinematic aspects of Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alles in Allem; the nightmare lullaby of Piss Poor Omens and the menacing folk lament that is Citrus Mirror.

And of course there’s A Butchers Tide, which you can listen to exclusively below.

Featuring Rachel Nicholas on vocals, with its fractured folk and micro doses of pop and BPM, A Butchers Tide ties together Luke Two in what is the first great experimental release out of Merseyside in 2022. All told, it’s going to take something of sheer brute force to better it.

With Luke Two set for release this Friday via SPINE, we had the opportunity to ask Mawdsley some questions about the album.

Sun 13: Firstly, can you tell us about the song, A Butchers Tide?

Luke Mawdsley: “A Butchers Tide began life on a secluded spot in Toxteth cemetery, a place where I often take refuge, attempting to trick myself into thinking I am an adult capable of reading a book. It’s a piece of music about humanity’s more impetuous appetites, and our propensity for external and internal annihilation. I liken the piece to a flesh rampant runaway locomotive, stoking the golden sixty-nine of desire and destruction.

“The chord structure began life on my 3⁄4 size nylon string guitar that I’ve had for maybe 23 years. A lot of ideas begin on that artefact of innocence. It doesn’t stay in tune and the sound of it falling over is a consistently comforting dissonance. I recorded and mixed it all in my house, something that I am proud of. I remember being obsessed with the song The Farmyard Connection by Fun Boy Three at the time too; I think the only remnants of this influence are within the piston flare of the drum machine. I think there might have been a Latin influenced guitar solo in it too, something probably best left to the digital dustbowl.

“At some point the composition seemed to pull forward thoughts of the climactic scene of Sergio Leone‘s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Perhaps I can credit as much to the kettling gravestones of the cemetery and the nausea of my autistic attempts to consume books – a dyslexic Ecstasy Of Gold? The piece features the florid choral work of Rachel Nicholas, her one woman choir is thoroughly breath taking and certainly helped consummate the Morriconaian milieu.

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S13: Onto the album, can you tell us the process of how Luke Two came to fruition?

LM: “When I am at my healthiest I turn up for myself every day and create in some form. I am privileged enough to have a space in my house in which to do this and I have a very patient housemate.

“I started composing some of the pieces during the early stages of lockdown and aggregated quite a hefty composite of material over a period of a year or so. My practice is heavily influenced by my relationship with technology. If I don’t already have a sound clot permeating in my consciousness I often seek inspiration from a piece of equipment that moves or excites me into committing sound to canvas. I guess this is a symptom of lone composition. I miss making music with other humans, but making the decision to be more self-sufficient in my craft has been super empowering and has seeded exponential growth both personally and creatively.

Luke Two presented itself after multiple revisions, edits and mixes, much to the displeasure of my ego. I think there was a different record that preceded it, but I am proud of how things turned out. Self-editing is hard and I learned a lot about my perception of what an album should be, or could be, as a broader piece of consumable and communicative art.

“The most enlightening part of creating is the semi-spiritual happening when the composition begins to present itself through some sort of anthropomorphic becoming. This is when my awareness of self seems to dissipate and I am able to escape, trusting in the newly gifted consciousness of the creation. I think that a similar thing happened when the right set of pieces found a singular harmonious identity but I certainly put in the work to get there.”

Luke Mawdsley (photo credit: Rebecca Hawley)

S13: The album is a real shift away from Vulgar Displays Of Affection. How important is it for you not to make the same record twice?

LM: “I am someone who has a tendency to conduct themself with urgency, for better or for worse. The importance for me to continue to evolve, exploring the riches of possibility, is a big part of my practice. I like to think of it as more of an expansion rather than a shift though, the albums that I make are pieces of a larger body of work, a tapestry which is attuned to my experience on earth. I am keen to learn new techniques and expand my palate and this certainly informs the avenues of exploration I pursue.”

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S13: The record feels very spacious, there’s certainly a Morricone vibe throughout, too. I feel that it gives the record this elusive pop sensibility. Would you agree?

LM: “Thank you, that’s affirming, I worked very hard in the latter stages to ensure there was a healthy respiratory network in which the content could communicate coherently. I think that the influence of lockdown, unfurling ahead like ‘the apotheosis of all deserts’ had an impact on the breadth of the pieces, at times I certainly felt lost in the vastness of the material. I am not sure what I am doing is really for the immediate public, but having some more accessible gateways for experiencing the album became a consideration at some point, perhaps the pop sensibility is the mirage in the desert, keeping hydrated is important.

“The music of Ennio Morricone, and more broadly, the Spaghetti Western, was a big influence on the backdrop for sure. Cowboy music really galvanised me to interact with music as a child, alongside my keenness to ‘fancy dress’ of course. I felt that, with all its problematic nature, the Spaghetti Western might be an interesting space to explore some challenging subject matters.”

Luke Mawdsley - Luke Two

S13: While there is a real darkness in your themes, there’s also what I’d consider a dry wit with your songwriting, too. How important is it to incorporate humour into your work?

LM: “Feelings are multifarious, complex cocktails and it’s interesting to me to examine all of those layers, and their conflicts. I think using humour is a useful device in illustrating the inner turmoils that we all experience. I find that the juxtaposition of the nightmarish and the absurd of great curiosity, especially as someone with Pure O. It’s all an expression, even if it doesn’t match up to our normative understanding of such. There have been times where I have thought I was incapable of laughing, or crying, and so it’s important to me to celebrate with gratitude each tear and every laughable gargle. Maybe the biggest joke of all is that I invest so much thought into art at all, but I’ll allow myself that fantasy. Live, laugh, love, right?”

S13: Rachel Nicholas and Gabriella Rose King also feature on the record. How did these collaborations come about?

LM: “Gabriella and Rachel are good friends of mine and incredible local artists. They both graciously agreed to contribute their unique voices to the pieces and I am very grateful. Gabriella is one half of celestial experimental electronic duo TWGX and also a member of theatrical art-punk troupe, Coughin Vicars. Her vocals feature on prog spectres Piss Poor Omens and Odours Of A Lower Life. Rachel is a hyper diverse solo artist and member of transfixing experimentalists a.P.A.t.T. She contributes vocals to spaghetti shards Higher Plains Suffering and A Butchers Tide. Introducing these personalities was an effort to embellish the pieces with some more enriching human coloration, and well, to diversify the palette away from my painful Formby pinewood drawl! The results were thoroughly illuminating. What a world it is to share space and time with such talented friends.”

Luke Mawdsley (photo credit: Rebecca Hawley)

S13: You’ve been a part of many projects including Cavalier Song and Mesange. Has your songwriting approach changed over the years, particularly now in a solo capacity?

LM: “My approach is very sensitive to my surroundings and the personnel involved in the process. Making art in a solo capacity has certainly encouraged me to make more incisive creative decisions. I think I have begun to foster a broader sense of perspective and appreciation for the sum of all parts, something I’m trying to bring into all parts of my life. I’ve found giving myself permission to express myself on unfamiliar instruments thoroughly invigorating and I feel there is much to be gained from that experience of vulnerability. A lot has been attained from adjusting the ego away from the urgency to express multiple things on one instrument.”

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S13: How much does your sense of identity influence your creativity as an artist?

LM: “During the making of this record someone suggested that I might be a spiritual person, something that I vehemently denied as even a remote possibility. I have come to realise that the inherent binding of self identity with the art that I make is very much a spiritual pathway, one intrinsic to my continued existence.

“I have put so much of myself into my art practice, and in return I have been blessed with unceasing discovery, growth and, most challenging for myself, a greater sense of self acceptance. It’s not just music to me, and I don’t believe I would still be here without that relationship. Every time I turn up for myself to create it’s an act of self love and healing, it’s an unjudging symbiotic relationship that nurtures my understanding of my identity.

“My art is a place I can meet my illness, queerness, neurodivergence, accomplishments and failings with love, compassion and curiosity. It’s a wholly euphoric, empowering and enriching adventure that I intend to pursue until I drop dead.”

S13: Are there any immediate plans to play live?

LM: “It’s something I would like to do, I am moving towards making this a possibility. I love the elation and transcendental nature of that shared experience, but I am also quite sensitive to the social implications of playing shows. It’s expensive too, and I want to be able to honour the musicians I might make that excursion with, but yes please, call me, It’s been too long.”

Luke Two is out Friday via SPINE Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

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.

4 replies on “Luke Mawdsley Interview: “It’s not just music to me””

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