Interview with Leon Welburn of Mammal Hum

Sometimes a band steps forward to truly captivate and excite the senses, to thrill the heart and fire up the imagination like very few others are able. One such band is UK psychedelic pop band Mammal Hum, a quartet of musicians who have created not only one of the best albums this year but treated the passions to mischievous sounds of textured and layered majestic beauty. The release is a mouthwatering expanse of diversity and mesmeric soundscapes to ignite open ardour towards it. Not just wanting but needing to learn more about the band, album, and the minds behind such a unique release we had the pleasure to fire off questions to band member Leon Welburn.

Hello Leon and welcome to the site.

Firstly please just introduce the band.

Hi everyone. We are Mammal Hum, a four-piece from Hull, made up of Nick Cammack, Simon Andrew, Sarah Mole and myself, Leon Welburn

We have to ask firstly about the band name…?

Ha! The band name was a laborious process. We very nearly all fell out over it. So, four part harmonies are an essential part of our sound. We saw it as a whole-band voice. A communal ‘hum’ with each member vital to the mix. Hum can also be extended to form the word Humber, the river by which our hometown rests. We’d like to think its different if anything else.

Can you tell us how Mammal Hum began and how Geoff Travis comes into the equation even though it is before the band is a reality I believe?

Nick formed a band a few years back in London, involved with Blanco Y Negro. Geoff Travis was linked to them at the time and basically Nick landed a deal after speaking to him. Then, the band went their separate ways. Nick returned to Hull in 2008 while the others continued to pursue different musical projects. A few months after this, I put my house up for sale, and Nick was one of the prospective buyers. He didn’t end up putting an offer in, but he did notice a Hammond Organ in the corner of the room, and we started chatting about music and bands. A week later I saw Nick in our local pub, and we agreed to have a jam one night with Sarah, who we had both known for a while. The band was pretty much formed that night.

What are the musical experiences for you all leading up to the band?

Nick and Simon have been in a variety of bands for years, Sarah is into DJing, and although this is my first serious band, I’ve been playing and recording solo music for about ten years.

Now a quartet, I read the band began life as a trio before Simon joined up, if so did that mean you used guest drummers, electronic or went without?

We started as a six-piece band with a drummer, two guitarists, bassist, two keyboards, and four singers. Quite hefty really. We lost one guitarist early on when he moved away. Then our drummer left to work abroad. For a while we tried to work as with drum machines and loops, and take it in an acoustic direction, but it just didn’t sit right. One of our ladies (Nick’s partner) departed to have their first child. At this point we realised we desperately needed drums. We knew Simon played guitar in another band, approached him one evening, and he agreed to rehearse with us. The minute he began drumming, we knew he was exactly the person we needed. A loose jazz style, with lots of heavy, rolling toms. That was, and still is, the Mammal line-up.

We used the tag psychedelic pop which most seem to use to describe your music for our review of your new album What’s Behind Us Is Not Important. It is a description which just grazes your sound to be honest, how would you explain your music and intent to newcomers?

Bright and breezy pop nuggets with layered group harmonies, chunky guitar and big drums scattered in and out of various tracks. It’s an album that tries its best not to be too serious. That’s not to say we are deliberately tongue in cheek or humoured. The songs just seem to happen this way.

What are the influences which have had the biggest impact and effect on your individual and band sound? One imagines there are many whispers which spice your ideas.

We always liked the idea of not being tied to a specific musical genre. We have so many different influences from the Beatles and Beach Boys, along with a host of 60s psychedelia, to Sparks, Super Furry Animals, 80s and contemporary electronica….there really are too many to mention, but hopefully this gives you an idea.

There are shall we say nostalgic tones to your music but with a freshness and imagination of modern times, how easy or instinctive is finding and reaching the balance in your sounds?

We used to write the tracks separately, and then it reached a point where we felt the best songs were being created organically in the rehearsal room. One of us would come up with an underlying theme for a track, and the rest of us would all contribute with lyrics and ideas. Pretty much the entire album is based on this system. We do keep influences in mind when writing songs, but always manage to pull ourselves away from being a sounding too much like our influences. I suppose we all value the importance of wanting original sounds, and creative freedom, so luckily yes it feels like a fairly easy process. Always helps!

Where do your songs seed from and how do they evolve within the band?

Our songs come from childhood memories. The Bingo Wing is about sitting in social clubs playing bingo as a kid. Mechanical Horse is about a local bus I used to travel on, and the varied and interesting characters you would see and become accustomed to week in, week out. The life of a car, bee epidemics, close and distant acquaintances, folk tales and our seemingly tiny existence in the enormity of everything which surrounds us……just some of the things we like to write about.

Though the songs upon What’s Behind Us Is Not Important are organic and breathe melodies like we do air, one senses that in the studio a lot of care, time and attention is attached to every aspect of the tracks, is that the case?

Yes. In a way. We do actually try to keep our production quite raw. Not too embellished. However, we do return to songs regularly with new ideas on how various sections can be improved, how vocals may be better structured, re-structuring sections, adding and taking out instruments……basically trying to get a song sounding as interesting as we can, usually within the space of three or four minutes. This isn’t a set rule we stick too though. It does commonly happen though.

How long did the album take to record and was it one big session or an ongoing process in its birth?

It took about two and a half years in all. We originally started recording in late 2010 on an analogue desk belonging to Nick, and then the desk lost its way, and had to be serviced…..in fact it’s still in need of a service. We had major problems with it in the end. The rest of the album was recorded during the last twelve months, by our friends Richard Gilbert from label-mates Lymes, and Patrick Tobin at Room Room Studios in Hull.

Admittedly I am no musician but it is hard to imagine where you start to compose your sprawling mesmeric soundscapes, so please give some clues haha.

Going back to the rehearsal room idea. We really do start with a riff, or drum pattern or keyboard part, or a bass run. It usually has a Captain Beefheart twang to it. What usually happens next is a twenty minute jam. I’ll usually record it on a mobile phone, and we will build the track up over a series of rehearsals, before layering it all up in the studio. It’s a four-way split from nothing. That’s how we roll in Mammal Hum

You are all multi instrumentalists I believe, does that bring a depth of ideas and imagination to songs which maybe are not as strong in other bands?

Not so much multi-instrumentalists. Well apart from Simon, who really can either play every instrument, or is learning to! We do like applying ourselves to, and experimenting with other instruments though. This definitely makes a more interesting sound. It does expand your creativity and make you much more imaginative. You don’t feel constrained to the usual formula.

How does your expansive sound transfer to a live setting, do you have to make any adjustments to bring the same effect as on recordings?

We use samplers, effects pads, overdriven bass and guitar and the big big drums, to try and reflect what goes on in the records. That combined with four voices on stage makes it quite challenging on some tracks to get the overall balance. A good challenge of course. At the same time, we like to tinker with our live set enough for it not to be a repetition of what you hear on the album. You may as well just give the crowd then an album each and send them home. We find the idea of sounding exactly like the album tracks a little……well…….constrictive! That’s absolutely no disrespect to bands who aim to achieve this. We have actually started doing more acoustic gigs to see how the tracks convert when played unplugged. We can then push the harmonies further to the front. The acoustic gigs have been working well actually! We sit in the middle of the room instead of on stage. It’s a nice vibe.

In our review of What’s Behind Us Is Not Important we brought up names of artists like Kontrust, De Staat, The Knack, XTC, The Monkees, Flaming Groovies, Ok Go and even Marilyn Manson (read the review to see why ;)), showing the diversity of your release and richness of its sounds. Any there you would agree with or have you wondered if we were drinking at the time? Haha

I can see The Monkees in there, and some Flaming Groovies. We do like XTC too………Marilyn Manson???? That’s not a comparison I’d either thought I’d hear to be honest! Interesting! Haha!

Is there a prime intention or aim you bring to your music and has it evolved over time?

No specific aim, other than for us all to be creative, enjoy it and invent! The music certainly has shifted in style slightly as band members left, and others joined. The music on the album is certainly representative of our direction over the past three years though.

Also how has your music changed since those early days in 2008?

The music has changed quite a lot, and for the better in our opinion. The voices have always remained, but we are certainly much more versatile now.

What is next for and from Mammal Hum?

We are planning a follow-up album on Mollusc Records. We are currently writing tracks for this one, and hope to start recording next year. Expect a different direction, a lot more laid-back, gentle affair. A bit of a departure really, but an idea we really want to work with. We have plenty of ideas in the pipeline……

A big thank you for sharing time to talk with us, any parting words you would like to leave behind?

Thanks for chatting to us, and to friends for their support, and Mollusc Records for their continued hard work. Please listen to the album…..and yeah start a band. It has ups and downs, but its good fun. What’s Behind You Is Not Important……

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mammal-Hum/11380710291

Read the review of What’s Behind Us Is Not Important @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/mammal-hum-whats-behind-us-is-not-important/

RingMaster Review 27/09/2012

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