Analogue Music | Mekons


By Matt Conner

It's never a given, even for those on the inside, that there will ever be another Mekons record.

Jon Langford says it's been a major question on the table each and every time for the last few records, as the genre-twisting eight-piece simply aren't sure whether even logistically they can make it work—let alone whether or not the inspiration is there for another spirited set.

That makes us thankful, then, for Deserted, the latest record from the Mekons, one released 40 years after the band's punk rock debut, The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen. Despite the time and level of output, the band's commitment to speak truth to power and defy musical convention remains firmly in place, this time with a splash of Joshua Tree, an environmental influence of where and how the album was recorded.

With another album behind them, we recently sat down to talk to founding member Jon Langford about the band's longevity, how they've remained interested after all these years and why he still deals with self-doubt despite a lifetime of songwriting.

Analogue: A few decades in and we're talking about another Mekons album. Do you relish these release more than you did early on?

Jon Langford: The one thing about being a bit older is that we tend to value it more now. It's more precious to us. The music isn't more precious, necessarily, but the experience is something we value maybe more. It's still exciting to do it. It's a career for us but it's not been a job.

Analogue: Was there a vision at all in your earliest days for this kind of longevity or was it all in the moment?

Jon: It was all in the moment. I'd say we'd be pretty amazed if you told us we'd be doing it now. It would seem ridiculous. [Laughs] I think what it comes down to is that you think about this one experience or project versus loads of different things. Artifacts get created along the way, but for me, it transcends those. When you're young and in a band, you're in a gang. Now it's deeper and wider than that. These are lifelong friendships. We're not together for the convenience or even just the music. There are a lot of connections between the people in the band.

Mekons 2
Mekons 2

Analogue: Are there ever doubts if there will be another Mekons project because of the work it takes to get everyone together?

Jon: Always. Every time. It's always a struggle to get everyone together and everyone on board. We've been in positions where it's felt hopeless or you wonder if there's any interest at this point in us doing things, but we've always come to the conclusion that we should continue. It's an ongoing debate, I think.

Analogue: What informs that for you?

Jon: For me, it's about wanting to be with those people and the way that we interact is by making music. It's as simple as that really. It's just about finding new ways to do it, you know? And the money to do it, because it costs so much money to get everyone together. It's a mish-mash of aspirational things and practical things. We have to be convinced that it's worthwhile as well, I think.

Analogue: About the album, you wrote that you were heading into Joshua Tree just to see what happens. Is that par for the course for you?

Jon: I think the site-specific thing has become the tactic. That's something we can do. If we want to get together, we can go somewhere different. Let's not be in someone's hometown where we have to deal with real life. Let's go somewhere, make it something special, and then see what happens. Then the places influence what comes out. There's an album called Natural we did a few years ago, which I think is very rooted in the environment that created it. Also, Deserted is sort of the sequel to that one, except you replace dreary northern England with a dazzling desert.

Analogue: How easy is it to come back together?

Jon: I think we can kind of forget. With the Mekons it's a different process altogether compared to me writing a solo song or writing for the Waco Brothers or the Four Lost Souls. It's definitely a different process and you forget how it comes about. It often feels like starting from scratch. I think that's good because we don't have a formula, you know where you say, 'You do this bit and I'll write that bit.' Although within the band, I'd say there are roles that people understand, but yeah, it's not clearly defined.

Each separate occasion with the Mekons is different and more fluid and I like the fact that we're writing the song up to the moment when the track is mixed. More often than not, things are being changed. It's not like we write a song and try to represent it as best as possible. The whole thing is fluid.

Analogue: Besides the new environment, were there other influences or instrumentation that you brought to the work?

Jon: Yeah, there was a digital element to this one. Tom and I were sending tunes back and forth over WhatsApp, which was quite interesting. That's just the distance involved. A lot of the stuff we put together didn't make it to the studio because other things came up. Then other people have roles. I'm probably one of the ones who generates a lot and then it gets edited and changed. It's hard to even remember how it happens, to be honest. A lot of it happens late at night and it's so spontaneous. There will be surges of energy where you say, 'Oh, that's right. We should have a bit that goes like this.' It's very much an open process, not somebody scratching away on their own.

Analogue: When you listen back, are you surprised by the final product?

Jon: I'm surprised that lyrically things I didn't see going in on reflection have these subplots and layers. There's a kind of coherence to it that belies the actual process that goes into it. There are usually very broad concepts—phrases or words or an idea, or in this case, a place. Then that gets turned and extended and twisted into what you get on the record. Each song is different as well.

Analogue: You mentioned some of the other outlets you have as well. Do you have a daily writing process and then figure out where it goes later on? How does that work?

Jon: The boxes are all clearly marked in my brain [Laughs] Although there's not one that says Mekons, really. That doesn't really happen unless we're all together. Anything that goes on a solo record are the ones that just pop into my head. Often the solo records have a theme as well. Just like writing, the best stuff in songwriting happens unconsciously. Some songs of mine I really like, I can't remember how they came about or where they came from. Then there are songs that lurk around in folders that I look at and think, 'That's sort of half an idea.' Then they have a lot of work put into them and then they're usually discarded. If they don't come together quickly and easily.

There's some insecurity there every time as well wondering if it will work or whether we'll make anything good.

That's the joy of songwriting for me, to be honest. I like the fact that it's a two or three minute thing. It's better than writing novels or short stories. There's just an economy to it. A lot of things can just come out and they're done. Now I spend a lot of time painting and I spend a lot of time traveling and playing music. A lot of the time, the songs are just percolating in the subconscious, so when you need to go in there and get something, there's quite a lot going on. [Laughs] So some of the best songs I've written, I actually have no recollection of writing them. It's like somebody else wrote it. The ones that are shit, I can remember, the machinations and contrivances that went into making them.

I think the Mekons just do that collectively. We have a sort of radar of what we want to do and what direction we're going. We follow it quite impulsively. Everyone has a role and is free... there's not an ego there where it's 'this is how it's gonna be.' Most bands have that one main songwriter, but we've worked very hard to undermine that with the Mekons and give everyone a voice within that.

Analogue: That has to feel good to come together with such a chemistry like that.

Jon: It depends. [Laughs] There's some insecurity there every time as well wondering if it will work or whether we'll make anything good. I think on the last two albums there was a great deal of doubt after the initial sessions where we weren't really understanding what we'd done or what would become of it. I always have faith. "It doesn't matter" is my attitude. If we do something and it's terrible, what does it matter?

Analogue: So self-doubt never goes away?

Jon: No, I don't think so. It's a balancing act. We're the Mekons. Who cares? If you're nervous going out on stage, it's not like people are there to see Chick Corea. [Laughs]

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