Artist: Micko and the Mellotronics
Featured Work: 1/2 dove – 1/2 pigeon
Website: Landline Records
Featured image artwork and album cover artwork: Twinkle Troughton.
London-based art-punk quartet Micko and the Mellotronics will release their debut album, ½ dove – ½ pigeon, on Landline Records on November 27. The Mellotronics are the brainchild of Micko Westmoreland, a veteran musician who initially recorded under the moniker The Bowling Green on Trent Reznor’s old label Nothing Records and, later, as himself, with albums like Wax and Wayne and 2015’s Yours Etc Abc.
Westmoreland’s co-producer and co-guitarist Jon Klein began his musical career in the late 1970s with the new wave group Europeans, gaining notoriety when he co-founded the pioneering band Specimen. He was a major figure in London’s first goth nightclub, The Batcave, which brought the goth scene to southern England in the early 1980s. He also remains the longest-running guitarist for Siouxsie and the Banshees, with whom he played for eight years.
Westmoreland and Klein spoke at length with sound|coma for a two-part interview. In the first part, which can be read by clicking here, they spoke about the album itself and how 2020 has affected the Mellotronics. Now, sound|coma looks back on how the two met, how Micko built up the rest of the band and how they learned to work together for their upcoming album.
—A Vintage Amp, an Affable Chap and a Wicket Keeper
Micko Westmoreland’s friendship with Jon Klein began, naturally, at a gig.
“I was playing at a bar one night with an old friend of mine doing some kind of experimental, semi-improvisational piece,” Klein said. “We’d brought a little amplifier for me to use from the local studio that one in the guys in our operation was using and I’m just sat there waiting to start soundcheck and this kind of interesting thin-looking geezer in a suit kind of walks in with all this retro gear and parks this beautiful little old WEM Valve combo on the stage. And honestly I probably haven’t played one of those since about 1978 or something, and I immediately thought ‘Well I’ll just be cheeky and ask if I can borrow it.’”
Klein confessed to being terrible at lending gear to others, but Westmoreland let him borrow the WEM Valve unit for his set. Afterward, Klein stuck around to hear Micko and his band play and was impressed with what he heard. Westmoreland gave him a vinyl copy of his previous album, Yours Etc Abc, the gatefold sleeve of which impressed Klein even before he got to hear the songs. After going home and listening to the record later, Klein was further impressed by its production. Westmoreland is just as impressed with Klein’s ability.
“I can always spot a good player and Jon’s absolute dynamite,” Westmoreland said. “I was really impressed by his history and that was one of the exciting things about the gig, but I never thought I’d end up in a band with him!”
Micko and the Mellotronics were a long time in the making. In addition to Westmoreland and Klein, the lineup includes drummer Nick Mackay, who had been playing with Westmoreland the night he met Klein. Klein said he had “had a good old chin wag” with Mackay that night, which comes as no surprise since both men described Mackay as “an affable chap” who puts his heart and soul into every performance. They even likened him to Keith Moon for his passion of playing. Mackay is the longest-running member of the lineup besides Westmoreland himself.
“After the vinyl album Yours Etc Abc, the person who was doing PR for it, she said ‘Where’s the band? Who’s in the band?’” Westmoreland said. “I said ‘Well there isn’t a band; it’s just kind of me with a few other people and a drummer.’ She said ‘Well you’ve got to get a band together; it really sounds like a band on the record.’”
Westmoreland’s long-time friend Ben Willmott, who used to write for NME and edit their dance section, said that he should come check out a band called Barricades, for which Mackay drummed. Westmoreland found that Mackay excelled in energy and personality and they got along well.
Bassist Vicky Carroll rounds out the band. Westmoreland said he met Carroll through a friend of a friend. She performed on eight of the album’s 10 songs and has a background in piano and music theory.
“We have nicknamed Vicky ‘The Wicket Keeper’ because she’s very bright, thorough, highly practical and little gets past her,” Westmoreland said. “The same goes for her bass playing. When we play live, I never have to think about what Vicky is doing because it’s always consistent.”
“She came along and maybe at first she wasn’t as confident as she quite quickly became,” Klein added. “She was like ‘Well, look, y’know, I’m not even sure right immediately that I can play the kind of stuff that I can hear that your music needs, but show me what you’re doing.’ She seems really high IQ, and –“
“Yeah, she’s very bright; she’s got a doctorate and all this stuff,” Westmoreland said.
“She just kind of brought all that and it had a good impact on us,” Klein said. “And she’s got such a specific sense of humor that really kind of keeps us on our toes. She’s kind of group psychiatrist as well [laughs].”
—The Whole Thing Is Upside-Down
Klein and Westmoreland went into their partnership knowing that nothing is ever certain. They said that on one hand, you can share musical tastes with someone and get along with them but that doesn’t guarantee that there will be a proper working chemistry. Conversely, sometimes bandmates may not get along very well and come from different places musically but things will proceed without incident in writing, recording and performing music. Their tones of voice suggested they spoke from experience.
Both men said they prefer a more collaborative effort, so when they began working together on different songs, Klein said he wanted to keep things open and see where they went. The easiest way to do this was to start on a song that was approachable thematically.
“I remember when we were chatting Micko said he had a song called ‘Noisy Neighbours’ and I said ‘Well that’s a good one to start with,’ because I’m going to have a reaction to that,” Klein said. “It’s not esoteric; I don’t have to have read the right books or know the latest kind of news or context or whatever, you know? I’ll have a feeling about that straight off – and I can’t remember the other one…”
“’Sick and Tired’ and ‘Noisy Neighbours,’” Westmoreland responded. “We went out for a drink and at the end of the night – I had just sort of finished the main gist of ‘Noisy Neighbours’ and just said ‘Oh, I’ll send it over.’ And I was completely amazed when it came back, because it was just a guitar line and a vocal, just on some drums, and Jon had just done some incredible guitar work on it.”
This pattern continued as they laid down the framework for the album. Westmoreland told me that he’d generally start with his guitar and vocals and send them over to Klein, who would often heavily manipulate them. Klein said that Westmoreland tends to think in terms of melody and chords that are more functionally placed, while Klein preferred writing a riff and building a song around it rather than writing an accompaniment to a song that already exists. Despite this, they never felt any sense of competition in their guitar parts.
“I’m not a lead guitarist, but at the same time I’m not a rhythm guitarist either,” Westmoreland said. “And we don’t have a lot of guitar solos anyway but then there’s a lot of diversity in Jon’s playing throughout. There’s almost elements of soloing going on with riffs, there’s lots of combinations and different elements within the same lines that he creates, which is amazing.”
As they learned to work together, they recalled the ribbing Klein would give Westmoreland during the songwriting process.
“Jon’s very good at editing me, you see,” Westmoreland said. “I’m never 100% sure whether I’ve written a song or a guitar line. Sometimes I’ll say ‘Oh this is the chorus’ and Jon goes ‘No, no; this is the bridge; that’s the chorus.’”
“No, that’s very true,” Klein said. “Because where Micko kept saying ‘You know what, about the chorus in “Noisy Neighbours,”’ and I was just like ‘How can you possibly call that the chorus? It’s got the words “Noisy Neighbours” in but it is so not a chorus. In fact this is a song that doesn’t have a chorus; it has a theme.’”
Westmoreland compared it to offering up a papier-mâché tower for inspection, saying it has an interesting window at the top, only for Klein to respond that the window is actually a doorway, it’s at the bottom and the whole thing is upside-down.
—A Welcome Change
Klein likened the sense of even-handed collaboration he’s found in The Mellotronics to his work with Specimen, as opposed to feeling more like a session guitarist hired to fill a role.
“Working with the Banshees I never had that much power, so it was a lot harder,” Klein said. “They were beyond that stage of their own evolution, and Sinead [was] as well. In a situation where you’re being paid to play, the dynamic is kind of quite different – you’re effectively an employee, aren’t you? And maybe it’s harder to take risks, and if you do take risks, maybe the consequences could be a lot more severe financially.”
“That’s the thing about how session musicianship has kind of progressed,” Westmoreland added. “In a sense it’s become kind of more controlled as time’s gone by. It becomes a very specific thing.”
Klein agreed. “The year that I started working with the Banshees [Editor’s Note: c. 1987], they’d just engaged a full-time keyboardist, samplers were in; the ‘80s were in full flow so the meaning of a guitar – the guitar had a bit of a derogatory reputation. It had either taken a back seat in pop music or it turned into kind of hair metal, the U.S. pre-grunge anyways. Siouxsie was just bored, y’know, ‘I’ve heard every guitar possible; I want to hear a Hawaiian nose trumpet or something or a sample of some gamelan – any kind of noise.’”
At some point, Siouxsie said to Klein, “You can play whatever you want as long as it doesn’t sound like a guitar.”
Thankfully, it’s a drastically different atmosphere in The Mellotronics – one forged of camaraderie and a love for guitars and music in general.
“When I met Micko, as opposed to when you’re young kids and it’s like ‘Yeah, we’re gonna conquer the world,’ for me it was quite a big thing to meet a new friend,” Klein said, “that you can make music with and that you can dig a bit deeper and kind of stuff that friends talk about, y’know, someone that you can be completely honest with even when it’s not always that easy – when it’s not convenient. Your friendship’s valuable enough to say what you’re really thinking.”
“Honesty’s a long way,” Westmoreland added. “And if you’ve got friendship there, that takes you over the line.”
½ dove – ½ pigeon is available for pre-order now through Landline Records and will be released November 27 on vinyl and digital.