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An interview with Just Mustard

Pic by Anastasia Metluka
7 October 2018

Photo by Anastasia Metluka

Dundalk, Ireland’s Just Mustard is definitely one of the greatest rewards one could hope for when scouring the cavernous void of the internet for new bands. With one self-released, self-titled EP from 2016 under their belts, guitarist/vocalist David Noonan, vocalist Katie Ball, guitarist Mete Kalyon, drummer Shane Maguire and bassist Rob Clarke combine wall-of-sound shoegaze, ambient drones and post-punk tension that soothes as much as it unsettles on their debut LP, ‘Wednesday’. Having produced the album themselves the band harnessed the exact sound they wanted without the overbearing constraints of time, funding or incompatible input from an outside record producer. Being hailed as one of the most promising bands in Ireland, ‘Wednesday’ is also the first release on start-up label Pizza Pizza Records whose sole mission is to give local Dundalk talent the opportunity to release records on vinyl. With one stunner of an LP and a nurturing scene behind them, Just Mustard have the support to build quite the loyal following. Huge thanks to the band for taking time out of their busy schedules and to Anastasia Metluka for the pics!

James Broscheid: Great work on your debut LP ‘Wednesday’! I understand you have been together for several years now? Can you give us a brief history of the band – how you met, named the band and the build-up to making this incredible record? Also, can you elaborate on the meaning behind the LP’s title?

Katie: Thank you very much we really appreciate it. We have been together for 3 years, we started writing together in 2015. We have all been in the same circle of friends for a long time and it was myself, Rob, David and Mete who started Just Mustard. None of us are sure where the name came from. Band names are tricky! We released some singles and an EP pretty quickly, but fairly soon after we had moved away from that kind of style and weren’t playing the EP anymore. We didn’t have a permanent drummer until Shane joined in April 2017 and by then we had already recorded half of the album but it finally felt then that we could progress as a group and instantly the writing and creating process became easier.  Regarding the ‘Wednesday’ album title, we spent weeks thinking of names and anytime we tried to think of anything clever we felt stupid and everything made us cringe. We wanted to keep the album design and title simple so we decided to name the album after something like a persons name, a place or a day. Someone said Wednesday and it stuck straight away!  

JB: You elected to produce the record yourselves. What prompted that decision and were you entertaining the idea of hiring a producer? Are there any producers out there you would love to work with in the future?

David: We decided to produce it ourselves because we really wanted to capture exactly the sound we had in our heads, with no money or time restraints, sometimes the added pressure of a ticking clock or mounting engineer/producer fees can have a negative impact on the process. So it being our first big recording project, we really wanted to get it right. We spent a lot of time discussing how we wanted to capture the sound of ourselves together in a room, with little to no overdubs or editing while keeping the room as a key aspect of the sound and decided it was best to do it ourselves. I took on the bulk of the recording and mixing work in our practice space, with the drums recorded in Start Together Studios, Belfast. Engineered by Chris Ryan of Robocobra Quartet, he is an exceptional engineer, who really helped us lay the foundation for the sound on the record.

Rob: Yeah, We knew early on that we wanted to work with Chris Ryan. He’s an utter wizard of the rarest variety and we all wanted to steal his magic beans and pretend we were really talented and clever.

Pic by Anastasia Metluka
Photo by Anastasia Metluka

JB: As a listener, this record runs through the gamut of feelings and emotions. It goes from bleak to bright – often within the same song. How does the band formulate such song structures? Is it more of a collaboration between the five of you, separate ideas combined when the band gets together or something else?

Katie: It’s difficult to pinpoint how we write songs, we have no definite process, it changes for every song. But it’s definitely a collaboration between the five of us, and everyone has a say in what everyone else is doing as well.

David: Aye, we seem to spend more time structuring and stripping back ideas than we do writing chord progressions or things like that, we make a lot of demos.  

Shane: The level of collaboration was a welcome surprise to myself as someone who joined the band later when the process was in full swing and compared to my previous bands.

Mete: This is really hard to answer. It usually starts with a guitar drone, drum beat or noise that we like and we just build on top of it. The swings in emotion and atmosphere in the songs are deliberate and intended, this is one aspect that you can see very clearly if you watched us writing together. I find we are always trying to find ways to put people at the edge of their seats whether its through a weird timing or a rising wall of noise. We seem to be all fond of cinema, especially soundtracks so maybe that’s where that comes from.  

JB: ‘Wednesday’ is the first release for Pizza Pizza Records. How did that relationship develop? I read that the label is more like an artist collective – how is that approach different from what one perceives as a “traditional” record company?

David: Pizza Pizza Records, is vinyl based label created by a collective of Dundalk musicians, headed by Shane Byrne and Joey Edwards. We have known each other for years. Joey is our live sound engineer and co-manages the band with us. The label was simply a way to gather a few groups together from Dundalk and put ourselves all under one banner. Each record helps to fund the next one getting pressed, then we each help out promoting and distributing the records. It’s still in its infancy but it seems to be figuring itself out as we go.

JB: There was a brief but pretty spot-on review of ‘Wednesday’ in No Echo that highlighted the band’s more desolate take on atmospherics. While there are certainly nods to ethereal shoegaze (“Deaf” comes to mind), on this record, I am more reminded of early 4AD bands and the experimental post-punk of Sweatbox Records groups by songs like “Boo” and “Tennis”. Can you share some of the band’s influences and how they translated into ‘Wednesday’? What inspires the band (positive/negative) to create? There is plenty of fuel for creative release out in the world today so I suppose there is no shortage of ideas!

David: Yeah that review was very sound. We definitely don’t see ourselves as a shoegaze or a grunge band, I find those tags to be fairly meaningless, especially as those specific genres were more scenes from a time and place rather than a sonically defined music style, but we understand why we can be labelled as that. We are inspired by loads of artists for example; Aphex Twin, Joy Division, Radiohead, Portishead and David Lynch. We have gravitated towards the idea, taken from electronic music, of coming up with one simple hook or loop and trying to find a way to make that build and develop without adding too much or taking away from the source idea. Keeping it as minimal as possible. That has been a common theme in the newer stuff we have been writing, and also in some of the last songs written for the album like “Pigs” & “Curtains”.

Rob: Yeah, we find limitations help breed creativity!

JB: Were there any new discoveries about yourselves as musicians/individuals that were uncovered during the recording process for this record or even after its release?

Katie: We developed a lot as a band during the recording process and simplified and refined the songs we had been playing live, and we also threw loads of the songs in the bin. We learned to be as brutal as we want with our own songs and that it’s good to be brutal.

Mete: I still laugh when I think about everything we threw out of this record and looking back at the evolution of our live set as well. There was a lot of trial and error. I would say we definitely matured as a band not just in writing but in performing as well.

JB: When I think of music and Ireland, Dundalk did not come to mind until I heard of Just Mustard. The Divine Comedy, Guggenheim Grotto, My Bloody Valentine, Microdisney, Blue In Heaven, The Joy Formidable, Cactus World News, Whipping Boy, The Frank & Walters and of course, U2 – the legacy of Irish bands goes without saying! How is the music scene in Dundalk? Are there other local bands we should keep our eyes/ears open for?

Mete: Well Dundalk may not come to mind right away when you think of music from Ireland but The Corrs are native.  So that’s good. I would say some artists from or associated with Dundalk to watch out for would be Elephant, AE Mak, Trick Mist, L’arry, Video Blue, Jinx Lennon, Martins Party, We, The Oceanographers & T.P.M.

Katie: Yeah Dundalk has a strong music scene and it’s really diverse as well. There are so many different styles and genres, nobody is playing anything similar to anyone else in town

Shane: It’s hard not to mention our hometown venue The Spirit Store. It’s one of the most renowned small venues in Ireland and they really support and give a leg-up to homegrown talent.

Pic by Anastasia Metluka
Photo by Anastasia Metluka

JB: I understand the band had released an EP in 2016? Can you compare/contrast the band’s approach towards the EP vs. the new LP? Also, how do I get my mitts on a copy?!

Rob: The self titled E.P. was recorded in February 2016. It was 5 tracks taken from our first live set. We recorded it in Joey’s house, we had the microphone wires and power cables running down the stairs from his bedroom studio into the living room where we set up our drums, pedals and guitars. We put the amps in the room across the hall for separation. The whole process took a couple days. There’s was copious amounts of tea and sandwiches, a non-stop flood of refreshments in the heart of bandit country – Knockbridge, County Louth.

David: It was a limited release we put out on CD, with some very lovely hand printed mint green artwork.

Mete: There are still copies floating in the ether, seek and ye shall find!  

David: One difference of approach between the EP & the LP was for ‘Wednesday’ we spent a lot more time in pre-production and getting good source material to work with. We tried to mix as minimally as possible so as to keep the album sounding rough and close to how we sound naturally. Instead of trying to sculpt out sounds in the mixing stage, if we weren’t happy we just re-recorded the parts.

JB: Is it tricky to convey such intricate and layered music from record to a live setting? Or with Just Mustard, was it the reverse of that notion – was it more difficult to get your live sound just right in the studio?

Rob: It is definitely the reverse.

David: The trickiest part really happens in the writing of the songs, We threw away a lot of material early on in the album process. It sounded good to us in the practice room and live, but once recorded and played back we took issue with the arrangement. Finding them overly complicated and hard to get into. Some of those songs had been written so long ago that we didn’t feel the need to go back and fix them, we just binned them and wrote new ones. Focusing more on simplifying the individual parts and putting more emphasis on repetition. That was one of the biggest things we learned whilst recording the album, how to play less and compliment the song as a whole.

JB: What was some of the first stuff you remember hearing in your youth that sparked your wanting to get into music/become musicians? Do each of you come from musical families?

Katie: I don’t really come from a musical family but I have grown up around music, my parents used to run pubs/music venues when I was a child. I’ve always loved music and I kind of just fell into being a musician by becoming friends with musicians.  

Shane: There was rock being played in my family home all throughout my childhood and my older brother was a massive influence on my taste when I got older, him being a guitarist into harder guitar stuff like System Of A Down and At The Drive-In. I’ve been tapping on anything as long as I can remember until my parents caved and bought me a drum kit when I was about 14 and I started a metal band in school when I was 16/17.

Mete: There was a lot of encouragement for learning to play musical instruments in my family when I was growing up especially on the Irish side of the family. My parents also played a lot of Jazz and Blues when I was young. I really started to get into music during secondary school this was right around the time I met Rob and David and we bonded over anything loud and abrasive. I listened to so many artists I couldn’t really point to any specific influences. But Radiohead and Sonic Youth stick.

David: I grew up around a lot of music with my parents listening to it constantly in the house, they pushed me towards learning instruments from an early age. My favourite song was the French National Anthem!

Rob: My uncle once gave me his prized acoustic guitar to learn on, but I smashed it because I am an idiot.

Pic by Anastasia Metluka
Photo by Anastasia Metluka

JB: Rob mentioned the limitations of genre-defining labels as being inductive towards the band’s creativity. Do labels frustrate the band or are they just a nuisance? Does the band take that external energy to create songs that do not sound like the labels thrown at them?

Shane: It’s pretty much a cliché at this stage for bands to complain about genre labels assigned to them and while they can be helpful for people to discover your music they can of course also be very reductive and misleading. We try not to think about it too much and just create the way we always have.

JB: Katie, I am always fascinated by a woman’s experiences in male-dominated arenas such as music. In this day and age where questionable/disrespectful behavior is being called out (particularly here in the U.S.), I am curious as to your perspective and experience thus far. It obviously helps having four bandmates looking out for you too?

Katie: Well, this is the first time that I have ever had to think of my gender in relation to the music I play so I suppose that’s a good thing. I actually feel more comfortable at gigs then I would in a lot of other situations, most people’s soundness is underestimated. The one thing I look out for is being offered gigs because I’m a female, I hate that, it feels like a form of pity to me. I wanna be offered gigs because people like the music not because I’m a girl! Also, there are a lot of amazing female musicians in Ireland, so it isn’t a novelty anymore, it’s very normal. And I have never been in a situation where I have needed my bandmates to look out for me, they know that it wouldn’t be necessary anyway I’m very smart and have giant muscles and a ferocious death stare! Also want to add that this is purely my own experience.  

JB: With no funding/time constraints on the creation of ‘Wednesday’, is this an approach the band will consider for future recordings? Truth be told, you did an excellent job!

David: It’s hard to say at the minute, as we always looked at ‘Wednesday’ as something we just needed to get out as a means to establish the band. The aim has always been to try develop the sound from this point on, including production. Whatever process makes the most sense when we have the next album ready, is what we will do.

JB: Expanding on what Mete said earlier about the songwriting process, it is now clear as a bell in regards to how your songs are structured compared to soundtracks. As a fan, it is sometimes difficult to put into words how music affects me or how I relate to it. Mete’s explanation makes perfect sense as ‘Wednesday’ pulls off moments of suspense to moments of relief and everything in between – kind of like a Ennio Morricone soundtrack or something. Are there any soundtrack composers the band finds as inspiring/influential?

Katie: Hans Zimmer is some boy! I remember going to see The Dark Knight in the cinema when I was like 13 and it was the first time I had ever noticed a film score. (It) blew my wee child mind! I saw him live a few years ago and it blew my big clever adult mind even more. Our songs are definitely inspired by him and just movies and tension in general.  

Mete: When was in my teens I discovered Krzysztof Penderecki through Stanley Kubrick. There is quite a few of his compositions featured on The Shining and in 2001: A Space Odyssey and it was the first time I discovered that you can communicate the feeling of terror through music. I think Penderecki along with some other composers like John Cage had a huge influence on the way I thought about music and what you can do with it.  

Pic by Anastasia Metluka
Photo by Anastasia Metluka

JB: Just Mustard is a band that, seems to me, excels at playing live (having not had the pleasure of seeing you live yet!). Are there any plans to do some extensive touring for this record? Maybe play some dates across the pond (please! please!)? I would be more than happy to quit my job and drive the van for you!!

Katie: We would love to play all the gigs everywhere, America included.

Shane: Just Mustard are definitely first and foremost a live band. We are aiming to do some touring abroad in support of the album for sure.

JB: Finally, I have to ask. Rob, what prompted you to smash your uncle’s prized acoustic guitar?

Rob: It was an accident. When I was young my uncle gave me his first guitar as a gift. It wasn’t an expensive one but it definitely had a lot of sentimental value to him. I used to mess around on it everyday and it wasn’t long before I was trying to balance it in the air by holding the headstock in one hand. One day, while practicing my super cool guitar balance moves I dropped it and the neck broke right off. I never told my uncle what had happened to it because I thought maybe I could get it repaired it without him noticing. As long as he never reads this I should be fine!

 

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