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Interview: Meltt

23 October 2023

Photo by Zachary Vague

Comprised of lifelong friends, the Vancouver-based Meltt works in sync even when separated as they were for much of the writing of the band’s sophomore album, Eternal Embers, during Covid lockdowns. Each of the multi-instrumentalists that make up the lineup – Chris Smith (vocals, guitar, bass, keys), James Porter (guitar, keys, bass), Ian Winkler (bass, keys, guitar) and Jamie Turner (drums, percussion) – worked on their own songs before reconvening and discovering how all of the puzzle pieces fit together. The end result is a rich and complex 14-track alternative rock journey that explores themes of growth, decay, and rebirth, at times diving into deeply personal lyrics (“Your Melody”) while, at others, speaking more on behalf of a collective consciousness (“Soak My Head”).

James Porter and Jamie Turner recently joined me to discuss the making of the album, the common music interests between band members, the challenges of adding extra letters to a band name, and what 2024 holds in store.

The album sounds really good through headphones. Do you listen to mixes in multiple formats, like through a Bluetooth speaker, through a car speaker, through headphones?

JAMIE: Before we sign off on it, we definitely listen on different kinds of speakers. I’ll do Bluetooth in a car, Airpods would be one because that’s pretty common. Generally, when we’re mixing, we have the headphones on.

JAMES: For mixing, you don’t want that many variables. I listen with these open-ear headphones, they kind of sound like speakers. When it’s mastering, we want to hear it in all kinds of things to make sure it’s translating.

There are so many different ways to listen now. When I was growing up, it was through headphones that plugged into your stereo or your Walkman, speakers that plugged into your stereo, or in the car.

JAMES: I’m always curious about how many people are out there just listening to it on their phone, there’s no speaker, no headphones. That’ll be a chunk of people too.

JAMIE: I think we played a couple of the masters through laptop speakers and through our phone speaker just to make sure the bass is not being too crackly. It can be so different listening in that sense that you have to make sure it sounds at least okay.

JAMES: You’ll have some thick sub bass that you’ve been loving through the headphones and you play it on a laptop or a phone and it doesn’t even exist.

In a day and age when most bands are shooting for 30 to 35 minutes worth of music on an album, Eternal Embers clocks in at 52 minutes. Is there a reason that it’s that long?

JAMES: Yeah, it’s a long one. I think the main reason is that we felt like we had the material. The songs we settled on, we felt like we didn’t want to get rid of any of them.

JAMIE: We had so much material to pull from initially because it was Covid and we were all demoing and we had our own things that we had jammed on. I think we had 30 actual beginnings of ideas and we managed to whittle that down to 26. Then we managed to whittle that down to 20 and then 16 and then 14. Once we got to that point, we were like, “There’s nothing else that we want to cut now from here.” It all felt like it was meant to be together so we didn’t want to cut it any further.

JAMES: As a listener, I think all of us in the band are really into albums more so than playlists or singles. I think we were conscious of the fact that whatever you release now gets divided up into playlists and stuff. There might be a huge amount of people that never hear it as an album. So, we’re like, “We might as well have this music out.” We’re all in on the album experience.

It sounds like Covid lockdown gave you the luxury to write more songs than you would have in a regular album cycle.

JAMES: For sure and probably way different than the stuff we would have done in a non-Covid time. It was like what else were we going to do with that time. A lot of people found Covid really creatively draining and didn’t really feel like making stuff. But, I think within the band, a few of us were living with people immunocompromised, so we weren’t meeting up physically for big chunks of time. It kind of forced all of us to try new ways of writing, trying new ideas and new genres and stuff. We just wrote a big batch of material.

Having started 30 different ideas, is there an EP or album worth of stuff that someday somebody still might have the chance to listen to? Is some of that material far enough along that you could release something soon?

JAMES: 30 is just what we picked. There’s literally hundreds of demos that were started and 30 were the ones that we started messing around with the band. Some seemed like they had potential but then as we were working on them we were like, “These ones aren’t progressing as much,” but we still really like them.

By virtue of having so much material, there’s still so much good material in there that didn’t make it on the record because some songs just take longer or come together differently.

JAMIE: Or don’t fit the rest of the group of songs. I think if we went back to the 30, there might be six or seven that are further along that we could revisit and maybe just adjust slightly or add some parts and then have an EP’s worth, but it would definitely require a little bit of work. It’s been so long since we actually worked on them that you kind of want to start fresh in some ways. But, I think there’s some stuff that I would be down to bring back and see if we could bring a new flavor to and see if we can, maybe two years later, unlock them.

JAMES: We have a demo that has a bit of a sonic identity, and we’ll revisit that and continue where we got to and try a new angle. But then there’s a whole other way of it where all those demos you made, all those melodies and chords and stuff are just floating around your head, just bones of what those songs are. That stuff emerges when we start to write something new, there will be old ideas that are being reinterpreted.

Are you able to take parts of different songs when you’re writing and bring them together to create a new song?

JAMIE: That actually happened with “The Absent Sea”. It was two demos that we pieced together to form those two parts and it just worked. One of the demos for the end part was totally different. We just recently listened to it a week or two ago and we pulled the guitar part from that and it became something different on its own. But, we did pull these two pieces together and melded them.

JAMES: It’s on other tracks as well. It’s somewhat common for us because we’re all writing. And, especially with this record, we were all sometimes writing separately so you slam ideas together and sometimes it really works. “Only In Your Eyes” was another one where Chris has the whole first section. This was pre-Covid but Chris was tracking in his home studio and then he left and I came over right as he was leaving and then there was a few hours where I could mess around in his studio when he was gone. I added the choruses and the ending part.

JAMIE: It’s satisfying when someone has a block, they have a really good part, but then they’re like, “I can’t get the chorus.” And then someone comes in completely new and fresh or we bring it to the room and we have all our brains working on it and it gets unlocked. You’re like, “There is it. That’s the part we needed.” It’s satisfying for sure.

It isn’t just instant, “Oh, that’s going to work.” You maybe slowly kind of integrate it and then you add different parts and it’s like, “Oh, now it is working.”

JAMES: “The Absent Sea” would be a good example. We had the whole first part and then we’d listen to both the songs separately when we were working together and then we were playing live off the floor to see how stuff was feeling. Then, in the moment, we just put the ending from the other song into this song and it worked really well.

Were you all childhood friends or did you meet at – or after – school?

JAMIE: We met at different times. Chris, the singer, and I, we met in kindergarten actually, we were in the same area, like a really small area on the North Shore. We went to kindergarten together and grade one and two and three. Chris played guitar and then he eventually left for Peru for a couple years and then came back. In the meantime, I kind of had a talent show type thing where I started to play, my dad was a drummer, so I took up drums. My friend wanted me to play, they had no other drummers, and he knew my dad played drums, so I was like, “Okay, I’ll take lessons.” And then Chris came back and after the talent show, we enjoyed it so much, we started playing in a cover band at school dances in grade six and seven, really young. After that, we enjoyed it so much that when we went to high school, we didn’t want to stop. And that’s when James came in. We met James in grade eight, and he joined the band. We did a cover band all throughout high school with about five of us.

And then after that, Ian, our other member now, he also went to elementary school with me and Chris so I know I’ve known him since grade five. He joined later. We had a bunch of session bassists throughout our time as a university band. The cover band split up after high school and we really started to want to make our own music. And we went through a few different bassists. Ian was going to school out east, so he couldn’t be a full-time member. Then he came back and when he was here permanently, we brought him in. It was good to have him in and decided to make him a permanent member. We all go way, way back.

Is there a common album that all of you have in your collection, maybe even an album that you discovered independently, and then found out that each other also had?

JAMES: Because we all knew each other the whole time, we would be telling each other about music. But there’s definitely albums that are our common ground, that are very clearly the base foundation of the band.

JAMIE: Since we’ve all known each other since we were young, it started with albums that we were shown by our parents. We all had similar introductions to bands, like all of our parents showed us Led Zeppelin and these classic rock bands. There’s that commonality that we were all introduced to classic rock. Led Zeppelin and these different bands, in that sense, were big influences originally for us that we could immediately bond over. Chris had an email address that was something like ledzeppelinrocksandrolls, I think it was his Hotmail account. My dad was a huge Led Zeppelin fan, Led Zeppelin 2 was one of my first favorite albums and I was super young, so we bonded over that. When James came in he was already a massive Led Zeppelin fan as well, so it was like “Oh, wow, okay. We all love Led Zeppelin 2.”

JAMES: It’s more like the older we’ve gotten, the more our tastes have branched out and we like things that maybe the other people don’t like as much or it’s more eclectic. But, we come from a very similar sense of influences.

Do each of you have an album when you’re out on tour or hanging out that, when you put on, and everybody else in the band is like, “No. Turn that off”?

JAMIE: We definitely have those tastes but we already know how the others feel so we don’t subject the others to that music because you know what the reaction is going to be. We know each other too well but we definitely do have those. Ian has some crazy noise rock thing, I forgot the band name. It’s Thunder-something. Maybe Thunderbolt, just some crazy noise stuff that is maybe not what we all want to listen to. I have some old stuff that I like. Me and my sister used to be huge pop-punk fans, like blink-182 and those bands and these guys can’t stand that. There’s some stuff that Chris and James play, like Radiohead. I know it’s bad, but I’m not a huge Radiohead fan.

JAMES: Me, Chris and Ian fucking love Radiohead.

JAMIE: We usually don’t subject each other to that but what’s nice about it is that when we are on drives, we know each other so well and we know if there are bands or music that maybe the other person would really like and that they haven’t heard. That’s when it’s really nice because, like, James will bring in a band that I’ve never heard of and will listen to. Or I’ll show James something.

JAMES: I feel like as a Canadian, this is sacrilegious but I didn’t really listen to Gordon Lightfoot at all. We just had a show in Alberta where we had to do a 12-hour drive so Jamie was educating me on Gordon Lightfoot in the front seat. I really liked all of it.

JAMIE: James and Ian are really big folk fans so I thought they had to hear Gordon.

Was sequencing the album something that was easy for you or was it a struggle trying to figure which songs fit where?

JAMES: I think it’s super important but I don’t know that it was that hard on this one. There were some songs where it was like, “We know this song is going to be the opener. We have a pretty good idea of what the closing song is going to be.”

JAMIE: We knew what we wanted to be the halfway point of the record, what was going to be the beginning of side B and, I guess, in this case, it’s side C. That meant we’re having a double LP because we had to do beginnings of three sides.

Like James said, there were some that were clear for us. We had one that we knew was going to be the intro song and we had a couple that worked for the end. It was not that hard to figure out when the themes started to come in. And then you have songs that you think, “This will be better towards the end of the album.”

We always are quite meticulous with how we order things and how we do things and everyone wants to make it correct. This one could have been more difficult, I think. It made sense the way it was flowing. And I think we mainly thought about it as playing it through beginning to end. How do we want it to sound if you just played all of them in a row? How do we want this to flow as one piece? And then after that, we were like, does this work with side B? And then later we thought, side C, how does that work?

We wanted this to be a journey to flow. That was our main purpose. And we got there pretty easily, I would say, with a couple of late-night discussions.

JAMES: At first we organize it in a way that flows really well musically. We’re not quite as much thinking about the lyrics or thematically. But then once you’ve done that, then you kind of start to see the way you’ve arranged it, like lyrically, how the song that comes first plays off of the song that comes next. When you put it all together, there’s a way bigger story. It’s bigger than each individual song, it’s an album sort of story.

There’s definitely similar themes across songs and even though we all write lyrics, we all come with different stuff, there really was like a bigger story to it all with the whole record.

JAMIE: I think we got a good balance of lyrically, thematically, and then musically, the flow for sure.

There’s been a trend of bands that have been around a long time that are going out and playing their classic albums, front to back, in the order that the songs appear on the album. Sometimes that doesn’t make the most sense because you tend to front load the album with singles and if you’re playing it in order, you want to save the most popular songs for the end.

JAMIE: There’s definitely different considerations for when you think about a set list compared to when you think about an album. Some stuff we might open with live is also early on the album because it makes sense with that kind of song, but there’s a lot of things that you want to play in a different order. When you’re playing live, you get this feedback from the audience. You want energy whereas with the album, you don’t need to have those spikes and you don’t need to think about it in the same way as long as it’s a good flow of the narrative.

We’re doing the full album at our release show. We’re going to do front to back, but I don’t think we’ll do it that often because I don’t think it works as well like that live.

If you’re going to listen to an album, I think it really benefits from having some thought put into the order even if you make an album that there’s no connection between songs thematically, there’s definitely an ideal order to take those parts in at once.

With us there is that and some thematic and narrative things, but I think there’s always going to be some benefit to putting some thought into that.

JAMES: I feel like how a record leaves you or ends is always super important. To me, in a weird way, that’s sort of how you look at the record. Where did you feel by the end of the whole thing?

Each of you write lyrics. I know there are some personal stories but would you say that there are songs that aren’t intimately personal but are more common themes shared amongst all of you? I’m thinking of a song like “Soak My Head,” which is about social media anxiety and technology.

JAMIE: I think a lot of the ones that aren’t personal to individual experiences are stuff that we all can relate to. That song came from Chris, he had the idea. But, I think we all, in our way, relate to that theme of having social media anxiety, being attached to your phone and trying to find that balance between separating from it and getting a reset. I think everyone in our generation can relate to that to some degree. “Only in Your Eyes” is one I think we all relate to as well. James’ “The Fire” was a very personal one for James, but we all relate to that in our own way too. Ian has a different interpretation of how he relates to it. I do as well. And even those general themes of some that are even more personal, we can relate to in our own way too, because we are close friends too.

JAMES: It’s definitely a mixture of when we’re writing the lyrics, it could be one person takes the song away and writes all the lyrics or it could be someone has a bit of an idea and then they bounce it off the others or it could be we’re all working on it and bouncing things completely off each other.

Whenever we’re writing it, we’re always just writing it to be true to our perspective with the hope that if we’re writing something that means something to us, like as an individual, then it’s going to mean something to the other guys. We’re similar people and have similar outlooks on things so it’s going to reflect the other people in the band and then hopefully reflect with the audience as well.

Every time I see anything related to X, it says “X, formerly Twitter”. I’m wondering, when you tell people the name of your band, do you say, “Meltt with two t’s”?

JAMIE: There’s another band called Melt with one t. We’ve been confused with them on tags on social media. We’ve always got to specify that we have two t’s.

JAMES: We used to be Mellt with two l’s.

JAMIE: Any time someone doesn’t see our band name, we always have to specify that it’s Meltt with two t’s.

JAMES: I would love to just be able to say our name is Meltt and leave it at that.

When you came up with the band name, was it reflective of how you wanted people to interpret the music?

JAMES: You want people to associate the music with melting, things like morphing into each other. It’s very ethereal, evolving music I like to think. But, we must have had a list of like 100 names that were either already taken or were just terrible. I feel like names are just so hard for artists because everything’s been done.

Do you remember what some of the worst ideas for band names were?

JAMIE: The ones we considered for this project after we graduated high school and were figuring out what we were going to do for this original project, I don’t remember a ton but I know there’s a really bad one that we had a while back I think for the cover band. It was going to be like Feedback.

JAMES: This was after I joined the band, but I think one of the names was going to be like Uncle Funkmaster. I actually think it’s kind of sick.

JAMIE: I think that’s a great one. Not for us but for a band. So if you want that name …

JAMES: Our cover band name was fucking terrible. Party Armor. Just awful.

There’s a restaurant called Melt in Ohio and it’s a specialized grilled cheese restaurant. They will occasionally put a special item on the menu named after a band or related to a band. What would the Meltt sandwich be at Melt?

JAMIE: I’d say cheddar cheese, maybe some Monterey Jack. Maybe we do chicken, to keep it simple. Oh, I really like a Nashville fried chicken so maybe we do that with some slaw on there.

Are there any big differences between touring in Canada and the U.S.?

JAMES: The distance between cities in the U.S. is so much better even though it’s still long on the west side of the country. There’s so many more places to play.

JAMIE: The big cities with big populations, much more options in the U.S. We’ve never actually done a cross Canada tour alone. But if we did, the first show that we would play is Vancouver. The next one would be Calgary. That’s like 10 and a half hours away. The next one, Winnipeg, is another 10 and a half away. Well, maybe playing Saskatchewan, but then the next major city, Winnipeg. And then the next one you’re already in Ontario. You have these crazy distances between these big cities, it makes it tough and then you only maybe have 10 major cities you can play across the whole country, whereas you can fit 10 in a few states in the States. It’s much more viable in the States because you can really pack dates in and not have these crazy distances.

Having been in a cover band, are there any songs you could have put a Meltt spin on and brought into a set?

JAMES: Lately we’re just not that into covering stuff, but there was a period early on where, I think we all thought it was fucking sweet, we would do this mashup of like Tame Impala, “Half Full Glass of Wine” and then it would switch into “Two Steps Twice” by Foals. It was really fucking cool but the problem was that it was the coolest moment of the whole set.

JAMIE: Last time we played it was a long time ago, but that was always the pinnacle of the set. We were like, “We’ve got to start making sure our songs are like the pinnacle of the set.”

What’s in store for 2024?

JAMES: It’s always constantly changing. I’m cautious to say anything in case things change and people are disappointed but I think we’re probably going to be aiming to do a small tour on the West Coast again.

The main focus of next year is going to be writing a bunch more because we’ve been so busy, we’ve toured a lot by our standards. We’ve toured a decent amount in the past two years basically. We haven’t had a chance to write much, which is our favorite thing to do. So I think it’s going to probably be a big year of writing and amassing a ton of material and stuff.

JAMIE: It’s been three years since we actually wrote anything. We started releasing singles for this album at the beginning of 2022. And like James said, we’ve been focused on touring and releasing music so now I think we would love to just start making music again, because it’s been so, so long. We’ll hopefully do some dates that we didn’t get on this tour next year if we can organize it.

The year is almost over, anything really stick out in 2023? Favorite album? Favorite concert?

JAMES: My favorite record of the year so Fase Luna by LA Priest. That album is fucking incredible. It’s so good. That’s my recommendation for 2023 so far.

JAMIE: Concert, for me, was Foals in Vancouver. We did a few festivals and we were enjoying some bands. Unknown Mortal Orchestra was awesome at the Treefort Festival in Boise.

Any favorite moments for Meltt in 2023 before the album came out?

JAMIE: San Francisco was a really awesome show this year. It was our biggest show outside of Vancouver we played. It was actually a really great show the first time we went through and it double or triple the amount of people this time. It was awesome, there was a huge merch line. It was a really pleasant surprise to see how many people came up for that one.


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