Interview: Mull Historical Society

Soren Kristensen

Colin MacIntyre, aka Mull Historical Society is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his debut album Loss. He is kicking off the year playing the album in its entirety at the Celtic Connections festival at Saint Luke’s in Glasgow on January 22nd. Additionally, MacIntyre announced that a new deal has been signed with Xtra Mile Recordings for the ninth MHS album. We caught up with Colin to ask him about memories of recording Loss and what to look forward to in the future.

You are celebrating the 20th anniversary of your debut album, Loss. The album is considered by many to be your masterwork. Do you feel it is your best album?

That is very kind. I always find it hard to be objective in that way, but it is very close to my heart as it was the first one. It was the first time I truly captured and recorded songs as I heard them in my head, given I had demoed about 300 songs on my old 4-track through my teens etc leading up to that moment. It was thrilling at the time to see how it was received, and even more so it was hugely rewarding to know that it mattered in some people’s lives and thankfully continues to do so. I don’t think of it as my best album, as I know I’ve made others I’m equally proud of, as they are all different. But what I can say is that those songs were really everything I felt about everything at the time, and (somehow) I managed to completely capture that to the best of my ability and powers by the end of it. I was so pleased to have achieved at least that and to have given these emotions, melodies, characters, themes etc, a platform. After that, it takes on its own life!

What do you remember about recording the album?

That it was like a huge rush and being a kid in a sweetie shop, and I was in my bare feet a lot. I had the sense this was my chance and I’d better take it. I had everything I needed in the studio in Glasgow (Gravity) and really made it, literally at times, my home for those first two MHS albums, Loss and Us. I can look back now and see how focused I was really. I was just flying on my instincts and if I heard choirboys then I got choirboys. A harp, then a harpist showed up. And so on…It was the space and textures within the recordings that I wanted to create as much as anything else. I remember really inhabiting the skin of characters such as the shopkeeper in “Barcade Bypass” which felt new and instinctively right to me. My father had passed away suddenly 18 months earlier and so that was my ‘loss’ — but I recall wishing the album to also be a celebration. Given I was also producing the album, I had to maintain a sense of discipline too with my producer’s hat on, or otherwise the kitchen sink would have been credited! It was then mastered at Abbey Road and I came down from Glasgow for the day. As the recent, wonderful, Get Back films reminded me, the Beatles were always such an intriguing and inspiring thing to me when I was a kid on Mull. It was almost more about them as people, as exotic species from the mainland, as much as it was their music: where they had sat, stood, sung. So I can still remember the thrill of popping my head into Studio 2 on my lunch break from mastering. In some ways it felt a long way from Tobermory, but also quite fitting and I felt at home in a sense. When it was finished I placed the CDR of the mastered album on the famous zebra crossing and took a photo of it lying there, to signify the end of the recording journey. Just as well a cab didn’t run it over!

You will be playing Loss live. I assume you re-listened to the album for the show, is there anything new you noticed about the album?

Intertesting question. I can hear my voice is still developing in a sense, and has improved I think since then (!), but I wouldn’t change anything about it. It was about capturing a time. I noticed how many textures there are and how much I loved/love choirs and church organs. The fun and playfulness in it was a nice reminder too. Also noticed more fully how sad the dog on the front looks in its wig. But that was the point.

What is your favorite song to play live from Loss?

Tricky one, but if you’re pushing me, then I’ll say “Instead”. I like the lyrical sentiment. And also that some of the lyrics (including a sample at the start) comes from the James Stewart film Shop Around the Corner — I love old films and some of the black and white imagery of that era featured in the artwork. The song is fun to play live as it has that thing of space in it, you feel you have all the time in the world, but then it is dynamic and rises, but also ends playfully. It also has a lot of bells. I like bells. The Middle 8 section is lyrically very important to me and how it then rises into the final chorus feels like a good moment on stage. I recall touring with the Strokes, Elbow and others, in the months before finishing the recording of the album, so I still had a final opportunity to record on the album some of the tweaks/add-ons that I was adding to the live shows — one memory sticks of being in a phone box outside a laundromat in Bristol, when a flute melody for “Instead” came to me — so I called my landline phone in Glasgow to hum it onto my answerphone so I wouldn’t forget it! When I got back off tour there were quite a few of these I subsequently added to the album recordings before it was set in stone. Needless to say, the technology has improved…I never did finish that laundry.

It was announced that you will be releasing a new album later this year. Do you think revisiting Loss affected the writing or recording of the new album?

Yes I think it has. There is a sense of taking stock, but I’m mainly always about moving forwards, and discovering ‘what’s next’. Revisiting Loss, how it sounds as well as the themes of it — and also rediscovering what it means to some people — has been a good reminder for me to get my hands dirty again in terms of the production and to do some of the recording myself at home again from scratch on this new album. Also, the main issues on Loss such as ‘community’, perceived ‘progress, etc — and what that really means to us, whether that be an island community, a city, or globally — in these times seems more timely than ever. A reminder that these issues/themes can be more powerfully told in terms of storytelling by focusing the lens at people/characters in communities within the work, because often they then speak of the bigger picture in the most truthful way.

Finally, what can fans expect from the new album?

My last album Wakelines was produced by Bernard Butler, which was fun and also highly rewarding. So hopefully Bernard will be involved again as it develops. Whether it be my music or my books, I always feel I like to be informed by what I’ve done before, but also I feel I kind of react to it too — or should I say what I did last informs the theme of where I need to go next. I wish I understood the process better but I’ve learned to trust it! So my studio cabin in the woods will play a part, and also a very special room to me back home on Mull (the island that is) — and I’m excited to just let it come out of me. I don’t want to be too prescribed about the songs, I’m quite into just writing in the moment a bit more for this one. In that, it will have things in common with Loss. The album will be called Meltwater, so I think it is about how things, places, people, landscapes — connect and dissolve into each other. I want to have fun with it too.

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