In Conversation with Bad Sounds

The first time I saw Bad Sounds play a full set was this summer, amongst the intoxicating heat and thriving energy of The Community Festival at Finsbury Park.

From the second brothers, Ewan and Callum Merrett stepped on stage it was as if a party popper had exploded; a full spectrum of sound, light and colour enveloping the stage and sun-struck crowd. Their band has to be credited for their astonishing talent as they ripped through each track with stunning skill and flare, backing up improvised tempo changes almost effortlessly. I was impressed by their elegantly defined and yet cryptically DIY styling; a firm festival favourite and an ultimate staple in my summer playlist.

This particular set captured the essence of just one of many energised performances, having toured with the likes of the rap-rock riot that is RAT BOY prior to their 2018 album release Get Better. As I settled down to discuss the album with vocalist Ewan Merrett, I commented that I was excited and intrigued by the array of tracks that had been selected from their huge catalogue of tried and tested sound samples.

He explained “it was important to us to have a theme that ran through the album, rather than rushing into getting 11 songs together” and it is clearly apparent from the way that it is constructed with this sense of careful consideration. The album seems to perform a highly patterned battle of attempting to become “better” providing a commentary on a hopeful and ever so slightly satirical view on the mantras, processes and battles of mental and physical health. Ewan particularly highlights that a lot of their favourite tracks had an emphasis on self-healing: “the tracks had this self-help idea so it came from that originally, in one of our earliest tracks ‘Avalanche’ we had the get better line and it just felt right to make that the title, that song really means a lot to us.”

Another clarification for the title can be found in an early demo which also held the same title and provided the influences for the album in the forms of hip-hop and Motown. In a conversation about the track ‘Wages’, I noted that the Motown style trumpet sampling really evoked a strong reaction in the crowd, suggesting “the library of soul hits and samples” that they had created and collated were massively important to the atmosphere created at their gigs and in festival environments. Ewan commented that the Community Festival gig had been “a really fun show” adding that “Motown has this feel good sound [with] the Marvelletes and Marvin Gaye being important influences. However, a lot of what we do is based in hip-hop sampled from this 60s era of music so I suppose our album reflects two different perspectives and their resonance to time and place”.

I began to wonder about the way in which they write and who takes the lead in the ways of songwriting and vocal side of their performance and it seemed that the process of creating tracks had really developed for them both. Ewan explained that a lot of the initial “hip-hop aesthetic” and enthusiasm for sampling came from himself with Callum’s comfort being in creating the lyrical content. In creating the album though, there was an effort to “switch up and change roles” with an emphasis on not having a specific formulaic route. He laughs “if we ever tried to do that it would just come out boring I think. We don’t write anything in the exact same way or mindset so no two tracks are the same”.

One thing that does not appear on their album quite so presently is collaborations with other artists. I was interested in discussing this and quick to highlight one of my personal favourite tracks ‘Milk it’ which featured haunting and unusual vocals from Ardyn alongside a synthy beat. Ewan explained “we intended to do more collaborations but this album naturally went quite personal. We’re working on projects with other artists right now but we’re mainly focusing on the tour”.

Bad Sounds’ debut album Get Better is on sale now and you can catch their tour in Manchester on 28th October at Gorilla! Tickets available on their website.

Tags: Bad Sounds, community festival, Ewan Merrett, hiphop, Motown, Sampling

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