As the London-based five-piece prepare to release Threnodies on the 22nd April, Khaled Lowe (guitars/vocals) and James Gomez Arellano (drums/percussion) stopped off at HRH Prog festival to tell Dave Brooks how forgotten family, lost heroes and a few new additions have helped shape their second album.
(((o))): Threnodies struck me as a more full-throttle release than 2014’s Illusory Blues. Less preoccupied with orchestral flirtations, it’s gone for a straight-up classic progressive rock sound that sets it apart from its predecessor. Was this a deliberate sound you were aiming for?
Khaled Lowe: The main reason that Threnodies sounds a bit fuzzier is because it features a different line-up to our first album. Our initial intention wasn’t even to start ‘a band,’ so when we recorded Illusory Blues there were only three of us. That gave us a freedom to flesh out our recordings with flute and string arrangements, and we made full use of Gomez’s role as a producer to call in that help.
It was only when we settled on our new band members that Messenger’s current sound came about. We had to relearn the first album in a band context without the session musicians; replacing certain sounds with things we could do live. String sections made way for keyboards, flute parts were substituted by ambient guitars. We didn’t approach Threnodies with a particular sound or intent in mind; it’s more a product of where we now are as a group.
James Gomez Arellano: It was a very spontaneous process. We spent three weeks together playing and writing in the same room, and left ready to record. We started from zero, so when someone came up with a riff we liked we went with it. There was no overarching design to play heavier stuff.
(((o))): What about the album’s lyrics? Were there any specific themes you wanted to address, or lyrical trends you subsequently identified?
KL: On Illusory Blues we’d either written them start-to-finish before the songs were completed, or at least had ideas we wanted to explore. For this record the lyrics came afterwards, and they’re probably slightly darker. We weren’t aiming to be morbid or morose, and I don’t think that’s the way they come across, but lyrically-speaking there’s certainly a bleaker edge on this album.
(((o))): I suppose that ties in with the album’s title?
KL: Definitely. A threnody is a poem or song to commemorate people who’ve passed away, a kind of lamentation. After losing legends like Bowie, Dale [Griffin] from Mott the Hoople and Lemmy it certainly seemed an appropriate choice. Their losses really amplified the fact that socially and politically speaking, we’re living in particularly turbulent times. The first album was the product of a lot of crazy happenstances that culminated in us coming together and making music, and it was cathartic to document that on paper. This time round everything seems slightly bleaker, and we wouldn’t have been being honest with ourselves if we’d have gone for really happy lyrics.
(((o))): You’ve also joined up with InsideOut Music. What opportunity did you see in changing label?
JG: We had a great time with Svart. [Label founders] Tomi [Pulkki] and Jarkko [Pietarinen] are very good friends of ours, but we only signed a one album deal with them. I met Thomas [Waber] who runs InsideOut at Roadburn Festival. He mentioned that he was interested in the band, but we were touring and still working on our first album so left it at that. When the opportunity arose they sent an offer and we signed for them in January. I was a bit freaked out a first because I thought InsideOut would be too focused on technical prog, and we’re more about atmosphere than technicality. But it’s been a great move and they’re working really hard for us, so we’re very happy.
(((o))): The press release for the new album goes into quite a lot of detail about the cover’s artwork, designed by the Columbian, Berlin-based artist Daniel Correa Mejia. What’s the story there?
JG: He’s my cousin actually! My auntie kept on saying “Do you realise you have a cousin in Berlin who’s a really good artist?” and I was like “Yeah whatever, nice to know.” When we were writing the album she messaged me again so I got in touch with him on Facebook. We had a look at his work and straight away decided it was perfect. He ended up doing all of the layout and design for the new album, so it was a nice coincidence.
(((o))): And in terms of your creative process, was any of the songwriting on the album inspired by Daniel’s artwork, or was it just a good match?
KL: It was a serendipitous match, and it fit perfectly. It’s an ethereal, psychedelic cover image, but also has an organic quality. It fits in well with the various motifs and shades of our music.
(((o))): Jamie, in the band’s gig at Brighton’s Concorde 2 – which we covered in July 2015 – and again here at HRH Prog, you chose to play with your drums facing centre stage. Is that a sort of ritual for you guys?
JG: Yeah it is. It’s actually something that we’ve always done. Visual contact is really important because we do improvise between and sometimes during songs. Of course it depends on how much time we have to play with, but if a show is going well, it’s nice to be able to see the band and decide where we should take it next.
(((o))): You’ve performed both acoustic and main stage sets here at HRH Prog. Which do you prefer playing?
KL: We definitely enjoy both. Today I really liked the vibe of the electric one; the room was much larger so the sound could ring out more. But the acoustic shows are always fun, and I’m glad the dynamic works.
(((o))): You’re touring with Von Hertzen Brothers ahead of Threnodies’ release on the 22nd April. Any other plans lined up to promote the album?
KL: We’ll be heading back to London for the 19th June to play the second day of Stone Free Festival at the O2. Rick Wakeman is performing the Knights of the Round Table, and our friends and labelmates Haken are also on the bill. Beyond that, we have Leafmeal festival lined up in Germany for later in the year, and will be organising other plans in the coming months.
Threnodies is out on the 22nd April on InsideOut Music. Messenger play Stone Free Festival at the O2 on 19th June. For full details, further dates and tickets, head here.