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Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant

Tuesday 7th June, 2011 8:46AM

Christchurch-based Mount Pleasant (predominantly the project of Jonathan Phillips with a number of collaborators) has been releasing a considerable amount of home recorded material. And his latest album, The Aztecs, is quite stunning. Traversing a whole range of genres and sounds, it mixes experimentation and pop hooks to wonderful effect.

A basic question, why music?

I like drawing and writing too, music is just easier to attain some sense of completion. More instant gratification or something.

How did Aztecs come about – did you do much differently compared to how you’ve previously recorded music? You're super prolific as a musician, but did you have a specific plan with the Aztecs?

I think you can probably be both prolific and have specific plans for albums, the two aren't mutually exclusive. The Aztecs was one of the five projects I was working on in 2010-11, of which only three really came to any proper sense of completion. I think the Aztecs benefitted from a narrowing of focus, taking more time to consider the pacing and the general approach of the album. The songs were written over a period of time, in collaboration with Tobias Brockie, Joanna De Vocht and Jon Lemmon, and I think their input definitely moderated my prolificacy to some extent and made the album more precise. Definitely the album grew as a result of dissatisfaction with my earlier approach- dissatisfaction with being too obtuse/hostile, rather than as a result of any preconceived plan.

Was it recorded in a similar way to your previous work? How much freedom does it give you (or too much freedom)?

No. Basically, I mean there is the same sort of found material - sampling etc, and over-processed vocals + effects and digital synths. But certainly utilising different microphones, recording spaces, more voices, cohesion, more a sort of exploration of this outsider pop idyll. I have freedom of sorts in the recording process, I can't really achieve everything I want to achieve with the project but the limitations of working within Garageband are really comforting. Those synth presets, incredible, and the live drum sound is really "something".

I read that you started the album in January 2010 – why the long time to come out? Was there much crossover with the Flood or with other recorded work?

The Aztecs took longer than my other albums, because I tried to make it more polished than other albums. I started the album in January 2010 with about four songs about the Aztecs and gave up and wrote material for a double album, which became The Flood, and non stop hits for The Cold War, but there were always songs that were reserved for The Aztecs. Mostly, the songs that were better were reserved for the Aztecs. The plan for the album sort of evolved as it went along, as I tried to express some new ideas and different approaches and my changing tastes.

How do you know when a song is ready (the production and the editing wouldn’t have been easy I imagine for this album)?

Production and editing was a living hell. I mean you send it off to the printers and it's sort of finished. But not really? I mean, I could go back and record the whole thing again and spend another year on it and it probably wouldn't be any crisper, any sharper. And I wanted the album to be real sharp, pointed. Crystalline. With this album, when I got bored with it, I kept going. It was tedious.

It’s a very coherent sounding album – you seem to be a fan of singles, was there a challenge between getting the balance right between writing a catchy single (e.g. Slipped Era II, Florida etc.), and making it work coherently as an album?

I don't really know. I literally just tried to make the best sounding album I could, and made as many of the songs approachable and likeable on their merits as possible. And while the album's stylistically all over the map, there's a measured approach running through the whole thing. Coherence doesn't necessarily mean an album is interesting, or worthwhile either. The Ke$ha album is really consistent, it doesn't necessarily indicate quality.

Your blog suggests you’re a fan of certain radio pop music – is there something in a good pop song that you find appealing as a musician, despite the fact your aesthetic is arguably a little more challenging, mad without the same material comforts, and is a bit more risk-taking?

Well I mean I take an interest in contemporary pop music, in the same way that most people do. It's real listenable and produced to be enjoyable. As a musician, I find most pop music more formulaic than anything, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Pop music is what it is. My own personal approach to music is informed by pop music, but it is also informed by artists like Alastair Galbraith, or Tonetta. You take aspects of a culture that interest you and that you want to explore and you try and understand it. The reconciliation of the two aspects, this sort of outsider perspective and the mainstream mass kultur is what makes the album interesting.

How do you find translating this live? Has it got easier to do? Do you view yourself as much more of a 'studio' music than a 'live' one?

It is probably easier now than it was previously. Making the album was laborious, and for the live performance, Jon Lemmon and I have just tried to make it as glossy and crisp as possible, where directness is more important than trying to replicate the aesthetic of the album. I said to Jon that I wanted it to sound like Prince in 1982, and we are basically working from this forced direction. Definitely sounds dancier and more hard hitting than the album, more bass drum samples. At the moment, I see myself as primarily a live musician.

Brannavan Gnanalingam