Interview: Meltt Brings Mood And Message To ‘Eternal Embers’

[Cover photo credit to Zachary Vague]

Vancouver, BC-based Psych Rock band Meltt recently released their new album Eternal Embers via Nettwerk, having previously released the related EP, Another Quiet Sunday. Eternal Embers was a collection with plenty of planning, even down to the song order long before release, and the goal was to present the movements of cyclical death and rebirth in an overarching way, while giving each song its own space. Now, with the album arriving in full, including a double vinyl offering, audiences can experience that movement as a whole, but they can also catch up with Meltt on their current tour to experience the tracks brought to life in all their depth and exuberance.

Meltt band members include Chris Smith (lead vocals, guitar, bass, keys), James akaJamie” Turner (drums, percussion), James Porter (guitar, keys, bass, vocals) and Ian Winkler (bass, keys, guitar), and together they compose their often multi-layered songs that are as suggestive of mood as message. I spoke with Chris Smith, James Turner, and Ian Winkler about Eternal Embers and their careful planning of the album.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I saw that this record is being released on a double vinyl. That’s very cool.

James: Yes, it’s spinning at 45 RPM, though, so it’s not super long.

HMS: I think there’s something about this music that would go very well with a vinyl listening experience.

James: I really like the way that vinyl makes this sound. I felt that way about Swim Slowly as well. Something about it enhanced or changed it, giving it a crispier feeling. Even the bass seems to come through a decent amount, which doesn’t always happen on vinyl.

Ian: I think in the streaming era, too, it’s cool to have something physical and in your hands.

Chris: No shuffling!

HMS: From what I’ve heard about this album, I think you probably arranged the track order very carefully, so getting to hear it in one go, that could allow the tracks to lead into each other.

Ian: You are exactly right. We’ve been releasing the singles for so long now, but not super-long after writing the songs, we decided on the order. Down in our studio space, we actually have a big white board with the demo names, and it’s actually written in order.

James: It was before we even had proper titles, just demo names. We did reassess that at one point to see if there was a better structure, but ever since that early moment when we felt what it could be, it stayed the same way. It was the perfect structure. It does flow from song to song, and have a narrative, and a theme. I think this is the best way to listen to the songs. Each single has its own story and experience, but I think if you listen to everything at once, it’s enhanced.

HMS: That’s so cool that you kept the song order. I know that a lot of Nettwerk artists release an EP initially, and I’ve also noticed that the album that sometimes follows if often quite a full one. It’s a substantial collection. I know there are decisions you have to make, though, so how did you decide which songs to release on the EP first?

Ian: You’re absolutely right that we made a joint decision with Nettwerk to do an EP and later the album. We originally intended to release the full album last year, but we put a pause on things to release the EP. The singles on the EP don’t have as much narrative to the sequence in terms of order and choice.

James: I think, basically, the EP was a collection of three songs that we had put out ourselves as songs that stood on their own in certain ways. Then, with Nettwerk, we released two others, and talked with them about which would be good to release. We definitely had thoughts about “Another Quiet Sunday” and put it in there as the fifth. There’s diversity there, so it’s a good sampler of the album with different types of energy.

Ian: The album was always how we envisioned things, though.

Chris: That’s how we still listen to music, personally. I always listen to an album versus a playlist.

HMS: I feel like I’m seeing a development in music with two ways of thinking that some artists are capable of bringing together, valuing the singles releases with certain strategies, but also having a different mindset they are preserving about album unity and cohesion. It’s remarkable.

James: The way that music is consumed now is so different than it used to be. Most people consume music in chunks now, so there is an adjustment to be made. You have to keep that in mind to feed both your artistic vision and the modern way that music is released.

Chris: We try not to let that affect our creative process at all, but when it comes time to release, you have to think about those things.

HMS: Given how important song order is on this album, let’s talk about “Into the Blue”, the first track. I think it’s a great foray into the rest of the songs. It made me start thinking about the meaning of the word “blue” in different traditions and whether it’s positive or negative. I tend to think of blue as positive, but if something is disappearing, is that good?

Ian: That kind of imagery is based on water, and though it’s probably not really positive or negative, it’s a little more positive. It’s reflecting on diving into the unknown and tackling things.

Chris: Facing your fears.

Ian: Whatever’s down there. It was kind of based on a movie that James watched about free diving where people lived close to the ocean and had this relationship with the ocean that we can’t relate to. They have such dense muscles that they can sink to the bottom.

Chris: There’s one scene that James showed us the other day where this documentary diver was talking about the time when he was trying to get to the bottom and the pressure was insane, but he pushed himself to do it.

James: It’s kind of like pushing through a barrier, and that goes along with the music, which is one of the more intense, high-tempo songs. It starts mysteriously, then you break through what’s holding you back, then you dive in, and things unfold. That’s the vibe of the song.

HMS: I got some of that. I felt like it was about something to do with impermanence, about not know knowing what happens next.

James: Impermanence is a huge recurring theme on the whole album. It’s on “Another Quiet Sunday” and “The Fire”. There are cycles of death and rebirth. There’s a leap of faith. But you can’t shy away from these things. You have to accept it and live your life.

HMS: It’s almost an uncomfortable truth that can be hard to accept. We think these challenges aren’t natural to humanity, but they are. Like with those divers, it’s a hostile environment that they are taking on. At the same time, they’ve almost evolved to deal with it.

Chris: It’s like the next evolution of humans alongside the water. We can never escape writing about water!

James: That song is about returning to the ocean, in a way, because we all evolved from water. That’s part of the metaphor, a point of origin and a point of return.

HMS: Does this relate to the fact that you’re from Vancouver have something to do with this? That’s a very watery place.

Ian: We can’t escape writing about rain and water. Even right outside our rehearsal space, there’s a river in the background at Chris’s place.

Chris: It’s the ambience.

HMS: You mentioned earlier that “Another Quiet Sunday” was important to you. I feel like it’s important to the collection and stands at a transition point. If someone’s going to “meet” the album, that’s a good place for it to happen. It’s not an intense, heavy track, but a mellow one. What that exposes is the rhythm and the motion, which makes for an interesting song.

James: It was placed on the album as the record as the last song, because the album does have these cyclical themes of death and rebirth. Its position is as the last track after “When The Smoke Abates.” That’s almost a false ending to the album, and then “Another Quiet Sunday” signifies the rebirth, the reincarnation, the start of the cycle. It is purposeful as the last song to lead you into the cycle again. It’s a special point in the journey.

HMS: It becomes a starting point again.

James: It’s like the reincarnation of the album. It brings you back.

HMS: It’s nice for the audience that you complete the cycle in that way. We talked a little about themes coming up, possibly among songs. I wondered if the track “Your Melody” had something to do with that. It’s celebratory, even though it’s questioning. There’s a resurgent feeling in places. How do you think it fits with other songs?

Ian: “Your Melody” came from ideas of permanence, actually. I was interested in the idea that the linear aspect of time is really only how we perceive it. There seems to be convincing theories in physics and math that it’s much more written, much more set in place than we may think. From that perspective, I looked at things that were happening in my life at the time. It was a dark place with existential dread to it. I would say that song, in particular, is the point at the album when it pauses there. Other songs bring things back to a place of rebirth. As a writer, I think it’s okay to ruminate on these things.

James: There is a contrast with the music there, too, actually.

Ian: It is one of the brighter tunes on there.

James: We kind of tackle those dread themes with a contrasting tune. It sometimes makes it easier to tackle those things when the music may not match.

HMS: Well, you’re creating a space where it’s comfortable for the audience to consider those things in the lyrics in a supportive space, and I think that can be important. I actually really like that song a lot.

James: It’s actually also a really fun song to play live. It’s a very popular one and it’s been enjoyable and positive live.

HMS: I have no idea what “Aphantasian Dreams” means, but I really like the lead into it. I feel like it has some dramatic contrast to it. Tell me about this song.

James: That one was one that I took on for lyrics. I got inspired by this thing called Aphantasia, which is a condition where people have a tough time visualizing certain things in their mind, like memories, which causes them to live in the moment more. I used that to symbolize thinking about our day-to-day life and living in the moment. I wondered what that condition could teach you.

We all then worked on different aspects of the song. It goes into a powerful but soft chorus at the same time, though it has quite intense drumming. It’s an uplifting chorus, in a way, but it’s something to consider. Maybe it will cause people to think about what’s important in life and being present. I think there’s a beauty in that. The music came from one of Chris’s demos. I think it was called “Layer by Layer”, right?

Chris: Yes! I always nick-name the songs. I save the projects that way. I was creating that one layer by layer.

James: I think it was just the verse I had for that song, then we all worked on the chorus at the cabin.

Chris: I brought in the chords and the melodies.

Ian: We tried three-part harmonies on that song, but we couldn’t pull it off! Chris has been obsessed with old Beatles stems lately. [Laughter]

HMS: I’m with you on that. I’ve been thinking a lot about identity lately, and how it’s formed, and a huge amount of that comes from memory. Also the impact of dreams, which then become memories. I wonder if that can affect our personalities.

James: I think so.

Ian: I would say so.

James: I often have dreams where I wake up and can remember it throughout the day or days later. I’ve had dreams that are really emotional or touch me in some way. It really affects the way that you feel and perceive things. I think that dreams are the subconscious talking to you in metaphors. It helps you confront things that you may not otherwise be able to confront and it can have a massive impact on your personality.

Ian: I’d say that’s true from personal experience. Dreams affect me emotionally. It’s an interesting to see the relationship between the conscious and the subconscious.

Chris: I’ve learned lessons from dreams before. There are scenarios in dreams and then you realize how to avoid things that you don’t want.

HMS: Then you are responsible for better decision-making!

Chris: When I make a bad decision in a dream, and wake up, it’s a huge relief! [Laughter]

HMS: It seems like this stuff is super-relevant to music, particularly, though it is to all the arts. It’s that dreams convey mood and tone so precisely, like music does. And some artists even try to recapture those dream experiences in music.