Music of the Month: Mellah. Hate speaks to Liam and Henry from Mellah about their latest EP, Middle England, right wing memes, compassionate punk, and the goodness of people.
You just released a new single from the EP, Cigarette Lighter, what was your inspiration behind the song?
Liam: The song was about the algorithms that pick up on what you like and feed it back to you, because I just found that I was just getting stuff that backed up what I felt.
Henry: The echo chamber.
Liam: More and more I found my friends - I’ve got quite liberal friends - were posting stuff that was quite aggressively liberal, you know when that guy punched the alt-right guy and everyone was like ‘yeah!’ I just don’t really agree with that because it’s just as violent as the other side, and people are so self-righteous. If anyone posted anything right wing it was immediately: ‘you’re a bigot, you’re a racist’. At the core of it, [people can be] bigoted and racist, but if you tell people they’re a bigot and a racist all they do is go to the polling booth and vote for what they believe, it doesn’t change their opinion. So I started liking right wing stuff and making friends with right wing people just to see what I’d get, and I started getting memes that were exactly the same picture of a kid in Syria, and one meme would say: ‘this kid just lost his family’, and then the other meme: ‘this kid just bombed something’. It’s quite dangerous, it basically makes people think that they’re right and if anyone has any other opinion it’s immediately shut down. Same with the right wing side, if anyone says anything remotely liberal you’re being unrealistic. There’s no conversation, just immediately attacked, and it doesn’t change anyone’s opinion if you attack them.
Henry: And even within the left that’s a thing. Contrasting opinions within the left, it’s so divisive, and I guess the goal or idea would be for there to be some sort of meeting place.
Liam: Just conversation. I think all social media does is enforce people’s opinion and make them think they’re right and it isn’t as simple as right or wrong.
It does feel like you have to subvert issues often, would you say politics is a big part of what you do?
Liam: Yeah, on the Middle England side. That’s what the toss up has been, because Mellah was more emotional songs, Mellah’s much more introverted and Middle England’s much more extroverted. Initially they were two bands but we’re trying to conglomerate them into a emotionally-political pop band.
Does one of you have more influence with the other one?
Liam: Henry’s more a Middle England guy. You’re more of a performer.
Henry: I think it’s a very interesting time politically and what excites me about Mellah is the opportunity to be able to do exactly that, get into people’s lives somehow that you would never have a chance to do otherwise, have access to people. I think there’s a responsibility that comes with that platform. It’s a pretty interesting time, I feel we’re on the verge of something maybe, a change? If we can be any part of that process that’s a great thing because we all want to see a change.
Historically artists and bands don’t really have a political opinion.
Henry: It’s a tricky area.
Liam: I don’t necessarily want to have an opinion. I do have an opinion, my personal opinion, but being political about it I don’t want to be like, ‘I am left wing, I believe in Marxism’. I see my role as a songwriter, I try and look at society and ask outside myself if things make sense and then write stuff about stuff that doesn’t really make sense to me. I don’t want to be like, ‘I believe this’, I just want to make a comment. Essentially I just want to write something that’s true, that’s honest.
Henry: I think that being honest about your emotions is probably the best way to connect with people outside of a political spectrum because that is universal and that is something we can relate to.
Liam: The closer you can get to real, painful emotion, the more people relate because essentially everyone is the same, everyone has the same fears.
Henry: And loves.
The arts can have such an important role because they can bring you back to what matters which has nothing to do with politics, being human.
Henry: Connecting and being connected to other people.
Liam: I used to work on films, and 80% of film is right wing. Like proper fascists, really racist. It’s usually subject to certain departments, but I was in props. The last film I did was during Brexit and the vote came through and I came in and everyone was football chanting about leaving and then I was talking with one of them about the last time we had a referendum which apparently was in the 80s on whether we wanted to bring back hanging. I was like, ‘that’s nuts who would bring back hanging?’ And I’m not exaggerating, the whole room went, ‘I would’.
Henry: It’s like a mafia, they’re all safe. Watch out for those prop builders.
Liam: As much I thought their views were abhorrent, when you actually talked to them it’s just fear. Everyone thinks they’re protecting their family and the life they know and the people they love, at the core, they’re good people, they’re just fucking terrified, they’ve seen their country change and they’re just scared. I hate the word evil, I don’t think there is such thing, no one’s inherently evil…
Henry: There’s just a collective psychosis that people are in, and don’t know how to get out of, and people are very insular in their little bubbles.
Liam: Everyone’s just a product of what they grew up in, and if you grew up being told something’s right you’re going to believe it’s right. Also, news, people say they want to know what’s going on, but I don’t understand why you’d want to know everything bad that’s going on in the world. My opinion is that it’s stuff that we can’t acknowledge about our own society projected onto other people. People can’t accept that we have evil within our society so the enemy is someone else and not us.
Henry: The news reinforces it.
Liam: At the moment it’s terrorists. When have you ever seen a terrorist have a court case? They’re just shot dead. Immediately if you’re a terrorist you’re evil, and the reality is these guys probably had their entire family killed in a bomb, they hate us, probably for a valid reason. I’m not condoning it but there’s reasons why, people aren’t just born and then want to pick up a fucking bomb.
Henry: You sound like a terrorist lover mate.
In terms of the middle England identity, with your music are you trying to appeal to a middle Englander and get into their psych?
Liam: Yeah, that was the main aim. It went a bit skew whiff with calling the EP Middle England, I think that was quite aggressive, but I kind of wanted to get that aggression out first. One thing I was scared of with the EP was, I really didn’t want it to seem like I was attacking people, because I want to engage with them.
Henry: And not divorcing ourselves from ‘it’, recognising that we’re in that. It’s not separate from us.
Liam: I’m not trying to say anyone’s right or wrong. I’m just trying to ask questions about people’s normal life, and what is normal. I am trying to engage with people not attack them, also not ‘them’, us.
Henry: The status quo. Middle England is hard to properly define, it’s also how things are going, and where is the large, anonymous body of power that seems to exist. Who is it? And am I in it? What is it?
Liam: That’s what middle England is to me, the majority of voters. That’s why I called it that. It’s the people that can sway opinion.
Henry: And it’s settling for the middle, we’ve been living in this centrist world, almost apolitical for ages and I think that’s changing.
Liam: I do have hope though, I think as a society, global or whatever, we’ve moved on a lot. It used to be okay to be racist, or you go back 500 years and there was slavery. We’re definitely getting better. In the last 10 years, feminism, even that film Black Panther, I didn’t think it as a very good film, but it’s a blockbuster film, you couldn’t have released that 5 years ago.
Henry: It wouldn’t have got funded.
Liam: You couldn’t call a white guy a colonialist in a film, it wouldn’t have got put out. That’s great, I definitely think we’re getting closer to equality, always. I don’t think it will ever be completely equal, but we’re getting there. There’s less ‘them’ and ‘us’, it’s people realising we’re all people.
Henry: And the new generation of younger people are finally becoming engaged with politics in a way that I’ve never seen in my life. Last year, that last election, and just going out and canvassing and knocking on people’s doors and seeing how people seemed to be waking up to the fact that political change doesn’t happen with just one person, that filled me with so much hope it was amazing. It’s just about trying to keep feeding that, and engaging with people and keep the momentum going.
What have been your musical influences?
Henry: Elvis Presley, before he got fat.
Liam: Half the reason I started doing my own music was because I didn’t really like much that was coming out now, I mainly like artists from the 70s, singer-songwriters which annoyingly in the 70s are mainly men. John Lennon, Neil Young. Neil Young still, I think he’s probably the main one, not the last album but the one before, he did a tour of the South in America and the first song, gets on stage, first lyric, “let’s impeach the president for lying”, and half the audience were like, ‘fuck off, get off stage!’
Henry: He’s just an unbelievably prolific man. I watched Selma on the weekend and I was just reflecting because I was just weeping watching it and hearing songs that were born out of the Civil Rights movement, and there is no better music than this, raw, passionate stuff that’s all about feelings and it’s just real. I’ll never be able to make music like that.
Liam: I feel like good music comes out of believing in stuff. I listen to a lot of Gospel, and I’m not religious, but having unbridled faith in something is so emotive, just having people so fervently believe something. Having unshakable faith makes really good music. Anything that feels emotional.
Henry: We do have strong convictions.
You seem like quite emotional, or emotionally in touch people, and that is a faith in itself.
Liam: Yeah, humanism.
Henry: Yeah, it’s part of the work definitely.
Liam: I think we both have unbridled faith in the goodness of people, under everything.
How can we see more of that in the world? What advice would you give people?
Liam: Listen to people. Try and understand why, even if someone does something heinous, try and understand why they might have done it or what reasons they would have hate to kill people or whatever they’ve done. Just understanding.
Henry: I would say one of the first port of calls in doing that is understanding yourself and working on yourself, and working on your traumas and your problems and your shadows, and then you’ll be able to deal with the world around you a bit better because you won’t be avoiding or finding things hard because they’re generally just a reflection on yourself.
Liam: There’s a really good book I read a few years ago that pretty much summed up everything I felt about the darkness of people, called Owning Your Own Shadow. It’s a psychology book that says everything bad is just a reflection of ourselves. People’s shadow is there but they just project it onto other people. It’s a good read.
What are you working on next?
Liam: It’s our EP launch on Wednesday 2nd May at Peckham Liberal Club. We’re going to have it as a Middle England country fair with apple bobbing and bunting. We’re gonna give away bags for life with the Middle England writing on it.
Henry: There’ll be posters. And beer tasting.
Middle England is out on the 1st June.