Neil Pennycook on the return of Meursault
We catch up with Neil Pennycook to discuss the return of the much-vaunted Edinburgh outfit Meursault, back with a new album
In 2014 Neil Pennycook called time on much lauded Edinburgh band Meursault, instead favouring life as a solo artist going by the name of Supermoon. With such a distinctive voice, it was a bit of an odd move to most, especially as they’d just received Kickstarter funding for mini-album The Organ Grinder’s Monkey – enabling the band to play SxSW – and had not long released their most well received album to date in 2012’s Something for the Weakened.
Everything appeared to be going well. So what happened? “It’s kind of a long story,” begins Pennycook. “Effectively Meursault became more and more of a band as opposed to [a solo project]. It was never really defined at the start, but it was always my project with whoever was there to help out and it was never really defined as a band.
“When the third record got made, you really started to see it as a band and as time went on – as anyone that’s been in more than a three-piece rock band will know – it gets really difficult to make that work. [With] the combination of that and the fact that [bandmates] were starting families and moving to different cities, it just felt time to try something else.”
Pennycook admits that “performing under a different name meant I could humour my more eccentric qualities.” In short, it seems he needed to rediscover what Meursault actually was to him, and after some much needed time out for reflection, is now fully committed to Meursault as a solo project with an ever-evolving line-up of contributors: "If everyone that’s involved is on board and happy with that as the deal then it’s fine and it’s harmonious and we can all just have fun!" says Pennycook.
It seems Supermoon was just the palate cleanser needed for this state of realisation: “I don’t think it was anything that conscious to be honest, but what I got out of doing the Supermoon thing, whatever it is I was doing,” Pennycook jokingly recalls. “It made me feel comfortable working on my own again; writing whole arrangements for songs and presenting them to other players.
“Once I got that confidence back I started to realise that there were more similarities between what I was doing now and what I was doing on the first couple of Meursault records, so it was starting to feel a little bit redundant calling it anything other than Meursault. It just took me a while to figure out it was one and the same.”
On 26 July 2016 several updates appeared on the Meursault Facebook page including a post which simply said ‘Hi.’ 116 likes later and a further post, this time linking to Meursault’s Soundcloud page, materialised accompanied by the words: ‘The first track from the new album…’
Pennycook confesses to putting the post up the morning he went on holiday: “I’d been thinking about it for months, don’t get me wrong, but when I actually did it, it was like a proper 3 'o’clock in the morning, go to bed, go to Australia, come back three weeks later and see if anyone wanted to be in my band.
“I got lots of messages from Matthew [Young, of Song, by Toad] being like, ‘What?! What now?’” Pennycook laughs. “I’d maybe floated the idea with him, but as with all of my big important discussions with Matthew, they’re always done at stupid o’clock in the morning after drinking gin.”
You can understand Young’s questioning as Song, by Toad had not long put out Oh, Supermoon Volume 1 including the track Death to Meursault; a seemingly definitive nail in the Meursault coffin. But here we are, a few short months later with Meursault’s Simple is Good EP already in the bag and fourth album (the murderously titled I Will Kill Again) so close you can practically touch it.
“[I’ve] been writing it for about three and a half years,” says Pennycook. “The lyrics have been pretty consistent and there’s a narrative that has always been there, but the music has changed.”
Tracks such as Ode to Gremlin actually appeared on Oh, Supermoon… and listening to the utter vulnerability in Pennycook’s voice on that recording compared to the finished I Will Kill Again version is remarkable. It’s undeniable that his confidence has returned in full force and it feels genuinely exciting to have Meursault back.
“[I Will Kill Again] very much started off as the fourth album by Meursault,” admits Pennycook. “We recorded it and everything and for various reasons that’s [not] the version people are gonna hear, which is a good thing ‘cause the songs have been re-worked and I’m far happier with how they’re presented.”
Pennycook gives us some insight on the album’s ferocious title: “I love that character you’re not necessarily rooting for but whose story is interesting so you engage with it, and you end up being sympathetic to it regardless of the horrible shit that person’s saying they’ve done. So obviously I Will Kill Again is an exaggeration. I’ve not murdered anyone!
“I talk [a lot] about there being a narrative in this album but the narrative’s not complete unless you’re listening to it and creating the scenery in your head,” continues Pennycook. ”And that is wanky as fuck, but if you’re gonna write that kind of song that’s what you have to require of your listener; to fill in the blanks.”
I Will Kill Again was recorded at The Happiness Hotel with help from Reuben Taylor, Liam Chapman, Alex Livingstone and Faith Eliott, and for their upcoming live shows will feature Sam Mallalieu, Fraser Hughes, Robyn Dawson and Taylor. With plans already in place to tour the UK and Europe this year, along with many festival dates to be confirmed, we’re delighted to have Meursault fully back in the fold. As Pennycook enthusiastically concludes: “Meursault look like they’re gonna have a busy year!”
Meursault play The Hug & Pint in Glasgow, 3 Feb as part of Celtic Connections, and Summerhall, Edinburgh for Song, by Toad's Granfalloon all dayer on 25 Feb
I Will Kill Again is out 27 Feb via Song, by Toad