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March 16, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Mt Pleasant Interview

Interview with Jonathan Phillips aka Mount Pleasant, who will be playing his final show in NZ at Bats Theatre’s Pit Bar on 19 March

What are your earliest memories of music? What was the first music you can remember hearing? What were your first experiences of making music yourself?

I remember, like, Tina Turner hits on my parents’ brown stereo system. That is my earliest music memory, like when I was four or whatever, that song “Simply the Best” is the first song I actually remember listening to, not the best song ever recorded or anything but pretty epic sounding production. There’s that “tear us apart” line, it’s pretty emotive, I guess no one does emotion like Tina Turner. I was brought up listening to my dad’s Philip Glass and Peter Gabriel, and my mother’s easy listening things, like Sting solo records. I don’t know if that is like what everyone else was brought up on?

I got a piano for my eighth Christmas and a guitar for my 15th birthday, and I would record things on a Sony Cassette player, so I have cassettes and cassettes of really badly played “minimalist” piano and awkward pop songs that is in a box in my room. I don’t listen to those tapes.

From reading your blog I get the impression that you make most (if not all) of your music at home. Can you explain how you go about writing and recording your songs? Do you have any favourite little recording tricks or sounds?

I make most of my music at home, in my bed, I guess. I do record songs in friends’ living rooms, sometimes at like two in the morning. I record all the songs using the free software on my MacBook, GarageBand, and into the little inbuilt microphone. It doesn’t really add up to a “top quality” sound or anything. The guitar never sounds good and there are generally like six vocal layers to cover up how stark the vocals sound. The writing of the songs is generally like intuitive, like stream of consciousness lyrics that I edit out. Mostly the songs work with piano or a harp loop, something like that, it’s just like loops and destroyed samples and lots of delay and reverb. I really believe in delay and reverb, I think they are the two most important things in a song.

PJ Harvey once said that just because she sung about certain things in her songs it didn’t mean that she actually held those views herself, rather they were the opinions of the characters in her songs. Do you have similar characters, or alternate points of view in your music? Or are you singing exclusively about your own personal experiences?

It would be better if I took that approach I think, you know. To be able to remove yourself from the music, I find it hard to detach the songs from my own personal experiences I guess, the music is mostly an externalisation of my own personal experiences, and will be created to invoke a mood or a type of feeling that matches that. Lyrically I do occasionally divide the narrative, so in some songs I am not singing exclusively from my own personal point of view but from other people, mostly one person. But I don’t really signify it in the song. The songs’ narratives can be labyrinthine, but can also be the opposite, like completely honest and direct.

You wrote on your blog that you “mostly write sad songs,” and I seem to remember you alluding to this at A Low Hum as well. Despite this, when I listen to your music I sometimes feel like I can hear these little snatches of light or hope. Does playing music make you feel hopeful? Or are these emotions in your music a byproduct of something else?

I don’t hear too much hope in the songs. Maybe people want to find something hopeful in the music or something like that. There’s a degree of pessimism that runs through the music, maybe it’s the recession or something. Playing the music live makes me feel terrible. Most performances end awkwardly, like I have to get off a stage or walk through a living room and don’t know where to look. It doesn’t help that as Christchurch is so small and I am not exactly maintaining any kind of reserve when it comes to who the songs are about or directed to. I don’t think I am too popular in Christchurch.

Your writings and music are incredibly personal, why have you chosen to reveal so much through your blog? Have you ever revealed anything about yourself, or others, that you now regret?

I think because of the inherently ‘personal’ nature of the songs, I felt that the writing should reflect that. I guess also, as I had this inability to talk to some people, I used the blog as a letter to them, even if it was really public and a pretty shitty thing to do. But then I can’t really regret it, as I think the music and the writing are all part of the same thing for Mount Pleasant, it is music marked by the location and memory. It’s not like a pity party or whatever, it’s just the way I write.

Blink has released your music via A Low Hum, how did that relationship come about?

Blink found me on MySpace and I had like 30 friends or whatever, and he had fallen in love with the collections of songs that I released on my blog. It’s all a bit too modern I think, this story would be better if I had like sent him a cassette or something while he was in England. Anyway, apparently, him and Over The Atlantic would sit around on Scottish moors listening to the songs, or something like that, maybe just in the tour van. Blink said he wanted to do anything to promote those songs, so he made all these mix CDs of his favourite songs and the order or something, and they lay around his flat and they turned into a digital EP on the A Low Hum website.

Your MySpace page says that the show at BATS will be your last in NZ before moving to Europe. Why the move? What are your plans for the future?

I am leaving New Zealand because I have finished my degree and can’t handle Christchurch at the moment. It’s too painful in Christchurch. Too many memories, and then aside from that, it’s an insular, suburban, draining environment where most people are too blase about how apathetic and depressing it all is. I don’t really have any plans for the future, I think this artist in Berlin is a fan and wants to promote me or something like that, but other than that I guess I want a kind of self-imposed exile.

You will be playing by yourself at BATS, what can we expect from the show?

Intimacy. I think the place fits like 20-30 people. I use vocal loops and samples to create something nice, and I loop my guitar and try and play the songs I write for Mount Pleasant. I think ‘try’ is the key word there, it’s mostly imperfect music.

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