A couple of weeks ago we reviewed ‘War of Currents’ by Australian instrumental band Meniscus. We wanted to know a bit more about what was behind their sound, so Cameron (drums) and Marty (visuals) answered some questions for us.
(((o))): The word ‘Meniscus’ refers to the surface of a liquid in a tube. It’s concave if the liquid wets the walls, and concave if it doesn’t. Would you consider yourselves to be a concave or convex meniscus?
Meniscus: We’d consider ourselves convex, we’re more inclined to feed off and be drawn to each other as a collaborative unit than to any external influence.
(((o))): Can you explain for us your fascination with scientist/inventor Nikola Tesla, the subject of your album? What is the ‘war of currents’?
Meniscus: Nikola Tesla was a truly amazing man, he made so many brilliant inventions that have changed our lives and yet, to the general populace he is unknown. It is almost as if he has been stricken from the history books so to speak. War of currents describes the battle between Thomas Edison’s direct current (DC) power and Nikola Tesla’s Alternating current (AC) power. Edison went to great length to ridicule Tesla’s AC power and was very jealous of his achievements.
If Tesla’s biggest invention had come to fruition we would all be using wireless energy for free all around the world. Sadly, JP Morgan (Tesla’s financier) cut the finance for his project after he found out that Tesla’s invention couldn’t be metered. Tesla ended up dying alone in Room 3327 at the hotel New Yorker.
We felt that we should honour this great man and also hopefully get more people interested in his work as so many of his inventions are still in use today.
(((o))): The samples Cameron uses in ‘War of Currents’ were recorded around the world. As a listener I really can’t tell, which suggests it’s a more personal thing about how Meniscus creates music, what it means to you, and how it occupies your thoughts. Is this the case?
Meniscus: Everything we do is reflective and somehow relates to personal experiences or feelings we’ve felt when writing music or putting together video material for our shows. There’s a very naturalistic and organic approach to everything we do, if we don’t personally identify with it or feel moved by what we’re doing, there’s no point doing it. This has been a slow process which would explain the large break we’ve had between releases.
To give you a bit of background with the samples, in the song Cursed, there is a short break where you can hear someone talking – this was a recording of two children in the Solomon Islands talking. In Immersion, we used a recording of some children playing soccer in Egypt and also the general sounds of a town square in Syria. We have always liked having an extra layer of background sounds that complement our music and it will continue to be a part of the Meniscus sound.
(((o))): When you perform live, Marty provides visuals on stage. What is the creative process for their development, and at what stage of the composition of the music does it happen?
Meniscus: We usually have the basics of a song completed or a loosely structured song written before I (Marty) get involved. I listen to recordings made during rehearsals and come up with a theme or concept based on what I see a song being about, but it’s all subjective.
Everyone responds to the music differently and sometimes Daniel/Alison/Cameron have an idea/mood they want to incorporate into the visuals. Sometimes it just clicks, like Immersion for instance, when I first heard that song I couldn’t get the images of gritty streets and old black and white films out of my head, so that the direction I took. Daniel wanted Infant to look like it was the score to old 8mm home videos and I found some archival footage that matched the mood of the piece. Cameron gave me some footage of his parents’ wedding which I work into live shows. I’m not too concerned with telling a linear story but use the visuals as another instrument in the performance.
(((o))): Your songs have a strong sense of design to them. For example, no instrument, phrase, sample or beat takes the lead too long or runs too long. You also use largely subtle means of attracting and keeping the listener’s attention. Are these things you sit down and talk about wanting to achieve, or do you compose-as-you go and it just turns out that way?
Meniscus: It would be too difficult to pre-empt the listener’s reaction to a piece of music, and as such we tend to not focus on factors out of our control. Some people will like our music, and it will put others to sleep, and that’s completely understandable.
We write in a way so that we could listen to ourselves and enjoy it like we would enjoy any other band. In a sense, we write for ourselves. However, it doesn’t mean that we don’t critique our work.
Songs always start out as 30 minutes plus jams, and we eventually whittle it down to a sensible format, however long that may be. The idea is to push a motif as far as we can, until we’re immersed in the moment, then change. Imagine holding a stick and bending it up until just before it snaps. Patience is really the key for us. With our previous record, we tried to cram all of our ideas, melodies and layers into one 40 minute EP. Though we’re happy with what we’ve achieved in the past, we definitely feel that War of Currents is a step in the right direction for us, and the processes we’ve gone through have paved the way for us to push our ideas further on the next record.
(((o))): Despite the specific nature of what you create, you are happy for people to choose their own adventure when they listen to you. In your live performances there’s a sense of you looking to ‘sync’ with your audience, for want of a better word. What are some of the most memorable things people have told you they hear in your music, or that you have seen in their reactions when performing? How does it make you feel to know what others hear and feel?
Meniscus: To answer the first part, absolutely. Though people may be directed into a meaning either by the song title, or spoken samples used, it’s still very much up to the listener to deconstruct what is happening. Such is the beauty of writing music without words. The music itself is a conveyance of the basics of human emotion. It’s less about telling a story, and more about trying to tap into something that you may feel when hearing a certain chord or melody.
The live show is an extension of that concept. The audience actually plays a huge part in the energy of the show. If we feel that the audience is really enjoying what we’re doing, we feed off that. Conversely, when we are playing to an audience that hasn’t heard us before, or appear quite flat, we enjoy trying even harder to turn their heads and get a reaction. If there are three people in the room or three thousand, the motive is the same.
We love talking to people after our shows, and getting their feedback. The most memorable comments come from people that have seen us for the first time, who have generally come to watch another band, caught our set, and were blown away. The lack of expectation is almost a blank canvas for us. One of my favourite shows was a time where the first 5 rows of people sat down on the floor to watch us play. Not only was it a sign of respect to those standing at the back, but it was great to see that people could feel comfortable enough at a “rock” show to sit and just absorb what was unfolding onstage. It made me realise that people “get” what we’re about.
(((o))): The other day I saw your record on Germany’s Oxide Tones website. What’s your plan for world domination, how far down the track are you and what’s your next move?
Meniscus: I don’t know about world domination, but our tour of Europe in July is the next phase… We are also demoing tracks for our next record. How long that will take, we’re not sure, but the plans are to have another release this year, and further touring. We’re hoping the interest in Meniscus remains strong enough to allow us to visit other places around the world too.