Interview : Mountainface
So far in their short life Chester based Mountainface have released a hugely promising first EP, played a small host of well received gigs, turned up as a last minute addition to the bill at a North Wales festival stage and performed as if they should have been one of the first names on the team sheet, and established an exciting (we have been, this adjective is not used lightly) new roots club in their adopted home town.
Talking to them the conversation is a stampeding herd of loosely related tangents, driven by an irrepressible enthusiasm for what they do, and always (just) corralled by self deprecating humour.
All in their early twenties, they were brought together by a Chester University course - mandolin player Matt Youds shifting the shortest distance from a childhood on the edge of the Denbigh moors and attendance at Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy, David Weir (guitar and lead vocals) from Telford, and guitarist Tom Winch from Cumbria (a definitively rural location, which, without many distractions found in a town, helped him practice endlessly).
Their music is a modern alt. folk - played with a trademark instrumental intensity and inventiveness, and unafraid to soar; the influences behind it are diverse but lifelong - Matt Youds opened the book on his musical past first:
"I was in bands at home, playing guitar - but they were always metal before I came to Chester - Denbigh Town Hall and the Battle of the Bands was my prime focus."
He laughed at the contrast then to what he does now - and to be honest there's maybe not so much of that hard rock experience reflected in his mandolin style. He came to his current instrument when Tom introduced him to the Punch Brothers, and the playing of Chris Thile:
"It was just so inspirational - I was amazed at what he creates on the mandolin, I had to have a go!"
David Weir has a more expected musical hinterland:
"I slowly progressed from singer-songwriters into folk and other forms - I think it might have started with Tracy Chapman being endlessly played in the house when I was a child, then Joni Mitchell, and on into Pulp and Radiohead. For me it all flows from that exposure."
Whilst Tom Winch has the deeply-etched folk heritage:
"I have the full folk background - I have only missed one Cropedy Festival held in my lifetime, and I think in my defence that might have been because I was still in utero. More recently I have listened a lot to musicians like Seth Lakeman, and Blair Dunlop - and it has me buzzing now ... it is exciting that I have followed them for years and now with this band we have suddenly supported both."
The trio have known each other for years socially and through the university, but the band happened by chance when David Weir moved into a shared house with the other two, and their mutual musical interests became as obvious as the need for a cleaning rota. As Matt explained:
"We were all frustrated as music had fallen back in priority for each of us as we entered the 'real world' - frustrated not to be playing..."
"...the penny suddenly dropped when Dave moved in - that was the catalyst."
"It actually started with us all playing individually in our own rooms - it then became increasingly unavoidable that we should play together."
"We were almost already doing that through the walls - but that is why the first track on the EP, the instrumental, is called Let's Play. It is the first thing we tried out writing together, and it is what we wanted to do."
Opening with that vivid and exuberant piece, they were not held back by recording it in the somewhat mundane setting of the dining room of their house ("It was all we could afford at the time." Tom commented ruefully). Reflecting on their own debut release momentarily they returned to waxing lyrically about the music they love, from the harpist Joanna Newsom to bluegrass, to progressive rock (sotto voce Led Zeppelin, Yes & Marillion were briefly name checked). As Tom outlined:
"We want to take our music, and especially a cover version, and make it as interesting as it can be - we listen to a huge range of other artists, that's what we look for, and that is in turn what we try to do."
Matt and Tom are more focused on this instrumental complexity (which does not clutter their songs - it is more a willingness to stretch something and experiment with it, to see where it can go), David on the lyrics ("It has to be that way - he has the darker soul." Tom deadpanned). The next installment from their collaborative writing is due - there is a new EP scheduled for late spring / early summer, and this time the recording will be in a professional studio; an appearance at Focus Wales, Chester Live and more high profile support slots will follow.
So that is as things stand now - Mountainface, less than a year from their formation, have talent, spirit and momentum. Their sound, even taken from a poor quality dictaphone recording of the short set they played before this interview, is compelling and undeniably uplifting. At this stage you can never be certain how things might run - but, as we have said before, they have huge promise; I would not place a bet against them - however eclectically formed and influenced, they seem no less than a rapidly emerging alt. folk phenomena.