Manchester-based ‘wunder fuzz’ outfit Mister Strange are among the assortment of up-and-coming indie rock acts taking to the stage for our second Free Vibes this Thursday night. If you like your rock ‘n’ roll gritty, chocked with slack groove and spacey effects, then they’re a band you’ll want to lock in with during this early stage of their existence. They’ve blasted but a handful tunes into the ether thus far and one of those is Medicine Crawler, a downtempo slice of garage rock that’ll seduce fans of early Tame Impala, Menace Beach and alike outfits. Ahead of Thursday’s show, we spoke to James, Cal, Tom and Josh (the four fellaz behind the fuzz) about the creation of the tune, from inception to mixdown.
Medicine Crawler has a real swagger and the riff that kicks things off shimmers beautifully! What effects are giving the guitar it’s sound, is there some delay or some tremolo going on there?
James: ‘‘Swagger’ and ‘Shimmers beautifully’, you’re making me blush. Thanks man. The guitar tone was cooked up with a dash of analog delay, not far off a slapback sound really, with a little helping of spring reverb. This was then coming through a small Fender tube amp with a very minimal hint of dirt provided by the amp. The delay/reverb combo being pushed through the slight crunch was the key to the gritty, shaky sound.’
Was the riff the first block upon which the rest of the tune was built, or did things come together in a different order?
Cal: ‘With this song the riff came first. We tend to play and record late at night and one of those nights James waltzed into the rehearsal room with the riff. It seemed to match the mood we were all in that evening and we had a song written off the back of it super quick.’
The lyrics of the tune could be interpreted a few ways; what inspired the direction the song took and when writing lyrics, what’s typical of the process for you?
Josh: ‘The lyrics were written as a poking of fun at the primitive tendencies of chauvinistic guys, and the need for the “creeper” levels to come way down. The usual process is Cal, James and Tom play the music in the rehearsal space and I will sketch down some vocal ideas in real time and hammer them out there and then, and just build on that. I’ll edit some lines here and there with ideas that I think work better, and I’ll spend some time thinking about vocal delivery, but I try to keep things pretty raw.’
Production wise, the song has flavours of QOTSA and Ty Segall’s Fuzz project, are these influences of yours or do you look elsewhere as curious listeners?
Cal: ‘A Fuzz comparison! Are you flirting with us? A love of Fuzz, anything Ty related and a tonne of the other bands making similar noise, particularly from the west coast of America, was the spark from which Mister Strange came into being. We immerse ourselves in that music so naturally elements of it are present in our music. However, our inspiration and influences aren’t drawn purely from those bands. We aren’t ones for confining ourselves and we’re constantly searching for music, ideas and imagery to influence our output. Also, we never set out just to emulate other bands and their methods, we want to chase the noises in our heads and carve out our own sound. In terms of future songs and production I’d say Mister Strange is the sonic equivalent to a group of leather fetishists meeting at a tannery – things are going to happen that are probably a little weird but you might dig it.’
Tom: ‘As a collective of four, our influences cross paths whilst sweating it out underneath our local drinking establishment. We fester up material brought to us by a connectivity of ideas we’ve all experienced through travel and relentless music talk and aural absorption. Mister Strange is a platform for us to express our own ideas of the world, to give what we feel is necessary to those who want to listen and see. Music is about sharing, a collection of musicians share their life experiences, and riff it out for the people of the world to take inspiration from. Music is a universal language anyone can tune into, it has no boundaries, only aspiration and a message from ones short human segment of time.’
When it came to mixing with Dale ‘melting face’ Charlton, what were your notes for him and does he have a “signature seal” if you will, that we hear in the final mix?
Cal: ‘Dale is a close friend of ours and has been on board with Mister Strange since day one when he stumbled down from the bar to listen to our first few hours in the rehearsal space. He’s on our level in regards to how we want songs to sound and so we’ve never had to give any notes to him, he just does his thing. When it comes to recording our music, having Dale around not only as someone who contributes as a creative force but also as someone can offer an input and opinions honestly and without being wary of offending anyone has really benefited our music. That’s not to say he hasn’t offended anyone, he just isn’t wary of doing so. We get our songs down as live takes in our bunker/basement under a bar, all of us in the room playing together. That creative process and acoustic environment is a big part of the overall sound of our recordings. However, this also means the songs begin life as pretty raw and wild audio tracks. In terms of his ‘signature seal’ I think it’s Dale’s ability to go away with these tracks and bring them back as songs that sound polished and well balanced without being tamed or subdued. I’ve massaged Dale’s ego enough now (you owe me a drink).’
The tune’s ending, where the structure breaks down and you’re getting a howl out of the guitars – was that the intention going into recording or was it more of a spontaneous decision to bring the tune to an end that way?
Cal: ‘With ‘Medicine crawler’ we wanted to combine the hazy roll of the riff with something a little more unhinged and raucous so we approached that ending with some spontaneity and a ton of fuzz and it all just sort of fell apart but exactly how we wanted it to. There’s definitely some value in being lazy with song structures and getting off on distortion.’
Do you have an EP or LP release in the works and if so, where does Medicine Crawler factor into future plans?
Cal: ‘As Tom said earlier music is about sharing and we want to keep sharing our music with people both as recordings and as live performances as much as possible – Mister Strange is based on the concept of being as prolific as possible and to keep creating and recording interesting music. We’re going to release another couple of singles very soon, including Swamp Conductors (which is about a bunch of swamp-dwelling crocodiles getting hit by lightning) and there’s definitely an EP sharpening its claws in our bunker right now. Medicine Crawler as a recorded song is floating out there on the Internet for people to stumble upon and hopefully spread the noise of Mister Strange and then we bring it to life in our live set as a slightly warped version of its recorded sibling.’
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