It is a well known fact that for a band to succeed, they need an unrelenting passion and drive. However the reality is not every band can reach a degree of success where they can quit their day jobs. Nevertheless that hasn’t prevented Nottingham quartet Merrick’s Tusk. Their recently released second EP, ‘Regroup and Reform,’ sees them doing exactly what it says on the tin.
Driven by frontman John Jeacock’s experiences as a struggling musician in their mid-twenties, ‘Regroup and Reform’ sees the four-piece with a newfound determination as their musical pallet blossoms beyond their emo rock core, taking in elements of post-rock and prog. Through songs such as ‘Keplar’ and closing track ‘The Hopeful,’ Merrick’s Tusk make their mark through radiant, sonic instrumentation and impassioned vocals.
Before embarking on an intimate, DIY tour of the UK, Already Heard spoke to vocalist/guitarist John Jeacock about a number of subjects in detail; the musical and lyrical approach to ‘Regroup and Reform,’ playing in DIY spaces, the Nottingham music scene and more.
AH: I hate to start with a cliché question but what’s the band’s back story? How did you come together?
John: I’ve known Adam (John Burbidge – bassist/vocalist) through our local music scene and played in bands together for quite some years before MT, We both had just faced the demise of our last band and decided we wanted try and start a band up again.
We met our old guitarist (another Adam) through gigs and started the search for a drummer; we tried out 3 or 4 different people before meeting Tim (Hooper – drummer/vocalist) who immediately impressed us with his playing along with him being able to keep the atmosphere light and fun.
It took us quite a while after that to figure out who was going to be the singer and what sort of music we were going to play, When we finally got there after a few gigs we went our separate ways with Adam our guitarist. We then went on to finish our first EP ‘Sonder’ as a three piece with myself tracking both guitar parts and released our track ‘Persist’ in search of a new guitarist. We had a few people interested but when meeting James (Stewart – guitarist/vocalist), talking about influences we knew he was the right fit to take our sound further.
‘Regroup and Reform’ is your second EP and has been described as “more expansive and ambitious.” How does it differ to ‘Sonder’?
John: Overall I think this record contains a much more diverse selection of songs, we’ve learnt what works for us now. For me, I’m much more at peace with being a singer on this record than the last, as I’d never been the singer in a band before MT.
I think the record is less straightforward than the previous, although we’re considered emo and I’m happy with that label the record also shows elements of prog and post-rock too.
AH: What was your initial aims when writing the EP?
John: I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to writing new material, I have to try and keep things moving forward and developing or I can easily lose interest and be hard on myself. So, our main aim was to really expand on the elements of the first record that worked for us and really start to push our abilities as far as we can.
AH: Lyrically what does the EP cover and what inspired the themes found on it? I’m led to believe it’s about overcoming personal issues and facing up to the challenges of growing up?
John: Absolutely, Each track on this EP takes you through different snapshots of my life from my perspective in a moment where it’s triggered me to make a change in mind-set, allowing me to grow and hopefully become a little wiser and stronger.
As an example of this, the track ’25’ takes you through a period of my life where I struggled to find the right place and a group of people for me without any pretence or elitism, and shows the angst toward the people involved for making me feel that way. Looking back at that period (I’ll let you guess what age I was) in at least a couple of the instances it was probably more about my outlook towards these situations. I think most people will experience this feeling at some point in their lives.
Although the lyrical content is very personal to myself, I think most people can relate to them in different ways. During the recording process of the violins for ‘The Hopeful’ the violinist (Judith Hooper) was really touched by the lyrics and took her own personal meaning from them. It’s always great to hear what emotions and personal experiences music can bring out of people.
AH: It seems you have a drive and passion to makes this band work by any means necessary?
We have a good sense of solidarity within the band, seven months ago James and his partner became proud parents for the first time and we’d collectively decided to find a stand in (our lovely friend Sam) so we can keep driving forward and give James the time he needed to adjust to his new life.
We’ve all got a huge passion for making and playing live music, but also all work full time. So at times it can be a difficult balance. But if we’re not gigging frequently we all start to get a little grumpy, we’re already itching to get this April tour underway.
AH: One thing I’ve noticed from hearing the EP is how cohesive in its sequencing. Was that something you thought about whilst making the EP?
John: It took us probably more discussions than it should’ve to decide the running order of the record, probably because we all prefer different tracks, which can only be a good thing.
There were a couple of pivotal points during the recording process that shaped the order of the record. ‘Old Ground’ was close to not making the record due to the vocals not being finished but just managed by the skin of our teeth, and the second when we realised how big the outro to ‘The Hopeful’ was with the group vocals and violins we knew it had to be the record closer.
AH: My first exposure to you was when you played at JT Soar with The Winter Passing and Losing Sleep. For bands like MT, does having DIY spaces like JT Soar help you develop?
John: That was such an ace show! DIY spaces are always approached with a huge amount of respect from the band and audience, a great sense of inclusiveness and acceptance. Everyone there is for the music and the community spirit is great. So in answer to your question, there probably is no better place than a DIY venue to make some contacts, new friends, get some great feedback and give bands a platform to build upon.
We’re regular attendees (and crowd-surfers) at the Button Pusher DIY shows, anyone who hasn’t been to a show at JT Soar yet are missing out on something truly special.
AH: We tend to like to know about a band’s musical influence. The comparison to early Jimmy Eat World and The Appleseed Cast has been made quite a bit. Who else do you collectively consider as an influence?
John: I think we’d count our main influences as being anything old-school emo (Sunny Day Real Estate, Braid, American Football, Mineral etc), as well as the more modern stuff in that genre like Into it. Over it, Basement and You Blew It!
It’s probably fair to say that we take a fair bit of inspiration from neighbouring genres as well, we’re all fans of math-rock and post-rock (Tim is obsessed with Cleft and James worships Caspian) and we’re all dead keen on more poppy stuff (Tellison, Weezer, etc) as well as post-hardcore leanings and the more rocky side of things (Reuben, early-Biffy, etc)
AH: Earlier you mentioned expanding elements from the last EP, would you say the addition of violins is part of that?
John: Definitely, knowing we were planning on adding extra instruments on that one track made us completely rethink the vocal line and where it should end.
It was a great experience getting Nicholas Hooper involved with the composition for the track, if a little daunting knowing how much of a stamp Nicholas has made on the classical scene (Double BAFTA winning composer and compositions for two Harry Potter films.)
AH: You’re playing a lot of intimate venues on the tour this month, do you think playing those type of shows help a band build a backbone? Is it all part of being an underground band?
John: We know that we play in a relatively niche genre, these type of intimate shows are what allows to build our fan base from the ground up and make some great friendships along the way. This sometimes can build to bigger shows, but we love playing intimate shows, having a real connection with the audience then sleeping on someone’s floor. I can’t see myself ever not wanting to play these type of shows.
AH: You’re going to be playing a hometown show alongside Little Bribes. It seems Nottingham is steadily growing a strong DIY scene?
John: In the past few years Nottingham’s underground music has just seemed to go from strength to strength and it’s great to see the turnouts increasing over that period. Now is the time to get out of the house and support your local scene as there is so many good bands doing their thing well.
Littles Bribes are one of the Nottingham bands that are gaining momentum and releasing ace tracks. So it’s great that we can team for a dual EP launch party, It should be a really special evening – April the 8th at the Chameleon Arts Cafe.
’Regroup and Reform’ by Merrick’s Tusk is out now on Button Pusher DIY.
Words by Sêan Reid (@SeanReid86)