The Mistys is the latest project from Andrew Hargreaves of The Boats, Tape Loop Orchestra, Beppu, etc. The Mistys consists of Andrew and Beth Roberts. Together, they make pop music. Back in April, the band released their first seven inch for The Boats’ newly minted Other Ideas label. Consisting of only two songs, the music is poppy, yes; but not just the “pop” of today - this is music steeped in decades worth of influences, all subtly woven together to create something accessible and compelling for the here and now. The main thing to know about the music is that it is fun and it is endlessly re-playable. The first half of this interview is with Andrew and Beth, the second half is with Beth solo. A big thanks to Andrew and Beth for this!
If someone asked me to describe the music of The Mistys or offer a genre label, I ‘d cheat and simply say that it was “poppy”. Do you see this as being rooted in pop?
Andrew: I can say without any sarcasm that The Mistys are a pop band. Pop is a fascinating genre especially because it’s impossible to define and pin down as one thing. This offers much more freedom than aligning yourself to a specific/strict genre. Also makes more sense when describing what we do to my mother.
Beth: For me elements are definitely pop, the vocals and melodies especially.
As poppy as it is on the surface, underneath there’s a lot of diverse influences from various genres, even various decades, at play here – it’s very textured to the point that sometimes a bass line sounds like it’s from one genre and a keyboard line sounds like it’s from another. Is there a conscious effort to do a lot with as few pieces to the puzzle as possible?
Andrew: We like the term Recombinant Mutant Pop to describe what we do. The concept that culture can be viewed as genetic codes (strong ideas surviving to be re-appropriated). With this in mind, the Mistys tracks are more akin to jigsaw puzzles of our record collections.
Tape Loop Orchestra and The Boats are two very different sounding projects but what linked the two on their respective 2012 releases was that the songs got longer. The Mistys single is made up of short, snappy songs; was this a conscious reaction against that longer form material?
Andrew: I really view all these projects as separate enteritis that have their own specific aesthetics. From the start of the project Beth and I were both clear that we wanted to write songs and to explore more traditional pop structures.
The Mistys very much sound like a band in that songs seem built around a lineup of bass, drums, keyboards. Were you interested in creating a (fictional) “group” sound for the songs or am I making that up?
Beth: We are a band, even though there are only two of us, we do all the things bands do, meetings, rehearsals and recordings.
Andrew: Means we can travel lighter.
With The Boats and Tape Loop Ochestra the songs feel so textured that it’s hard to identify all the parts. With The Mistys, the songs are still textured but there seems to be fewer layers and they all are identifiable. Was that a challenge you put forth for yourself, to keep the layers/parts to a minimum?
Andrew: Surprisingly there are generally fewer parts to a TLO track than a Mistys track! I guess the Mistys are a little more direct as things have a distinct place in the mix, where TLO is supposed to be blurrier and out of focus.
TLO, Beppu, The Boats, The Mistys are all very different, but do you ever come up with a melody or phrase and have to figure out which project it’s best suited too?
Andrew: Very rarely as all projects are quite distinct, and when writing for The Mistys or The Boats I only make up half the team. There have been odd occasions where I have played a piece that is earmarked for a solo project only to have Craig or Beth make a claim on it.
It’s been a minute since we heard from Beppu and as a listener the dubbiness of The Mistys has a kinship with that project’s sound. Do projects ever bleed into one another for you where you find you’re using one project as a venue to further explore an idea only hinted at elsewhere?
Andrew: I guess there are certain sensibilities that run through the projects I’m involved in. If you had the time to listen to all of the various bits and bobs I’m involved in back to back you could no doubt pick out certain themes that began in one project but reached a conclusion in another. I’m not really conscious of these things as each project has its own boundaries that I work toward at that time. But there will always be those aesthetic fingerprints that give away my involvement.
Speaking of the difference between all your projects, are you able to constantly wear multiple hats at once or do you carve out extended periods of time to focus on just one project? Do you ever feel like you’re going to induce a sort of multiple identity disorder in yourself?
Andrew: I am a bit of a workaholic (as is Craig) so I am constantly working on things, either isolated experiments that may spark off another project or focused work towards a release of some kind. The difference with The Mistys and The Boats is that being collaborations you have to set time aside for these to function. With Craig and I busy with other activities we have really intense sessions where we lock ourselves in the studio for a couple of weeks and have a focused writing effort. From these sessions we slowly refine the material in the mixing stage for an album. With the Mistys we would meet once or twice a week for a few months slowly amassing enough material to make up the album.
What’s next for The Mistys and your various other projects?
Beth: Girls, an album, shows, the usual band things.
Andrew: The Mistys are putting the album together, which will be released this year. As for other things, The Boats new album is underway and I have finally put the finishing touches to the Beppu album. Craig and I have formed a new label ‘Other Ideas’ which is keeping us busy at the moment.
How did you guys come together to form The Mistys?
Beth: Andrew and I play in a punk band together and after hearing me sing he asked if I would like to form a pop band too.
The acoustic version of “A Bird’s Name” you posted to Facebook (which is very lovely by the way) is very stripped down. I wondered, is that representative of how the songs are written – where they start with a bedrock of voice and one key instrument and then things build from there? Or is there some other frequent process to the songwriting?
Beth: Thank you! My solo stuff is mainly acoustic and I thought it would be nice to play a few Mistys bits in my sets, so I had to reverse engineer ‘A Birds Name’ (there is also an acoustic version of ‘Moy’). Generally we start with a rough arrangement of the track then I add vocals and this changes the structure of the tracks. Other times the lyrics come from my solo songs and are rearranged into a more pop format.
The vocals on “Drawers” are very repetitive and seem to be an almost rhythmic force in the song. Are you interested in finding those almost non-verbal ways to use voice in your music?
Beth: I like to experiment with my voice (always trying for new sounds) and rhythm plays a big part in what we do. I was having trouble finding words to Drawers as the rhythm is really pronounced, so decided to try and emphasize this. After this everything quickly fell into place.
Andrew mentioned you guys use the term “recombinant” mutant pop to describe your music. One of my personal frustrations with mainstream pop music is that it sometimes has no sense of history in that artists either mask their influences or simply seem to be influenced by the last popular song on the radio. The Mistys seems steeped in history, how much of that is conscious and how much is just the organic process for two people who likely have very diverse record collections?
Beth: My view on pop is probably quite different to Andrew’s, so we are coming from two different angles and trying to find the middle ground.
I think artists always have a challenge finding their audience and as I listened to the 7″ and the Soundcloud page, I kept thinking there were very diverse groups of listeners that I could see being drawn to this music. Do you try and reach them all ASAP or do The Mistys plan to take over the world at their own pace?
Beth: We just concentrate on working hard and hopefully the right ears will find us, all are welcome.
– Brendan Moore for Fluid Radio
Mix Track – List:
01-Kitchen & The Plastic Spoons – Happy Funeral
02-Dieter Meier – Cry For Fame
03-Crawling Chaos – Sex Machine
04-Nervous Gender – People Like You
05-Chrome – Meet You In The Subway
06-Robert Rental – Double Heart
07-Stephan Eicher – Disco Mania
08-Starter – Part Of You
09-Nini Raviolette – Indicateur Ou Dragueur
10-The Dadacomputer – Automation
11-The Residents – Safety Is The Cootie Wootie
12-The Splash Band – The End (Disco)