Too loud to be jazz

Photography by Phil Sharp

Photography by Phil Sharp

Too loud to be jazz

Mi Ami’s Daniel Martin-McCormick is having one of those days. Roll into London, soundcheck, photo shoot, interview, interview, interview, gig, crowd surf, DJ set at afterparty, haul anchor for Leeds and more of the same. Y’know, just one of those days. The band are coming to the end of a tour in support of their latest album, ‘Steal Your Face’, and now, ensconced in the far corner of a significantly upholstered pub, Daniel mock-lounges on the leather sofa, smugly caressing the arms as he leans back and raises an eyebrow. “So, yeah, like… The Album.”

His attitude immediately dissolves in a friendly burst of laughter – there is no egotistical, couch-stroking alter ego to this man, he has the chilled San Francisco thing down to a tee and is laid back and softly spoken. That said, if you saw him three hours later, ripping Barden’s Boudoir a new one, it would be tough to make the connection between that thrashing, shrieking, crowd-climbing creature, and this calm, smiling guy in a Bob Marley t-shirt, politely sipping his Merlot while I fumble around, replacing the batteries in my piece of shit tape recorder.

Sorry about that.

“That’s okay,” he smiles.

So what about this new album of yours?

“It rounds up a bunch of stuff that we were working with,” Daniel says. “We’d put out all these twelve-inches before and… Yeah, to me this feels like the coalescence of all that. So that’s pretty exciting and a little bit scary, thinking about what to do next, ‘cause it’s, like, you don’t want to just stick to it and just do a staler version.”

This is the burden that comes with a killer sophomore album – at the same time as being incredibly relieved to have finally got this record out, Mi Ami are aware that they’ve set the bar for what they do next. No pressure, then… Not that Daniel seems particularly stressed about that. The way he puts it: “I’m curious to see what’s going to happen next.” And he has absolutely no idea. There is no plan of next attack and, apparently, there were no such plans for this one.

“We just played all the time last year. We went on tour for about twelve weeks, pretty much straight, and we had part of the record written then,” Daniel says “and when we got back, it was, like… I mean, the way we jam is just very heads down, don’t look at each other, and slowly the music kind of sorts itself out. But the rest of the album came really quick because we’d been playing so much – too much!” He breaks into a grin and starts laughing. “So yeah, it came really fast and…that was it.”

So no one in the band anticipated what the final product would sound like?

“When you go to record,” Daniel explains “you learn not to expect too much of… not to not expect anything, but to leave it open enough that there’s room to be surprised, to enjoy it and to make something and not think too hard about… I dunno,” he sighs. “’Cause bands can get all uptight about, like, fans, and that’s why the first record is always the best one, because all of a sudden, ten people like their band and it’s all about not alienating them and wanting more than ten people to care but, y’know, I dunno, it’s like this fucking head trip and so…” Deep breath, he was getting a little too caught up in the image of the uptight band with ten fans. “So now we just… we try not to think about it, it’s just too hard.”

It’s far easier to be easy-going, for this band. But what about Daniel’s previous project, back in Washington DC, Black Eyes? Was the ethos different? The sound is certainly different.

“Some people say there’s a difference and some people say it sounds exactly the same,” he shrugs. There are strong similarities, without question, but, among other things, Mi Ami’s sound is much more complex than Black Eyes’, and it’s less frantic – no less energetic, but organised chaos as opposed to just… chaos.

“To me, I think there’s a difference,” Daniel says “because with Black Eyes, we got in all this gear, tons of drums, y’know, and we were always arguing because one person was into IDM and one dude was into dub, one dude was into kraut rock, one was into free jazz and it was like… Arrggghhh! Fighting all the time, pissed at each other. When we broke up, everybody went off to do what they wanted to do the whole time and couldn’t do then, and so, to me, this is… that.”

And what, more or less, is ‘that’?

“This band is more about live jamming, or, not jamming, but not butting heads. It’s more of a collective spirit – not trying to sabotage each other’s ideas.”

He says the members of Mi Ami still have radically different tastes in music, but that there is a common feeling of respect and that they are all interested in what the others are into. “We’re not like, ‘You’re into crap,’” laughs Daniel. That’s fortunate, seeing as he’s got a drummer into Tangerine Dream and Italo Disco and a bassist into heavy abstract dub, while he himself fancies a bit of techno, modern composition and hardcore.

On first spin of ‘Steal Your Face’, it sounds like a mess, not a bad mess, but not a mess that necessarily incorporates any of the above genres either. Spin again – and possibly again – and the album lurches to the other extreme; a tight knit fabric of disparate elements that are so contradictory that they fit together almost seamlessly. It takes more listening to mentally unpick the various sounds and influences, should you wish to. Now, how the hell did Mi Ami do that?

“I think when you’re friends with people, if you’re into a bunch of music, you’re not too hung up on trying to make something that sounds like something else,” explains Daniel. “People have talked about it like, ‘Oh, they blend all this shit,’ and it’s like…” [Daniel adopts the pose of a mad scientist] “…Oooh, we’re stirring a cauldron, like, ‘Mixin it up, guys!’” He says he just doesn’t get people who are just into one genre, who claim to ‘just like rock’. Daniel thinks that’s a bit boring and he likes to make a game of finding music that no one would ever consider liking and finding something in it that’s likeable; something that no one had bothered to look for. Mi Ami is about that openness – they don’t worry about getting to a final point and that frees up loads of possibilities.

“You get into similar grooves, over time,” Daniel admits “but it never comes to ‘let’s do it this way’.” Not that they don’t discuss and fine-tune the bits of a jam session that go well – the final tracks don’t just happen by chance – but there isn’t a road map at the start of the session with a marked final destination. “The music reveals itself to us,” he says. “Even live, the music is always subtly shifting, not drastically, but it’s not like we’re controlling it too much. A good show for us could be really high energy and aggressive or it could be more subdued, depending on… I dunno, it’s like…” Daniel pauses, then flashes a grin, leaning back into his archetypal sofa-stroker pose, he whispers dramatically, “It’s like jazz…”

By Polly Rappaport


Originally published in issue 18 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. June 2010

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