Cork singer-songwriter and electronic music artist Trick Mist told David Hennessy about his new album that he was moved to write after the passing of his grandmother.
Trick Mist, the electronic and ambient songwriter and producer from Cork, comes to the UK this week on the back of releasing his second album, The Hedge Maze and the Spade.
The album came a period of introspection after the death of his 96 year old grandmother with whom he shared a remarkably close relationship.
Trick Mist, whose real name is Gavin Murray, would ask his Granny about things in her life and old ways of living.
She was his link to the past and had always been there.
Following his 2018 debut Both Ends, the album’s initial impulse was a quest to explore and understand this relationship, although it would then ‘open up’ with other themes such as memory and the power of imagination coming in as well as looking back to the past for answers to modern problems.
Trick Mist told The Irish World about the new album: “I think it started off from a very personal space.
“But I think it opened up and took a turn that I wasn’t expecting, which I was grateful for.
“It just kind of spiralled out of control and got a bit messy in a good way.
“he album is an inner journey that I embarked on after my grandmother passed away.
“I was very close to her.
“So it was exploring that relationship as it entered a new phase.
“So the initial idea was just to figure out what the story was with that relationship, and just to honour it.
“My nan was 96, so I viewed her as this person who sort of embodied the past or past ways of the living.
“So when she passed on, I could feel that window to the past narrowing a little bit.
“I wanted to try and just crack it back open again.
“That was the initial impulse, it was a therapeutic thing initially, and then I just sort of wanted to just try and figure out the past just for the sake of the future, take some lessons going forward.
“I was quite aware of the problems that we face today in terms of the climate crisis, that was weighing heavily on my mind.
“I was just thinking maybe there’s merit in looking backwards to try and pick up some lessons as we move forward, just learning from your elders.
“That was the idea but it got nice and messy then and new themes started coming up, I don’t think it remained as personal.
“It was like a personal tipping point and then it was like an Alice in Wonderland ‘down the rabbit hole’ kind of thing, you know?
“You do a deep dive, then you get kind of lost, you don’t know what the story is and you’re just trying to figure things out and then you kind of emerge at the end with some ideas.
“It got kind of surreal at points, I think.
“There’s a real kind of surrealness that comes with thinking back to childhood memories. It’s almost like, ‘Was that even me?’
“So there was this lovely opportunity to be surreal about something that was actually reality, and just kind of playing with that and playing with memories and playing with how much they can be trusted, and what you choose to remember, what you don’t.
“There was all sorts of themes thrown up.
“There was obviously loss, wonder was a big one in terms of childhood, spirituality and old Ireland: The myth of Ireland, what’s good about those things in the past and then also seeing what is not so good and giving a take on contemporary culture.
“So there’s a lot in it, I think.
“It kind of took a mad old curve but I’m grateful for that. Because it it opened itself up nicely, I think.”
The track Boring Bread is an example of what he talks about regarding surreal childhood memories. The song is about an afternoon at the shop with his grandmother. Perhaps mundane at the time, now it is a magical memory.
“That was just about going down to the shop with my nan in the 90s to buy just a plain old sliced pan.
“And it’s just very, on the face of it, unremarkable but just remembering it with such wonder and such beauty and just kind of just trying to shine a light on the mystery of that and how it is just so amazing.
“So it’s got a bit of a kind of a Paddy Kavanagh sort of vibe that one, just romanticizing the ordinary.”
Gavin points out that the lyrics for the record came first, essentially acting as framework for the actual music
“I view the lyrics as the brief for the song.
“So every kind of instrumentation or any kind of landscape I wanted to create had to serve the lyrics.
“I relied on the lyrics to kind of give me the picture and then I just had to try and paint the picture, you know what I mean?
“I suppose the main kickstart of the record was, I sat down to write some lyrics.
“It was actually after my nan’s wake, just a mad time and I guess I was just trying to make sense of such a such a crazy time in my head.
“So I just wanted to just get some words down, and then all of a sudden, this stuff came flying out of me and it was this real amazing experience, I haven’t had too many of them.
“It was that elusive ‘flow’ people talk about.
“So then I kind of stood back and said, ‘Jesus, I have a good bit of stuff here’.
“So that became the backbone and an impulse to say to myself, ‘I should go this direction now’.
“So it was all the lyrics first and then the music came second.”
Trick Mist’s electronic music takes influence from Irish trad. How would he describe his sound? “Yeah, I think I would hit off those touch points.
“So it does have the electronic and the trad aspect as well.
“But for this record, I think it’s more like abstract trad or ambient kind of traditional.
“I was delving a lot into traditional style singing for this record.
“I think it’s the most detailed instrument that you can possess.
“I try my hand at anything, instrument wise, but I love singing, and I love the way you can sing one day and sound a certain way, and then you sing another day and you’re, let’s say, a bit tired or a bit more energetic or you’re thinking about something else, it will just totally have an effect on your voice and it’s just so detailed. I don’t really know if I experience the same with other instruments.
“So that definitely fed into things a lot.
“When I think about composing music, I think about it as this kind of choice between something that’s fabricated or something that’s captured.
“So all the time I’d be like, ‘Does this need to be a capture moment or a fabricate moment?’
“A fabricate moment in my head would creating this thing that’s deliberately not realistic sounding or it’s unadulteratedly abstract, like a dreamscape.
“Whereas a capture moment will be like someone just singing raw with their neck veins going, giving it 90.
“A ‘press record’ versus ‘sculpt something out of nothing’.
“And I think when you mix those two philosophies you get some really interesting landscapes. I always think of landscapes when I make music.”
The album is accompanied by a four-part podcast series entitled ‘Tracing Places that saw Trick Mist hand songs off the record to other creatives, allowing them to make a music video based on how they interpreted the track. He then reconvened with the artists to have a conversation about their work.
“It was a great opportunity to open up the record to other people.
“It’s been a real privilege to just stand back and kind of just test the communicative power of art.
“I would give a videographer a song and the lyrics and I’d be like, ‘Right, I’ll see it when it’s finished’, and it was up to them how they wanted to conduct the video.
“So I got some really amazing results.
“It’s quite fascinating how many things people pick up on without being prompted directly, they’re prompted through the art only which is just great.
“It’s kind of turning the normal way music videos are constructed on its head a wee bit.
“It’s been just a great privilege just to stand back and let the art speak for itself.”
It was in trad music that Gavin got started although he says he was never steeped in it.
“The first thing I learned was tin whistle when I was eight and then moved on to bodhran a year or two after that.
“But it wasn’t like I was steeped in traditional music.
“I mean, I don’t come from a big trad family or didn’t grow up playing Fleadhs or that kind of thing.
“It was like Wednesday afternoon in primary school for an hour, you know?
“But it definitely got the whole thing going and got the whole thing moving.
“And it definitely did something.
“So I’m not really steeped in it.
“So I kind of think there’s kind of pros to that because I’m coming at it from this kind of weird imaginary viewpoint.
“So it’s not coming from a learned place, it’s coming from a place of imagination, which can be interesting.”
Gavin spent years living in London with the band Bold Things and living in areas such as Islinton and Whitechapel. He also spent years in Manchester.
“I was London for four and a half years and then Manchester for two years.
“It was great. I loved it.
“I was pursuing music in London with a band, and then that kind of fizzled out naturally.
“And then I moved to Manchester and that’s when I actually started the Trick Mist project.
He comes back for some gigs this week, is it good to come back? “Oh yeah, I love it. I have a great affinity with the place and it’s just a huge part of my personal history and a huge part of my artistic makeup.
“Six years I was there and they’re kind of formative years.
“I moved over when I was 21 and then I left when I was 26 or 27.
“You’re like a sponge when you’re that age and I had a great time there.
“So I always love going back. It has a place in the heart for sure.”
The Hedge Maze and the Spade is out now.
Trick Mist plays London’s Old Blue on Friday 7 October, Manchester’s Castle Hotel on Saturday 8 October, Glasgow’s Nice N Sleazy on Sunday 9 October.
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