Due to their unique sound and approach to making music, The Mountaineers are truly a band of the 21st Century. Like Momus, they use electronic music and merge it with acoustic, organic, and folk music. This fusion of natural and synthetic music is extremely original and surprisingly accessible due to the pop song structures. The Mountaineers are a trio consisting of Alex Germains, Ceri James, and Thomas Kelar. Originally from the Welsh town of Hope, they eventually moved to Liverpool and released a critically acclaimed EP on Deltasonic Records. Eventually, they got signed to Mute Records (home of Moby, Depeche Mode, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds). The Mountaineers recently released their debut album, Messy Century, on Mute to widespread critical acclaim.
Even though they have been compared to Daft Punk and The Flaming Lips, The Mountaineers are truly unique. On a cold evening in March 2004, I had an in-depth interview with Alex Germains about the band, labels, politics, music, and much more.
PIXELSURGEON: What goes on?
Huge amounts of stuff. New album, promoting our own night in Liverpool and London. The album is going to be fantastic, more poppy in a Mountaineers way, more live sounding, more electronic sounds. Imagine recording a live album, but with lots of cool synths and f*cked up editing. I don’t think when people record electronic music, they like it to sound raw, but that’s what we want. We want it with electric guitar too.
Your new album is called Messy Century. Why?
Because of many things. This century is a mess. That can be good and bad. Good because people are more culturally integrated. We can share lots of cool stuff artistically and ideologically, and there’s a big mess of great sh*t going on. Bad because we all know that the world is going to sh*t and there doesn’t seem to be a lot anyone nice can do about it. I have a theory that nice people are too nice to kick up a fuss about the bad stuff that other people do. Well, they kick up a bit of a fuss but the bad guys are just too mental and too power hungry. All they want is to be in charge. It’s just not in the nature of nice guys to fight them. Well done to those of us who try though!
Do you have a favorite song on Messy Century?
It varies. One of the great things about the album is that it’s not 12 tracks of the same sounding music. Some people see that as a flaw but we like to hear diversity, again going back to the title, something a bit messy. All over the place. All over my face. At the moment, the song Sewing is doing it for me.
What song took you the longest to do? Why?
The song I Gotta Sing, by a mile. The first take sounded like Sting, which to us, ended up being a bad thing! We did, I kid you not, 100 different versions of the song before we were happy. Then, it got remixed 3 times for the single edit! Holy unnecessary production Batman! It’s just a nice song anyway.
How is Messy Century different from the previous EPs?
Totally. We had Tom drumming full time for the first time, which gave more unity to the drums, and more liveliness. It’s a progression of our songwriting, production, ideas, opinions, experiences, everything. Can you tell?
How did The Mountaineers meet and eventually form a band?
We met at school. We kind of discovered each other because we were the only weird kids in a school of 1000 pupils. We played together for a couple of years, then all left town to do other sh*t. I got stoned, fat, and lazy living in London, learning to write songs. Ceri moved to Bangor, North Wales, a seaside town full of hippies and druids, to study electronic music. Tom became an artist in Leicester, England, and started a drum n’ bass night. I moved up to Leicester for a while, played with Tom a bit, then he went home to the Czech republic to have a baby. I moved to Bangor, started playing and recording with Ceri. Then, we got noticed. We signed to Deltasonic, released the first EP. Tom came back and we signed to Mute. Easy!
When making songs, do you go into the studio with pre-written rhymes, lyrics, and themes or do you hear the beat first
and write then and there? What is the creative process like?
The creative process is a hellish journey. I’m personally writing several songs right at this moment. They’re all whirling around my head, waiting for the right signal to jump out onto the plastic. Sometimes, it’s a lyric, a beat, a riff or a lady…(laughs) Ha. Sometimes, they just come right out in 5 minutes.
In one phrase, how would you describe how the songs are written lyrically?
It’s deliberately spontaneous.
What has been in your CD player or on your turntable recently?
Outkast and Serge Gainsbourg on mine. Ceri likes Grandaddy. Tom is mp3 mad, so anything he fancies.
Where did you grow up? What kind of kid were you?
Tom grew up in the Czech republic, Denmark and then Wales, which gave him some diverse influences in his outlook. I grew up in various places around Britain. We never stayed in one place longer than 4 years, which made me grow up with an outsider mentality, which has always stayed with me. Ceri was born and raised in Coed Poeth, in the hills, left to his own devices which led to his musical difference from others.
What do you think of music journalism on the Internet?
Good question. We have been finding a lot of Internet reviews and articles about us to be much better written than NME, Mojo type journalism for example.
You moved to Liverpool. Why?
Liverpool is the heart of it in Britain as far as we’re concerned. It’s not always cool with the media, but Liverpool is the rock n’ roll heart of Britain.
The Mountaineers have been compared to both The Flaming Lips and Daft Punk. How do you feel about these comparisons?
Like I said, The Flaming Lips are lovely, man. I met Wayne Coyne. Respect is due, but musically not interesting to me. I don’t think we sound like them. Daft Punk? Yes, please. Living in the past but so sexy, so cool. Well better than us at the moment.
What are some major misconceptions that people have of you?
We get tagged as ‘folktronica’. What utter bullshit! It is just because we use acoustic guitars on some stuff with synths. We make pop music. Always have, always will. Apart from that, any conceptions people want to have are fine by me.
If you could re-make any song, what would it be?
I couldn’t make anyone else’s songs better than they already are. Maybe one day, we could remake all our albums just to see if we would make them the same!
What collaborations should we look out for?
Us and Kylie Minogue!