The Melodic are a quietly radical band. Perhaps the most innovative English folk ensemble since Pentangle's jazz/folk fusion of the early 70s, the band harnesses a syncretic sound decorated with charango and kora that makes one envision what might have happened if Paul Simon had been raised in the London neighborhood of Brixton. This is the first young English band to lionize Chilean neo-folk rebel Victor Jara since Sandinista-era Clash. Their stunning debut album Effra Parade was self-recorded in a sound-proofed bedroom over several years with a baroque line-up of 18 instruments. All the more impressive when you consider they are still in their early twenties.
English newspaper The Observer described the band's unique sound, calling it "Incredibly beautiful, with harmonies and rich instrumentation that make you want to dance and cry at the same time."
The Melodic center around a collaboration and longstanding friendship between songwriters Huw Williams and Rudi Schmidt who began teaching themselves guitar as schoolboys and arrived at their unique musical DNA simultaneously.
Huw grew up amongst his Dad's 60’s folk revival records. Entranced by the sounds of Bert Jansch, Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, he set about exploring the collections of archivists Cecil Sharp and Francis Child in pursuit of British traditional folk music. ‘It’s hard to say why this music resonated with me above the American hip-hop and UK garage that was massive amongst my schoolmates,” Williams offers. “I guess I found something captivating in the storytelling nature that offered a pathway to a simpler, bucolic way of life. It was interesting that there was often no known author to the songs. They had passed through the ages by an oral tradition evolving along the way. Singing them connected me to this process.’
Rudi recalls a similar musical revelation, “A shelf in the kitchen of my teenage girlfriend's house was devoted to her parents 70s British and American folk albums, as well as some reggae. To me those records sounded so fresh and new.”
Rudi's step father is maverick musician and composer Nick Pynn who filled their home with exotic instruments. There was a mandocello (18th century Vinaccia school designed, it is to the mandolin what the cello is to the violin), an Appalachian dulcimer (invented by 19th century Scotch-Irish in the southern Appalachian mountains) not to mention a cocolele (a ukulele made out of coconut). A school friend from Chile lent Rudi a charango and a beloved melodica (as heard on his favorite Augustus Pablo records).
Huw and Rudi began to piece together songs, testing them out across various South London open-mic nights. Through word of mouth they were booked for bigger and bigger shows. A Bombay Bicycle Club support tour and Electric Picnic Festival. Radio 1 played their tracks and they released a couple of singles on an indie label. Eventually Rudi moved to a nearby squat where they turned his room into a studio and began recording their debut album.
“Our approach recording our songs is almost as if painting,” says Rudi. “Building layers, replacing others until we get the music to say what we want it to say. We obviously looked towards Lee Perry's production in the mid-70. But we were also really influenced by Bob Jonston who produced Leonard Coheh and set him apart from his 'folk' contemporaries.”
Rudi's love for the charango inspired him to travel to Bolivia where he studied with Ernesto Cavour – possibly the greatest charango player of all time. Impressed by the dedication of the young Londoner, Ernesto invited Rudi to join his Charango Philharmonic. Rudi instead returned home and adding all he had learned to the sound of The Melodic.
All these disparate influences merge to create a truly innovative band, a fusion-folk made by digital natives with Reggae's bass culture underpinning their sound. The counterpoint to their musical adventurousness is their elliptical lyricism. “Roots are not something you lay but something you take on your way and I've got mine.”
Cerebral yet subtle, The Melodic aren't afraid to eulogize Victor Jara, whose guitar playing hands were symbolically broken by Pinochet's soldiers before he was killed. Jara remains a symbol of human rights and justice for people in totalitarian regimes across the world. Years ago Rudi's actual dad produced music for dub artist Jah Wobble (Public Image) and Jerry Dammers of The Specials. Dammers continues to be a supporter and an inspiration for The Melodic.
“Jerry produced some of The Special's music himself,” explains Rudi. “He was making ska and reggae but you can hear the Eastern melodies on a song like 'Ghost Town.' It's got some crazy chords in it. A lot of musicians tend to stay away from politics but if you look at The Specials, their songs had strong messages about race and society and Ghost Town was number one for three weeks.” Times for young people around the world haven’t been this tough since the early eighties, and so maybe it’s time the music of quiet radicals like The Melodic is now.