Strand and Deliver
Indie waifs MENACE BEACH discuss the citrus-derived curse behind their new album, going to Bob Dylan’s old stomping ground for inspiration and how they started a critically-acclaimed band without quite intending to. Interview: Ed Power
As Menace Beach, Ryan Needham and Liza Violet have released two collections of howling and ominous experimental rock. So it is perhaps a surprise the project began not as a shriek into the void by a pair of disaffected souls but as an extra curricular lark by indie veterans looking to keep busy.
"We both have day jobs," says Violet, from a hotel in the English midlands where Menace Beach are halfway through their latest tour (you will join us in quietly praying they book a date this side of the Irish sea sooner rather than later).
"That's how it is for a lot of musicians," says the singer, who pays the rent working as a seamstress (Needham for his part is in catering). "You have to have another means of supporting yourself."
"The positive side is that you aren't relying on success," adds Needham. "It's not like you're worrying, 'oh god – I hope this song gets on the radio'. It takes the pressure off. You don't get sidetracked."
That the duo are not beholden to outside influences is made plain by second album,
Lemon Memory. Where 2015 debut, Ratworld was claustrophobic and dusted in feedback, the follow-up overhauls the formula, with a more expansive and approachable deportment.
On Ratworld, Violet was happy to stay in the background. She contributed ideas – but left the heavy lifting to her bandmate. Second time out, she is front and centre. Being frontwoman did not necessarily come naturally. However, she has grown into the task. Occasionally she even enjoys it.
"It's a lot more guitar-y I guess," says Violet. "Early on, we didn't do a lot of touring. We've since got a bit more settled and fixed on a lineup. We think of ourselves as a normal band now. It's nice."
"Lemon Memory" comes from a book about old curses that Needham stumbled upon. There was, recalls Violet, a "bit about being able to put a curse on your enemies by leaving a bag of lemons in their front garden".
This chimed a bell: several years earlier, Needham and Violet had discovered a carrier bag of lemons in the garden of the "pretty disgusting" house they were renting. Evidently the rubbish accommodation could be blamed on Satanic sorcery.
They wrote Lemon Memory on holiday in the Balearics – though are quick to point out it isn't an "Ibiza album" (to be fair, it is unlikely anyone would mistake it for such). They weren't hanging out in clubs or availing of three-for-two cocktail nights.
Instead, Violet and Needham went to Formentera, just off the coast of Ibiza. The place has a rich rock lineage. Bob Dylan once lived here – in a windmill obviously – and Pink Floyd spent a lot of time on the island during their Syd Barrett period.
"There's a hippy-ish side," says Needham. "It was very relaxed. There are loads of artists out there. Everyone was really lovely and chilled out."
Violet and Needham have passed through numerous bands. The original line-up of Menace Beach included former members of Hookworms, You Animals, Sky Larkin and Pulled Apart By Horses Initially the group was just a bunch of pals mucking about – Needham fondly recalls an early jamming session where they the musicians stayed up until 6am eating pizza, guzzling beer and working through ideas. It came as a shock when local promoters started offering gigs.
"We didn't have a plan at the start," says Violet. "When it came to the second album we knew we wanted it to be a bit more controlled – to have more space."
They are based in Leeds, though both started out further south. The city is affordable, with a lively music scene. However, unlike other north of England urban centers it isn't defined by, or prisoner to, a glorious past. Leeds has given the world The Sisters of Mercy, Kaiser Chiefs and Spice Girl Mel B. Whatever else, you can't accuse it of painting itself into a box.
"It's a really good place, " says Needham.
"Nice size – a really nice music community.
Lots of great venues and it's great to tour from. It's interesting that Leeds doesn't have this alldefining heritage. The Kaiser Chiefs were the last ones to come up I think. You don't feel you have to live up to anyone else. You're free to do your own thing – to be who you want to be."
Lemon Memory is out now