INTERVIEW: Melanie Crew

Melanie Crew is a singer songwriter based in London. With a crisp, clear voice, Melanie sings bittersweet songs that cut straight to the heart. Her new EP, Until the End, is a reminder of new love, lost love and dreams of what could have been. Melanie recently took the time to speak to us about what inspires her and what she’s got coming up next.

People say I sound like….

A few people have said my music sounds like Belle and Sebastian or The Sundays. It’s quite hard to describe my music: it’s very quiet and gentle, but it’s not really folk music. The type of chord changes I use are similar to the kind of chords used by the indie and pop artists I grew up listening to, rather than traditional folk musicians.

Tell us about the scene in London….

Well, it’s definitely congested! There are so many artists, and some of those will be trying to launch a professional music career – so they’ll have music videos and websites all up and running before they’ve played many shows. I’ve done one or two shows organised by promoters where I’ve been under pressure to bring a crowd, and the line-ups seem quite random and disparate. Having said that, if you know the right people, there are a lot of smaller scenes where groups of similar sounding musicians play together in more intimate and friendly venues. And there are some great open mic nights that have a real community feel.

What music has influenced your sound?

Vocally, I’m a huge fan of Sally Ellyson from Hem, a group from Brooklyn, New York, who make wonderful music. Her voice is so clear and pure, and I really like listening to singers who sing naturally, with few affectations.  Musically, I really like Elliott Smith – his album Either/Or was a big influence: it’s very lo:fi and stripped back and intimate. As with most of his work, there’s this huge sense of melancholy. It’s a really engaging record because of all the interesting chord changes and strong melodies that he uses.  

Tell us about your live show…

Well, it’s just me and my acoustic guitar! I keep it quite low key as I do get quite nervous about performing.  Weirdly, most people who’ve seen me play comment that I look really calm, so I’m obviously good at hiding my nerves!

What influences you lyrically?

I do pay attention to lyrics when listening to music. One of my favourite bands are the Manic Street Preachers, who are obviously very wordy. It’s nice to hear lyrics that are a bit different. I think the lyrics on the album ‘The Heart of Saturday Night’ by Tom Waits are really evocative: “all our scribbled love dreams are lost or thrown away, here amidst the shuffle of an overflowing day”. I actually find it really hard to write lyrics! For me, it’s probably the hardest part of songwriting.

Best concert I’ve ever seen…

I’ll always remember my first ever gig, which was Ash at the Brixton Academy in London. I was 18, I think, and just so excited that the band would be playing right there in front of me. I became an Ash obsessive when I was at University. I loved the catchy songs, the guitars, the fact that they seemed like really nice people. It was my first experience of how exciting rock concerts can be: when people who are passionate about the same band come together and sing along.

If you could travel back in time for music, what year would you go to and who would you see?

It would be nice to go back to 1973 to see Paul Simon play an intimate show somewhere. That would have been just after he released The Goes Rhymin Simon, which has two of my favourite songs of his on it.  Or maybe a Carole King/James Taylor concert from around the same time. But seeing as those artists are still alive, I should probably make the most of this super-power and travel back to see an Elvis show in the US in the 1950s, or maybe Ray Charles at the Newport Jazz festival in 1958

What are you listening to today?

I was listening to a compilation CD that my partner Ross made for me. He makes CDs for me a lot and they’re really great: very diverse and interesting. This particular one is a couple of years old, and has some classics on it – Marvin Gaye, Hall & Oates, for example. But I think my favourite track on it is The Way Things Are by Fiona Apple.

If you could open for any band or artist today, who would it be and why?

John Grant. I really like his album Queen of Denmark: the songs are so interesting, and beautifully arranged. He has a great voice too. I have a live recording of the concert he did with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, and it’s very good.

If you could bring only one album on a tour/bus/plane, what would it be?

Such a hard question. It’s tempting to pick a classic 90s alternative album, like There’s Nothing Lose by the Foo Fighters, but I think I’d go with something a bit more downbeat and relaxing: maybe Oh Mercy by Bob Dylan: my favourite album of his. It includes the song Most of the Time: one of the best things he ever recorded, in my opinion!

When you’re not playing and have some time off, where would we find you?

I love art galleries and museums. I’m lucky to live in London where there’s just so much to do. I’m still discovering new places, even after all these years! I got this book called Quiet London recently which has lots of ideas of secret places to go to: I’ve been visiting lots of pretty gardens and beautiful churches. I also like relaxing at home: I’ve just got into The Wire, so I’m working my way through that!

What do you have coming up in 2015/2016?

I just released an EP, so at the moment I’m doing a few live shows to promote that. But I’m already working on new songs, and I’d like to release a second EP early next year.

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My love for music is all over the place. Punk, hip hop and rap, electro, heavy metal, country - ANYTHING GOES!

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