INTERVIEW: MXYM | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by TJmov

North East artist MXYM doesn’t just make music, it’s an intrinsic part of who they are. Growing up, MXYM’s induction came through their parents and a house which throbbed with sound, from classic rock to musical theatre and “weird 80s music”. A deeper connection came during their formative years in college, when the music around at the time wasn’t adequate enough for them to identify with. “I needed to fill that void myself and that’s when I started writing.”

MXYM’s music is honest, intense and immersive; blurring identities and genres – from avant-garde, alternative and goth, to glam, emo, industrial and pop – with an innate creativity and a desire for the listener to be completely engrossed in their creative world. Their music has art at its core, with universal themes (albeit often wrapped in metaphor) and varied musical landscapes shot through with Queer sensibility and style. “Because my music catalogue is quite varied I’ve given myself freedom to not be bound by genre or style, which has given me the perfect playground to see what works for me and what the audience enjoys.”

Previous releases have seen MXYM play with 50s B-movie tropes (Starfire), dark dance (Sixteen), industrial goth (Private In Public) and eclectic pop (Pageant), but their new EP sees them traverse new musical landscapes, in turn revealing far more of themselves as an artist. Memento Mori was inspired by a year of “intense change and uncertainty”, and explores death in its many forms, from the loss of a loved one to the end of a relationship and the deaths of self we endure to become who we are. “The whole thing stems from losing your support net and people you thought you’d have forever.” They explain.

Taking grief as a starting point, the EP’s sentiment is something of a darker take on ‘carpe diem’, and all the tracks share a much heavier soundtrack than much of MXYM’s material thus far. Opener Six Feet Deep starts out with intent, an industrial gothic masterpiece which ricochets with punchy beats; recent single Coven is dark and sultry with massive riffs; and Cross To Bear’s bass-driven rhythm is punctuated by angry guitar stabs. Necrophiliac, with its tongue-in-cheek lyrics and toe-curling crunching noises (created by squashing a plastic water bottle, not crushing bones, I was pleased to discover) is paired with a poppy chorus which has ‘ear-worm’ written all over it.

As with much of MXYM’s creative output, Memento Mori is a multi-layered beast, evidenced by mid-EP track Punk Narcissus, which shows a softer and more vulnerable side to the artist which wasn’t always easy for them to reconcile. “Although you perhaps can’t tell what I’m writing about, I think you can tell there’s a lot of hurt in Punk Narcisuss and while I’m not verbally so open, sonically I am. And that’s still quite scary. I come from that Joan Crawford school of every time I leave the house I am MXYM; my hair is done, I have some eyeliner on, I’m in an outfit, you’ll never really see the person behind MXYM, so to put a song out that feels so open and hurt and honest is quite scary for me as a performer.”

It’s all special because it’s momentary, and the acceptance of death is what makes right now joyous

Closing track La Dolce Morte is a stadium-sized ballad, and cements the intentions behind the EP. “La Dolce Morte is accepting loss will happen and if it wasn’t for the fact that we’ll all die, that things do end, everything that came before wouldn’t have any meaning. It’s all special because it’s momentary, and the acceptance of death is what makes right now joyous. Memento Mori literally means ‘remember you will die’ – remember that every day you wake up, that’s not a guarantee, your gift is that day. Don’t take it for granted.”

MXYM admits that dealing with such big themes out in the open doesn’t come naturally; much of their work is cloaked in sweeping metaphors and massive melodies. “I really struggle with getting to the heart of the matter and being honest, and I definitely didn’t achieve that with this EP, I think my voice as an artist is just that abstractness. But this time around there were moments that I’d write a line and it felt too real and I’d have to second guess it, and I think because it’s all abstract and metaphorical, it’s only obvious to me, but it’s scary.”

The live arena is not the place you’d expect to see this vulnerability – an MXYM live show is heavy, angry and frequently raunchy. Armed with a synth pad and a laptop, MXYM admits they enjoy the dissonance that comes with shocking an audience. Having come up among the Newcastle drag scene and regularly performing as part of the BonBons Cabaret, their performance style straddles both the Queer and alt. indie scenes, although it wasn’t always an easy marriage. “When I went out on stage I didn’t feel very confident doing very heavy rock music, but I’ve been really surprised at how much Newcastle Queer artists love heavy music in the gay bars. Coming up in the cabaret scene and having to transfer that to an indie music night, I think it’s worked wonders to be a fun performer and really all encompassing. I’ve been able to feel confident to perform in my space and to do an EP that at its heart and soul is so true to the DNA of who me as a person is and the music that makes my spirit soar.”

This confidence is perhaps most in evidence when it comes to the complete worlds that MXYM’s music inhabit. Their use of art, image and identity is influenced by the likes of Grace Jones, Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and Madonna; each song has a colour palette, a mood and in many cases a boundary pushing music video. “As soon as I start writing lyrics, it creeps in bit by bit – this sound, that texture, those trousers, this wig. It all comes out in one piece, it’s never secondary to anything.” North East creative, photographer and filmmaker TJmov is MXYM’s creative partner in crime, enabling them to realise their increasingly out-there visions. “I like to come to him with the stupid ideas and the thing that makes him incredibly talented is he can figure out how to do it. Whereas I’m a big blue-sky thinker, he can magic things up from nothing.”

The absolute distillation of Memento Mori will perhaps best be experienced live, and in typical MXYM fashion an immersive gig is planned at Northern Stage on Friday 13th October. “It’ll be spooky, bleak, fun; there will be a coffin, probably about 1,000 white flowers, bespoke visuals, speciality cocktails. It will be a night like no other and the truest MXYM live experience that you’ll get. If that doesn’t sell it, I don’t know what will.”

MXYM releases Memento Mori EP on 2nd October. Their immersive live experience at Northern Stage, Newcastle on Friday 13th October also features performances from Kkett and Holly Rees.

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