It’s not every day that you get to talk about music, life on the road, and life in general with one of your favorite bands. That’s something that became very real this week as I was able to interview Mark Hockings of Mesh for the website. How can you be objective with an article when you’ve been a fan of a band since the late 90’s? I can tell you this…it normally takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to come up with my interview questions I use on the site. They’re fairly similar…getting to know the artist, learning about studio set ups, future projects, etc. Those kind of questions weren’t going to work in this situation. No, this time it took several hours of typing, deleting, and re-typing questions. I hope that I did the band justice with the questions I came up with. I know that Mark gave some of the most in-depth and insightful answers I’ve gotten out of the dozens of interviews I’ve given. And with that, we’ll dive right in. You’re here for the interview, after all, not my ramblings about what a great and exciting opportunity this was.
You just finished a big tour supporting Looking Skyward. What were the highlights of your time on the road?
We did two main ‘legs’ of the Looking Skyward tour and some long weekends. About four weeks in all. It’s mostly been in Germany but with shows in the UK, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Russia. Highlights? Personally it was when the LED and video show that I’d spent three months programming (without the actual equipment) worked pretty much straight away without any real problems. It was a big worry and we’d booked a production day at the start of the tour to take that into account.
I think for all of us the Hamburg show on the second part of the tour was a highlight, one of our favourite cities with an amazing crowd and one of the venues we chose to film the concert – they didn’t let us down.
In all honesty, I love touring when I’m actually doing it so I loved the whole thing. I’m never in a rush to book up a tour because I find the preparation quite stressful, but it brings with it some big rewards in terms of laughter, achievement and memories so it’s always worth that stress to get it done. The support band initiation with ‘Death Sauce’ is also very entertaining…
What are the songs, new and old, that people reacted to the most?
That’s an interesting one. “Last One Standing” seems to have life of its own at the moment. I don’t know if it’s because it was the first track from ‘Looking Skyward’ that we played back on the ‘Automation Baby’ shows – not sure, but it goes down a storm. New tracks like the ‘Fixer’, ‘Runway’ – these sort of make sense I guess because of the tempo – it’s easier to judge. Some of the new slower tracks like ‘Tactile’ and ‘Before This World Ends’ people seem to love. ‘Two+1’ as well – I don’t get that so much, but then I had some issues with re-writes when I recorded that one so i may be tainted slightly. Old tracks like ‘Little Missile’, ‘To Be Alive’ and ‘I Fall Over’ have been very well received too, particularly ‘I Fall Over’. We took out tracks like ‘Crash’ and ‘From This Height’ which gave us a little more work to do. Finishing up with ‘Born To Lie’ and ‘Taken for Granted’ is always a highlight for me, particularly when the crowd carry on singing after the music stops, then Sean plays the drums over them. It’s been a good set list I think.
What is the best part about coming home after time on the road?
Just the normality I think. I quite like just having the freedom back again. Touring is both mentally challenging and fun. There is lots of free time but you are in no real frame of mind to enjoy it most of the time because the show slowly looms toward you. It’s hard to concentrate on anything else really. This does sound incredibly ungrateful actually, but for those few weeks there is definitely a relentless series of ups and downs that can find you feeling exhausted and elated in equal measures.
Speaking of Looking Skyward, you got a lot of questions about “Paper Thin” being left off. Releasing solid b-sides is something Mesh has a long track record of maintaining. Is it a concerted effort to keep the dying art of b-sides alive or a series of happy accidents?
We do actually put a lot of thought into these things. It was always a lovely thing when we bought singles and the B-side was great. You bought the first single because you wanted to hear something off the album, but once you had the album the single was pointless unless it had a good B-side. We think it’s important because it gives us a chance to play around with ideas. I think fans enjoy it because it stretches out the release a few months and gives them something to look forward to, knowing that there is still some tracks in reserve. And we don’t shorten the album to do this – I think our last two releases have been 12 or 13 tracks on the main album. ‘Circles’, ‘Last of the 212s’, ‘Paper Thin’, ‘Too Little Too Late’ and ‘Tuesday‘ have all been in addition to the 13 tracks on ‘Looking Skyward’.
You covered Yazoo’s “Tuesday” on your latest single “Runway.” How big of an influence were they as you formed Mesh?
Yazoo were a big influence on both of us. We were quite fussy about who we liked. It had to be pure electronic music – basically no guitars or real bass unless under exceptional circumstances. We’ve obviously relaxed our stance on that over the years… So I think it was a ‘feeling’ thing with us. Yazoo had that pure electronic sound with the soulful voice. It wasn’t new age synth music – it was pure precise and you could dance to it without a cape on, but at the same time it seemed to have depth and emotion. Depeche Mode were the same in many respects, OMD, Gary Numan (both used guitars and bass but that was ok), Nitzer Ebb, DAF, and (later) Nine Inch Nails. We love Vince and I think his influence on modern dance and electronic music is understated.
You’ve been in the music industry for a long time. How have you seen synth based music change over that span?
Tricky one. There is still a ‘scene’ that take their inspiration from similar sources to us I guess. I think there is also a younger and more ‘hip’ scene making what I would recognise as music with a similar ethos to the one we had. I don’t know if the synthesizer is seen as a ‘thing’ any more though. We singled synthesizers out because they were different sounding, difficult to use and understand and comparatively rare. Pretty much all musicians now have the same gear that we use, so it’s now more about a stylistic choice rather than the equipment. I guess the rest of the synth based music is either the various branches of club music or music aimed solely at the youth market and the charts. It’s basically all synths now. So far as the technology is concerned, the old keyboards are still about if you can afford them. Plugins pretty much do everything now, however we are starting to buy into the ‘new’ analogue keyboards which sound incredible.
Keeping with the tone of the last question, how has Mesh evolved?
We’ve both evolved into better songwriters in my opinion. We’ve done this by staying completely involved with the whole process and keeping a consistent approach to writing albums, yet changing things where we think they need changing. We have tried to work with the same people who know how we think and what we want. We’ve become more relaxed and confident as live performers certainly and I think we enjoy the live shows a lot more that we did when we started. Taking on things like video production, artwork and photography has also given us a lot more involvement and satisfaction in the final product and I believe the results have been worth the extra time and work.
Why do you think your music has struck a chord across so many countries?
There was a time when music seemed to very much come and go, but the internet has changed all that and like minded people network and spread the word. Our fans travel all over the World to see us play and we see the live experience as very homogeneous wherever we go. I think we are lucky that English is regarded as the universal language otherwise i don’t think we’d be so successful. That said, i guess we try to write interesting and (hopefully) intelligent music that people can connect with wherever they are from.
What is your opinion on the current state of radio?
I’m currently at that point where the top 20 only contains a handful of tracks I like and the rest makes me shout at the radio. But isn’t that just getting old? That said, I’m not one to dismiss things just because they are new and belong to the young. Very much the opposite in fact. There ARE genuinely talented people coming through like there has always been. I like internet radio very much, but am also cautious of anything that feeds you what you want. There should always be scope for finding something you have never heard before – something new and exciting. Late night radio on the BBC still goes out there and does this and it’s important. I like Spotify because it give recommendations to bands that you would never hear but are loosely connected with a band you know. So overall i think there is more good music out there than at any point in history, but you just have to spend some time finding it yourself.
Any advice to artists that are just hitting the scene? What is something you wish you were told?
Difficult. We’ve not had an easy time and I don’t think we have ever realised our true potential commercially so we may not be the best people to ask. That said it’s been an incredible journey and we are very proud of what we’ve achieved so far. Most importantly we are still together and looking forward to the future.
I would say that you need to start by touring – get out there and play your demos. All of our early opportunities started from small shows and tours. Don’t sit in your bedroom making music and expect the record industry to come to you – it just doesn’t happen. Don’t waste your time. Get a support slot with a decent band – pay for it if you have to, but just build up a following. Once you have played your songs to people and worked out how to present them best, record them properly and make an album – crowdfunding can help here, but do it yourself. Learn the process, the costs, the time – find some people who you trust to work with. Make a video and put it on YouTube – again, do it yourself or find a mate that has a camera and some basic skills. All this helps to baseline what you are committing yourself to and what you are good/bad at. At this point things start to get tricky. In the old days you would find a record company or hopefully they have found you by now. If you already have your album they can license it directly from you and you may even get a small advance – the important thing here is that the album is done, the record company don’t have to imagine what it sounds like and you already have a small following from your touring. Many people are saying albums are dead and you should only release singles, or only videos. Again, I don’t think so – I think those people confuse the big changes in method of delivery of music with peoples desire to own music. That said, all record companies are struggling so don’t expect a six figure advance.
On the matter of working, my advice would be to keep your day job for as long as you can – it takes the financial pressure off and allows you to take your time. You have to be fairly organised though and you will have to work on music in the evenings.
I wish we had kept more on top of our publishing and royalty finances, paid more attention to contracts, been harder on negotiations and generally been more skeptical. Otherwise I wouldn’t change anything 🙂
Once again, I’d like to thank Mark for the amazing interview. He and Richard are both class acts that have been very supportive and whether they knew it or not, helped lend a great deal of credibility to a very young Echosynthetic site. Their share of my Band You Should Know: Mesh post really put me on the map and opened me up to a wider audience. A Mesh song title has continued to run through my head as I’ve typed up this article…’Never Meet Your Heroes’. Sorry guys, I didn’t take your advice, albeit digitally. I’m glad I did…it’s reaffirming to have such a pleasant experience.
And with that, I thank you readers for sharing this exciting adventure with me. Be sure to check out the new Mesh single ‘Runway‘ and it’s parent album, Looking Skyward. There’s a treasure trove of a discography to dive into from there, so keep digging.