Five Favourites: MEI

South London-based vocalist, bassist and producer MEI, is on our radar. MEI recently released her double a-side project ‘No Dim Lights’, the second installment in her Antonio Vivaldi-inspired seasonal trilogy. The project expresses the “fight to not give up, even on my gloomy days, my light still shines and nothing can dim it.”

We asked MEI to name her ‘Five Favourites’ – five artists or albums that have influenced her songwriting techniques, and we let her chuck an extra one too! Check out her choices below, and make sure you give ‘No Dim Lights’ a listen out now.

Lauryn Hill- The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
This album really changed my life. I studied it like it was a school project! I learnt so much about singing, songwriting and rapping from it, and it was the first time I’d heard all three be done so incredibly well. She definitely put the fire inside me to rap as well as sing, and it wasn’t until years later I actually had the confidence to do it. The honesty in every lyric also made it impossible not to connect to it. The album really had a profound impact on me personally and my songwriting.

Coldplay – Parachutes
I still remember clearly hearing ‘Trouble’ on the radio for the first time and feeling such a strong wave of emotion. I don’t think I even took in the lyrics because I was too young but sonically it was just so moving. When I revisited the album in my teens I was so gripped by how talkative they were and how they hit you so deep. The chord progressions too!

Laura Mvula – ‘Show Me Love’
I truly believe this is outstanding songwriting. It inspires me so much. It’s so honest and tragically beautiful. Wow. The vocal is mesmerising, you feel every word and the arrangement tears you apart and brings you back again. I wish I wrote it.

Ms Dynamite- ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee’
I absolutely love this song. I’ll never forget feeling so empowered by it. Here was a young black girl from London being herself all over my TV screen and I loved it! She was so unique and unapologetic and always bringing a positive message to her music, which was so inspiring to me.

Ebo Taylor – ‘Love and Death’
This song takes me straight back to my childhood! Growing up in a Ghanaian household meant I got to hear a lot of highlife and afrobeat music. Especially at family parties; you would have all the old school high life playing in the background and I’d never know any of the titles or artist names. I loved the horn line on this tune so much, so when I rediscovered it a few years ago I was so happy! I also loved the concept of a sad song that made you want to dance. The polyrhythms in highlife and afrobeat music really inspires my production.

Kendrick Lamar – ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’
Kendrick is definitely one of my favourite artists of the last decade.

Massive thanks to MEI for sharing her Five (or six!) Favourites with us. Listen to ‘No Dim Lights’ below.

Follow MEI on Twitter for more updates.

FIVE FAVOURITES: Emma Frank

Toying with themes of love, lust, self-doubt, commitment and sadness; New York based songwriter Emma Frank is set to release her new album Come Back on 6th September. After spending time studying literature at McGill University in Montreal and performing vocals & brass with art-pop ensembles She’s Got a Habit and Malcolm Sailor’s Songs – she returned to Brooklyn to write more of her own music, having recently signed to Justin Time/Nettwerk Music Group.

We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is to ask them what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with Emma to ask her about her “Five Favourites” – five albums that have influenced her songwriting techniques. Check out her choices below, and make sure you watch the video for her track ‘I Thought’ (directed by visual artist Ay Tsalithaba) at the end of this post.

 

1. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
I’ve always loved singers – singers where the music was happening but you could fully believe in every word the singer was saying. I grew up mainly on Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone, and then a little bit of Simon and Garfunkel. Towards the end of high school, and for all of college, I found Lauryn Hill and I listened to this record on repeat. The tone of her voice, the way she uses it – Lauryn Hill’s voice was just utter perfection to me and I tried so hard to sound like her (I couldn’t really, without trying too hard.). And that album. The production on those songs. The songs themselves. My sixteen year old self that had just gotten broken up with for the first time really needed all of these songs.

2. Hanne Hukkelberg – Little Things
This album came to me during a very lonely period when I was either nineteen or twenty and just blew my mind. To me, it was such a complete sound universe, that cast a very dark Montreal winter in a magical new light. I grew up doing musical theater so I was accustomed to lyrics and music pairing up to tell a story and advance some action. I really loved how Hanne built her compositions so that the musical changes reflect the lyrical story in a really playful, immersive way and how she used found sounds and objects as instruments. Her song ‘Balloon’ is told from the perspective of someone holding onto a balloon and floating high above the world, and uses the squeak of a blown up balloon throughout. The narrator eventually let’s go of the balloon and as she falls, what had been a more contained song expands into a lush, dreamlike fall. Or ‘True Love’ which alternates between free, almost demented sounding improvisation, and very beautiful, romantic, gestures.

3. Bernice – Puff: In the Air Without a Shape
These guys are so good and this album is so fun. Robin Dann has an approach to songwriting and singing that I find really calming. It feels cerebral in the best ways, and also really embodied and relaxed. Each person in this band is so talented and does all sorts of amazing things, but this project is especially great. I really love how they all come from improvisatory backgrounds, and it’s clear in how they interact, and also in this very wide but specific sound palette. Also they’re all besties and really silly and funny and smart. They’ve created a unique and immersive sound world that’s really nice to hang out in.

4. Tawk Tomahawk – Hiatus Kaiyote
A friend recommended this album to me right before I went on cruise ships as a lounge singer for six months when I was 24. It was the absolute strangest experience, and this album really helped me have a joyous, grounded space to escape to. I listened to it for the first time in Hawaii – we were doing a cruise around Hawaii before we went to Alaska. I’m from Boston and I had never been to Hawaii before. I’m so used to all of these cool greys and blues, some green, but mostly colors are muted. Hawaii was so vibrant. I just remember listening to this record while running underneath these brilliant magenta flowers with the ocean to the right of me. That’s how this record sounds to me. Just so lush and alive.

5. Andy Shauf – The Party
Each song is such a good complete story. And then the whole album paints such an empathetic portrait of a few different, interconnected characters at this one party. Sonically, it honestly reminds me of The Beatles, these beautifully orchestrated, fun songs, but then with these aching, sometimes very uncomfortable lyrics. Also, Andy Shauf plays all the instruments on it, so I am also blown away by it on that level.

Thanks to Emma for sharing her favourites with us! Follow Emma Frank on Facebook for more updates.

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

FIVE FAVOURITES: Grace Savage

Grace Savage is a four-time UK beat-box champion turned electro-pop artist. With her ability to produce catchy beats and write witty relatable lyrical content, her live shows are an impressive spectacle; and her performance at Loud Women Festival last year made a mark in our musical memory. She’s set to release her new EP Cracks on 17th May and will pre-empt the launch with a headline show at Bermondsey Social Club on 15th May (tickets available here).

We caught up with Grace to ask her about her “Five Favourites” – five albums that have influenced her songwriting techniques. Check out her choices below, and make sure you listen to her single ‘Snowflake’ at the end of this post.

Amy Winehouse – Frank
I heard this album for the first time when I was 14, hanging out in my friend’s bedroom. I instantly fell in love and knew this woman was something special. The tone of her voice, the sensitivity and intelligence of the lyrics, the infectious melodies..I didn’t know much about music technically at the time, but I just felt the soul of this album to my core and I still listen to it today as much as I did back then.

I learned the song ‘Fuck Me Pumps’ on the guitar and it was the first song I ever sang in front of another human being. It was a producer who’d seen me beatbox in a talent competition, and then invited me to her studio; she asked me to sing something for her and I was absolutely terrified. I sang Amy’s song and she must’ve seen something in me because we then worked together as a songwriting partnership for four years. So this album will always have a special place in my heart.

P!nk – Can’t Take Me Home
I cannot even begin to explain the level of obsession I had with P!nk as a young girl. Posters on the bedroom wall, dyed my hair pink at 13, got my tongue pierced at 15, my email address for most of my teenage years was pink_b!tch@hotmail.com – it was a LOT. She was this bad ass lady with bright pink hair and so much attitude and I just wanted to be everything she was. She was a great role model for me as a young girl who didn’t fit in with the ”girly girls” and this album (although when I listen to it now sounds SO dated) was a big part of my teenage years. I’ve followed her career ever since and I’m seeing her live for the first time this summer….I think I might explode with nostalgia and happiness.

Nirvana – Nevermind
This album inspired me to learn the guitar. I went through the classic “grunge girl” stage for about a year (black nails, big nose ring, nirvana hoodies, eye liner, really bad skate boarding) and it was all heavily influenced by this album and Kurt Cobain’s genius. I was always such a hip hop head/r&b and pop music girl, but something about Nirvana really got me. The guitar riffs, the husky tone of his voice, the weird lyrics and the “don’t give a f***” attitude of the whole band was really refreshing against the shiny manufactured pop bands I was exposed to in the 90’s and early 00’s. This album introduced me to a different kind of music and really let me indulge my emo side.

Ms Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
Ahhh it was so close between Lauryn and Missy Elliot because both had a huge impact on me growing up, but seeing as this is about ALBUMS and not ARTISTS… I had to choose this one. I remember I was about 14/15 and my mate said he bought this album and didn’t like it so he gave it to me to try. I’m so glad he did, because BOOYYY it is ICONIC! I fell in love with her voice watching Sister Act and I fell in love with this album the moment I heard it. Triple threat: singer, rapper, writer. There were really no other artists around like her at the time and her voice is unparalleled in my opinion. I still can’t think of anyone who sings, writes and raps as fluently and excellently as she does. She is one of a kind. I saw her perform the 20 year anniversary of this album in London last year and it was a beautiful experience.

BANKS – Goddess
This is the only “modern” album on my list but no less impactful and meaningful to my life. This is my break up album. I must have listened to it and cried to it and ran to it and danced to it and slept to it and then cried some more to it almost every day for about a year. When it came out, the production was like nothing I’d ever heard before and her lyrics and tone were so unique and dark and sexy, I was immediately like “WOAH” who is this girl? I’ve seen her live a few times now and she never fails to disappoint. ‘Waiting Game’ and ‘Brain’ still continue to be some of my favourite songs in existence – the slow driving kick drum, the long builds throughout the whole song, the deep driving synths and the tribal feel to her vocals drenched in reverb. Beaut. Thanks for getting me over the worst break up of my life. I owe you one BANKS!

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut