As well as being a producer with credits for artists including Toy, Mystery Jets, Steve Mason and Willy Mason, London’s Oli Bayston is the frontman of studio project-turned-live band Boxed In, whose second album ‘Melt’ – due for release on September 23 – looks set to give him a big moment in the spotlight. NME caught up with Bayston to dissect the personal but danceable new record.
Boxed In is a four-piece live – but it’s your baby, isn’t it?
It started off as my baby but I’ve progressively shared mothering and fathering duties. I feel really happy that the band has written two songs on the album together – one of the singles, ‘Forget’, and the last track, ‘Open Ended’ – because that was a real intention of mine, to incorporate the way we play live in the studio on-stage. I feel they’re two of the best tracks on the album.”
You write all the lyrics – so what’s the story of this album?
“The first one was kind of a break-up album. Since then I’ve been working out my personal life a bit more. One of the key references would be one of my favourite jazz records, by Bill Evans, called ‘Conversations With Myself’. It’s just him playing the piano over himself playing the piano, and although that’s strictly musical, for me the idea of having a conversation with yourself, battling through misunderstandings you have in your life and trying to work them out, that’s basically what a lot of the record’s about.”
The artwork and videos for ‘Melt’ have very strong imagery – why is that?
“If I’m ever stuck with words I’ll always turn to books, and particularly a book of Max Ernst’s art. I’ve written a good 20 songs based on a book called Une Semaine De Bonté. The images incorporate animal features into human bodily forms, images of drowning women and four-poster beds at sea being swept away by the waves. Every image is like a pop song waiting to be made.”
You do production work as assistant to Dan Carey. Does he have much of an influence on Boxed In?
“I wrote my 10-track debut in five days, based on a very strict set of rules – it was entirely electronic, made up of five or six key sounds, and the lyrics flowed quite naturally. When I talked about it with Dan, he suggested that actually it would be more interesting to emulate electronic music using live instruments, which formed the sound of Boxed In.”
You worked with Dan on a Speedy Wunderground single with Formation earlier this year as well – what was that like to make?
“We wrote a tune with Dan in 20 minutes and got Formation to come down and do a verse – they live round the corner. Four hours later we were like, ‘Shit, we’ve got a fucking tune, this is good!’ It all felt very spontaneous, and that’s exactly how I like to make music. The idea with Speedy Wunderground is to work quickly. You’re not allowed to hear it until it’s mastered afterwards. You make the track and it’s gone. It’s the antithesis to the creative process in the music industry.”
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What’s your favourite track on ‘Melt’?
“I don’t have one, it changes. I went through a period of hating the album for a week. I’d just finished it and I’d gone in so deep with it, it was exhausting. And then I came back to it two weeks later and listened to it and had a bit of objectivity.”
And you didn’t make any changes after that period?
What did you think of Kanye West reworking ‘The Life Of Pablo’ after he released it then?
“To be honest I think he does it almost for the sake of it. It’s a talking point. He is a consummate artist, but he’s also more of an ego than an artist, and when he does stuff like continually changing his record, I think he’s almost doing it for the sake of doing it so people can say, ‘Oh god, he’s such an active mind, wow, constantly reimagining himself’ and… it’s bullshit. He’s done some amazing work, don’t get me wrong, but I think a lot of it is hot air actually.”
Kanye’s got Pablo Picasso, you’ve got Francis Bacon, right?
“Yeah, the name Boxed In is from ‘Head VI’, Francis Bacon’s painting of the Pope that was previously painted by Velasquez. He’s encased in this glass. Bacon aggressively paints over the face with this screaming mouth and teeth, screaming out, and this art critic described it as ‘the operation through which the entire body escapes through the mouth’, which to me was one of the most beautiful depictions, dark depictions, of artistry and songwriting and singing: ‘the operation by which the entire body escapes through the mouth’. I describe the painting to myself in the shortest way possible to be able to call it a project name: Boxed In. So whenever I’m expressing myself as Boxed In, I’m the Pope in the middle of the glass box screaming out from within.”
As someone who makes dance music, what’s your take on Fabric’s closure?
“Fabric is a really important one for me. It was literally where I first went. Fabric, and also Movement at Mass in Brixton, I started going to those when I was 17/18. It’s a sign of the times really, the fact that it’s gone. Some of the theories that people have about why it’s been shut down – whether it was a ruse and had been developed over time – I do think that maybe some people are slightly insensitive to the fact that two kids did actually die. Think about the kids’ parents. It’s a very sensitive thing.
“I think someone has to be held to account for that kind of thing. Probably not Fabric, because those kids probably bought drugs somewhere else and brought them in. But yeah, whatever the reasons are, the fact is that it’s not the only club in the last five years to close. Nearly all the clubs have closed. I think it’s really strangling club culture and it’s happened in New York, Paris years ago – there’s a change. I’m not quite sure to what extent it’s a political or cultural thing though.”
Take an exclusive look at Boxed In performing title track ‘Melt’ live here: