On August 13 this year, Edinburgh music scene favourites Meursault bade us farewell with a breathtaking final performance and then promptly disappeared off the face of the earth.
Neil Pennycook had announced plans for a solo venture called ‘Supermoon’ (easier to spell than Meursault, right?) over the summer, but after the final curtain fell on Meursault, both the band’s former frontman and Song, by Toad Records were uncharacteristically quiet about the project. We feared the worst.
Three months – and several promises of ‘new songs soon’ via Facebook – down the line, it’s a relief to write that Pennycook has resurfaced a somewhat changed man to follow up. We met for a refreshingly unrehearsed conversation about what to expect from Supermoon. Cryptic but not guarded – it quickly became clear that the singer is passionately protective of his latest project, and admirably unwilling to put any ideas into the heads of his fans about what the music is ‘meant’ to sound like before they hear it for themselves.
Just to check, everyone can spell SUPERMOON right?
— Neil Pennycook (@iamsupermoon) August 25, 2014
Hi Neil. What have you been up to since Meursault’s final performance?
“Without being overly dramatic about it, my life has completely flipped over. I moved to London and moved back from London. I’ve written an album. I’ve been pretty busy, I guess. I’ve sailed some choppy waters.
“I worked in London for three months, almost. I was doing arrangement work for someone – not my own stuff. I was working in the other end of the industry, I guess, in Metropolis Studios – working in a studio [with] Van Morrison on one side and Ant and Dec on the other. It was a total head-fuck.
“I spent a little while doing that and sort of figuring out what I was going to do and what Supermoon was going to be. I had a name and I had an ethos of how I was going to do things, but in terms of the actual songs and the performance I was really unsure.”
Are you living in Edinburgh permanently now, or will you be heading back to London?
“At the time when I went down [to London] it was permanent. It was almost a self-imposed exile kind of thing. I was given the work and followed [it] down there. I came up [to Edinburgh] for a visit about halfway through and – I don’t see it as a romantic thing or anything like that – but almost immediately, as soon as I stepped off the train, I realised that I can’t live in London. There’s too much to keep me here. Through what I do I get to see a lot of the world – albeit it through a van window – but it’s about what you call your ‘base’ and I just felt like this is where my base was.”
Where did the name Supermoon come from?
“I don’t want to give him any credit, but it was Bart from eagleowl who suggested it. I thought: ‘Well, that’s a stupid name’ and then it stuck – it was just one of those things. It was around the time when the supermoon was actually out, so it all seemed fairly appropriate.”
What does your new music sound like, and when can we hear it?
“I don’t want to give too much away. I think the important thing is to see how people react to it when they hear it. I would say it’s markedly different from what I was doing with Meursault. There’s more of a performance element to it. It’s best just to spring it on people. I could describe it – I could give you references and things like that – but I think that would maybe take the edge off a little bit when it actually emerges. A lot of it is piano-led with samples and loop pedals – that kind of stuff.
“When I made the decision to do this and that it was going to be more solo-focused I knew that I didn’t want to be just [a] ’guy with guitar on stage’ kind of singer-songwriter thing. I knew what I didn’t want it to be and I’ve spent the last two months figuring out what it was going to be. I’m going to be working with friends – there’s not going to be a set band, as such. There will be shows that I do with a band, but not every show.
“There are going to be little dribs and drabs of things coming out – I’m trying not be precious about it. I like the idea of having a demo, putting it out and having people see the process. That’s going to happen fairly instantly. Before Christmas things are going to be trickling out, leading towards a record which will come out sort of mid-next year, I guess. I’m itching to play and tour again.”
Speaking of touring, when is the first Supermoon live show?
“I’ve got a couple of quite low-key shows [planned] in December just to put it out there. Then in January and February I’ll be a bit more active and there will be things happening.”
When will you record the album?
“There are bits and pieces that have been recorded already, but over Christmas and New Year I’m going to be recording. I’m going to have a few friends coming by and playing on it, and some of the guys from Meursault. Reuben Taylor – he’s going to be around. It’s really nice that I get to work with him again because he literally just stepped his foot in the door with Meursault and then I was like: ‘Nah, no more Meursault’.”
Will you be sticking with Song, by Toad Records?
“I’m going to make the record first and then decide, but I’m pretty happy with my relationship with Song, by Toad. Matthew has been supportive in the past and we work really well together. There was a direction that Meursault were going in with the third record [where] we were pushing it more commercially and I think that was a direction that didn’t suit me for starters, and it maybe put Matthew a little bit out of his comfort zone. I think both of us work better when we’re working on things that are just a little bit weirder, for want of a better word.”
Do you have any lingering regrets about Meursault?
“I’m really proud of the third Meursault record but it was definitely a departure. It’s the only record I’ve ever made where I was working with management and a UK booking agent, things like that. Things that – in hindsight – were kind of superfluous. I guess it was just a massive learning curve in terms of me learning to have faith in my own abilities, be it as a producer or booking my own shows. I neglected the fact that it’s a part of the work that I enjoy. I’ve got absolutely no desire to compete with the industry whatsoever, so the fact that I spent two years [trying] seems a little bizarre to me.”
Will Meursault’s final, unreleased album ever be made public?
“Some of the songs from that record that we played live towards the end of Meursault will appear in some form or other. There will be elements of that in future Supermoon stuff but the album as it exists… Probably not. We’ll see.”
Honestly, how different is Supermoon from Meursault?
“I’m quite aware that there will be a lot of people – and even I thought this when Meursault did our last show – thinking that what comes after that will basically be a continuation. It kind of is, but it feels like it’s gone off track a little bit and sort of met back up again. It’s not going to be unrecognisable to people, certainly people who’ve been into [my] stuff from an early stage will definitely see elements of the Supermoon stuff that were there in Meursault. There are a lot of different influences in there – different instrumentation, certainly a different way of performing it.”
Supermoon play the following dates:
10 Dec: The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
11 Dec: Total Refreshment Centre, London
You can also catch Neil Pennycook performing in a Christmassy tribute to David Lynch’s masterpiece entitled ‘Dune: The Musical’ (yes, seriously) in Edinburgh on December 12 – more info
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