Five Things: Melodie Nelson

From Beach Boys harmonies to horror flicks and the suburbs (not the Arcade Fire record) – Sydney’s Melodie Nelson tells us what inspired her second album To The Dollhouse.

Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys

While this might not be The Beach Boys’ most succinct album, there are a lot of songwriting gems. From what I understand Brian Wilson was losing his mind and his brother Carl took over a lot of band leading duties. The effect of that is a really smooth ‘70s kinda easy-listening sounding album. I also like the songs that Carl wrote on Surf’s Up because he uses a lot of piano which is sort of a shift from their early surf guitar sound but also their use of organs on Pet Sounds. I wrote a lot of this album on keyboard which I haven’t been able to do in the past. I learnt how to play classical first and always found it difficult to write simple pop songs on piano. It’s also worth mentioning that Brian Wilson did contribute a few songs on this album and they are super heavy. ‘Til I Die’, in particular, is probably one of the best songs ever written by Brian, and it features their best vocal harmony work, which is a huge influence on my music.

Nord Electro 2

I bought a Nord synth early last year on eBay and it sort of changed the whole way I wrote songs. Usually I’d write a song on guitar but the majority of the songs on this album were written on this synth. What’s great about Nords are that they have sounds that emulate older synths, organs and electric piano sounds from a range of different eras. I still haven’t really discovered everything this keyboard can do, but I guess it’s a keeper.

Horror movies

I really love horror movies but especially old ones. I feel like directors used a lot of creative ways to make things scarier without explicitly showing anything scary: It’s the gesture that makes it terrifying. Hitchcock is an obvious example of using suspense, but I’m a huge fan of Italian horror which I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of. I discovered this director called Mario Bava, his film Black Sunday is really creepy but also shot so gorgeously in black and white. Of course, Dario Argento films were a big influence on my album, not in a narrative way, but through his aesthetic. The way he uses subtle things like light and dark to make an impact really made me have a look at different ways I could do that in my music. Also, Argento and George Romero’s films are being soundtracked by Goblin, who I love. [ed. – Goblin are playing at Melbourne Town Hall as part of Melbourne Music Week tomorrow (November 20). Details here.]

Local music

I’ve been making music as Melodie Nelson since about 2010 but as a band we only just started playing shows last year. I used to make experimental music, so a lot of my friends have always been in that scene. So when we started playing more shows, I discovered a lot of great local bands that I knew were popular but had never seen live or heard much of their music. Belles Will Ring were one such band. I was blown away by them, and I’ve only just discovered Day Ravies. Playing live much more over the past couple of years has made us realise how lucky we are to have such quality bands playing around Sydney each week. And while a lot of my songs draw on a sound from a different era, I am heavily influenced by the music being made in our own backyards.

The suburbs

I moved back into my parents’ house a couple of years back and while it wasn’t the most terrible thing, it wasn’t the best. I wrote all this album last year while living at home and I guess there’s something to be said about the suburbs. Without whinging too much, at times I felt a bit trapped and went out a little less because the public transport is pretty shit. I guess those feelings of claustrophobia come out quite a bit on this album. I remember when I first moved back and went for a walk, I realised there were a lot of empty houses with just older retired couples living there. There’s something about this album that makes it so suburban: A husband killing his wife, teens at a house party, a jilted ex stalking her lover. All these stories take place in or around the home. And while at the time I might not have realised, looking back, living at home really had an impact.

Melodie Nelson’s To The Dollhouse is out now through Broken Stone Records/Remote Control. It’ll be launched in Melbourne this Friday (November 23) at The Grace Darling with Sarah Mary Chadwick (Batrider) and Circular Keys.