A Chat with Merry Christmas (31.07.2020)

Merry Christmas is a five-piece wonder tank based in Tokyo. Ben George (guitar, vocals, viola, omnichord, saw), Matthew John Thoren (drums, percussion, vocals), Joe-Joe Moran-Douglas (bass, vocals), Yuki Nishimura (synth, vocals, percussion) and Yurie ‘Barihi’ Yamaguchi (trombone, glockenspiel, percussion, vocals) form the contagiously catchy band. Mixing folk, rock and pop together, they have just released their debut album The Night The Night Fell. We sat down with Ben George to talk about the album, their music and much more!

OSR: What inspired you to get into the music industry?

Ben: I’ve always loved the unpredictability of math rock, the warm emotional tones of fuzz folk and the catchy melodies of pop, I thought it would be interesting to try and combine all three into an angular, hook-filled, lo-fi sound. So I moved to the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo where I knew I could find co-conspirators easily.

OSR: How did the band get together?

Ben: On a humid night in Shinjuku, I met up with our drummer Matt and a Swedish guitarist, Alex, after posting an ad looking for wannabee fuzz folk musicians. From our first few practices it was obvious we were on exactly the same page musically and soon after Joe-Joe joined on the bass, or more accurately, the Bottom Master (the Japanese version of the Fender Bass VI). Unfortunately, Alex had to return to the beautiful canyons of Sweden so we were on the prowl for more musicians. I met Yuki at an art event where she had painted a fridge. She’d never been in a band before but was in full YOLO mode and jumped at the chance.

After a couple of months with the four of us meeting in sweaty little rooms and messing about with catchy folky half songs, we decided to get serious and booked ourselves in at Motion in Shinjuku for our first show. It was sloppy, raucous and wild, and Barihi, who was in the audience that night, rushed up to us after the show to offer her services as a trombonist and glockenspieler. Obviously, we snapped her up and that was how Merry Christmas came to be.

OSR: How do you go about writing song? Do you start with music or lyrics?

Ben: Almost always music first, but sometimes the melody and lyrics arrive stuck together. Some sentences already have a rhythm to them that can act as a hook. For example, the title of the track ‘You, Kingdom Boots’, from our first EP The Flying Trombone Sisters, came from a photo of me painting lyrics in a music video for the band Itch. The only lyrics I’d painted were the words You, Kingdom and Boots and immediately I got the beginning of the rhythm of the chorus of this song just from the sound of saying it. The rest of the melody came naturally from there and then I filled in the rest of the lyrics to have a broader meaning in the song.

OSR: What is an average day like for Merry Christmas?

Ben: Well with three-fifths of the band often waking up before the other two have gone to bed, our average day is a bit longer than most, perhaps infinite. Explanation, We’re split between the UK and Japan. At the moment, with the album launch, we’re spending a lot of our free time trying to spread the word about the album and get reviews sorted. The rest of the time Barihi is fishing for tuna, Joe-Joe is watching Taiwanese baseball, Matt is making spreadsheets to represent the timings of our songs, Yuki is hiking the Alps and I’m playing video games like Celeste and Rocket League.

OSR: Is there a backstory to The Night The Night Fell?

Ben: The narrative follows the adventures of a girl called Emily who is plunged into a coma and the strange world of her unconscious after a car crash. Travelling through her injured body as a tiny version of her real self, she sees the surgeon’s hands working above her ribs in ‘Forest of Bones’. Later she needs to destroy a polygonal castle known as Meredith in order to continue with her journey and she starts to wrestle with her own emotions. ‘For the Lulls’ picks up the plot with her piloting a flying machine called Flying Battle Lulls 500, and then having dealt with the hostile landscape before it, she reaches the Crowntain in the final track ‘Tivoli’. Have a listen and see if it turns out well or not.

OSR: What is your favourite and least favourite track on the album?

Ben: What a difficult question! I’ll try and answer it honestly. Around the start of writing for the album, I was going through a short song phase and wrote some really snappy tracks. While I love the way that ‘Darkness Will Find Us All’ sits between two longer tracks as a brief and energetic interlude, as a standalone track, it doesn’t have enough progression across its minute and a half lifespan as the other shorter tracks I wrote such as ‘Meredith Bites the Earth’, which crams in a lot in two minutes. Couple that with us having played it over a million times means it’s lost some shine for me, although it’s still a favourite live.

My favourite track at the moment is the closer ‘Tivoli’. It only fell together right at the end of recording the album and we only played it live once. As such it’s still fresh and I love how Paul Anthony Medrano (recording, mixing) and Alan Douches (mastering) really gave it the “umph” it needed to grab the emotion and energy of the performance.

Merry Christmas

OSR: Which song did you have the most fun creating?

Ben: One song that we all worked really hard on as a band was ‘Forest of Bones’ and it took a long time for us all to agree on the whole structure of the song. While that sounds like it was laborious, we never get too argumentative as a band and really it was more a case of figuring out how to incorporate all of our ideas and make something we were all proud of. While recording this song, we wrote a version of the lyrics to the chorus that are just people’s first names and words from the end of each line of lyrics:

“Mildred Garden
Stephen Forest
Ross Bones
David Background
Arthur Hardington-Stone”

Sing that along with the chorus and you’ll understand.

Another song that was not so fun to write but still an adventure was ‘Changes to Numbers Broken’ and you can find the whole injury-prone story here: https://mysoundposter.blog/merry-christmas-changes-to-numbers-broken/

OSR: After the pandemic, do you plan on touring? If so, where?

Ben: I want to tour everywhere but as we are currently split between Japan and the UK, it might be tricky. One wonderful thing about the tech-centric future world we live in is that we can see how far our music is reaching and it’s amazing that we have little pockets of followers in countries we’ve never even visited ourselves and it would be a dream to tour these far-flung places someday. Let’s just get through this current COVID madness and see what we can do. There should be some shows at the end of the year though, pandemic depending.

OSR: If you could have listeners take one thing from your music, what would it be?

Ben: Well, I think most songwriters want their music to be appreciated in the same way that they appreciate their own favourite bands. I love music that progresses through different moods and I guess, looking back, that’s really where we put the work in while writing these songs. We took a long time to make sure our tracks had natural progressions while juggling different timings, themes and instrumentations. While it’s impossible for your intentions to always land, I hope that listeners are carried along on the train tracks we carefully planted and empathise with the protagonist of the story because of our musical and lyrical decisions. Beyond that, if one listener is inspired to write something similar (or not) themselves or checks out one of our friends’ bands in these niche genres, that would mean the most.

OSR: Do you have a message for your fans?

Ben: Obviously, “Thank you,” is the big one. We really appreciate the continued support and really hope you’re all staying safe. Hope the album can keep you entertained through the lockdown and we’ll see you soon, ya beauties!

Thanks to Ben for chatting with us! You can find more about Merry Christmas on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.

Get your free email updates
We respect your privacy.