Mellah: “I was kicked out of most lessons at school for drumming on tables”

Another Saaaarf Londoner to add to yr new band hype list.

He’s signed to Columbia, worked with producer James Ford, crafted several recording studios with his own bare hands (“just about to go and sand the floor”), and built more buzz than an angry bumblebee after your sausage rolls. South London’s Mellah is an interesting chap.

Hey Mellah, when did you first realise you wanted to be a musician, then?
Don’t think it was a realisation as such I just have always had a desire to make noises. When I was a kid I used to incessantly tap on everything and anything, I was kicked out of most lessons at school for drumming on tables. I always thought in rhythm, everything I did, walking, writing, chewing… I used to make a beat out of it. I started on the drums and then progressed to more melodic instruments, but I still play everything like I’m playing a drum.

How did you come to be in South London, did you grow up in the area or move there like all the other bands seem to have done?
I grew up in Wandsworth, south-west London, moved south-east to Forest Hill with my dad when I was 16. I had a brief stint north of the river in my early twenties but came back to what I knew pretty sharpish. It’s a different city down here. It feels like much more of a community. The music scene in north felt really fragmented and quite competitive. I think the reason the scene has blossomed so strongly in the south is that everyone is so supportive of each other and willing to collaborate and share ideas. It makes for a really creative and supportive environment.

“There’s been a fair amount of slog, but I love it”

Tell us about musician life so far. Did everything click into place fairly quickly, or has it been a slog?
I’ve been in bands since I was 14, I’m now 29. There’s been a fair amount of slog but I love it, so it’s always felt worth it. I’ve been writing songs since I was about 16 but only started thinking about sharing them about five years ago. It all started clicking when I decided to put an EP together with a producer friend of mine called Oli Rustwood a couple of years ago. I sent it to a label called Lucky Number, and they decided to release it. It’s been fairly hectic since then, but it feels good to have people relate to what I’m trying to do. The only reason I wanted to put out my own music was that I wanted to give back what music had given me, essentially a voice that made me feel less alone.

What was it like working with James Ford? Did you produce much material in your session/s with him?
It was good fun. We just worked on one song called ‘Cigarette Lighter’, which was released a couple of weeks ago. We have some plans to work on another tune in a few weeks time.

What do you get out of making songs? Is it cathartic? Do you just like performing? Are you trying to influence people…? What’s the deal?
I often ask myself that question, not entirely sure. The catharsis comes when I say something that feels true, that’s my main aim, I’m not trying to do anything more than. I think the more honest you can be with yourself when writing the more people will relate because near the core we all have the same fears and loves.

You’ve built your own studio, and another for local artists – that sounds like a great project. What sparked the idea?
I built my own little studio in an industrial lot in Peckham about four years ago. I wanted a space I could play for free whenever I wanted with whoever I wanted. It became way too popular, and I found I had hardly any time to be in there myself, so I decided to build two more so I could have a couple to rent out to other local bands so they could have an affordable space to rehearse and record. I’m building them with a friend and producer Oli Rustwood; we’re dedicating one of the rooms to recording with the same affordable ethos in mind. I got some money when I signed to Columbia last year, and this seemed like a good way to invest it back into a community that has given me so much. Also, I like building stuff.

How did you go about putting the studio plan into action? It must’ve been really challenging.
It’s a lot of work, yes. You have to build a whole room within the existing room to soundproof it. It’s quite frustrating because once it’s finished, it just looks like… well, a room! No one really gauges how much sweat has gone into it.

Do you have any other similar grand schemes in mind for the future?
It’s been a long process building the rooms my plan is to focus on the music from here on in. I’m starting to put together the bones of an album which should be finished by the end of this year.

Taken from the July issue of Dork – order your copy below. Mellah’s EP ‘Middle England’ is out 6th July.

Words: Sam Taylor

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