Mellah, the project of Peckham-based Liam Ramsden, creates thoughtful, intricate music - music with something to say.

After having a thoroughly pleasant and engaging chat with Liam, it’s easy to see why; with the singer/producer discussing various issues, his music, and his life in contemplative and intelligent terms. While Mellah's music does have that substance, that "Something to say", it does so in terms of asking the questions, as opposed to dictating answers. Mellah’s new EP titled Middle England is a more “outward looking” record that touches on a range of issues such as social media and echo chambers, suburbia, and animal consumption; a departure from previous EP Liminality - a deeply personal record which includes a song about his father’s death.

His late father, Jeremy Ramsden, was a highly respected and skilled photography printer, well-known in his field, and a strong and active member of the photographic community - which Liam alludes to in this interview. Liam himself has also found himself at the centre of a community in Peckham, using his masterful carpentry skills to build a few studios in a complex down there in SE15 while befriending numerous musicians along the way (he’s also built props for Black Mirror). Yes this is a talented and passionate person we’re dealing with here.

‘Middle England’ is out July 6th on Columbia, and you listen to ‘Cigarette Lighter’ here - a track full of poetic one-liners, contradictions, and catchy, stinging guitar sounds. Oh, and do be sure to catch Mellah live when you can, as the experience will be a highly memorable one for you; one of those where it “all makes sense”.

Tell us about your EP, Middle England

Middle England started as a band really; I felt a bit constrained by Mellah - the first EP Liminality was very personal. I grew up around garage rock and things like that, and Mellah became much more of a… sensitive side of me I guess, and I still had some angst about the world. So it (Middle England) is much more of an outward-looking EP, where Liminality was much more introspective.

I see the whole EP as more questioning society, where with Mellah I was questioning myself.

In regards to the outward-looking idea, could you expand on that - I guess as in the growing divides you see in the world.

The most recently-released song, ‘Cigarette Lighter’, was about that divide. One thing I really didn’t want to do was to say that “there’s a right side or a wrong side”; obviously I have my own opinions on things and most of my friends are pretty liberal and left-wing - I’d say so am I - but a lot of the stuff I’ve seen on social media from them can be aggressively liberal, and really condescending to anyone that thought differently. It won’t change anything basically.

If someone says “I think this” and you reply “no you are wrong”, then they don’t go “oh am I? Right okay then”, they’ll go “No I’m not, you’re wrong” and it turns into a slagging match; which is what the song is about really. Social media I think accentuates that, it just feeds you back your opinions on loop, so you just permanently believe you are right. And it just isn’t that simple.

I was really trying to step out of my own opinions and to look at the whole picture, with sort of a subverted, backhanded way of trying to persuade people the way it perhaps should be.

I’m trying to be an observer instead of making statements.

Not preaching, more observing.

Yeah basically.

I understand in relation to the production of the EP that James Ford was involved? What did he bring to proceedings, and what was it like working with him.

We did ‘Cigarette Lighter’ together - it was really good, and fun. He was easy to work with and has good ideas, and has a very distinct style, which I think came across a lot in the song. He’s also a very good musician and he plays bass on the song, and bass clarinet which is quite funny.

It was a good experience - it was in his little studio that he built in his loft and it’s heaven really; everything is tidy and super easy to work through everything. Whereas with my one, once I get going.. You know I’ve got wires everywhere - it’s a nightmare [laughs]. The song definitely came out with his style. He’s got his way of doing things and I really liked how it came out.

I also don’t want the other songs (on the EP) to get overlooked, with Olly Barton-Wood who produced them; he’s not as big a name, but he had a big influence on how the sound came out as well.

You worked with him on the previous EP?

Yeah. Me and him also built a new studio in Peckham, and so we’ll probably work with each other a lot more there.

Could you tell me a little bit more about this studio - is it called Little Legs?

Yeah Little Legs. I built a little studio (my first studio) five years ago, in a little complex called Print Village in Peckham. It’s a tiny little room and I had been there since the start; I initially built that as I wanted a cheap room that people could come and use, and to collaborate with people - and just somewhere that people could have a little base.

Then when I signed a deal with Columbia they gave me some money, so I took on two more rooms - I built one of them as a rehearsal room for local bands and there’s four bands in there now. Then I built another one, much more set-up for recording purposes for me and Olly. Olly records a lot of local bands, and I always use it as a space to explore my work.

So we have three rooms now and it’s going well so far - it was a pretty big undertaking, taking the last six months to build, which maybe Columbia haven’t been that happy about as it delayed the release (and maybe not happy with handling of big power tools); but it’s now finished now and I can focus on the music.

Sounds like a very positive project.

Yeah, it’s good to have. Musicians’ have taken over the entire complex in the area and there’s loads of us now. I’ve built three other studios there for other people, so there’s roughly around 12 different bands there now.

Wow, a proper community.

It’s feeling more and more like a community.. Everyone shares their gear and their equipment. The last show I did at Peckham Liberal Club featured loads of different musicians from different bands - and most of them I have met through those studios.

I was going to ask you about a live Mellah show - I saw you at this gig in Peckham and really enjoyed. You seem to go all out, what can people generally expect from a live Mellah experience?

I try and give it as much as I can; as to what people can expect.. It varies! There’s a core, four of us, who play nearly every show but we try and mix it up and bring different instruments and bring different ideas. So it can go anywhere from just me to… well, playing Liberal Club there was eight of us. I think… expect the unexpected - without sounding cheesy.

Asking a slightly selfish question here as a photographer: Laura Pannack did the artwork and photos for the EP, how did you come to work with her and how was the shoot?

My dad was a photographer and a photographic printer - he had a little place called Labyrinth in Bethnal Green. He died a few years ago and bought me my first camera film SLR when I was 16 and got me into photography.

I met Laura through Columbia, actually I met her and another guy I know called Tom; but both of them - weirdly - came in and said “Oh, I remember getting my work printed at Labyrinth” - both saying exactly the same thing. Tom was actually at my dad’s funeral... they both knew my dad really well.

It was good working with Laura, I just liked her style basically - she’s got very good composition. She was adamant that she wanted it softly lit, however it was really bright on the day (of the shoot); but I’m kind of glad it was quite bright, as it was quite a dark concept, and I think the colours made it a bit more striking. But yeah she was very good to work with, she has a very distinct idea of what she wants.

It’s very fitting of the EP I’d say.

Ah good, as I think everyone was worried it was too far a jump from the first EP’s artwork. I don’t want to get stuck in a niche - all my favourite artists alway changed from album-to-album and often done something completely different; but there’s also a common underlying voice that comes across.

Who have you been listening to and enjoying recently?

One of the reasons I started music is because I didn’t feel like there was a lot of current music that I listened to. It all felt sort of an extenuation of fashion and an excuse to wear clothes, so you’d get an 80’s style or a 90’s style or whatever. A lot of the music I listened to was old, like John Lennon and old 60’s/70’s music, where I felt people spoke more about issues then. And it seems to me - this is just my perception - that since punk if you want to say anything about society it has to be snarling, or aggressive.

My main aim with Mellah is to comment on society but in a way that isn’t aggressive … basically in a way to make catchy pop songs that aren’t about love! But are about society and is also enjoyable listening, something with a bit of substance to it.

Since then I’ve found current artists that I like: Westerman, who just released an EP. I’m kind of out of date with modern stuff, I play the records I have and tend to listen to those a lot, like Peter Green, Lennon, a lot of 70’s stuff. There is stuff out there currently I do respect and like a lot, but there is stuff out there that’s very… in your face, or you feel like the artist is telling you that an idea is wrong - and I just want to have a conversation with people.

There’s a word you used there to describe some music - “snarling” - whereas, if I could pick a word for your music it might be “empathetic”?

I’m glad you said that, yeah. That’s really what I’m trying to do. I was actually talking about this all afternoon with my manager; even if you completely disagree with what someone’s saying, if you try and see where a person is coming from, and empathise with them, there’s a chance that they’ll hear you (and your argument).

I think every generation has its demons, where you’re told that a certain thing is the epitome of evil. 10 years ago or so it was... well, it was literally called the axis of evil (Iraq, Iran etc) and I find that insane. And now it’s terrorists; you’ll never see a terrorist in a trial for example - they’re dehumanised, they’re demons that just need to be killed on the spot. There’s never a question as to why these people would become so extreme. At the risk of being labelled a terrorist sympathiser, nobody is born a terrorist, you’re lead to extreme opinions by the society and surroundings you were brought up in.

Empathy is the only way of reconciliation - trying to understand what people’s circumstances might have lead them to act or behave the way they do. So yeah empathy is at the core of it and I’m glad it comes across.

One final question: you created props on the set of Black Mirror - and also had a track featured on the show. Were these two things related, or what is the story here?

They were completely unrelated which is weird. I’ve been building props for films since I was 18, and I did a couple of seasons of Black Mirror (building props). Then randomly a guy I had built a studio for at Print Village was the music editor on Black Mirror, and he just stuck one of my songs in there, and it happened to be one of the episodes I worked on (that's ‘Playtest’, S3 ep2: ‘Old Friend'). So I was getting emails from production to me (as Liam) then from the same person getting emails to me as Mellah; they didn’t even know it was the same person! Completely unrelated, just a weird serendipity.