John Wohlmacher caught up with Melody Prochet (and her daughter) over an early morning zoom call to discuss life, art and new album Emotional Eternal
“Hold on, my daughter is climbing all over me…“ The domestic bliss shines through every second of my conversation with Melody Prochet, the brilliant musician behind Melody’s Echo Chamber, as she balances giving an interview with caring for her child. This fits my initial idea to frame our early morning conversation as “Breakfast with Melody” – something that contrasts the night-owlish occupations of the writer with the motherly tranquility of the musician.
If the three albums of Melody were food, the first, 2012’s self-titled, would be a fruit salad (rich in natural colours and warm tastes); the second, 2018’s Bon Voyage, a glass of jelly beans (surprising sharp sugary explosions framed in neon); and her newest offering, Emotional Eternal, a milky, creamy desert, a flan with hints of vanilla and mint. Melody laughs at my culinary comparison, as her daughter chatters away in the background of our call. “That sounds amazing”, she says, before she dodges away to take care of her young daughter once more.
Melody Prochet: Sorry. Do you have children?
Sadly no. I really was looking forward to getting older and having a family, but I’m single now and Berlin is not a very good place to find a balanced relationship. I’m now in my mid thirties and a writer/artist, so things don’t get easier…
Well, but you know, it’s never too late.
Do you find it hard to uphold your life as a musician with being a mother? The constant touring and PR cycles seem very counter intuitive to managing family life.
That’s an interesting question. I really had the need to sit in silence for a coupe of years, after Bon Voyage’s delirium. It’s been a special struggle of silence. And then one day, because of the silence, there was a song coming. I actually didn’t think I’d ever make another record.
Yeah. I had made the decision to make something else with my life. I just wanted to make music as a more joyful – less stressful – thing. It was actually the song “Alma” that arrived to me at the time. It was a very surprising event, and it started there.
Talking about motherhood also magnifies how psychedelic rock is usually a very male-dominated – dare I say sexist – field. Hanging out in those circles reveals how problematic that can be. Do you feel a bit like an outsider in this landscape?
I love the “Outsiders” term, actually. (laughs) I don’t overthink this, actually. I make music to purify, when I get emotional overflow. It’s the only familiar way I know to express all these emotions I have. But it’s quite a masculine world for sure.
Melody’s daughter: Maman?
Attendez… Well, my personal muses were all women. Trish Keenan, Lætitia Sadier… Sorry, it’s a little bit of a challenge to be a mother and actually make music. It’s a little ridiculous. (laughs)
Speaking of – how does touring life impact being a mother? Is that something you’ve even thought about, with Corona and your sabbatical from recording?
Actually, I’m not interested in touring. I don’t know if it will ever happen, maybe it will. I didn’t think I’ll ever make another record, but it’s in the unknown. Maybe one day I’ll say “argh, I’m sick of all this, I’ll head out on tour!”
It’s incredible to have this luxury. I have a lot of friends who have been touring musicians since they were teenagers, some of them quite successful. When I run into them on the street and ask them how things are going, they tell me “Oh, I need to get back on tour”, because their wallets are empty. Corona hasn’t helped much in that.
But that’s just a choice. You know, I’m working at a retirement home, and I study art therapy and I do musical therapy with the people I work with. It’s very interesting, and it’s really just a choice if you want to make music. People will want you to tour and make records all your life and I want to do other things that fascinate me. I’m interested in keeping the flow of my psyche running and feeding my brain with several different things.
I appreciate this about the world now. Art seems to have become more democratic. I know a lot of musicians that never ventured into other fields, but we live in a time where being in your thirties or fourties doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road and you have to stop challenging yourself.
Melody’s daughter: Nan nan nan nan nan… (laughter)
For me, this year was the most challenging, because I’m doing my one year studies. And then I’m also working in another field and then there’s the record, with us heading to the study while there was a lockdown. It was just so many challenging things. It kind of organically keeps you alive, living vividly. I like doing everything at the same time, even though it is challenging.
I am interested with how the lockdown allowed for those ventures – I ended up making a music video when everything was shut down. Taking a break allowed us to reflect on what was in our heads.
Ah, cool. It was different for me because I was in lockdown with two children at home, doing their thing and screaming in my ears while I had to write a record. So it wasn’t as… freeing. (laughs) But it was also structuring. I had about one hour a day for myself, and had to be super productive. This structure helped my creativity, because I’m usually without boundaries. My psyche is usually not confined, so this structure of being in a lockdown and a mother was very interesting.
Would you say that impacted the music of the Emotional Eternal? It’s such a breezy and subdued record, more so than Bon Voyage, exploded in all directions.
Yeah, Bon Voyage really felt like being the mad captain of a vessel and going into introspection and trying to heal. It was fun! This time, it was pretty ethereal and I tried to desaturate it from myself as much as possible. I’m not quite there yet, but… (laughs). I like the idea of elaborating more silent landscapes and silent other worlds, because I listened to listen to a lot of brutal sounds, but recently more ambient music and things like like Sigur Rós. I love these kinds of soundscapes right now because I have children screaming in my ear all day, I don’t like noise music anymore! (laughs) I am fascinated with production and noise music, the studio production ornaments of that. But now I need more air, so the record naturally reflects that as well.
Can you name two records you love that contrast those diverging interests?
For me that would be CAN’s Tago Mago for the noisier and production heavy side – I love them. And for ambient, it would be Ágætis byrjun by Sigur Ros. It’s my family’s rêverie song, our daydreamrecord, we always say that at home. My partner loves it. And so it’s really my family-rêverie-music. (laughs) I just love the sense of wonder in it. That’s what my next quest is, to create a landscape like that where there’s wonder and a bit more space for the listener. We managed to get there a little, and I want to extend that even more.
You worked with Reine Fiske of Dungen the second time now. I’m very curious how your collaboration and process works.
We learned a lot from working on Bon Voyage. Reuniting with him in the studio in Stockholm was really the best start for the project. It was really joyful. And Frederik Swahn [who plays with Fiske in The Amazing] has this extremely optimistic, welcoming, warm, fun persona. He’s also the studio nerd with incredible capacity in soundscaping and inspiration. Reine is like a treasure chest of beautiful musical oddities. He’s known for his incredible record collection, which is all in his cellar. He can play just anything, and he will never play the same thing twice, it’s truly incredible. So we just work in a triangle, in that way. The great thing about him is that he doubts a lot. So that self-doubt of his allows me what I do best: I chase butterflies!
That’s a wonderful way of expressing it. Speaking of process: how do you start to write a song?
It depends. For example, “Alma” was written on piano and with my computer and samples, and then we worked on the arrangement together in the studio at a later point. Other songs, like “Personal Message”, they started to record in Stockholm without me. So there was much more space for them to bring in ideas, as the lockdown allowed them to write a lot of material on their side of the world and send it to me. I would then work on the structure and melody and then we would re-work everything in the studio.
There’s a parallel here to ambient music, how you take individual elements and combine them into a larger composition.
Kind of what Biosphere did on Substrata, combining melodies and field recordings and samples from Twin Peaks. There’s definitely parallels, from the naturalist approach and the breeziness, to your new album.
I don’t know that album, but I already love the name, Biosphere. And I love Twin Peaks, especially the atmosphere.
Going back to Emotional Eternal, there is a very specific gestalt to the atmosphere that could be seen as genuinely French. AIR have a similar approach to aestheticism and beauty, but it’s found in a lot of French art. Is that a tradition you find yourself inspired by?
(laughs) I think I’m maybe more interested in what is deemed ‘world music’. We have so many different influences… For example, we listened a lot to Robert Lelièvre; he’s very unknown, but one of Reine’s favorite French psych-prog musicians. And we listened a lot to Léonie and Francoise Hardy. Also Marie Laforêt and Margo Guyran – Guryan is obviously American, but she has a French sensibility. There’s such a bond between distinct artists, I am not sure how that happens, but some music has a strong emotional bond that I can just connect to.
Interesting that you brought up CAN earlier – they were very conscious of combining foreign influences, such as Japanese and American music, with a German sensibility. Given how after the second world war, there was no distinct artistic German spirit anymore, maybe there’s a search for identity that comes with combining those influences.
I fear we have to wrap up our ‘breakfast’, but let me fit in one last question: what moment of all the compositional textures is the one you especially love on Emotional Eternal?
For me, it’s the dolphins and whales on “The Hypnotist”, with the electric bow. I love that song, and that instrument – the electric bow – is my new favourite sound.