Interview: Mumble Tide – “They say don’t mix relationships and bands, but it’s worked out pretty well”

DIY duo and couple Mumble Tide weathered stresses of buckling relationships and the strain of lockdown by turning to each other and creating. They came out of this dark time with a support slot for Liz Lawrence on tour and an excellent new mini album in tow, Rob Hakimian reports

Mumble Tide started more or less as a by-product. The duo of Gina Leonard and Ryan Rogers met in another project called The Desert. The band had been looking for a new bassist and Rogers spotted Gina’s “paragraph of influences” on Gumtree; “everything from Lana Del Rey to Massive Attack was in there,” Ryan remembers. 

However, when he showed up to the house to join The Desert’s practice for the first time – having lugged a bass amp three miles – they were blasting Nickelback. Fortunately, they were just listening to it as a joke (or so they said). 

Credit to him, Ryan wasn’t perturbed and got the gig as the band’s bassist. It wasn’t long before he and Gina quickly formed a connection – and not just a musical one. They started dating, and, naturally, sharing song ideas.

Speaking to them from Gina’s parents house – situated in “a village that has one bus a day and a pub that’s only open on the weekends” – the chemistry between them is palpable. I can see a fireplace full of instruments in the background. It’s amazing to think that they have been living, writing, recording and making videos in this intimate space for over a year. It’s no wonder that, as they speak, their thoughts tumble together and conjoin, each’s memories of an event complementing the other until they’ve collaboratively remembered (more or less) how things happened. They find a natural way of allowing the other to open up.

It’s perhaps, then, unsurprising that they found it difficult to fully express themselves in that other project. “That was a little tricky,” Gina recalls. “We didn’t have a lot of control.”

They found themselves more often working just the two of them. What “started as messing around”, potentially for a “serious” Gina Leonard solo project, soon became their main focus, especially as the other band “sort of fell apart”. 

“We started to do more stuff in our bedroom, and I loved your angle on production,” Gina says, referring to her partner. “It was a bit more scrappy and silly, and I think I really needed that. The Desert was quite serious and quite a lot of pressure, and kind of one-dimensional, I guess, in terms of what I could bring to it.”

It was from these early seeds that Mumble Tide sprouted. “I felt wary at the start because they say don’t mix relationships and bands,” Gina says. “I remember thinking ‘this is probably a terrible idea’, but I think it’s worked out pretty well.”

Mumble Tide released their first single, “Sleepy Heads”, in April 2020, shortly after lockdown was imposed. These early months of the pandemic, while tough, saw them exploring each other’s creative and emotional depths. They couldn’t afford to remain in Bristol so decamped to Gina’s ever-supportive parents’ house, where the work kept flowing. The debut EP Love Thing followed in November, and – as the title suggests – it is sort of a document of their early courtship. 

“That’s exactly the way we like to put it,” Ryan says. “We were super loved-up making loads of scruffy tunes together.” 

Without the ability to tour behind Love Thing, Mumble Tide just segued straight into creating their next set of songs. Of course, like the rest of us, as lockdown stretched on, Ryan and Gina’s moods started to grow greyer. 

Fortunately they had each other and Mumble Tide to help them work through the struggle, and they started to see a real development in their sound. Where the project started with Gina bringing the songs and Ryan fleshing them out with production and arrangements, it started to get a bit more collaborative.

“We’re still in a phase of throwing everything at the wall – there’s no rules,” Gina says. “As we go on we’ll hopefully find our sound, but we love how free it is. We listen to quite a mix of music, and whatever we’re excited about we’ll use.”

While the boundaries between who does what have blurred a little, there’s still some clear delineation. “I’m a little precious about lyrics,” Gina admits, citing influence from the likes of The National’s Matt Berninger, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, Phoebe Bridgers, Bob Dylan, Nick Drake – she could probably go on for a while. 

But, mostly, she just trusts herself. “I think I need to be in a mode where it’s spilling out of me,” she says. “When I get to a point where I’m struggling and it’s requiring a lot of effort then I’ll stop because I don’t think it’s a good state to write, or it’s not coming from the right place.”

On the production side, Ryan admits that he can also be precious.

“You definitely are!” Gina interjects. “We have a phase where we’re really excited and write some stuff and get really lost in it – and then without fail Ryan has two, three, four days of crisis. Like ‘it’s terrible, it’s terrible, everything’s awful’.” 

“I’m my own worst enemy with production stuff, I just crash and burn,” Ryan says. “I sit in front of the computer for two days, making changes and sobbing like ‘this is me recording’.”

But they find strength in the belief they have for each other. “It’s just the two of us doing everything – recording, production, artwork, videos, press shots. It can be hard when there’s no other voices,” Gina says. “But usually one of us will pick the other one up.” 

“What really works is that we rarely butt heads,” Ryan says. “We’re always happy with what the other does.” 

The safety of their union and collaboration has allowed Mumble Tide to channel the frustrations of the past year or so into tactile, boundless songs. The resulting Everything Ugly doesn’t hold back on displaying the truths of their lows – and yet manages to turn them into some of the most infectiously effervescent indie pop songs in recent memory. 

“There were things that happened in both our lives, like relationships with other people and stuff… I think we were both just angrier this year,” Ryan says.

“Yeah, it’s been an angry year,” Gina concurs. “Obviously when people are very stressed out and upset, and then combined with the pandemic, people can be difficult. I’m sure we were difficult in our own way.”

Even if they were almost certainly insular and unwelcoming at points, the results speak for themselves. Everything Ugly is a calling card for everything Mumble Tide can do – and could go on to become, from winsome indie-pop to Sonic Youth-esque burners to glitchy art rockers to resonant torch songs.

“With this batch of Mumble Tide tracks I just wanted to come at it from as many angles as possible because we had the time and we weren’t taking it to a big studio where time mattered. We were just doing everything here,” Ryan says. “The way we work is such a blur, we just get lost in it.”

“We often go into the night when we get into a mode,” Gina adds. “It’s so chaotic, we would never be able to write it down.”

“The way that we come to anything is very abstract and long-winded,” Ryan agrees. “The whole thing is very uncalculated.”

Uncalculated it may be, but the result is undeniable. The duo’s lack of clear destination, fused with the belief they have in each other, has taken them to myriad musical shores, all of them musically and lyrically captivating. No matter the stress, confusion, tears and anger that have gone into it, the result is a snapshot of a band that was created out of love and forged in the fire of lockdown. 

They’ve now taken those songs on the road, both supporting Liz Lawrence and on their own headline tour. The responses they get have affirmed the resonance of what they’ve created. It’s just the beginning, with plans for a series of singles in the near future, and that looming prospect of a debut album not far away. As long as they stand firm together, their chemistry and self-sufficiency will take them up many more levels. This is just the beginning for Mumble Tide.

Everything Ugly: Track-by-track

1. “Good 4 Me”

Ryan: The second we’d even started, I knew “Good 4 Me” was the opener. It’s one of my favourite things we’ve ever done, I love it. 

Gina: There’s not loads of lyrics. It plants some themes but doesn’t explain the whole. It fits with the rest of them, so I think it’s a good starting point. 

The end has me playing the trumpet really badly. It took some takes to get that because I’m quite rubbish. I used to play as a kid but you have to have the muscles in your face, you need to practice to keep that. I keep saying I’ll practice more and get better, yet…

I actually did bring it on stage for the set of Liz Lawrence support gigs. Right at the end of practicing we were like ‘“Sucker” just needs another element, let’s just grab the trumpet’. I literally play four notes and every time I was like ‘oh god, here we go’. 

2. “Sucker”

Ryan: This was one that I wanted to scrap.

Gina: On New Year’s Eve you were messing around while me and my sister were getting ready and I was like ‘oh that’s cool, we should definitely work on that.’

Ryan: I think I’d only done the verse riff, I just couldn’t think of anything for the chorus. I just really didn’t want to do anything with it because I couldn’t think of anything, but Gina was like ‘I’m gonna write over it, you go hang out and I’ll just do it’. 

Gina: That was definitely another splurge of lyrics that I couldn’t tell you loads about.

3. “Breakfast”

Gina: I’d written a bad original chorus, which was something about people eating breakfast. So we just called it “Breakfast” and it stuck. 

Ryan: I always thought it was going to be a pretty sounding track.

Gina: But I was not happy. I’m a people pleaser. I cannot enter a conflict with a person, I just do not cope well with it, and I wrote it at a point where I’d ended up in the middle of a bunch of conflict and I struggled with it so much. 

Then through lockdown we were going on walks every day to get out of the house, and one day hundreds of these wild swans had flown into one of the fields and they were all squawking at each other. I was just like ‘I’ve gone on this walk to escape, to get some peace, and these birds have chosen to come in the back garden!’ That’s the sample under the track. 

But the song really helped me, because there were a few days where I was so consumed by the conflict and I didn’t know how to cope with it. The chorus came about, like ‘you can’t always agree with people and sometimes conflict happens and that’s ok.’ I felt better after writing it.

Ryan: The puffing in there is just me breathing. I really wanted to get the sound of vinyl scratching, I don’t know why, I can’t remember what I was listening to. I watched a YouTube tutorial about how if you blow a certain way into the mic you can kind of get it to sound like that, but then that didn’t work at all. But the song was missing a shaker or something and in the end I just cut a second or so of my breathing and looped that into that percussion sound.

4. “Too Far Back”

Gina: In music, like anything in the arts, it’s hard to make money. Getting older and being back here [at my parents’] because we couldn’t afford to pay rent, I was feeling like I wasn’t where I should be, I guess. And then in lockdown we were held back in lots of ways, we really wanted to get out and play when we couldn’t. It’s another frustrated track for sure.

There’s the line “I know they aren’t impressed, not yet”, and at that point my parents were not very impressed. I was thinking the art we’re making isn’t particularly offensive, and I think I was a bit bitter. I was like ‘god, I could be doing things that are so much more sexualized’ or whatever. So I sing “I’ll keep it sweet like cinnamon” and my mum hates cinnamon… They’re definitely gonna read this. This is terrible.

5. “Everything Ugly”

Ryan: It’s kind of the resolution to the whole thing. Some of the tracks had gone to mastering at the point when we wrote it, we were mildly against the clock. It wasn’t super easy. It was one of the ones where I had two or three days of crisis and struggle and not feeling very good about pretty much everything. And then the end section, I think that really pulled it together; when we wrote the outro I was like ‘oh, I really love that’.

6. “Noodle”

Ryan:​​ I love this one because it’s the first time I was able to channel an aggressive kind of vibe into the project. And I also love the way that Gina sings on it, because she didn’t grow up listening to a lot of emo stuff, so the way she writes over these tunes is just really cool. It doesn’t come from a place of reference, it’s just her doing her thing in a different way. I really love hearing that.

Gina: It was also one of the easiest ones; you wrote the guitar part and it just fell together really well. It was really fun.

It’s lyrically dark because I think I am someone who tries to kind of be a smiley face, put on a good front, but underneath it’s not so sunny. Even that first fun line where it’s like “you joke my neck is long nike a noodle” but then it’s “Can’t get my head around much.” It’s lurking behind the joke. I guess working with Mumble Tide is the only space I have to release a lot of stuff which I guess I don’t release in any other way.

7. “Bulls Eye”

Gina: I wrote it and brought it to Ryan and we just did a cool stripped-back thing. It was pretty unrehearsed. We just recorded it. 

Ryan: Gina writes these songs that are like… the worst thing you can do to them is change them in any way. This is definitely one of those that just came out of you and it was like, ‘just keep it the same on the record’. 

I borrowed an accordion from a friend for a few months, but barely played it. I put on the accordion because we use loads of synth and I was just bored of those. We wanted to find something different to throw on the track and we ended on accordion. I genuinely am really bad though.

8. “On My Deathbed There’s A Full Page (You Don’t Get To Read It)”

Ryan: So, those periods where I said I have three days of hatred, man it was like two months for this one… it was really long.

It started as this kind of weird disco tune, because when we first started this EP I thought we were going to be doing something like TOPS or Tennis, like an indie disco dance thing. For some reason I thought ‘oh, this is going to be our new sound’. Then, it really wasn’t at all. And this one started there and ended up where it is, so it took ages.

Gina: We did go back to the beginning with it and then it was really natural. You did your thing, questioning everything, and I was there like ‘no it’s good, it’s good.’ 

Lyrically, I think it’s overanalyzing; looking back at relationships. I’ve written lots of heartbreak songs, and really sad songs about various relationships and kind of clung on to things for way longer than a normal person. I guess this song is feeling like something’s slipped – in a good way. There’s stuff that you wanted to have that you can find in yourself, or find a different angle on, which is nice. I find that one really uplifting to sing.

Ryan: I actually do really love listening to it as well. I remember a few days before it came out as a single listening to it really loud, and I shouted downstairs to Gina – you were like ‘what?’, and I was like ‘it’s a banger!’.

Mumble Tide’s Everything Ugly is out now digitally on Nothing Fancy, with a physical arriving in April (pre-order).

You can follow the band on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.