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Thomas McConnell, aka NOVELTY ISLAND, returns with a lockdown flight of fantasy in the form of How Are You Coping With This Century? Described as a very British nervous breakdown album, the collection of diminutive songs addresses the modern condition with humour, imagination and classic pop songwriting.
Compared to your previous output, what’s different about How Are You Coping With This Century?
It’s far more concise – every song is under three minutes. I’ve got very strict with my editing – something’s happened to my ears where I find so many songs far too long. The Beatles never outstay their welcome – if Mr Kite goes to the moon and back in two minutes and 37 seconds, who are any of us to do five musically identical verses? I’m also more confident at twisting my lyrics now. It’s something I’ve developed on earlier tracks, but now it’s over the whole record.
Are there any main musical influences on the album?
Not specifically. The influences I’ve always had are there – McCartney, Brian Wilson, etc. But with this album, I tried to let go of the heavy musical pre-planning (which often involves brain-hurting analysis of influences) to see what I can do without thinking so much. I watched Breaking Bad for the first time while I was making it, so you might find more obvious nods to that than specific musical references.
What impact did Covid have on the recording process?
Mixing it with Carlos Lellis (Abbey Road Institute) over Zoom was the most dystopian part of the process, but it quickly became comfortable. Recording wise, I was doing a lot in Abbey Road from 2018 to March 2020, then I was suddenly back at home making this. At first that was obviously a majorly depressing downgrade, but I’ve recorded at home since I was a kid; I’m well-practiced at it and it ended up adding to the whole feel. As dire as everything has been, I have to accept that this album wouldn’t exist if Covid hadn’t happened. I started writing it in September 2020 and it was entirely finished by Christmas, so it’s all informed by what’s happened or what I was thinking about because of it.
Which track are you most excited to play live?
I think Turtle Rock will be fun as it’s an upbeat ode to Jesmond Dene in Newcastle and the Chuckle Brothers trying to carry the whole of America.
As the last track, what is the lasting impression you wish to give with Yes?
Yes gave me the album title, so I suppose it’s the album statement. Less white noise, less screaming on every side of the least to the most important arguments and a lot less social media. It imagine a not-so-intense future through a rolling news channel that doesn’t pour out constant bleakness – not fake news, just a parallel universe where the news genuinely isn’t as shit. The demo had this big anthem arrangement, but I ditched that. As we couldn’t go to the pub, I liked the idea of a slightly warped, drunk version of it – an open mic band in the corner of (the original) Kelly’s, playing a song everybody knows with everyone singing along.
Finally, the name Novelty Island has to be a nod to the early Vic Reeves sketch. How else does surrealist humour inform your creations?
If Novelty Island was a person, the heart would be a little TV with the original series of Big Night Out on a loop, so you may be onto something with that nod. Surrealism is the root of the whole project. I have to twist everything or I’d be bored – the sounds, the lyrics, the videos, the artwork, the Instagram, the props. It’s better than reality, isn’t it?
How Are You Coping With This Century? is out via Think Like A Key Music on 15th October.