A quick trawl back through the history of popular music will reveal how integral feelings are, not just to ourselves as humans but also to the way we project ourselves through the art we create. This is nothing groundbreaking, and has been pored over thousands of times in the past – but, what about those particular artists who have a great feel for navigating the ever-shifting tides of music? Some of our greatest songwriters and composers are among our most revered artists, across any field, precisely because of the specific and relatable way in which music connects with our deepest emotions. Music with feel can only come from being sensitive to, and channelling, the extremes of emotion, or charting the minuscule ripples in the spectrum of emotion that makes us what we are.
Multi-instrumentalist David Miller, who works under the name NEWS FROM NEPTUNE, is a musician who exhibits such deftness around his sonic manipulations. The swells of emotion that characterise his debut EP The Cold Open grip you around your navel and cause the blood to go rushing to your ears. Ranging from the sweeping of lush electronica to the restive meanderings of skittering beats, News From Neptune’s introspective instrumentalism is a fascinating reflection of the human psyche. In a bid to get under the skin of this artist, Christopher Torpey sent some missives to Neptune – this is what he found out…
Bido Lito!: How long has News From Neptune been a part of your creative process?
News From Neptune: I’ve used the name since early 2015 – it comes from a Sun Ra track, Have You Heard The Latest News From Neptune? I liked the fact that it had both connotations of space and the sea, i.e. Neptune, the Roman god [of the sea]. Obviously, space imagery is a staple of the psychedelic diet but I also really like music with an underwater, oceanic feel, glistening but a bit murky.
BL!: You say you have a lot of recorded material from the past decade: what made you decide to start putting it all down on tape?
NFN: Yeah, the tracks I draw upon as News From Neptune span my 20s. My early 20s in particular were a very strange, isolated time due to mental health issues – I had very bad OCD, anxiety and depression. Writing, recording and listening to music was something to get immersed in, a way of passing the time of day, really.
BL!: Does music always come naturally to you?
NFN: Sometimes. There’s probably an element of that but it can also feel like a bit of a struggle to come up with something interesting or novel. I try to avoid repeating myself too much, falling back on the same old tricks.
BL!: How did you piece all of the music together to make these tracks? Was it hard work sifting through all of your previous recorded material?
NFN: When the idea for the EP and video first came about, I trawled through the archives and came up with a shortlist of about 15 tracks which I thought might be suitable. I then sent these demos over to Lee Pennington of Pure Joy – who’s something of a mentor to me – and Pete Shilton from the Merseyside Arts Foundation, who picked the ones which they felt stood out or would go together nicely on an EP. It felt quite important to get outside opinions. Then Matty Freeman mixed and mastered the tracks, putting them through the Pure Joy filter!
BL!: Does your EP, The Cold Open, speak of any particular emotion?
NFN: Hopefully it comes from quite an uninhibited place – some of it is rather meticulously arranged but there are also more freeform/improvised elements, especially the middle section of the title track. Like a lot of people, I feel quite awkward and hemmed in most of the time in the real world, so it’s nice to have an outlet for spontaneity!
BL!: What do you feel when you listen back to it?
NFN: I’m quite happy with it at the moment, though I guess time will tell. I like to think, ‘If the 14-year-old me knew that I’d be making music that sounded like this by my late 20s, he’d be pretty surprised and excited!’
BL!: Do you find it therapeutic to process your thoughts and emotions into music?
NFN: Absolutely, though it’s not necessarily a conscious thing for me. I don’t really go into the writing process thinking, ‘Right, let’s channel THAT emotion into a song.’ It’s often only afterwards, occasionally even a long time into the future, that I realise what feelings, events or influences informed a particular track.
BL!: Some people would say that it’s the job of music to take people somewhere else – do you see that as a goal you want to achieve?
NFN: There’s definitely something to be said for escapism, particularly when the real world can look so grim. I’d be happy if people could enjoy my music in that way. On the other hand, hopefully it sounds and feels relevant to people’s actual experiences, not just an island unto itself – maybe think of it as ‘enhanced reality’…
BL!: You’ve said that the possibilities of pop are endless – why do you think so?
NFN: Maybe that’s an optimistic view but it’s really how it felt when I first heard people like The Flaming Lips, Neu! or Scott Walker and my head switched into a different gear. Whole new fields full of flowers revealed themselves, ready for the picking.
BL!: Have you disappeared down any rabbit holes in your search for devouring new music recently?
NFN: Ha ha! Yes, frequently! There have been a few occasions where I’ve asked myself: ‘Do I actually like this or do I just like the idea of liking this?’ I try not to be too disheartened, though, if I’m a bit flummoxed by something on first listen. A lot of my favourite music took a while to get my head around. As a good recent example, I’ve been listening to old Éthiopiques compilations of Ethiopian jazz and soul, which really baffled me at first, with its strange scales, modes and vocal stylings, but now I’m a bit addicted! It’s really evocative stuff.
BL!: If you had to pick three albums or artists that you returned to regularly amid this discovering, what would they be?
NFN: If we’re narrowing it down to recent years, I’d say that Robert Wyatt has been crucial – there’s something very fragile about his voice and music which just gets to me. Then there’s perhaps This Heat and related acts – Camberwell Now, Flaming Tunes, etc. – their music struck me in quite a visceral way. Sometimes it’s very uneasy and intense, which opened me up to different ways of using harmony. It helped to remind me how music doesn’t always have to be ‘pretty’ or mellifluous – it can paint with a broader palette. A third choice? Maybe something from that mid-90s ‘lost generation’ between dream pop and post-rock, like Bark Psychosis or Disco Inferno. Really forward-thinking, inspiring stuff which got sort of drowned out by the bluster of Britpop. I could go on…!
BL!: What does music mean to you?
NFN: On balance, I think it takes up an inordinate amount of my brain space. It plays a huge role in defining the way I look at the past, present and future. To be honest, I try not to analyse it too much for fear of spoiling the magic.
The Cold Open is out now. Head to bidolito.co.uk now to see an exclusive premiere of News From Neptune’s first single, shot by Freakbeat Films.