One of the longest Band of the Day features we’ve had. Grab a coffee and delve into the world of Mairu.
We are all from Skelmersdale, it’s a small town in Lancashire mostly known for having a lot of roundabouts and no traffic lights. It gets a bit of a bad reputation but speaking honestly, there are things that we all like about it. There’s a lot of wooded areas, fields and scenery if you know where to look. We filmed a lot of the woodland footage for both of our DIY music videos in various locations around the town. The nearest major city is Liverpool so we’ve always considered that to be the bands official home. Skem is too small to have much of a music scene and very few promoters have heard of it so generally we just say we are from Liverpool.
How did you meet?
We’ve all been friends and knocked about together for years. Dan (bass) and Ant (guitar) have known each other since primary school and the band initially formed as an excuse for them to get together and hang out more as Dan had recently moved in with his girlfriend in Congleton. Dan, Ben (drums) and Alan (guitar) were all already playing together in another band called Kusanagi which formed in 2011. Kusanagi were about to go on an extended hiatus due to their drummer starting up his own bar. This left the other three members with some free time on their hands all of a sudden and their mate Ant had already been banging on about playing “some heavy shit” since he drunkenly bought a seven string guitar on eBay while accompanying the Kusanagi guys on the way to a gig in Camden. A few late nights later, whilst listening to Amenra and Deafheaven, the members hung out together at Bens house and the idea for a band was formed.
As it happens, Kusanagi are active again (which was always the plan) however the plan is for both bands to co-exist side by side and to complement what the other is doing. Although the two bands both play instrumental music and share three members, musically they are vastly different.
How long have you been playing as a band?
At the time of this article, 13 months. Our first practice together was 26 April 2018. I think our previous experiences in bands have allowed us an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot, to write some solid songs, get some good quality recordings and start gigging as soon as possible.
Before you get sick of being asked… where does the band name come from?
Mairu is a word from Basque mythology. Alan suggested it; he is the history buff in the band so he either got it from a documentary or from scouring Wikipedia late one night. Being an instrumental band, it was important to us that the name conjures a certain aesthetic. We like how mairu was the name of a race of giants (like titans) that built these big stone structures, they were found only in the mountains of the Basque country (allegedly). We aren’t a mystical or pagan band but we are influenced by that kind of imagery. The juxtaposition of both the beauty and savagery of nature is something that we’ve tried to convey in our music videos as it relates to the heavy and melodic themes in our songs.
What are your influences?
Pelican was probably the first name that we threw around when we first discussed making the band. We are all big fans and being a great instrumental band – they were an inspiration to us. Musically I don’t think we sound much like them however. It was more about their vibe and their attitude, how they could write great songs with hooky riff and about having more space to work with and let a song breath because there are no vocals getting in the way. Musically I’d say our biggest influence that we all agree on is probably Cult of Luna, although not an instrumental band, their use of dynamics and ferocity influenced the writing of our debut EP greatly. Other bands we are influenced by include Neurosis, Mogwai, Will Haven, Deftones, Mastodon, Crowbar and Cult Leader.
Describe your music. What makes you unique?
We call ourselves Instrumental post-metal or sometimes atmospheric sludge metal, which pretty much means the same thing. I think the fact that we are unashamedly a metal band is what sets us apart from a lot of post-metal bands, especially instrumental ones. When we first started jamming, we expected the music to take a lighter and more melodic approach but we all enjoyed writing and playing the riffs so much, we just ran with it! We don’t think in terms of “How can an instrumental band make this work?” It’s more of a case of “How can we make this a great song?” Period. Being instrumental isn’t a crutch that we need to work around, it can sometimes be challenging but it’s a challenge that we all enjoy. A lot of people who discover us quickly forget that we don’t utilise vocals and get lost in the riffs and the melodies.
Do you have any particular lyrical themes?
Pass! Haha no but as mentioned we do have certain themes with our imagery and our art style. It will be interesting to see how it evolves over time but the plan isn’t to be too tied to one style. It’s a bit of a hodge-podge of Basque and Norse and anything else we think looks cool and fits the music. The important thing is it fits that same aesthetic that we have cultivated for ourselves.
What’s your live show like? How many shows have you played?
It’s intense! We are a metal band, there’s a lot of audience participation and interaction going on, a lot of headbanging! We played our first gig in September 2018 before focusing on recording our EP. We started gigging properly in February this year. We’ve played six gigs in total to date with several more already lined up. Our most recent gig was supporting Bast (blackened doom) and Voices (ex-Akercocke, black metal infused with doom and post-punk, very eclectic) at Rebellion in Manchester and we went down a storm! Adam Gosling, the promoter at Rebellion has become a big champion for the band and supporter of us so we really appreciated the opportunity. His seal of approval really instilled a lot of confidence in us as he’s someone whose day job is to watch metal bands for a living, so he’s seen a lot of bands by now and really knows his stuff!
What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen or done at a live show?
Nothing too outrageous yet, still very much early days, we haven’t even toured together yet! I’d say playing with Hundred Year Old Man in Liverpool was a real eye opener. It’s outrageous how good that band is, they sound huge live and gave us a lot to think about in terms of how we want to develop our live show.
What kit do you use / guitars do you play / etc.?
We tune to A standard which was Ant’s idea when forming the band (tune low, play slow!). Ant likes to play Ibanez baritone 26.5” scale length seven string guitars (mostly due to string tension and tuning reasons) which gives him an extra high string over Alan. Alan plays a six string Yamaha Revstar which has the more classic 24.75” scale length. We like how they both sound completely different and heavy in different ways and complement each other to help create the Mairu sound. Ant’s seven string has more of that modern tight low chug which he plays through a Peavey 6505 20watt mini head. Alan’s guitar has more of that dirty doomy sludgy quality due to his guitars scale length (like Mastodon have, using Les Paul guitars tuned to A as well) which he plays through a Hughes and Kettner TubeMeister 18watt mini head.
We get some seriously funny looks turning up to soundcheck with our mini guitar heads but they have never failed to sound monstrous and blow audiences away live. Dan plays a six string Ibanez BTB bass which has a 35” scale length that really helps the low A sustain and rumble. Ben doesn’t actually own his own kit at the moment (his day job is playing guitar in Kusanagi after all) but he’s started amassing an array of cymbals (courtesy of eBay) and other cool unique things (like his ribbon crasher, which can be heard at the start of “March Amid the Howling Trees”).
What, if anything, are you plugging/promoting at the moment?
The Sacred Dissonance EP! We recorded the EP in December 2018 – January 2019 with Tom Dring (Venom Prison, Dragged Into Sunlight, Dawn Ray’d) and self-released it via our Bandcamp page 26th April (to celebrate our one-year anniversary). Response so far has been great! The plan is to raise the awareness as much as possible via social media and our YouTube channel when we aren’t playing live. We may eventually do a physical release depending on demand however we are already making early plans for when we might want to record the follow up. Watch this space!
What are your plans for 2019?
Play live to as many receptive audiences as possible. We’ve learned a lot from past experiences in former bands about gigging smarter, quality over quantity. Being an instrumental band, there is a lot to be said for winning over an audience who may not be familiar with instrumental music. Our live set is very high energy, we aren’t just stood staring at our fretboards widdling. The intensity always wins people over. Having said that, the bill still needs to be a good fit for us. We love being the wild card on the bill however the audience needs to be there to begin with for us to win them over. We’ve learned from playing in bands before that playing to just the bar staff is no fun! Every show we’ve played this year so far has been great and we’ve been making new fans at each stop along the way.
If you were second on a three-band bill, which band would you love to be supporting and which band would you choose to open for you? A chance to plug someone you’ve toured with, or a mate’s band we’ve not heard of before!
Mastiff! I definitely would like to support that band one day, I love them. They are savage and seriously heavy! Stylistically, we may be from different worlds but I think we could certainly hold our own in terms of heaviness and there is enough of an overall banner of sludgy noise for us to fit together well without sticking out like a sore thumb.
To open, we’d pick our good mates Doem. Funnily enough they are another instrumental post-metal band from Skelmersdale (what are the chances?). They did a lot for us by putting us on a few of their gigs when we first started. We first met at one of our early rehearsals at the local practice rooms in Skelmersdale. While we were setting up we didn’t expect to hear Russian Circles meets Sleeps fighting The Melvins coming from next door, it was a bit surreal as Skem isn’t known as a hotbed for forward thinking progressive metal.
Half way through our practice, the Doem guys must have had the same feeling we had because the next thing we knew, we saw four giddy faces burst into the room and asked us to keep playing. We only had half a song at that point so there was only so much we could play but within minutes, we’d made friends with some like-minded musicians and were offered our very first gig. This way in May of last year so for them to invite us to play with them in the September really lit a fire under us to get a set together, fast!
We will always be grateful to Doem because the end result of those frantic writing sessions became The Sacred Dissonance EP. I suppose it must have been a bit of friendly rivalry (and not wanting to look shit on the night in front of them) but having another band playing similar music in the same small town was too much of a coincidence to pass up so we got to work on the tracks now streaming on Bandcamp and it all went according to plan. Cheers for the deadline Doem!