The Melting Ice Caps Interview
by Aug Stone
David Shah and I sat down at his dining table after I added some guitar to his then
soon-to-be single, “Mise En Scene.” Beverages consumed: David—2 chamomile teas,
Aug—2 Earl Greys.
Aug: How did the Melting Ice Caps begin?
David: I suppose it was towards the tail end of Luxembourg…umm…oh I can’t explain what Luxembourg was (laugh) …people can find out for themselves or perhaps they already know. I just started experimenting with being able to write and record a song at home on my own, rather than taking it to other people, just to see whether I could really. And that was maybe even 2, 3 years ago now, something like that. And I kind of enjoyed being autonomous, I suppose. And then I started gradually getting a bit better at it. I mean I’m still not the world’s best arranger or anything but I’m getting more confident with using the technology, balancing sounds and finding sounds, and playing instruments basically (laughs). So it gradually became a bit more serious over time. And then of course when Luxembourg finished it was the obvious thing for me to do, to put more time into The Ice Caps.
Aug: What were the first Ice Caps songs?
David: Well, I did this solo gig a few years ago [The H Bird single release party at The Betsey Trotwood, September 18th, 2006] which you could perhaps look on as being the first Ice Caps gig, though it wasn’t called The Ice Caps at the time. And there I played “Hard To Get” and I played “Don’t Say A Word”, so in a way they were the first songs…the first ones that were given a public airing. And that then was the first single. [Also played Kirsty MacColl’s “We’ll Never Pass This Way Again” at that first gig.]
Aug: Any thoughts on Luxembourg now that it’s all over?
David: Well it was fantastic and it still is fantastic and that’s it really, there’s not that much more to say. It was a great band and I’m thrilled that I had that but, you know, things change, things move on, things end. Yeah, now the world has The Ice Caps, it has Jonny Cola, it has Rob’s stuff, it has New Royal Family and all the rest of it.
Aug: One thing I’ve always liked about your lyrics, and which I think is true of all great lyricists, is that you have your own vocabulary, words that are unmistakably yours and definitely not run of the mill in a pop song. Anything to say about this? Whose lyrics do you like?
David: Can I have an example? (laughs) I kind of know what you mean. And what was the second part of the question? Hmm…whose lyrics do I like? (thinks) …you want to try not to say the obvious ones, that’s the thing…who are people like Stephin Merritt…and that man whose name is Stephen something or other whose surname begins with ‘M’…and maybe Jarvis and all those people. We ‘ve already mentioned Kirsty MacColl, she’s definitely up there as a fine lyricist.
I think sometimes people aren’t incredibly consistent, they might have a handful of songs that have great lyrics but maybe not the whole of their canon, as it were, is consistent lyrically. But some pull off that feat. It’s one of those questions like ‘Which bands do you like?’, when you’re put on the spot it’s hard to go through everything.
Aug: [Too late I remembered the examples I meant about his own vocabulary, words such as “Gaggle” from ‘Ditch The Theory’ , “Miscreant” from ‘Don’t Say A Word’, etc.]
Mise En Scene
Aug: What inspires you to write?
David: Partly it’s just the joy of that kind of moment when the lines slot into place, like a jigsaw puzzle, that’s part of it, sort of a cryptic…exercise. And you know, when the words resonate with each other and maybe there’s a half-rhyme here and there’s a whole rhyme there and there’s alliteration, you know, all those little technical bits, they’re lovely, they’re always a joy. And then of course it’s also…I wouldn’t say cathartic, I wouldn’t say dealing with stuff, because it doesn’t work like that at all and it’s a cliché, but it’s also just kind of getting stuff down, that’s what I would be prepared to say, just getting stuff down. Not that it makes anything better, do you know what I mean?, it’s just nice to record, to have an account of whatever was happening at the time or whatever you noticed in the world at the time, whatever you were going through. That’s what I would say, I think (laughs). I’m not sure that answered your question, what was the question? (laughs) I suppose that is what inspires me to write, it’s the pleasure of doing it but also, of course, the subject matter is all there is to be seen in the song, what I’m writing about is all there so those are the things that inspire me, the things that you can pick up on in the songs.
Aug: What setting and mood are you hoping to create with The Ice Caps?
David: I’m trying to make it…I don’t know if I’m succeeding but I’m trying to make it easy on the ear actually, in a way, I’m trying to make it quite easy to listen to. Not lyrically, but certainly musically. I’m trying to make it pretty, I’m trying to make it pop. I’m trying to make it sparkle…and shine…I’m getting a little bit better, I think, all the time of making it sparkle and shine. So that certainly goes for most of the songs. Maybe you couldn’t say that about something like “If I Should Ever Lose” (laughs), that’s not really sparkling and shining but maybe that’s a different wing of The Ice Caps, if that’s not mixing a metaphor horribly (laughs). But yeah, I think the main impetus is to sparkle.
Aug: Tell me about the new single, “Like A Souvenir”?
David: I’m really pleased with it, obviously. I got bogged down in it for literally months, in terms of mixing it and trying to decide that I liked it after deciding I didn’t like it for a while, and all that kind of stuff. But I think it was worth it in the end, I hope it was. I don’t really talk about the lyrics, cause you know, what’s the point, they’re lyrics and they’re there to be listened to and read, maybe. I just think it’s, well I think it’s a strong song, but I would say that. I think it’s pleasing and I hope people like it.
Aug: Any other projects, musical or otherwise, going on right now?
David: (Laughter from both of us at The Soft Close-Ups reference) Ah, there is this band (laughs) The Soft Close-Ups, who you probably already know of. If you don’t, you should check us out. Those are my two projects at the moment, there isn’t anything else I don’t think. No.
Aug: I’ve often said that there’s something about a really great pop song that’s akin to the feeling you have after you’ve first kissed someone you’ve really fancied for quite a while. What do you think is inherent in all great pop music? Or any similar comparisons?
David: (thinks) Well…it’s either joy or sadness. (Laughs) Which sounds like I’m covering all bases but then pop does cover all bases really. There’s either a visceral thrill, a rush of joy or – and often of course there’s both which is fantastic – or there’s…a delicious, a really kind of enjoyable almost tristesse . So, and yeah, maybe a bit of both, cause that’s what life is, isn’t it, you get both. Funnily enough…there’s a headline, STOP PRESS (laughs) Life is sad and happy, folks! You heard it here first. Yeah, I told you I was rubbish at interviews, next question?
Aug: Favourite colour?
David: Depends what it’s for, to wear or put on your wall or…?
Aug: Go for them all then…
David: I don’t know…maybe a nice jade. Yeah, a nice jade.
Aug: Favourite film(s)?
David: I think that’s an impossible question really. I tend to love the last thing I saw (laughs) I’m a bit like that with the songs that I write as well, I always kind of favour the most recent effort…I suppose lots of people are like that.
Aug: So what was the last thing you saw?
David: A slightly easier question. I went and saw ‘Milk’ actually, which was fantastic, I really enjoyed it. For some strange reason it reminds me that, was it last year or the year before?, my favourite film, I think, was ‘Control’, the thing about Joy Division. I’m not a fan of Joy Division at all particularly, I don’t mind them but I’m not a fan, but it’s a beautiful film, I loved it. And there’s loads of others that I can’t think of now. I try and go once a week if I can, I love going to the cinema. Especially on a Monday when it’s cheap and there’s no one there…and I’m not working.
Aug: Favourite book(s)?
David: (Pained) Oh…so hard. I’m a bit of a fan of Russell Hoban, who some people know of, British writer, who’s getting on a bit now. Let’s do ‘what’s the last book you read?’ cause it’s sitting on the table so that’s easy. The last book I read was ‘God’s Own Country’ by Ross Raisin he says reading it off the front which was thrilling, absolutely thrilling.
Aug: Beverage of choice?
David: (laughs) Just as I’m lifting my chamomile tea to my lips. I do like an herbal tea, I like a green tea, I like an Earl Grey, I like a straight black tea…sparkling mineral water, soya milk, definitely fruit juices. That’s enough, isn’t it? (laughter)
Aug: Tea would’ve covered it…
David: (laughs) Jolly good value for money for the audience.
Aug: Favourite food?
David: I’m not vegetarian anymore but I still love vegetarian cuisine. I like Thai food, everyone likes Thai, don’t they? I like curry. I like lots of so-called English food, if there is such a thing. Yeah, I like everything actually, a bit too much actually (laughs).
Aug: Favourite member of ‘The Young Ones’?
David: Neil, I suppose.
Aug: You’re the first one to say Neil.
David: Ah, good. I’m glad I’m original in some respects.
Aug: Do you see any connections or similarities between all these favourites and the music you make or music you like in general?
David: Well, something like Russell Hoban, he’s very much indulging, he takes pleasure in not so much the narrative, the plot so much as the – I’m thinking about the song we just recorded now, aren’t I? – ‘Mise En Scene’. He just takes pleasure in what’s in every scene, what’s in the background of every scene, what the director or the author chooses to put on the page. And I think sometimes it’s the same with my writing. I just take pleasure in putting certain sounds, certain lines together, certain ideas, images together…What was the question again? (laughs, I repeat question) There you go, I think I answered it, didn’t I? Sort of. What a miracle that was! Well done (laughter).
Aug: What’s the perfect song?
David: Something that exists, do you mean? Or is this a sort of fantasy football pop league thing?…It’s so hard, isn’t it? I think there’s a difference between the perfect song and the perfect record or recording as well. Sometimes the perfect song doesn’t have the perfect version recorded so…
Aug: Do you have something in mind?
David: Off the top of my head, no, surprisingly (laughs). Again I don’t want to say anything obvious that kind of backs me into a corner or anything, but I’m sure there are perfect pop songs out there…I might even write one one day, you never know, myself, I’d like to think so.
Aug: What’s the perfect album?
David: Okay, I’m gonna back myself into a corner (laughs). The first thing that comes to mind, I really like “Viva Hate”, so I’ll put that forward as a possible contender, underlined, possible contender. I do like that album.
Aug: Last question – Say you’ve stolen a space shuttle and are flying it directly into the sun, for whatever reason, what would the soundtrack be?
David: (thinks for a long time) I don’t know why, I really don’t know why, but what comes to mind is “Video Killed The Radio Star”. So yeah, I’ll go with that. Are we done?
David: I SURVIVED! (laughter) Excellent.
David has gone on to record many more singles and an EP as The Melting Ice Caps.
He and I also record under the name The Soft Close-Ups.
The Melting Ice Caps site for many free songs.
The Corporate Records site for ‘The Strike’ EP.
The Soft Close-Ups last.fm page (contains 7 free songs).
The Luxembourg last.fm page with free downloads of their entire extensive discography.
This interview was conducted by Mr. Aug Stone, whose own blog can be found here.