The introduction has been cryptic for Midnight Youth frontman Jeremy Redmore’s solo album ‘The Brightest Flame’. In November last year, he released a collection of three new songs, followed by a further two singles the following month, two in January and two more in February – all with the plan to merge them into a full album on March 20. The songs come after a hiatus of nearly six years in which the singer/songwriter has only been visible around the NZ music scene a handful of times. Redmore has returned with something entirely different in style and method of introduction. Ben Mollison finds out more for NZM.
‘The Brightest Flame’ is an album first delivered in five monthly parts. The songs’ staggered delivery reflects the format of a diary documenting the aftermath of a break up, from which the derives their lyrical content. Pairs of songs, or chapters – like entries in that diary – were released monthly starting November 2019.
The 11 tracks are divided into five key dates, each accompanied by two (or three) tracks following a story of heartbreak, shock, isolation, bitterness, exploration and hope. Each of these mini packages falls under the album title ‘The Brightest Flame’, with a ‘day’ – 1, 21, 60 and 180 – corresponding with the time elapsed since the break up, and the feelings associated with that specific period of grieving. The chapters culminate with Day 365 and the release of Redmore’s second solo album in its entirety on March 20, 2020.
A sample of the associated PR: ‘Today, Jeremy Redmore shares the second chapter from his five-part album… Day 21 arrives in the form of two emotionally charged songs, The Best Is Not To Come and One Amongst 1000 … Day 21 is an exploration of isolation. How someone can feel acutely alone whether they are in an empty house or the main strip of a city’s chaotic nightlife. These two songs explore what it feels like to realise the pillars of a finely-crafted life have been washed away.’
Charismatic frontman and songwriter of the hugely popular anthemic NZ rockers Midnight Youth, Jeremy Redmore split from the band in 2013. Announcing that he was leaving the band to explore a more personal musical journey he subsequently releasing a debut solo album, titled ‘Clouds Are Alive’, with Warner Music NZ in July 2014. Much less rocky than fans were perhaps expecting it barely bothered local charts, the pre-release single Bad Philosophy achieving the best airplay result of the album’s 10 tracks.
Not long after, disillusioned with making and releasing music, he followed his then-girlfriend to Toronto to start a new life and immersed himself in culture in order to reflect on the importance and purpose for creating art. This may imply a personal focus on his own creative work, but during his time in Toronto Redmore claims he barely sang or played. He wasn’t known by his Canadian co-workers as a musician, only dabbling in music when he occasionally shocked his workmates on karaoke nights. However, when his relationship fell apart, he recalls feeling an intrinsic compulsion to write – to describe and relate the emotions he was sifting through in the wake of this significant life event.
“I wrote these songs, I think, as a coping mechanism. That was how I started writing songs in my life, to begin with… [it was] a good way to rationalise the way I thought, and I think it was very therapeutic.”
Once the compulsion took hold the songs came not in the heat of major encounters but in the arbitrary moments of life that followed. Redmore says the method of writing was unlike anything he had done before and that writing to a central concept was key in focusing and directing what he composed.
“I had a little table set up on the top level of a three-story house looking over the main kind of shopping street there, and I would just sit there and drink my whisky and have a smoke, and just freestyle write sometimes. The vast majority I just wrote them in my head. There wasn’t any instrument involved, they were just words and melodies that came in the shower, while I was walking – I did a lot of walking!”
New Music Project funding provided in NZ On Air’s July 2018 funding round allowed the ensuing album recording ambition to be pursued, though as an artist he was now working near an opposite end of the spectrum from his days in Midnight Youth. For those familiar with his previous work, the drastic stylistic changes in this material are evident. Midnight Youth’s brash rock focus was switched out for folk and soft/pop-rock songs with Redmore’s first solo album, this newest work contrasting greatly from both.
His website describes the project as a cinematic accompaniment to an individual’s experience of heartbreak. Listening to the tracks it’s evident why ‘cinematic’ is used as a descriptor. The songs, often beginning with simple, delicate instrumentation, transform into ambient soundscapes with lush synthesisers and echoing percussion. This leads to an often epic, theatrical sound marking a drastic sonic shift from anything previously found in Redmore’s catalogue. He says that working on the project with producer Nic Manders was pivotal in developing this new direction of instrumentation.
“I came in with hundreds and hundreds of reference tracks,” he smiles. “Each song had its own playlist of reference tracks, each song had its own mood board and what we’d do before each song is sit down and be like,‘Okay, these are the emotions we want to get across.’ We’d have moments where it would be like,‘Wow, this sounds great, it’s popping, it’s banging!’ And then we’d come in the next morning and it would be like,‘Yeah, but that’s not what our mood board says…’”
The ambience found in these new songs seems to match with the intention of his words. On a song like Same Old Routine the discouraging messages discuss habits after the break up taking the form of drinking, smoking, or introverted behaviour. Uncomfortably familiar to most, this is backed by whining, high-pitched guitar distortion sounding like a wail or moan, enhancing the sense of melancholy.
In One Amongst 1000 Redmore discusses the feeling of insignificance, loneliness and separation being away from his ex while still in a big city. The crescendo reached midway through the song using an array echoing drum hits, slightly distorted synth lines and deep piano chords, is like a musical analogy of the sound of the city a bereft Redmore found himself in.
He says that aiming for authenticity was a fairly straightforward exercise because when writing to the themes and feelings associated with heartbreak he was able to connect words to his experiences without insincerity.
“I think there were moments I would pull away from that authenticity. I might write a verse where I took it to someone else’s shoes – maybe looking on – or tried to veil the chorus in metaphors, and I would actually pair myself back and go,‘You know what, this isn’t truthful.’”
Asked if the sound on ‘The Brightest Flame’ will be something he’ll pursue in his future songwriting, Redmore is quite assured in his answer.
“I’m not worried about creating a consistent catalogue of sound. If anything, I’m probably against that, so the next thing will probably sound completely different again! I think that the one thing that will be consistent from now on, if I get to make more music, will be that the intention is to create an emotive journey for listeners – it’s not about trying to get an earworm on the radio.”
Made with the support of NZ On Air.