NewTracks New Artist: Neil MacLeod

NewTracks New Artist: Neil MacLeod

Because of the pandemic, it took Te Whanganui-A-Tara-based electronica wunderkind Neil MacLeod and his all-star team three years to finally release his second EP, ‘We Have Known Lost Days’. Emotive single Taller Than Trees featured on NZ On Air Music‘s NewTracks compilation this October.

What’s your name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

My name is Neil MacLeod and I was born in the UK. My main instruments are piano, laptop & voice.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

Singing in choirs in my earlier years was in some ways my introduction to taking part in music, so that will always be an important memory.

Any previous projects we might know you from?

You might recognise my voice from the previous features with Pacific Heights, 2XM or Te Kahureremoa – otherwise, I’ve produced and mixed a variety of records that you might have heard of!

What’s the background story of how this EP project came to be?

My new EP, ‘We Have Known Lost Days’, was actually made in 2019, just before the pandemic took over our lives. At the time I was deeply interested in the Jungian concept of the ‘Shadow’ which is broadly speaking – the unknown dark side of one’s personality. I really tried to explore this side of myself on the record. Devin Abrams was co-producer & co-writer, Simon Gooding mixed it and Matt Colton was on mastering. It’s out now via the wonderful team at Particle Recordings.

How has your music evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

When I was first starting to make music I wasn’t very concerned with production. I largely wrote on the guitar or the piano, and typically the recordings were quite folk driven. Nowadays the production holds a vital role in my process, and has played a big part in my being able to move into a sonically broader and more daring landscape. My new EP presents some of the most exciting and risky production I think I’ve ever put my name to.

What made you decide to stick with your given name as an artist?

Prior to releasing my first EP ‘To Unfold’ I had played around with various aliases, but never with any luck. Ultimately I couldn’t connect deeply with anything other than my own name.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date? 

The biggest highlight for me – so far – was working on the live visual EP which has just come out as an alternative experience of the record. The process of creating that film was immensely engaging and rewarding. Another particularly memorable one was three sold-out shows in Wellington, back to back at Bats Theatre!

What made Taller Than Trees stand out for you as a single?

For me, this song is extremely cathartic and I feel that it’s one of the most unique and powerful songs from the EP. It was recorded in my home studio in Wellington and was co-written and produced by myself and Devin Abrams.

What is the story behind Taller Than Trees?

This song started with the very first synth sound that you hear. I vividly remember building that sound in the studio and being instantly inspired by it. Eventually, the lyrics and melodies began taking shape and I built out the first demo. From there I got Devin involved and we worked on the song for many months until eventually, it landed in its final form.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the song?

My favourite moment of Taller Than Trees is during a tense pause from a massive synth section that’s just been roaring, and this creepy vocal mantra sneaks in before the whole track explodes into chaos again… I love that section, it’s so gripping to me.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

I love to think that everyone will develop their own understanding of my songs, and unpack the meaning of it in a way they can relate to. Of course I can provide context, but in the final analysis, I believe it’s better to let the music speak for itself.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

It’s largely a collaborative decision-making process, but sometimes you just know which song will be the single! They tend to be tracks that best represent the project, both sonically and conceptually.

Who else is in your team?

I have a wonderful team around me – I have a manager, a publisher (Big Pop Music Publishing) and a label (Particle Recordings). As far as working with a producer goes, at this point in time, I’m producing everything myself!

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?

I’m very excited to say that we have a remixed version of the EP coming out in the very near future! There are some amazing remixes in there, from the likes of Throwing Snow, 2XM and many others. We’ve also got a tour in the works, which we hope to announce very soon.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

  • Groeni: I Don’t Hold Knives
  • Caramel Smooth Heaven: My Nightmare Arrives a Day Ago
  • KamandiVoices

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others?

While I think it’s fantastic that this resource is available, my career thus far has not included working with NZ On Air in a funded capacity. That being said, over the years I’ve also learnt that ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ is a very true and useful mantra as an artist! Having projects funded is always a bonus, but for me, that has never been a deciding factor as to whether a project of mine goes ahead.

Was there an NZOA criterion you struggled with in the application? 

Something I’ve always found a little difficult, which I’m sure many people can relate to, is writing about myself and pitching my project (for example in an application for funding). In this regard, I’ve always found leaning on friends and peers that know me and my music to be really helpful in the past, and I’m grateful to have to do less of that myself nowadays, with a supportive and creative team around me!

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

I find a lot of my favourite music through media such as Pitchfork, Bandcamp and Under The Radar!

Who did you make the video with?

This is the full live visual EP we created as an alternative way to experience this record, and a link to Taller Than Trees from this project as a standalone piece too. Oscar Keys was the director, and we had a stellar crew whose full credits you can find in full in the video’s description.

Any last words?

I’d just like to say a massive thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to support this new music! I’m so grateful to each and every one of you. Big love!