Meljoann chats with Aoife Barry about Janet Jackson, the anonymity of electronic music & her debut album Squick. ‘Sqweee’ isn’t a word, but somehow when you pair it with ‘funk’, you get an apt description of the music made by rising Irish electronic musician Meljoann. Whether you want to call it squicky, quirky, or simply wonky – as Meljoann herself does – one thing you can be sure is that it’ll get your booty shaking and shoulders popping quick smart. Bright, sassy, and reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s R’n’B days back in the early 90s, Meljoann’s debut album ‘Squick‘ is one of 2010’s strongest homegrown releases.
It’s no surprise, then, to hear that Meljoann is not the only musical maven in her family – her mother, Imelda Nagle Ryan, is a classical guitarist and encouraged her daughter to start playing the instrument at the young age of two. “I was always around music because my mother was a musician,” Meljoann explains. “In my teens I got into production and electronic music. I think it was really the 80s and 90s, I was very into R’n’B and I used to analyse the production and the different instruments, listen to how they were doing it.”
Understanding how songs are made was key to Meljoann – who lives in Dublin and is involved with the label Second Square to None – delving into the electronic music realm. “It just comes from a general musical curiosity, I don’t know really, I was always interested. I was lucky with that I was used to music being made in the house. I was writing all the time.” Later, she says: “I was just obsessed…I would tend to dissect everything I hear. Even if it is bad music I’d dissect it.”
The Janet Jackson comparison might seem a bit leftfield, but in truth it’s spot on. “I was always into her, and the production team behind her [Jam & Lewis], they are one of my major influences. I really, really, respect what they do. “ Although she clearly has a passion for creating music and lifting up musical rocks to discover what fantastical creatures lie beneath, she was never clamouring to release her music immediately. “It’s more my personality – I am a bit of a hermit at times,” she laughs. “It was hard to take it out of the bedroom.”
She made music with friends – “anyone I know, I like to convert them, it’s fun” – and grew to become part of the tight-knit electronic scene in Dublin. She has another project with her boyfriend, the musician Herv. Together, they perform under the moniker Gland & Conduit and make, says Meljoann “noise and beats; melodic noise”.
“I make music under different names. It’s fun to have secrets,” she reveals. “I love that anonymity of electronic music, I think it’s really fun to play with. If you want to do it you can do it.”
To match up with her sound, the visual element of Meljoann is colourful, bright and a little abstract – the album cover was created by the artist Lisa Crowne, aka IHeartWillies.
Although female electronic musicians are no longer a rarity in Ireland, they are still somewhat in the minority. But Meljoann doesn’t see herself as a ‘girl musician’ or someone who feels she’s at a disadvantage. “It’s a tough one – it’s still unequal in numbers but these things change in time,” she muses suggesting that perhaps girls are “socialised not to have an interest in technological things”. “But you hope these things change,” she adds, and it is fair to assume that women like Meljoann and her peers Babybeef and Ilex serve to encourage more female musicians to release their work.
So how does it feel to finally have the album out? “It feels weird. It’s satisfying because I spent so much time on it and I’m really quite proud of it and how it turned out,” she admits. “I suppose the circumstances converged to let me release it whereas before I found it difficult for loads of reasons; this time around it seems to all be falling together. I’m really surprised and pleased because it’s being picked up in the ways I wanted. People seem to understand what it is.”