When artists present themselves as being singular, and unlike any other, it is always wise to take these claims with a pinch of salt. Every act has their building blocks; their starting points, and wells of inspiration. After hearing Just Mustard for the first time, however, it was a struggle to make any connections to their contemporaries, and after listening to their sophomore release Heart Under, it became clear that the claims to their uniqueness were well founded.
Listening back to their debut record Wednesday, there’s a strong sense that they were a band still trying to find their sound, yet were on the cusp of something new. Taking influences from shoegaze, and noise rock, there were already signs that their instruments would be used for more than their intended purposes. They play with space in a way that makes you question the technique behind their playing, and the ominous vocal performances give an air of almost gothic doom.
One might be mistaken in thinking that this sound was born from the environment in which they cut their teeth, but after speaking to guitarists David Noonan and Mete Kalyon, it’s plain to see that this is an unjust misconception. The pair spoke fondly of their beginnings in Dundalk, and of the varied musical culture that permeated the town.
New album Heart Under is an improvement, expansion, and defining release that will certainly put Just Mustard on the map. From start to finish the songs flow eloquently from one to the next, each sound meticulously recorded and used in such a way that it hits perfectly. Ambient, noisy, but also packed with electronic-influenced drum grooves and pounding sub, the album quickly cements itself as being something wholly different, and promises to be an interesting and unique listen.
Mete and David spoke positively about what is their first American tour, supporting fellow Irish band Fontaines D.C. I caught up with them just past the midway point of the tour, somewhere in the midwest, after another rousing night with the band.
For those who don’t know reading this, how did Just Mustard come about?
Mete: I’ve known [David] since we were 16, and I’ve known Rob, and I got to know Katie later on, when I joined.
David: I think because we were all living in the same town, it’s a fairly small community of people who are into music, we got to know each other as teenagers, going out to gigs and stuff like that.
What’s the music scene like where you’re from in Dundalk?
Mete: There’s people playing all sorts of types of music, like traditional Irish music, and a lot of folk people as well. There’s just so many people that play music there. When we played in Dundalk, nearly half the people in the audience would be musicians that we know, or have jammed and played with. It’s a very diverse mix of people.
David: There was a lot of DIY gigs going on too, when we were teenagers. Underage gigs and things like that. There’s always been a path for musicians in the town, with the underage gigs and the music venues that you can graduate to at some point. It definitely feels like a very music orientated town, I think, for a regional Irish town. When you’re young too there’s a lot of people in bands to look up to try and follow. It was really healthy, when we were younger.
Mete: There was just a lot of music everywhere. Even when I was getting together with my family at Christmas, most people would play an instrument, and then everyone was asking someone to play a song. So it was just like family, music, school, music, outside of school, music.
That’s a wonderful vibe, especially growing up as a musician. Would you say that mix of genres and community feel influenced your music?
David: When we got together we had like a pool of shared influences, and then just over time we started going down different paths with it, and trying stuff and discarding stuff we didn’t really like, and continuing with stuff that we did like.
Mete: I think when we started writing together there was a lot of different influences. Not necessarily rock bands and stuff like that, like a lot of us listen to electronic music, and we’ve all got a very diverse taste in music that we share together. Whenever we were writing, at some point we just started experimenting a lot with song structures, and just asking ourselves ‘maybe we should put these parameters around how we write a song, or how we structure a song’.
With guitars and stuff we were sort of influenced by a lot of alternative and experimental bands from the 80s and 90s. I guess when we were experimenting it was whatever really excited us we would go down that route.
David: I think over time as well playing gigs we started to find what felt really good, not even what worked, but what was exciting to play live and stuff like that, even just sonically, like how you use bass and drums and stuff like that, and try and make things stuff sound big and exciting. That fed into the writing. Playing live influenced the writing a bit as well.
Mete: For sure, and like really early on our gigs were very very noisy, like really loud, and I feel it was like putting restraints on ourselves. Having controls to the chaos at certain points. Just a lot of playing around and experimenting, and also just doing what we liked ourselves, that was the most important thing.
How long after Wednesday was it before you started this new record? Has it been a longer wait that you anticipated?
David: I think we signed off on the record in April 2021. The mixes and masters came after that, but we were finished with it by April.
Mete: We had a few ideas before 2020, but yeah, actually sitting down and going ‘we are writing an album now’ I think was like January 2020.
David: In my head, I feel like the bulk of the writing, and finishing up, and arranging all the songs was the summer of 2020, like from May up until we recorded in October. We started gathering ideas earlier that year, because we did have a couple of songs that were like half finished.
Mete: There were a lot of sketches being made, and then coming together in the summer.
David: Yeah, that summer we did like 5 days a week [in the studio] for four months, which was intense. Basically, a year and a bit, overall.
That’s a hell of a wait.
Mete: It is!
David: I mean, it hasn’t been too bad, I suppose, because we’ve been putting out singles, and live music and all that was kind of dead in the water at that time anyway. We were in the same boat as everyone. If it had been a normal time, I think it would have been a more frustrating, or strange really, to be sitting on an album for over a year. It was just the way of the world at the time, wasn’t it.
Have your feelings on the record changed in that time? Have you even listened to the end product since it was signed off?
David: I didn’t listen to it at all for the last year until very recently. I was going to wait until it came out, but one day I was just driving and I thought ‘ah, I’ll listen to it, see what it sounds like’. That was my first listen since April 2021. The singles started coming out, and I was like ‘I wonder what the rest of the songs sound like’, I didn’t remember.
Mete: I listened to it maybe two-dozen times, or probably more, right before it was being signed off, and then I was kind of the same. I kind of look at it now as a nice bit of distance from it. Now we’re starting to play a lot of the songs live, it is kind of interesting because we’re going to go tour it now, and it does feel different. I suppose your relationship with a record does change over time, but yeah, after all the intensity and whatnot I feel pretty happy about it.
I think the idea to work with mix engineer David Wrench, who doesn’t work traditionally with rock music, was an inspired choice. Who put you in contact with him, or was he someone you’ve always wanted to work with?
David: I can’t remember, I think it was Partisan. We basically just made a list of people we thought it would be class to work with, and they did as well, and he was on both the lists, so we reached out to him. Luckily, he was really happy to do it. He just jumped on it, which was class.
Basically, we wanted someone who was fairly experienced in working with electronic music, and rock music, and pop as well. Someone who had the kind of scope to mix anything really. Especially the electronic side, I suppose, to be able to get the relationship between the bass, and sub-bass, and vocals right.
Mete: He was really really good to work with, and really cool that he did it as well. He’s worked on so many class records so the fact that he was going to do it was brilliant. It was kind of relieving too, because he came across like he cared about it as well. He wanted us to be happy with it, but he also wanted to make sure that it was the best it could be.
Is there a particular song that you’re excited for people to hear?
David: I’m definitely more excited for people to hear it as a whole. It’s definitely best listened to as a one whole thing, but ‘Blue Chalk’ is probably the one I’m excited to get out there.
Mete: Yeah, I’d say the whole album as well, but I guess the opener ’23’. I do like the whole record, and how it flows, and where it takes you.
David: I’m excited for people to hear the singles within the context of the rest of the record too.
Are those two picks your favourites to play live too, or are you yet to play them?
David: I’m enjoying playing ’23’, instrumentation wise it’s very different to what we’ve done before, so it feels new and fresh. We’re still kind of fine-tuning it as well, which is fun.
Mete: I like ’23’. I think ‘Blue Chalk’ will be very good as well, but we haven’t done that yet. That’s one I’m looking forward to. I have a lot of fun playing ‘Seed’ as well, because I don’t play my guitar, which is funny, and people’s reactions to it as well is great.
David: We’re doing some in-stores in the UK at the end of the month, and then we’ve got the album tour in Ireland at the end of June, and then the UK and Europe September/October, so I’m sure we’ll play most of the album in that time.
I’m sure! On a final note guys, what are you hoping people will take away from the record?
David: I don’t know, you know. I’m just hoping people enjoy it; that they can get whatever they get from it. It’s cool with me really. If someone can get some connection to it, that’s cool.
Mete: It’s kind of a hard one! I guess, yeah, I’d like people to, or at least I’d hope that …I hope people enjoy it [laughs].
Hey, that’s a fine answer!
Mete: I hope people enjoy the sonics and the sounds of the album, and the emotional journey through it as well. I think that’s all I can say.
Words: Ryan Bulbeck // Photos: Olof Grind (1,3), Megan Doherty (2)
‘Heart Under’ is out now via Partisan Records. Stream and purchase the album via Bandcamp.