Minor Conflict: Grey Visions on a Grey Afternoon

After spending a good 18 months impressing on the live circuit, Bristol quartet Minor Conflict have released their debut EP Bright Lights, Dead City via PRAH Recordings.  Natalie Whiteland (harp/vocals), Josh Smyth (bass/vocals), Robbie Warin (trumpet/synths/percussion) and Marcus Jeffery (drums) describe their sound as a mix of post-folk and post-punk, culminating in a unique sound.

Speaking about their eclectic nature, Robbie says: “When I’m asked to describe our music to people who haven’t heard it, I struggle and I use words along the lines of ‘post-folk/post-punk’, but again, I kind of say that being fully aware of not really knowing what it is called.”

Minor Conflict say the new EP is “political”, dealing with the “ills of our society and economic system”. Exploring different ways of storytelling and experimenting with sound, the EP includes songs about the relationship between the human and non-human and the damage our economic system has on our environment.

Speaking on one of the singles on the EP, the band said: “The track ‘Second-Hand Time’ is inspired by the concept of oral histories told from many perspectives, with lyrics shifting perspective and setting, including a rewilded London in the first verse. The references range from Jimmy Reed to Osip Mandelstam and the last letters of Leon Trotsky.”

Bright Lights, Dead City is an experience – it combines influences from all ends of the musical spectrum into something eclectic that defies description at times. The harp and trumpet give it an almost ephemeral feeling, while also incorporating some angry punk riffs. 

I sat down with the band in their rehearsal space at The Cube Microplex in Bristol to chat about the EP’s influences, why it is difficult to describe your own music, and why the lyrics are so poetic.

So how did you all find each other and what made you start playing music together?

Josh Smyth: We’ve known each other since we were quite young. We all found ourselves back in Bristol after going away for a while. We talked about all the instruments we played and how we were keen to play with other people. We started jamming together casually, in a shed in my parents’ garden. We kept at it and continued playing and that’s how we got started.

What does it mean to you to make music together?

Robbie Warin: It’s fun and we try to keep that ethos at the centre of it. There’s a band I’m really inspired by called EP64, who don’t play together anymore. Their whole ethos was that they would only play 64 gigs and that was it. I think so often you can have this idea of having to move forward or achieve goals and a lot of discussions we’ve been having recently are making sure that our central element is that we are friends, we make music together and that’s an incredibly fun thing to do. It’s a creative outlet, and I think it’s amazing how much creative freedom you can have when you’re signed and know where your music is going.

So is it kind of anti-capitalist in the way that you don’t focus on growth?

Robbie: Yeah. We talk about politics a lot as a group. We make music here [at The Cube]; the band basically formed here, at an anarchist space and it’s a community we are all part of and I think that inherently makes its way into our music. The themes that we explore in our songs are in some ways about the ills of our economic system. 

You play a few unique instruments for a punk band, for example the harp. How did that come about?

Natalie Whiteland: I’ve always played the harp and I guess our music got a bit punky. When we started it was less punky. 

Marcus Jeffery: I think it’s a bit of a shame, there’s a lot of music coming from Bristol being bracketed under the post-punk genre, and I think we need to find a new word for it. 

Natalie: It is very loose, yeah. 

Marcus: I’m going to invent a better name and patent it and make a lot of money from it (laughs).

Natalie: We have a lot of musical influences and we never set out saying ‘let’s make a punk band’, we just make music. 

Robbie: It’s hard to define your own music. 

So you just put out a new EP, Bright Lights, Dead City. What inspired it, and what is it about?

Josh: I think it’s funny how the EP came together, because unlike other things we are working on, this came together because we had songs we recorded and halfway through the process we realised we could make it into an EP. We didn’t have a preconceived EP vision. But saying that, the songs go well together and lyrically, they bounce off one another. There’s a general preoccupation with some of the ills of our current system, the relationship between the human and non-human and the damaging relationship between us and our environment. We are also looking at the idea of the end of history and how late capitalism becomes an oppressing, overwhelming feeling.

Robbie: We wrote most of it over one weekend. So, it feels cohesive in a way. 

Where do you take your ideas from, is it stories you read, or what inspires you?

Josh: I’m doing a creative writing course and write a lot of poetry and read a lot of poetry, so that is something that has influenced the lyrics I write. I was writing poetry before I was writing lyrics, so playing music in a band was a nice step to also tap into musical lyricists I really like, like David Bowie for example. I admire his lyric writing. 

Words: Clara Bullock // Photos: Lydia Cashmore

‘Bright Lights, Dead City’ is out now via PRAH Recordings. Stream and purchase the EP via Bandcamp.

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