That unease you can feel isn’t your paranoia talking. It’s real. We can all feel it, like a pall hanging over us, a rain cloud that won’t shift. Mick Chrysalid thinks he knows what it is.
“There’s like a mind climate of a lot of people in the western world. It’s horrible at the moment – and we all know that life is beautiful and lovely – but not so much right now. It’s like an existential dread.”
RONGORONGO’s vocalist and frontman has joined with the band’s guitarist Jonny Davis Le Brun to meet up and talk about the group’s two new singles, and things have already taken a turn towards the macabre. Black Rain and Euclid are the six-piece’s brooding new efforts, released either side of Christmas, which serve as a precursor to an album due later in the year. Given that the membrane between reality and Black Mirror’s all-too-real dystopian fiction looks thinner by the day, this might just be the perfect time for Rongorongo. “Sometimes it seems like the inner world is wearing thin, the outer world is caving in,” says Mick on the insidious creep of fear into our lives. “I think what we’re doing is escapism, though. That’s what it’s always been about.”
Rongorongo have always had an inquisitive, slightly unsettling nature, which chimes with the tone of Black Mirror, with the potential to unspool in a bizarro breakdown ever lingering. In reality, there’s a strong core to the band that allows them to explore these themes with a lot of nuance. Their style is a measured mix of post-punk, dream-pop and shoegaze, from which they’re able to draw out a balance of textures. Encompassing experimental rock and pop, Rongorongo can be found at the place on the continuum where Television, Saint Etienne and the verve of the 4AD roster intersect.
They manage to achieve such great feel because of the six minds in the mix, who each push the band in a different direction. “There are several bands in this band,” Mick says, “but you can only get so much out. Choice always limits you.” The kernel of the band is Mick and Jonny, who met (full disclosure alert) as Bido Lito! contributors and bonded over each other’s good record collections. Mick’s history with Phil Howells (Guitar) and Ourkeith (Bass) goes back longer than the three of them care to remember, and it was the four of them who made up the first incarnation of Rongorongo. When Mick realised that being a drumming singer wasn’t as fun as Karen Carpenter made it out to be, old Wild Eyes mate Sam Gill joined behind the kit, freeing Mick up to prowl about the front of the stage like a cross between Frank Sidebottom and Kate Bush. The final piece of the jigsaw was former Ticks man Alex Walker, whose guitar work adds a sheen of magic over everything.
“It started off in a way our band [himself and Jonny], and now there are six of us bringing different things,” Mick says of his cohort. “But we all know, I think, what the direction is. There are a load of songs that we write where we go ‘That’s not us’, and they get parked. They don’t fit with how we all see things.”
The current songs that have made it through that process are great examples of a tight group working in unison. Black Rain starts off bleak as it details the dominance technology has over our world, and the impact it has on our mental wellbeing – but there’s hope there too, as well as a mention for outlaw troubadour Blaze Foley. “Black Rain is more hopeful, not all doom and gloom,” explains Mick. “It’s my way of saying that it won’t last forever, that the clouds will eventually clear.”
Euclid is more of a slow build which ruminates on the tempestuous political climate of today, which Mick confronts through his lyrics. “It’s a mix, of my job, my private life, what I see and feel around me.” Making a triangle shape with his fingers in time with the melody, he explains the meaning behind Euclid’s lyrics: “‘What’s the shape to be?/The future’s shaping me’ That reads to me as: there’s a war over there, a physical war; there’s a war over here, a political war; and there’s a war within yourself. And that I see as a kind of psychogeographical climate of emotion inside you, but affected by everything. It’s all a bit grim.”
The accompanying films for each of the singles encapsulate these feelings with unnerving precision. Jonny made both of them himself, which was a decision made more out of financial necessity than by design. It did, however, enable him to hit straight to the core of creeping unease that sits at the heart of both songs. “When I was doing them, I wasn’t really choosing what to put in there. We instinctively know the aesthetic that we want, which can often be hard to put in to words to explain to someone else.”
All roads are currently leading towards an album, which the band hope to have out before the end of the year. “Capturing what’s in our heads on tape, so to speak, in a digital age, is something we’re really keen on getting right,” Jonny tells me. “It’s a more cerebral process, and ultimately more satisfying, in the studio.”
Mick, who takes the lead on production duties that they try and keep in-house, agrees with this sentiment. “We’ve decided that we’re gonna carry on exactly like this until we get the best album out of it, present it as it is, then go ‘BANG!’ and do a complete left turn. I suppose in that way we’re Bowie’s children. The guitar’s gonna get fucked off…!”
“It feels like, when we get the album out, that’s almost like the end of something rather than the start of something,” Jonny adds. “It’d be more of a finale of what we’ve been doing over the past three years. Partly because 50% of the songs we write get left to one side because they don’t fit into the nucleus of what we are at that time – but they might be in the future, in some shape or form.”
Does that, I wonder, make it harder to write and work within such narrow guidelines? Especially when you’re trying to please six members equally.
“No,” is the emphatic response from both, to which Mick adds: “You’ve got to have a destination.”
“Everything gets written fully and we finish it, and it’s only at the end that we decide if it stays or not,” Jonny clarifies, before Mick sums it up neatly. “Live, once something takes shape, you start to understand what the sound is. You do start to define yourself. I don’t mind that now – because things have a uniform, have a way of talking. So, people might notice it and think, ‘Oh, I get that.’ But it doesn’t mean that it’s got to stay the same forever.”
Which way Rongorongo will lean after they complete this part of their journey is anyone’s guess – but there’s a long way to go before we even have to consider that. Right now. they’re on the crest of a wave, fine-tuning the setup they currently have. They’ve never sounded better live than they have in the past couple of months – even if it looks like they’re not enjoying it. Things are moving so quickly for Rongorongo that I wouldn’t be surprised if their album came out in the second half of 2018 in a flurry of activity, sweeping everything in their path.
“To me, it’s all pop music – I’m a massive believer of that,” says Mick as we near the four-hour mark in our rambling chat. “It’s moved on so much now that [there] are loads of micro-genres that define themselves, but I just think it’s all pop music. Like, Public Enemy and NWA were rock bands as far as I was concerned, they sampled it all: soul, rock, disco.” Both Mick and Jonny are students of music, which is probably why our conversation runs off on so many tangents – from Lana Del Rey’s dismal chart performance to Slade to Smashing Pumpkins. My main take home from the chat – aside from Mick exhorting me to put my laziness aside and learn to play the guitar (“Just do it – writing songs isn’t that hard!”) – comes back to something Mick said earlier: that music is just escapism. We all need it, even if we do it through the prism of the very thing that causes us disquiet in the first place. Perhaps inevitably, the spectre of a Third World War is never far from our discussion, but I’m sure it’s with a huge amount of tongue in cheek that Mick leans in close to my recording device and leaves his parting shot.
“Never think you’re at your worst because your worst is yet to come…!”
Singles Black Rain and Euclid are out now via War Room Records.