Many bands, especially smaller local acts, have been tripped up by the COVID-19 pandemic. With no shows to play and nowhere to record, many bands and artists initially found themselves at a difficult crossroads.
For Meryl Creep vocalist and guitarist Matthew Jones, the circumstances actually worked in his favor.
“I was trapped in this house and I thought, well, I have no excuses now,” Jones explains. “I had no reason not to start making music, at least to some extent.
“In fact, in a weird way, we kind of have COVID to thank for this band!”
While many in the world were stuck at a standstill, Jones began to put his plan in motion.
“It initially started as a solo project, partly because of the pandemic,” he says, “but I had gone through things with a few different people before that didn’t really work out, so I decided I would make a band for myself.
“At least then I could be happy with it.”
Jones says he wanted the band to be a full outfit eventually, but wasn’t really in a hurry to find others to complete the ensemble.
“I was still trying to find people, but they had to be the right amount of dedicated,” he explains. “I have kids and a job, so I didn’t want anyone who was too gung ho or obsessed with making it big. But I still wanted people who would be dedicated enough to be productive.
“Also, I don’t want this to be about anyone’s ego. I don’t need anyone who thinks they’re too good for one thing or another.”
Jones expressed that while he came from more of a metal and hardcore background, he wanted to make a band that played several different genres.
“I love heavier music, but when I sit at home I’m always listening to 90s shoegaze, and stuff like that,” he says. “It got to the point where I was like, why am I trying to make heavier stuff when I don’t even listen to it a lot?
“Plus, the cool thing about writing your own music is you’re on your own schedule. The restraints of a traditional band don’t apply to you, and you can just keep making music until you don’t want to anymore!”
Of course, the entire reason I was having this conversation with Jones was because of the name of his new project… Meryl Creep. Jones says he just couldn’t go with only his name, which made him sound more like a folk singer.
“I really enjoy absurd band names, especially ones that catch you off guard any make you laugh,” he said, smiling. “For whatever reason, it felt kind of stupid just to say ‘Hey, this is Matthew Jones!’
“Anyways, my fiancée and I kept throwing around celebrity names, and eventually it just hit me. Meryl Creep! It’s ambiguous enough that you almost have to listen to it, just to figure out what it is.”
I obviously couldn’t agree more. When I checked out the material the band had recorded, I felt like I was being catapulted through different genres and time periods. Jones said that came from a revelation about what kind of music he wanted to make.
“I kept asking myself, what kind of band do I want to be? Instead, I should have been asking myself what kind of music I wanted to write,” he admits. “I wanted to take the polished 80s New Wave sound and mix it with shoegaze. A lot of things in life really are short. Why not make music you enjoy?
“The beauty of shoegaze is you can make it what you want to be,” he continued “All of these minute subgenres have elitist gatekeepers. It’s our music, and if people don’t like it, I’m not losing any sleep.”
As for finding members, Jones turned to a cousin of his fiancée, Courtney Ball. Many might know Ball as the former singer of popular Columbus rockers (Ever) Burning Bright. The band has also recently added guitarist Cameron Jamshidi.
“We still don’t have a traditional full lineup, but we have everything we need right now,” confirms Jones. “I knew Courtney played drums at one point, and until we added Cameron, I was essentially doing everything else. It’s really nice having other opinions and input.”
The band hit the ground running August and have released four songs so far, including covers of Everlong by the Foo Fighters and New Years Day by U2.
“My dad was a huge U2 fan growing up, and it always stuck with me how outspoken they were about politics,” he said, contemplatively. “Even though we’re a small band, I felt it was important that we use the platform we had. The video we did for the song was a bunch of footage from the last several months in our country.
“As for Everlong, we really just recorded it for content, but there’s a great story behind that specific song, if you’re interested?”
Obviously, I nodded for him to continue.
“When my son was born, they were playing this alternative rock mix at the hospital, and Everlong happened to be the song that came on when he was being delivered. It sounds like something from a shitty teen movie or something, but when they handed him to me, the chorus started playing. It was totally surreal.”
At this point in the interview, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Jones had told me he had gone ahead and named the child Dave Grohl. But, I digress. Back to the music…
The band’s most recent single is titled Spiraling, and it deals with a very personal subject to Jones, mental illnesses. Initially, he wanted to start off by naming his songs after goofy stoner movie quotes (like their first single, Speak English Doc, We Ain’t Scientists), but he felt like the song was too serious to underscore it with a silly title.
“Different forms of mental illness run in my family, and a couple years ago I started showing signs of it,” he affirmed. “I wanted to write a song about that, but one that was vague enough that anyone who is dealing with difficult things can relate.
“In our society, we’re so stigmatized; it’s so weird to talk about your medication or the stuff you deal with. Everyone wants you to look OK on the surface,” he continues. “If you get to talking to just about anyone, we all have anxieties and depressions that we’re dealing with. I feel like if we would normalize that, it would greatly help us understand each other better.”
That is something that this writer can definitely get behind. It seems like almost every artist I’ve interviewed during the pandemic has reflected on mental health in one way or another. It has been a difficult and trying year, but I am greatly inspired by the amount of musicians who are tackling the issue head on.
Jones also says that keeping himself mentally grounded helps keep the band pushing forward as well.
“I mean, we don’t even have a bass player right now, but we’re also not going to be playing any shows any time soon. I feel like a lot of times when a band starts, you’re in a rush to get playing shows and doing whatever comes next,” he describes. “It feels like whenever you do that, you kind of miss the small victories that come with being a baby band. A lot of bands only look at the numbers and then move on to the next thing.
“I mean, you definitely should pay attention to those types of things, but when you spend so much time looking ahead to what you need to do next, you aren’t able to enjoy what you already did! For me, I’m proud of the music we’re releasing.
“Plus, I’m a firm believer of when it’s time to play shows, we’ll know what to do. If we stick to what we have fun with, it’ll work out.”
You can definitely feel that Jones has the right attitude about things as he and the rest of the band move forward. And it certainly feels like he has laid the groundwork for a sustainable sonic future for the group as well.
“We started this band at a disadvantage; we can’t play shows or go out and meet people. The ethos we’ve adopted is, how do we make it all work? I kind of like not doing things in the traditional manner.”
And for when they finally do get to go out and play a show? Jones flashed a huge smile at this question.
“When that happens, we’ll be stoked to finally meet everyone!”
Meryl Creep – Spiraling