Words by David C. Obenour
Evolving from the bedroom pop project of Nopes’ Alex Petra and Ellen Hansen, Meh has added a few more members to build the sound of their sophomore release, Big Soft. What started as more pop and fuzz has stretched the boundaries of their purposefully restricted recordings to touching points of 90s alternative and early indie. Listening to their cassette now, it’s easy to imagine accidentally having left it in the three-piece stereo of your childhood bedroom. But playing it again all of these years later brings back memories of simple pleasures, angst, listlessness and the realization that most everything has just gotten too damn complex with age.
OS: I’ve been starting all of my interviews off like this these days, but with the global pandemic and waves of much needed social unrest – how have you all been holding up?
AP: Things have definitely been pretty surreal, but one of the good things I’ve seen this year is the amount of youth getting involved in protests and actually caring about big issues. It’s been a nice shimmer of hope. I think this year has really had its own level of stress and intensity to various degrees among all of us, band members and friends. It’s good to see the sense of community that occurs in helping others that may be having a tougher time right now. I can’t speak on the behalf of everyone else, but I’ve been trying to just stay as busy as possible and am finding more ways to be content during this time inside. Whether it’s a funny movie or a new hobby, the little things can really help during this time. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to “record mail day” more in my life.
OS: A number of you in Meh also play in Nopes, can you talk about what led you to wanting to start this new project?
AP: We didn’t realize until we started releasing vinyl records that it takes a long time. It’s not a really quick process like CD demos or tapes. We ended up making a bunch of different groups. We got our garage rock / 70s rock n roll project called Yups, same exact members. Meh was more of the offshoot of just Ellen and myself. We both were really into some softer more indie and jangly stuff. It’s a bit hard to find other people our age into R.E.M. This project became a really nice outlet that I was way too lazy to do as just a solo project. Ellen definitely helped inspire me to write more and collaborate more with these types of songs.
OS: It’s too great not to address, Meh, Yups and Nopes are kind of incredible band names. Can I ask how you landed on them?
AP: Man, we just get really stoned and jot down a bunch of dumb ideas. One that I’m bummed still hasn’t made the cut is Hank Hell.
OS: Meh started out as a two-piece but now has rounded out to five members for Big Soft. Why did you expand the lineup and what do you feel like you’re able to accomplish because of it?
AP: I’ve never been a fan of the term “bedroom pop”, but this has been mostly recorded in my apartment and it is lofi-pop. I didn’t figure we’d be able to do a live lineup. I ended up kicking the idea around kinda casually with friends, and it developed from there. I figured we could teach a batch of new songs we were about to record, and maybe record at the Nopes practice space. The five piece lineup played one show before lockdown started, and one of our guitarists [Grace] has also since relocated. Drake is an old friend that hopped on bass while in town and joined the lineup from there.
OS: While lofi pop might be the broad umbrella that Big Soft falls under, you’ve got a lot of diversity in the songs. What sort of freedom and constraints do you envision for Meh?
AP: The limitations of finishing this album in lockdown kinda forced some of that diversity. I allowed myself to try out some more solo songs, piano and vocals, as well as having a friend throw some violin on a song remotely [Michael Noonan]. We originally used a drum machine and still do in some of these songs. Although, having Gabe on drums really expands how full some of these songs come together in the end. With this type of music, we like it as soft and quiet as it comes but also as noisy and ear piercing as possible at times.
OS: Did anything about playing in this new style surprise you? Or did you grow to respect something you might not have recognized before trying to do it yourself?
AP: It’s definitely different, but it helps satisfy some sort of songwriting need for sure. We often find ourselves working on Nopes songs right after finishing a Meh album and vice versa. Playing too much noise rock makes you crave something softer every now and then. Too much soft stuff makes you want to vomit sometimes too.
OS: Though it started out of necessity, in an age of laptop production tools it’s definitely evolved into a distinctive style choice. What about the lofi production sound resonates with you?
AP: I’ve always liked those shitty recordings. The stuff that sounds like it’s coming out of a beat up car speaker on a beachy night. Those are my favorites. I was a big fan of oldies as a kid and loved the grainy sound. As soon as I got into punk, I found myself far more picky with hifi recordings than lofi. It’s all about the rawness. There are certain genres that can really bring out more life with this production choice.
OS: Though under COVID it’s not an immediate concern, have you thought about how to convey that production sound in a live setting?
AP: [Laughs] Yeah – we’re all about the mini amps, especially as a five piece. Nice and warm, fuzzy production. We’ve figured out some full band versions of solo songs as well. Personally, I’m fine waiting however long it takes until shows go back to exactly how they were before. I got enough on my Netflix and Shudder lists to catch up on for the next year.
I do miss shows a ton though. The feeling of playing, the friends you see, the other bands you get to share a stage with. Hell, some of these venues – Eli’s, Bender’s, and Thee Parkside in particular – have some of the best food that’s alone worth the trip. It’s definitely going to be an amazing feeling that first show back.
OS: The cassette ends with a cover of “Heaven” by the Talking Heads – which was always one of my favorites. Can you talk about why you chose it?
AP: This one has always been a favorite of mine as well. I’ve always appreciated solo versions of popular full band songs. The minimal approach. I’ve always had insomnia issues, but it’s definitely resurfaced this year to say the least. I ended up learning this song on an unplugged electric guitar while watching infomercials on mute at 4am. I decided to try recording it with a ton of extra distortion the next day and decided it was just the noisy ending that the album needed.
OS: Have you been trading recordings throughout quarantine? How do you think Meh will follow up on Big Soft?
AP: Not much! Everyone’s been a bit busy with their own thing at the moment, but I think the follow up will more than likely be a nice similar mix. Probably the reverse – me recording a few by myself, and then a batch with everyone at some point in the future. I got an Alesis V49 recently and am a little too hooked on it at the moment to not use it in the new album. We’ll see how weird we can get with it!