“I like pop music, but a lot of the time pop music is pretty bland in its lyrical content,” says Russell Kostulin. “I wanted to buck the trend of that and to do something different.”

33 year old Aberdeen-born Kostulin is sitting on a wet Wednesday night in the bar of a cinema in Edinburgh, his home city for the last nine years. He is talking to Pennyblackmusic about his band Mammoeth’s debut album, ‘Nascent’, which will be self-released a few days later on July 26th on his own Mini 50 Records.

Kostulin has self-described ‘Nascent’ as being “sweetly sick sour pop.” It is a disorientating experience, on the surface combining together soaring, upbeat melodies and throwaway choruses. If one, however, looks beneath the handclaps and harmonies, one realises, however, that it has a much darker undercurrent, telling of fractious relationships, domestic abuse and violence.

‘Nascent’ was produced by Robin Housman (Magic Arm, Shady Bard, the Answering Machine) at Amplisound Studios, the studio he owns in Manchester. Kostulin plays all the many instruments on it, with the exception of drums which were played by Mancurian drummer Pete Marshall, and the cello and the French horn, which are played by two other local Manchester-based musicians, Matt McGeever and Sam Morris, both of whom were previously in chart act Alfie.

Like the blackest of comedy, this most bittersweet of records leaves one uncertain whether to laugh or be horrified, with feet tapping yet also at the same time unsettled.

PB: Mammoeth was born out of the ashes of another band Team Turnip. Are Team Turnip and the current band effectively the same group?

RK: They are effectively the same group. I just changed the name because I didn’t like it. It wasn’t intended to be a serious thing when I first started it so I took the name of Team Turnip from a skateboarding gang from my school days in Aberdeen. I got, however, more and more serious about it and the name didn’t really suit it anymore, so I decided to change it.

PB: Where does the name Mammoeth come from?

RK: When I was driving up and down to Manchester, I kept trying to think of a name. I had about fifty different names on the go and there were two trips specifically in which I passed on about four separate occasions these trucks with the word ‘ Mammoet’ on them, which is name of this Dutch haulage company. Originally I was going to call it ‘Mammoeth’ without an ‘h’, but there are a couple of other bands that have similar names so I went with something closer to the original inspiration.

PB: The dictionary definition for ‘Nascent’ is “starting to grow and develop” or “being born.” Why did you decide to call your album that?

RK: There were two reasons. It is my debut album, so it was just like giving birth to something. It was also a laboured process putting it together and getting it done, so there was a sort of birthing aspect to that as well.

PB: There are a lot of instruments on ‘Nascent’ of which you played most of them. How many instruments did it involve?

RK: Twenty plus. I am not massively proficient at many things, but I am good at the violin and I am proficient on guitar. The other stuff I pick up and usually get something out of eventually by trial and error.

PB: The guitar and the violin are fairly prominent on ‘Nascent’. What are some of the other instruments involved in ‘Nascent’?

RK: There is a bit of ukulele, some mandolin, and cello and French Horn, both of which I didn’t play. There are a variety of synthesisers on it, some old Yahama ones from the 70s and some analogue synths as well. There are also banjos, recorders, melodicas and harmonicas.

PB: How many of those instruments did you actually own and how many of them have you just borrowed?

RK: All of them I own. I have got a big collection of things that I have built up over the years. I had a fetish about Casio keyboards for a long time, but I have kind of done those to death now and I am moving on to other things like analogue synths. I have been getting into those as well. I must have ten or eleven synthesisers now. Not many of those appear on ‘Nascent’, but they will be on the next one.

I took them down to Manchester with me when I was recording the album. I drive a Mini and it was a bit of a stretch getting them all in (Laughs). We planned out in advance and knew roughly what we were going to do in each recording session, so that I could take things up and down with me.

PB: How did you meet and get to know Robin Housman?

RK: Through a mutual friend in London. I had given some of my early recordings to him and he sent them off to Robin. Robin liked them and got in touch. We met up to have a chat about it in early 2009 and set out then what we wanted to do and what our directions were. We decided to set out some recording dates and those went pretty well and things went from there. We recorded ‘Nascent’ mainly at weekends and during holidays.

PB: Other than drummer Pete Marshall, the only two other musicians on the album are Sam Hanson on French horn and Matt McGeever on cello, who were both in Alfie. How did you meet them? Were they friends of Robin’s?

RK: They were friends of his from his days on the Chorlton scene in Manchester. They had met through various musical projects that he was involved in post Alfie. I specifically wanted the French horn and cello on the album and he happened to know them.

PB: You play violin in another Edinburgh band, the Kays Lavelle, who had their debut album, ‘Be Still This Gentle Morning’, out in May. Do you write songs for them too?

RK: No, I am just a musician. I write my parts, but Euan McMeeken , the singer, is the main songwriter along with the guitarist Graeme Anderson. They’re the principal songwriters and I add some instrumentation as necessary, mostly strings, but there is other stuff that I do a little bit of also.

PB: ‘Kid With a Toy’ has the chorus line of “Sometimes when I get angry I resort to being a kid with a toy.” At first it seems really funny. Then you listen to the verse and you realise that it is actually a song about wife battering and isn’t really funny at all.

RK: It is dark comedy I think. I like songs where you get an elemental picture and then you find out that it is about something else. The music always comes from before the lyrics with me and a lot of my lyrics come from wordplay. The initial lyrical concept is usually a subconscious thing. Every time I write a song I will just sing some random lyrics and sometimes that will spark something in my brain and allow me to develop a story or a point around it.

PB: Where did the lyrics for ‘Lapdog’ come from? Again that comes across initially as pretty amusing with its chorus of “I’m going to give you a bone/You’ve been such a good dog/On second thoughts no I won’t,” but then you realise it is about a sado-masochistic relationship.

RK: That one was originally about George Bush. I was kind of pissed off with him because he was taking the piss out of the United Kingdom by reneging on a lot of things and Blair was letting him and being his lapdog. I was also in a relationship at the time where I had a girlfriend who was essentially a lapdog and I realise now that it was subconsciously linked to that as well.

PB: When you play live, you play with different personnel. Is Mammoeth effectively yourself plus whoever you can get to play with you?

RK: Yes. My two sisters play music with me quite a lot. They are going to be involved with shows that I am going to be doing later this month. I also have a carousel of friends that I use depending on their availability.

PB: You are still doing a lot of recording and spending a lot of time in Manchester at the moment? What direction is your next album going to take?

RK: Well, I’m torn. I have probably written albums two, three and four. I am
not sure which is coming next, but I think that it probably going to be very dark, synth-led pop, not dissimilar to ‘Nascent’, but using less guitar. I would rather do something around that which is again quite dark.

PB: Thank you.

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