It’s been a tough couple of years for everyone, jobs have been lost, pubs and restaurants have been closed, and everyone has generally just been bored as shit.
One of the greatest frustrations of this pandemic has been the hit taken by the live music scene. The buzz of live gigs has been sorely missed all over the world since early 2020, and many of our favourite venues have either been standing idle for months, or have closed down completely.
Blissfully, the vaccine rollout has finally granted us a sweet reprieve, and live music, albeit not without restrictions, has seen a steady return of the masses to music venues.
After a week or so of scheduling difficulties, after a busy weekend of gigs, and through a shaky Zoom connection between London and Cape Town, I spoke with Edwin Pope, AKA Mutant Vinyl. A London-based songwriter and saxophonist, about his music, getting started as a musician, and the relief of finally being able to perform live again in the UK and Ireland.
Origin of the name “Mutant Vinyl”
As catchy a moniker “Mutant Vinyl” is, it’s hard to ignore it’s randomness. When I asked Edwin about how he came up with it, he said that it has been a slightly divisive name, and that when he originally started performing at around 19, he was just playing as “Edwin Pope” until someone in the industry charmingly told him that it’s a terrible name for an artist:
“At that age you kind of think ‘Ah fuck you’. But I actually did think ‘well maybe it’s not that cool’”
So what he did was sit down with his father, wrote a hundred or so words on slips of paper. and picked random combinations out of a hat. After the word mutant had appeared a few times, the winning combination finally appeared.
“It was an ‘out of a hat job’”
He felt that the word mutant in particular really suited his “genreless” style of music, and how it was a kind of “mutated thing” that would change depending on what musicians were playing with him at the time. A certain musician could come in and make the music sound funkier for example.
He said he also likes the word vinyl, and it also suits him as an artist in the way that his music gets pressed onto vinyl and is then sold at his live gigs. The unexpected downside of the world vinyl however, is that apparently some festival organisers can struggle to spell it. He remembers times where he’d roll up to a gig and see the words “Mutant Vynil” in giant letters on the wall.
“Being Googleable” is also a pick perk of the name, he says, remembering a friend and fellow musician who had a very common name and found that they couldn’t Google their name without a couple dozen artists of the same name popping up.
It’s also nice to be able to take ownership of weird and ridiculous names. With huge bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers having taken complete control of their name to the extent that we associate the name with their music before the food they’ve named themselves after.
He ended with: “I love any name with some ambiguity to it” Before smiling and saying “Not a cool story I’m afraid”
The beginning of a music career
Edwin grew up in Bournemouth on the south coast of England, and first picked up the saxophone while at school there. He said his school had a cupboard full of instruments like violins, cellos, and of course, saxophones. They asked the students if anyone wanted to learn any of these instruments “because we have them”.
Even though he had been interested in the saxophone for a while, having loved watching ska bands on TV, he had knocked his two front teeth out so he couldn’t start playing it until he was around 10 or 11.
He said that maybe he would’ve started earlier otherwise, as he always loved wind instruments like the flute and pennywhistle, but saxophones were expensive.
Being an asthmatic, his doctor told him that playing a wind instrument would really help – which his parents also liked.
He noticed that a lot of his friends had already picked up the guitar or drums during these years:
“I just thought ‘oh, well they’ve done that, I’m gonna do something a bit different.. The moment I started learning it, I just loved it. I thought: it’s just very unique”
Edwin started out playing gigs in various pubs around Bournemouth, and growing up, there was lots of money being put into youth music. He took advantage of that, and was part of a jazz orchestra. Unfortunately that funding is now gone, so he feels lucky to have benefited from it.
He said that the town has a “semi big” music scene, but nothing huge.
“Bournemouth is a really interesting place, but obviously, bring a white guy from Bournemouth, I’ve got zero cultural capital. So I was just falling in love with music that was completely different to anything I was seeing. One of the reasons I love cities like Liverpool and Dublin is that music is part of their DNA, you can’t imagine those cities without music soundtracking every element of them. Whereas in places like Bournemouth, and those conservative towns, music is just that thing that the weirdos do at night, you know? The posh people pay for orchestra tickets”
“I knew that to pursue music, I had to head out of Bournemouth”
He ended up studying in Liverpool for three years before moving to London. Which is the “place to be, a cliche as that sounds”
How Mutant Vinyl got started
I asked Edwin if there was any particular moment that he felt like he had ‘made it’ or if there were any particular moments where he felt like his career got a boost. He said that there was no one ‘big moment’ where he suddenly felt like he was doing well, but rather a number of things that helped him get to where he is today.
After playing pubs around Bournemouth, he was offered supporting slots with 02 Academy, sharing the stage with bands like Electric Six, and Scouting for Girls, and getting to play in “proper venues with proper sound systems” made him fall more in love with performing.
He also found that he performed better in a more serious setting, and was getting frustrated playing in pubs if he could hear himself or if the promoter didn’t make much of an effort with the gig.
“I realised that if i wanted to do it, I needed to take it seriously”
He also said that being paid for music was a big thing, saying it’s an ‘honor and a privilege’ to be paid for doing your thing.
“No one owes you anything with music do they? We’re lucky to have music I think, so to get paid to do it.. I always feel so lucky to have that.”
Mutant Vinyl also landed a partnership with Saxophone brand Trevor James who provided him with two new saxes after his old one broke while he was in uni.
“I met up with them and told them ‘I’d really like a black saxophone’ and they said ‘yep, we can do that’. SO I basically did a few promo videos for them, and some other sponsorship stuff and they gave me two saxophones. So that’s kind of the best exchange really because, you know, that’s like my lifeblood, having that instrument.”
This strong relationship with Trevor James has really motivated him to keep going, and that it came at a perfect time – right at the end of university, when he was, like all of us after college, completely broke.
The one moment that I was excited to ask him about was the compliment paid to him by Sir Paul McCartney, who called him “Excellent” after hearing him play. Edwin said that McCartney had come to his university and chose three people to do a songwriting class with. So he got to play with him for about 20 minutes.
“It was amazing, and I didn’t realise that he loved the saxophone, which was new to me. So that was lucky”
Music of Mutant Vinyl
Defining his music
Edwin himself describes his music as ‘genreless’, and it’s easy to see why. His music is really difficult to define, and it seems to hop from genre to genre frequently. On the release of his album, the label called it ‘saxophone driven electronica’.
When I asked him if there was any genre he feels like he leans towards more than others, he said that he really tries to keep it as ambiguous as possible, “but I guess electronica with elements of funk, jazz, hip-hop and dub-reggae”.
He admits that this ambiguity has been his downfall to a certain extent, with radio playlisters always being unsure where exactly to fit his music.
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve been a bit silly trying to make it like that, but at the same time, I just love so many different types of music, as many people do. I just thought it’d be fun to keep it like a big mixing bowl of music”
Getting ‘Mutant Vinyl’ out there
While on the topic of his music being a bit more ‘out there’, we spoke about what it’s like trying to promote music nowadays. The ease in which people can produce and release their own music on platforms like Soundcloud and Spotify has led to the oversaturation of the music industry.
When I asked him about his approach to this issue, he said that some stations really like things that are different, and the best way that he’s found to deal with market saturation is to be different, sound different, or look different to other artists, and people will respond to that.
“What I do is put the sax at the front in a way that other people aren’t, but all it’s gonna take is a really hot, young, female artist to be a sax player and it’s game over for me.”
“If Billie Eilish ever picks up a saxophone, I’m done”
About Daffodils in Angell Town
2019 saw the release of Edwins first album under Mutant Vinyl. When asked about the album and it’s reception, he spoke about how nice it was to have a physical product that represents his music, and how having it pressed onto vinyl was amazing. Being able to play a gig and have the album sell to people is really important:
“Having the record and playing festivals and being able to sell that to people, and having them get in touch with afterwards is kind of the best feeling really.”
He also spoke about how unfortunately the album seems to have died in the way that young people consume music. Even when a big artist releases an album, people don’t really listen to it as a body of work. Instead they just listen to a select number of songs that they like best.
“I did that really artistic thing where I make sure all the tracks sort of flow into each other, so anyone who does listen to it will hear one piece of music.”
He said that he’s really proud of it, he looks back now and hears certain sections and thinks: “What was I thinking there”. Despite this, he still loves knowing that something he has created is sitting in peoples houses in the US or Japan, and will remain there until someone takes it away.
I also had to ask about the album art of Daffodils in Angell Town, which features a bright yellow skip with the words “WE DUN” graffitied over it. He said that he actually found the image online and got it licenced for use on his album.
“I was looking for some hard urban photography, and I just loved the graffiti saying ‘WE DUN’. I just kind of considered it as a person or a community just saying ‘We’re done with this’, whatever they are done with, they’re just vocalising it like that, and they couldn’t finish the last word because they got chased or something.
So the Album is kind of about that, it’s about urban living, and city life, and having a good time, but being oppressed, whether it’s by the government or by your financial situation, and I just loved that bright yellow against the grey buildings. I felt that juxtaposition was quite poetic in a way.”
He went on to voice some frustrations with labels trying to convince him to put his face on the album cover, like a profile of him holding a sax.
“It’s album artwork, it’s called that for a reason, it needs to have a bit of art to it, rather than just a picture of you with a sax”
With the chaotic, energetic, and at times random element to his music, I wanted to know more about his songwriting process, and where he gets his ideas from.
For lyrics, he said he just writes down ideas wherever he can and saves them for later. While with the music itself, it’s through constant experimentation, creating loops and drum beats, then working forward from there.
Different songs can take him vastly different lengths to finish, some being completed within a day, and others not quite being finished for 2-3 years.
He also gets help from other musicians and sound engineers, asking them if they have any other ideas for things to put in or take out.
“I think I used to be a bit too proud, wanting to do everything myself and being too much of a perfectionist, which is just not a good idea, it’s always good to have input from others I think.”
Coming out of Covid lockdown
Even though things are starting to return to normal after the pandemic things aren’t quite the way they used to be just yet. I asked about how it has been performing again after such a long break.
It was a full 18 month break from live performing for Mutant Vinyl, aside from a few smaller scale gigs during the “eye of the storm” dip in cases during the summer of 2020, “but it wasn’t the same”.
He talked about how amazing it’s been to be back performing again, and since things reopened in the UK back in July, he has performed at four festivals, and has gigs on every weekend, all while working part time at a coffee shop.
“Weekends at the moment are just wild, since lockdown eased, every weekend is just weddings and parties, it’s just been mad, so I always feel knackered no matter how much I sleep.”
Difference between UK and Ireland
Edwin mostly performs in the United Kingdom, but he also comes to perform in Dublin; recently performing at The Grand Social. We spoke about how different performing in both countries has been since the easing of lockdown.
“It was weird going to Dublin actually, because the rules were still quite different, at least at the time. You have to sit down at the gig, they can only have 50 people in the Grand Social, and you know how big that is upstairs.
Since his shows are usually quite high energy, it was strange to play a gig in that environment.
“It is weird to see that. I mean, the crowd we’re amazing like they always are in Dublin. But yeah, there’s something about when you play music like that and people are sat down you almost feel a bit embarrassed because it’s so full on, and everyone’s just kind of sitting there. But maybe it’s because Ireland are taking it more seriously, which probably isn’t a bad thing”
The UK on the other hand, has been business as usual in terms of live performances. With festivals being held all through the summer, which anyone can attend as long as they have a vaccine card or negative Covid test.
“It’s come back with a vengeance for sure. I think initially, some people were concerned, but the younger generations, you know, the 18 to 25’s – the big festival goers; they just came back hard. There were 80,000 at Reading and Leeds. Younger people generally are just fearless about it and just wanna go and have a good time again. Which is good! It’s giving the industry an injection of money and hope, which is needed.
He was also unsure if this sudden rush back to festivals will mean there’s another lockdown on the horizon or not. But it’s great to be able to enjoy it; at least while we can.
Despite some restrictions though, he still loves being back and performing as Mutant Vinyl again. Just being in a music venue and doing soundchecks is amazing.
“I’ve just missed everything about it. I missed Dublin too, I’ve missed it so much, even with it not being ‘normal’. Just hearing that Ryanair landing song gets the heart going a bit.”
Writing and recording during Covid
With an 18 month performance hiatus, Edwin spent a lot of lockdown writing and recording music. He said that it’s nice to be able to focus on it, but all of this extra time to work has its downsides.
“With Covid there’s just been too much time to just overthink everything you’re doing. Which is not good. So I was trying to write stuff in lockdown and collaborate with people, and I just have too much time to listen to it and not like it. Whereas before, with that album, I did it very quickly because I was on a time limit. That was so much better. You just overthink everything because you’ve nothing else to do.
He’s hopeful that we will soon see a return of in-person collaborations. He told me that he met up with Chloë Agnew of Celtic Women while doing a recent gig in Dublin, who he is planning on doing a track with.
“I said it’d be great to work in person, but she said ‘Oh well I’m actually based in America’, I was like ‘Oh my god more Zoom writing sessions’. I just can’t do it, I just can’t be creative in this way.”
“Maybe it will stay like this. Maybe record labels can save money by just sending us the files, but it’d be a shame. But everyone’s skint, everyone, even the rich people are skint. For now”
Of course, I had to ask if there are any new albums or EP’s on the horizon for Mutant Vinyl. Lucky for us, he said yes. He has 4 or 5 songs, so an EP is coming. But it’s going to be on vinyl again, so he just wants to make sure it comes out when there are regular gigs again, so it’ll most likely be released in January.
“I was gonna bring it out in the Autumn or Winter. Originally, I thought September but if I brought it out now.. It’s still uncertain times and the music just doesn’t have the same impact if you can’t perform it, so I wouldn’t be able to ship the records as well. So I’m just gonna bide my time.”
So despite the difficulties of lockdown, live music is making a return, and so is Mutant Vinyl, a performer who I’m looking forward to seeing perform myself as soon as I can. With new music being released next year, we can look forward to much more “saxophone-driven electronica”.