Meeting Mumm-Ra could have been an intimidating experience. To those of a certain age, the name conjures up images of a bandaged figure muttering “Ancient Spirits of Evil” and the like while plotting various nefarious deeds. Thankfully, Mumm-Ra the band are a much nicer and accommodating lot than the villain from cult 80s cartoon “Thundercats” from which their name is taken. However, it wasn’t a devotion to the programme that led to the name, more a fluke as drummer Gareth explains: “A member of the band saw an interview, I think in the NME where someone was asked to list his inspirations. He listed off these random names and one of those was Mumm-Ra. There was a little picture of him and we thought he looks cool!”
That’s that sorted out then. Sadly the name hasn’t been as unique as they hoped as Gareth mentions that: “There’s another band with the same name. They actually played Hastings recently and people thought it was us and asked for their money back! I think they’re going to change their name”. Forcing another band into a name change: clearly proof that Mumm-Ra are on the ascendancy. Further evidence of this is the band’s slot opening the NME Indie Rock Tour that is currently rumbling around the country, having started in Belfast last week. Opening the gig each night may have caused some bands to feel extra pressure but not Mumm-Ra, with the band’s front man Noo saying that: “We feel less pressure [opening] to be honest. Obviously, it’s a really prestigious tour and it’s great but to be honest it’s kind of like we feel we can go out and convert people. We can prove to people that we’re a band to be recognised with as well”.
Among the bands Mumm-Ra are sharing the bill with are the Horrors, who fell out spectacularly with the Fratellis on a previous jaunt. Yet all is sweetness and light between Mumm-Ra and the other 3 bands according to Gareth: “ We’re a loveable bunch, we just get on well with everyone!” He goes to joke that “Our manager told us to start a fight with the Horrors, that might get some extra publicity in the NME!”
That would seem to be one thing the band don’t need help with, given their placing in the paper’s Top 10 bands for 2007, suggesting that the band’s manic melodic pop has a lot of people won over. Yet that can sometimes be a double edged sword with other critics eager to bring the “next big things” down to Earth. Mumm-Ra aren’t worried about any sort of backlash though as Noo points out that: “We’re not really a typical NME band… We seem to be doing quite well with all the press. More than anything else we’re confident that our music is just bloody good!”
Certainly the band are immensely proud of the forthcoming debut album, due out in mid May with Noo saying that listeners should “Expect the unexpected” from it. He continues: “I think it’s very daring for a band’s first album…it’s quite an honest record, it doesn’t sound too overblown or pompous, at the same time it can sound big”. Gareth expands on this theme, stating that: “There are a lot of elements to the album but it all comes together… We had a lot of ideas, we’ve got something that sounds unique. From song to song it sounds quite different. There are songs that go back a couple of years, when we were all working in Sainsburys or for insurance companies, it’s nice to have tracks from that era as they’ve got a different feel to the stuff that we write today. It’s nice to have different elements of our background on the album.”
Many bands today shy away from being labelled a pop band, perhaps preferring the credibility that goes with being indie or rock. Mumm-Ra are different, with Noo proud of being a pop band and getting quite worked up about any negative connections that the genre might bring. “You want it [the album] to be a commercial record, that’s obvious. At the end of the day, we do write pop songs but we didn’t want it to feel sterile. We’re a pop band but we present ourselves in quite a modern way. There’s nothing wrong with being a pop band, pop’s been a great genre over the past 40 years. That’s we aspire to be for sure [a great pop band]”. Despite all the different elements that the band have incorporated in Noo feels that it’s “still a very immediate record. People will get into it quickly, you don’t need to listen to it 18 times before going ‘Ah, finally I understand’. It isn’t like that.”
While the band are delighted with their debut effort they’re also looking ahead, making it clear that they’ve always been a group that writes a tremendous amount of material, even if a lot of it ends up discarded. Noo admits that “To be honest, not many of the songs that we write actually end up being used. We’ve all got different tastes so to end up with a song that all of us are happy with is really hard. 1 in every 4 or 5... One of the hardest things for the band now is having to play the same tracks every night. We want album No 18!…We’ve always got the intention of writing more music!”
Gareth continues on this theme, stressing the band’s continual creative process : “We wrote songs on a break we had recently, we played them through, they were semi-finished but you could tell they weren’t going to work, that they won’t be part of Mumm-Ra in the future. There’s songs that take 2 years to get to a level we’re happy with then we chuck them out because they don’t fit with where we are as a band now.”
Album 18 might be far away but there’s no doubting the band’s ambition. They may not have ancient spirits of evil on their side but something suggests that they’re going to make it to guitar pop’s upper echelon anyway.