Nine months after the release of Back to Basics, NYC-based musical scientist Melanie Edwards returns with her sixth album, entitled Las Rosas. Recorded over February and March of this year in San Ramon, Costa Rica, Las Rosas uses ambient sounds of the Costa Rican jungle as a backdrop. Edwards has the habit of choosing new production locations with every album she makes (the previous one, Back to Basics, had her recording in the woods in Finland), but Las Rosas seems to take the immersion further—the animals, ocean waves, and thunder actually play on this record. Shortly after her return to New York City, I spoke to Melanie about Costa Rica, her new album, and perfectionism in the studio.
You recorded your newest album, Las Rosas, in Costa Rica and used a lot of nature’s ambient sounds. How did the location fit in with what you wanted to create and express here? How did the ambient sounds fit in?
ME I wanted the challenge of creating with a real jungle, as opposed to a concrete one. I like showing up to foreign lands and using whatever tools I have to make music. As you know, in our last conversation about Back to Basics, I wrote and recorded in the Finnish woods, but I also had a plethora of Zachary organs and a Lexicon mixer. In Costa Rica, I didn’t even have water everyday for a shower. But, I did have birds, thunder, rain, ocean waves, Amazon wildlife, and a Congo choir. This record is my most experimental, organic, and unique. I am literally backed by nature the whole project.
Why did you name the album Las Rosas? What does this album want to convey?
My Lab producers selected the title since roses kept showing up throughout Costa Rica in the form of a physical realm muse. I created Melanie Edwards Laboratories for the people and by the people, so they have a huge impact on the direction of the work. They vote on everything: title, songs, and artwork. Las Rosas was released on the heels of Back to Basics, but there’s six months between the release of one and the recording of the other. And a lot has changed for me, so the work shifted, too. Also, Las Rosas was birthed, live, in front of music students, families, and spectators, as opposed to a studio with one engineer listening. Two Weeks was written out loud and recorded in one take. This time, I want listeners to hear the subtext before it’s boiled down and coded in terms of specific, binary editing decisions. There’s not a lot of self-censoring and I’m creating from a place of purity. To parallel the intention, I felt adding ambient sounds of nature would bring out the organic frequency, since nature doesn’t edit either.
Have you played any songs off of ‘Las Rosas’ live yet? How is that going? How are you incorporating all of nature’s elements live?
ME As fate would have it, my friend Luke Jerram’s street pianos are back this week, just as I’ve returned to NYC. So I’ve been playing sets from every record, from Between the Binary to Las Rosas. The interesting thing is, because the pianos are scattered throughout the city, there’s ambiance from the crowd clapping to taxis blowing their horns. It’s brilliant!
Do you have any idea where you want to record the next album?
ME I’ve been looking into other lands and new terrain. I would love to create in space. Mostly I want to see if playing an E string on the violin can hold its own up there. Mars will need songwriters, too.
Are there things in the creative process you notice now after six albums that you did on your first ones where you’re like, ‘Man, I’m never doing it like that again!’? Are there things you do to try and stick to certain roots in the process?
ME I recorded my debut album, Between the Binary, with a backing band and an exquisite engineer over the span of eight months. Nothing has been as intense or as long as that virgin experience. We used all sorts of expensive microphones, pianos, and effects. In contrast, the following five records are scaled back in terms of production to comply with my new environments and equipment. I’m also a one woman band—writing, recording, mixing, and mastering solo, without engineers or producers. Since I’ve written and recorded my works abroad, from a bathtub to a rain forest, each project has its own filter and flavor. In a visual sense, it’s like photography; I have a raw file and I’ll put it through different effects, so one country may be vintage, while the other one may have highlights. The raw file is still there, but with a color contrast from that particular destination. One thing I’ve maintained throughout the recording process is an emphasis on vocal lines. I record piano and voice simultaneously and add in violin textures later. My main goal is to keep a natural quality so what you hear won’t be so dramatically different than when I’m playing live shows.
Do you have any new stories from the road or lessons you’ve learned?
ME Live music is still significant. Even though everyone is a digital gif these days, music brings people together. I think we forget this with everyone holing up in their house on the internet. Music is an intuitive, sixth sense force of primitive energy that exists in all humans. For that reason, I’ve learned to treat my job seriously and with respect, which means I don’t let the industry interfere or exploit. I self-release my tracks and have a relationship with my fans. Everyone is an artist now and the star of their own show with social media, so don’t do something for glory, feedback, or return. Do it for yourself. Turn yourself inside out, work hard and let it go.
Does that sum up your philosophy in studio? Do you believe in that ‘go in, get it out, and move on’ kind of mentality? Or do you think there’s room in the studio for obsessive perfectionism?
ME Well, I have several philosophies and pull each one out of the toolbox per problem. I’ve got a wrench in the form of Jung’s artist-scientist archetype, reminding me inventors fail a lot before electricity works. I also have a screwdriver under the guise of Joe Campbell’s mythical soapbox whispering sweet nothings about the mirage of fear. As a musical scientist, people want to define and analyze exactly what that is, so I’m used to being boxed in to fit someone else’s mold. From being told I’m the next Kate Bush to a happier Fiona Apple, I realize it’s all a projection and I understand people need a reference point. In terms of how that translates in the studio, I try to center, channel, and stay open to create from a place of my truth. And while there’s absolutely room for obsessive perfectionism, I tend to focus more on being a conduit with the universe and relaying the story. I recognize the human condition as a common denominator and, despite a country’s culture, I want to push the message out there to reach the masses. I’m classically trained, and while I respect those methods, rigid precision doesn’t make you kick your chair over and dance. I tend to rely on heart and soul when I play and throw away all the technicalities. I enjoy playing with other musicians who do the same. There’s nothing more blissful than jumping up on stage with a backing band and saying, guys this song is in G minor…and off we go. Music is sex, stop talking and start doing.
What are your plans for next few months in regards to the new record?
ME I’ve just returned to my homebase in NYC, after recording my first music video for Las Rosas in San Diego and Los Angeles. I’ll be busy working on editing the video and building shows around the Las Rosas record release.
All of Melanie’s music, including the new album Las Rosas, is available for purchase on her website: www.melanieedwardslabs.com