Dan Mutch was reading a lot of H.P. Lovecraft when he named the new album by The Leg Chromatic Perversion. The psychedelic-sounding title is taken from a line in Lovecraft’s story, The Colour Out of Space, though any influence Lovecraft’s mid-expanding fiction might have had on the manic folk-punk jug-band’s fifth album has been lost to the mists of time.
“Chromatic Perversion was a song we did as a spoken-word thing that was originally going to be on the album,” Mutch explains. “It ended up not making it on, but I still liked the title.”
Released this weekend on the Leith-based Tenement Records, Chromatic Perversion sees The Leg’s core trio of Mutch, cellist Pete Harvey and drummer Alun Scurlock expanded to incorporate guitarist James Metcalfe as well as the prodigal’s return of bassist John Mackie from Mutch’s first band, Khaya.
This finds the fleshed-out five-piece galloping through the record’s ten songs with a frenetic abandon married to an appealing jauntiness that nevertheless retains The Leg’s mercurial edge of yore.
“There are some songs on the record that are about ten-years-old, but didn’t quite fit with anything else,” says Mutch. “I became quite obsessed with some of the other songs, and have tried to record them in different ways, but they weren’t working, and I wasn’t sure where to go with them. But John coming back after thirteen years, and then James coming in, has really opened things up, and things have evolved into the really interesting place where we are now.”
Mutch’s musical evolution began in Chepstow, the Welsh town on one side of the Severn Bridge. This was close enough to Bristol’s bustling music scenes for a young Mutch to know what was going on, but isolated enough for him to plough his own furrow from an early age.
“Looking back, I think I was always obsessed with pop music. I used to watch Top of the Pops, singing along with my sister, tape recording it, buying singles with instrumental B sides. I made a guitar out of cardboard, and then my step-dad had a real guitar. I was always into the Beatles, and then Nirvana came along. That was a real life-changing moment, and sounded like what I was looking for. It took a heavy sound and reconstructed it with a different kind of atmosphere to anything I’d heard before. I suppose there was an angriness there as well that I liked.”
While it’s not difficult to relate the intensity of The Leg’s music to Nirvana, Mutch’s approach stems in part as well from being cut off from any kind of scene.
“Bristol was only over the water, but I couldn’t relate to what was going on there. It was easier to relate to Nirvana. I played in bands at school, and when I got home would make recordings with a ghetto blaster. When I left school I just wanted to be in bands. I didn’t want to do anything else.”
Mutch moved to Edinburgh in the mid-1990s aged seventeen. After initially recording solo on a 4-track, he eventually found himself fronting Khaya. The band released records on the SL label, and recorded two John Peel sessions before evolving into Desc.
“I wanted things to be darker and more spacious,” says Mutch. “It was time to take a different path, and we had a good sound, but a lot of things went wrong. It was almost like we were cursed.”
Morphing into The Leg, the stripped-down trio of Mutch, Harvey and Scurlock self-released their Forest of Dean inspired debut record, the vinyl-only 8 Songs by the Leg, in 2006.
“That was a more magical and other-worldly thing than Desc. I had a dream-like picture in my head, and that record was everything that Desc should’ve been.”
By the time the Leg released the “more grungy” What Happened to the Shrunken Tina Turner? in 2009, they had also hooked up with former Dawn of the Replicants vocalist Paul Vickers. Four Paul Vickers and The Leg albums have been released thus far, including the recent Jump, also out on Tenement. Without Vickers, The Leg released An Eagle to Saturn in 2012 and Oozing a Crepuscular Light a year later. These were both released on Song, by Toad Records, with a slow-burning Chromatic Perversion brewing away ever since.
“I would describe Chromatic Perversion as essentially a pop record,” says Mutch. “The Leg have quite a strange sound, and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but for anyone who likes strange-sounding songs, this is probably quite a good place to start.”
Such off-kilter oddness fits the record’s barn-storming cover of High on a Rocky Ledge, written by Moondog, the much revered American composer and musician formerly known as Louis Thomas Hardin.
“To me, that’s a total pop song,” Mutch says. “We don’t normally do covers, but whenever we got together we kept coming back to it.”
A similar sense of wilful singularity drives Mutch’s own work.
“I think a way to understand the Leg is that we come from a place informed by the Beatles and Nirvana, though we don’t particularly like a lot of pop music. Out of that, we have the benefit of having worked together for a long time, so we’re able to to do what we do and explore things the way we do to make something we enjoy.”
Chromatic Perversion by The Leg is released tomorrow on Tenement Records.
The Herald, February 22nd 2020