Tom Greenhalgh doesn’t think the Mekons’ new track, “How Many Stars,” is particularly sweet or sentimental. But its video — premiering exclusively below with both new and previously unseen archival footage of the bandmembers together — feels a bit special.
“It’s all bits and pieces thrown together,” the British singer/guitarist tells Billboard. “Back in the day, we used to do bits of filming on Super 8, and obviously that’s got a nice quality to it. I don’t think anybody said, ‘Oh, let’s make this sweet.’ I don’t think we were consciously going for that, but it kind of shows how this band functions. Even though we’re spread out really far and wide. It only really functions when we’re together, so that’s kind of what it’s about.”
It’s certainly an auspicious time for Greenhalgh and company. “How Many Stars” hails from Deserted, the Mekons’ first new studio album in eight years. It also comes in the 40th-anniversary year of the group’s debut album, The Quality of Mercy is Not Strnen, which Greenhalgh says “is hard to imagine, really. Forty years is just a ridiculously long time for any project. You would’ve thought it would be time to call it a day a lot sooner than that, but it hasn’t. You just get on with the other people you’re working with and want to keep doing it.”
Greenhalgh adds that he and the other Mekons weren’t wringing their hands over the long interim between Deserted and 2011’s Ancient & Modern. The troupe kept busy in between recording (as the mini-Mekons) with Robbie Fulks and releasing the documentary, Revenge of the Mekons, and the live Existentialism, among other projects. The path to Deserted, meanwhile, came via bassist Dave Trumfio, who had moved from Chicago to the Joshua Tree in California, where he set up a studio and invited the other Mekons to record there. “Obviously we said yes,” Greenhalgh says, with sessions taking place during the fall of 2016 as U.S. presidential election debates served as a background.
“It was kind of interesting,” Greenhalgh recalls, “because out in Joshua Tree and that area you were in America but it didn’t seem like you were in the same place as all that was going on, y’know? It was just something on TV. It was unreal.”
Greenhalgh and Jon Langford brought most of the song ideas in, but the finished product, he assures, was a communal effort. “We don’t really arrive with written songs and say, ‘This one goes like this’ and tell everyone what to do,” Greenhalgh explains. “We talk about stuff for awhile and maybe get some ideas and then basically just turn up and throw it all together. It’s not completely improvised from nothing, but it’s a few sort of fragments and bits and pieces that are put together.”
Deserted’s March 29 release on Bloodshot Records will send Mekons back on the road again, starting April 2 in England and a European run before the group hits the U.S. for an 11-date run starting July 12 in Chicago.