Jeremy Williams-Chalmers, Arts Correspondent

The Miserable Rich in Conversation

Photo courtesy The Miserable Rich
Photo courtesy The Miserable Rich
It has been over 13 years since The Miserable Rich released a studio album. Having reformed in the wake of a personal tragedy within the band, their upcoming record, Overcome, is a feat born out of deep friendship and true love. With the album based on their indie-folk roots but with jazz and electro thrown into the mix, we caught up with lead singer James de Malplaquet to learn a little more.

Hi, how are you all?

We’re well, I think. It gets a bit hectic at the minute with two band babies, doing gigs again, the album, and all our grown-up commitments—but these are all good things. I’ve come to think that if you’re not in a crisis, then things must be pretty good.

Photo courtesy The Miserable Rich
Photo courtesy The Miserable Rich
It's lovely to see you back making music. Who prompted the decision to get back into the studio?

In 2017, our first son Kit died at 13 days of what turned out to be an HSV1 (coldsore virus) infection after being born healthy at Sussex County Hospital. Our world kind of fell apart, but we decided to try to save other babies and their families with the knowledge my wife gleaned from her extensive research. We started the Kit Tarka Foundation. Nobody wants to start a charity in their dead child’s name, but we felt we couldn’t sit on what we knew and learned about other tragedies.

We put on a sponsored walk (Walk For Kit) and raised enough money to start the first survey into neonatal death from HSV infection in 25 years, in conjunction with Rockinghorse Children's Charity. We put on other events, and various people did challenges to raise more money for research and education. The thing I could do was put on an event, so I asked one of my favourite Brighton bands (Gloria Cycles) to reform, got our band together (thanks guys! ), and Alice Russell, Fujiya, and Miyagi agreed to play. David Shrigley had just directed the Brighton festival, so we asked if he would MC. The event, KitFest, was held on what would have been Kit’s first birthday, so it was a bit of a rollercoaster, but at least we were doing something positive. Local MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle made a speech to 650 people crammed into St George’s Church in East Brighton. We wrote Glue, from the new album, for the event. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Afterwards, with various band members (and, let’s face it, the whole world) going through some major ups and downs (I know—what ‘ups’?), we wrote together for fun and therapy, talking, drinking, and eating pizza more than playing. We were a bit surprised, really, when we found out we had an album.

We adore the video to Probably Will. Whose concept was it?

It was the work of long-time collaborator and friend Joe Patrick. His wife, Daniela Orsini, did the animation. They’ve been together for a long time but just got married, so I hope it’s not a form of therapy too!

Joe is a wee genius, and we have done quite a few videos and documentaries with him as well, including the award-winning short film The Girl Is Mime, starring Martin Freeman, which was written, shot, edited, and soundtracked in 48 hours. It kind of defies description; you have to see it.

You have already unveiled several songs from the album. How did you decide which ones to pre-release?

We wanted to put Glue out first because it benefits the Lullaby Trust, which has very sensitively taken over the work of the Kit Tarka Foundation, giving us the chance to step back after 4 years. After that, a couple of fun ones—FHS and Crows—albeit the latter is about a post-apocalyptic world run by our corvid friends. We all agreed that Probably Will and We All Know were crucial tracks for the album, and I slipped We All Know in simply because I enjoy it. There's some great female backing on that one, and Probably Will too.

The new album is called Overcome. How did you arrive at the title?

I wanted to show how something can be beautiful, not despite but because it has suffered. I thought of those windblown Sussex hawthorn trees you see on the hills around us. I googled them and found the one on the album cover. It turned out to be right next to Cuckmere Haven, where we took Kit’s ashes, did the charity-sponsored walks, and went each year to mark Kit’s anniversaries with a boat I carve and some flowers my wife dries through the year for the occasion. It was good for me to go down there alone and spend some time taking the photos and thinking. It all really came together, which gives you a kind of faith in the process.

The title came as it can be read both ways: that we have been overcome by and have also overcome many difficulties. Both are true—and inevitable, I feel—in life. Lots of people have remarked that the album is both heartbreaking and hopeful—optimistic and joyful even.

Photo courtesy The Miserable Rich
Photo courtesy The Miserable Rich
What was the writing and recording process like?

We had planned to go to Germany and record in the basement of a boutique hotel out there and pretend we were pop stars. Nice.

But a combination of Brexit, COVID, and some serious domestic issues for some of the band members meant it wasn’t possible to live the fantasy. Maybe next time...

In the end, we mostly recorded at home, like the first two albums, with one day in the studio together to capture the songs that change tempo.

Which song are you most excited for people to hear?

There are a lot of things there I’d like to get some reaction to. There’s a lot in there!

I have a big soft spot for Everything Bright and New, so maybe that one. Reviews are coming in now, and they have been really positive, but perhaps more importantly, a fan who heard it wrote to me that it was ‘Beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful'. It makes me grateful for the power of music’.

If you had to define the record in just five words, which would you choose?

Well, I’ll take that fan's first three: beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful. I’ll add raw and joyous, as in the joy of existing, for all the ups and downs we go through.

You have a handful of live shows coming up in February; what do you have planned for them?

We’re doing a few instores around the release: Brighton, London, and Southsea. They’ll be stripped-back and acoustic, which works well with our instruments; we usually come off stage for a few songs at gigs anyway.

Can we expect to see you on the road across the country on a full tour any time soon?

It’s tricky getting away a lot at our stage of life, with all the family commitments and such, but we are doing some more shows in Germany and the UK. I really hope we can get up your way sometime if we can. I guess watch this space—or drop is a line. We’re very friendly.

Overcome is out on this Friday 2nd February 2024

For more information on The Rockinghorse Children's Charity click here {clear}