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Chosen One: Puzzle Muteson

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Interview with Terry Magson, Puzzle Muteson.

“The title ‘Theatrics’ comes from a weight of the songs being hugely strung by a dramatic, intimate emotion, sometimes real but sometimes fable. It felt right.”

—Terry Magson

Words: Mark Carry


Earlier this autumn marked the eagerly-awaited sophomore full-length release from Bedroom Community’s prized singer-songwriter, Puzzle Muteson. From the Isle of Wight, Terry Magson’s unique blend of sound – where the singer’s tremulous tenor coalesces effortlessly with beautiful patterns of finger-picked guitar – continues to develop and further evolve on ‘Theatrics’ as a more stripped-back feel permeates the surrounding space. With contributions from Magson’s trusted collaborators (and label-mates) Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nico Muhly, the resultant eleven sonic creations seep into your consciousness and linger there like a faded dream or fragments of a distant memory.

Since Puzzle Muteson’s 2011 debut record ‘En Garde’, an unerring emotional depth prevails the song-writer’s tower of songs; evoking at once a vivid sense of loss, longing, pain, and hurt but also hope, survival and desire that radiates like “the shade of the morning sun.” The compelling songs contained on ‘Theatrics’ reveals the magical spell cast by a luminous song-writer- with gorgeous shades of Robbie Bashoe’s similarly other-worldly sound that is steeped in an exponential state of oblivion. The immaculate instrumentation of Magson’s voice, guitar, piano and glockenspiel is further heightened with the presence of Muhly’s piano, synthesizer, harmonium; Sigurðsson’s electronic wizardry; percussion supplied by Rob Holmes; Jon McMullen’s added piano and harmonium parts, and Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek)’s synthesizer and programming.

By Night’ is a stunningly beautiful duet between Magson and Dutch-born (and Belgium-based) songstress Chantal Acda that represents one of the album’s (many) defining moments. A fragile beauty floats majestically in the air where an intimacy and striking intensity unfolds before your very eyes. The fragile ballad feels like a distant companion to the album’s penultimate song – and only cover version – of New Order’s ‘True Faith’. The cover version takes you to the special place of Cat Power’s ‘Covers Record’ as the listener becomes unknowingly immersed in a song’s divine web of enchanting sound. I’d like to see Magson’s interpretation akin to Chan Marshall’s rendition of ‘I Found A Reason’ where a profound impact is created with each note and achingly beautiful vocal delivery.

‘City Teeth’ is built on a slow melodic pattern of gentle guitar and piano notes, beneath Magson’s mesmerizing voice. The song’s rise provides a luminous crescendo of hypnotic piano segments that is reminiscent of Geman pianist Hauschka such is its sublime brilliance. The chorus refrain introduces an imaginary realm; stemming it would seem from a dark fable, as Magson sings “For a while his teeth would tear you up and half your hands”. A wonderful rhythmic pulse serves the backdrop to the dark tale. Gorgeously clean guitar tones drift beneath Magson’s captivating vocals on the sparse lament of ‘Into & Opened’. The refrain of “Old parts have gone” resonates powerfully.

As ever, a soaring sonic backdrop is masterfully choreographed beneath Magson’s deeply-affecting songs; from the compelling electronic loops of opener ‘We Are, We Own’ to the warm percussion of ‘In Circles’ and majestic harmonies of ‘River Women’. The closing piano-led ballad of ‘Chair’ serves the album’s fitting close as a striking immediacy and cinematic atmosphere comes to the fore, where Magson sings “There’s still a reason to believe” that seamlessly penetrates the human space. ‘Chair’ evolves into a synthesizer-laden, blissful wall of sound, before the closing refrain of “But you are locked in and I am out of time” strikes each and every aching heart pore.


‘Theatrics’ is out now on Bedroom Community.



Interview with Terry Magson, Puzzle Muteson.

It’s a pleasure to ask you some questions about the gorgeous new album, ‘Theatrics’. I would love for you to first discuss the album-title and how you see this collection of beguiling songs fit next to your previous full length, ‘En Garde’? 

Terry Magson: The title ‘Theatrics’ comes from a weight of the songs being hugely strung by a dramatic, intimate emotion, sometimes real but sometimes fable. It felt right. I think if ‘Theatrics’ was sat on a train and ‘En Garde’ went and sat next to him they would make a fetching couple, miserable but fetching. I went through a solid period of writing in which half of ‘Theatrics’ was written around the same time I made ‘En Garde’. The beauty and difference is now the starkness of ‘Theatrics’ songs, ‘En Garde’ was flooded with Nico Muhly’s prepossessing arrangements which I love, but now we have a bunch of half-dressed tracks with more space and breath.


As ever, there is a rich sonic tapestry embedded in each of the heart-wrenching songs. What I love most is how the intricate layers of instrumentation (piano, harmonium, guitar, synthesizer, percussion) coalesce so beautifully with your distinct baritone voice. As a song-writer, it must be a special feeling to witness these songs metamorphose into their final entities, so to speak. Can you talk me through this process in which the spark of a song is gradually transformed into a fully-realized composition?

TM: Thank you! I’m not sure it’s ever fully – realized, not fully, but there is a distinctive moment when each added idea makes total sense. As an artist (does that sound pretentious?) as a professional bullshitter, I usually rely on my intuitive voice to take the reins when a new added part is working or needs to be there. It does feel special though when things start to grow especially because I have friends playing on this album and with none to little guidance, they add subtle magic, so by the time we’ve finished up in the studio I’m already doing a private conga dance.


A wonderful cast of musicians are present on ‘Theatrics’, including your Bedroom Community label-mates Nico Muhly and Valgeir Sigurdsson. Please recount for me the recording sessions of ‘Theatrics’ and the special collaborative aspect of your work that is inherent between you, Nico and Valgeir?

TM: Right then.. So I went over to Greenhouse studio in Iceland to get the bulk of ‘Theatrics’ down but the sessions were a little disjointed. Next to the studio they were renovating Valgeir’s flat, which through the head phones when delicately recording a song say like ‘Bells’ it literally sounded like they were knocking down Hallgrímskirkj (awesome church in Reykjavík) with those balls that Miley Cyrus likes to swing about on with her vagina half hanging out.

Basically I had to re-do most of the songs, so I went to my friends (Boe Weaver) studio on the Isle of Wight and re-recorded vocals, guitars, some harmonium and some piano there. Once everything was flowing from those sessions we sent over the files to Greenhouse and Nico and Valgeir popped their little wizard hats on and brought ‘Theatrics’ to life. I wasn’t there and I didn’t need to be.


I feel the cover version of New Order’s ‘True Faith’ is such an ideal penultimate track for the album, and a song you truly make your own (Cat Power’s ‘Covers Record’ comes to mind). Can you discuss for me please the reasoning for the selection of this particular song and your memories of first hearing ‘True Faith’?

TM: Thanks again! This was a little strange as for some reason this song started invading my head space for a few days uncontrollably. I hadn’t heard it for a long long time so it seemed slightly formidable and plausible to try and do a cover of it. It has a solid nostalgic connection with me. I remember probably first hearing it on Top of the Pops show mid 80’s, I used to get a tennis racket; turn it the wrong way round and run up and down the front room pretending to play it like a guitar. It’s the synthesizers that has given it that nostalgic haunting feeling.


Can you take me back to your earliest musical memories? Also, I would love to know what folk records and indeed song-writing records do you feel have served sources of inspiration for your own music (and more precisely, leading you down the music path)?

TM: I’m not sure about my earliest? I’m guessing it would have been some monotonous baby toy that I’ve blocked out as it was so fucking horrid. I could tell you about when music started consciously making an impact and that would of been through John Williams scored Spielberg films, and 80s radio chart shows. The first tape I ever bought myself was N.W.A and first record 7″ was Snap – The Power.

There was a lot of Neil Young and Leonard Cohen records being played through the house growing up so I have a connection to those guys and in later years I would say Elliott Smith I connected with and Sparklehorse comes to mind.


Two stunning duets are present on ‘Theatrics’ with Chantal Acda’s mesmerising vocals on ‘By Night’ and Lidwine De Royer Dupre guesting on ‘Belly’. One of my favourites must be ‘By Night’; a song whose sheer beauty unfolds gracefully before your very eyes and ears. It must have been lovely to have had these guests present on the recording sessions? 

TM: Chantal and Lidwine came about by the strength of an email. I had toured with both of them previously and knew their capabilities. I think me and Chantal sing from a similar depth, it’s very sensitive, and very real so I wanted to get her on ‘By Night’ to see how both voices would sound together.

Lidwine has a colossal voice and I knew she would be perfect for the chorus of ‘Belly’. Initially I was going to try a whole bunch of vocal layers but I thought the dynamic would be more interesting getting Lidwine in. Both sent the recordings back in just over a day of asking and both were flawless.



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‘Theatrics’ is out now on Bedroom Community.




Written by markcarry

November 19, 2014 at 1:27 pm

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