Harvey Mapcase is a three piece Boston-based band comprised of Neil Carlill (guitars, vocals, songwriter) Doug Allen (drums, backing vocals) and Matt White (bass, backing vocals). Carlill, originally from England, now a Salem, MA resident, garnered attention in the 90’s with the band “Delicatessen,” and their hit song C.F. Kane. He was also in the band “Lodger” and formed “Chicanery” with Warren Cuccurullo in 2005. Carlill has played and recorded with several international artists, including Jayrope, Charles-Eric Charrier and Marcelo Radulovich.
Harvey Mapcase’s music is dense, angular and challenging – while these songs may not be showing up soon in heavy rotation on The River, the music is by turns melodic, hooky and hypnotic... suddenly veering into a bit of a Brit invasion pop song, then away from that, down another track. Carlill sings on the quiet side, evocative of certain 60's British singers, Syd Barrett, soft-side Ray Davies, drawing on an intimate, quirky style, effective in drawing the listener closer. After a few listens, the songs begin taking a hold on your consciousness and transform into eminently listenable ones, such as with Screech Owls, a somewhat strange potential indie hit that could be heard in rotation on The River. (Remember when radio was free to play the experimental?)
Carlill's lyrics are mysterious and convey moods more than give up literal or easily identifiable meaning. Many could stand alone as written poetry.
Fine birds will tweet that’s gold dust to my ears/Nine cats will purr that’s gold dust in my ears/screech owls they sit and stare up in the trees/gives your gift a name
Snow dogs will bark and watch you at the wheel/Friends show me pictures of doves, they’re appealing/ screech owls they sit and stare up in the trees/gives your gift a name
The instrumentation here is sparse and effective, a true trio, every note and beat given a clear purpose. Matt White’s bass is sympathetic and warm, filling all the spaces and moving the pieces forward. Drummer Doug Allen’s playing seems particularly attuned to Carlill’s guitar figures, responding to them on a DNA level. Carlill’s guitar work is lovely, complex, exacting, yet he takes no real solos on the entire record, rather chooses to create interesting fills, quick painterly strokes of carefully and beautifully composed melodic and dissonant musical figures.
Thursday, August 28th, Harvey Mapcase will have an album/CD launch for "Dot Kill Dot," and combination fundraiser for the Cape Ann Wildlife Inc., a bird rescue organization Carlill has been personally involved with for several years. The CD itself features several bird related songs. The event will take place at the Church of Boston restaurant/club.
I recently talked with Neil Carlill about the upcoming benefit and album release.
You became involved with Cape Anne Wildlife after rescuing an ailing bird. Was this experience new for you, or had you rescued birds as a child?
I grew up in the East Midlands of England, where there is a fair bit of birdlife around, but I didn’t have the same relationship with it then. I believe my dad and I rescued an English sparrow once, and that had a happy ending. I've always been an animal lover, but I developed a bird obsession in my late twenties. We always had cats in my family home, so I’ve transitioned from cat person to bird person. The birds I miss the most from my homeland are the Jackdaws.
Other bird rescues followed and you began an association with CAW and Jodi Swenson. Can you talk a bit about that association?
We found a very sick sparrow back in 2009, and didn’t know what to do for the best until a neighbor told us about Jodi. As soon as we walked into Jodi's bird room in Gloucester we could see the level of commitment and care she gives to the vulnerable creatures that come to her. Along with her hard-won expertise and knowledge, she shows unyielding love and compassion for all those innocent little lives. She does such an important job— and no one pays her for it! I think that’s twisted. From then on we kept in touch, following Jodi’s daily experiences at CAW, on social media. There is a lot of heartache—it takes a strong person to push through that. I find it inspiring and reassuring that there are still caring people like Jodi in this increasingly heartless world. A handful of good people help out with donations and fundraisers, and now with this album I hope we can raise awareness of Jodi and worthy caregivers like her.
What was the creative process like that led to writing songs with birds as subjects? Was it a conscious decision, or did it first happen on its own, and then become a larger theme?
My “bird consciousness” has been creeping up over the last eighteen years. In daily life my brain is dialed into birds, and they feature heavily in my reading and my online activities. I am always finding new ways to connect with them. Over my twenty-five years of songwriting, my lyrics have always followed my various obsessions, so birds have been turning up in themes, lyrics, titles, and as inspirations and progenitors for songs.
The new CD, Dot Kill Dot, is dedicated to Jamal River, a.k.a. King Toad, a fellow musician you’d worked with previously. Can you talk about his influence on you, musically and otherwise?
He was an influence first as a musician, then later as a human being. I encountered Jamal/King Toad online in 2009, and was frankly surprised to find someone who struck a chord with my tastes, as I hadn't been excited by new music in a long time. The first King Toad album I heard, called “Why am I so Romantic,” was so transfixing that it felt as if I was discovering music again, like when I was a teenager. I felt like a fan. Over the next two years we became very close friends, and we worked on music together. I got to delve deep into his lifetime of musical output, as King Toad and in other incarnations. Some of Jamal's most wonderful songs are the ones that seem so simple at first hearing . . . but then you try to play it and there are nuances there that reveal a talent you just can't teach. Jamal exuded creativity and I am fortunate for the years I got to witness close-up all his amazing gifts. I think also we were bound together by our similar struggles as “professional” musicians. We both felt under-appreciated and that was something that we could console each other about. To make him laugh or smile was greatest feeling. I felt that as long as Jamal kept making music and staying productive, I could do the same. Sadly, he battled serious, longtime health problems (including MS and depression), and as medicine after medicine failed stop the progression of his pain, I realized that just getting through each day required a heroic effort on his part. The last few months of his life was a desperate time, knowing how it must end but striving so hard to forestall it anyway . . . It’s been over a year now since his suicide, and I miss him every day.
King Toad cited Bob Dylan as a major influence. Is the same true for you?
I think most musicians who care about lyrics are influenced by Dylan. My serious interest in Dylan began with the album Desire. I had certainly been a fan before that, and had listened to the classic sixties albums, but Desire took my appreciation and understanding to a new level. His phrasing of the lyrics on that record fuses with the arrangements so beautifully, his voice is so powerful, so resonant, so commanding of the listener, it’s similar in a way to the great Stage actors and how they could mesmerize a large audience without amplification. Blood on the Tracks was another album I listened to closely at this time. These albums exhibited a man who had really suffered, and that kind of world-weariness has never been more elegantly or poetically conveyed. This quality solidified my connection with Dylan. It always starts with the words, but to navigate the complex, personal algorithm by which words become truly lyrical . . . that’s something Dylan does to the highest level. Take a song like Hurricane; it's a story told over many verses using a simple, repeated structure, but the lyrics are so dazzling, the phrasing so dynamic, the storyteller so invested, that it never lags or becomes dull. Even after 20 years of listening, the thrill of the unfolding story is still there. Contrast that with One more Cup of Coffee or Isis—similar in arrangement, but the vocal performance and phrasing convey the ache and sorrow of life in one, and cynical, taunting anger in the other. It’s genius.
What does the title of the CD, Dot Kill Dot, mean?
It’s a reference to internet culture, and how it fosters hostility and polarizes us. The dots that surround the “Kill,” like in a Web URL (www dot kill dot com,) can be seen almost as shorthand for technology run amok. It speaks to the part of me that wants to stop the inexorable march of technology that will inevitably destroy us and the world. Operation Dot Kill Dot! Also, one morning after I came up with the title I heard a bird singing a phrase that sounded eerily like “dot-keel-dot.” I took it as a sign.
Some elements of the music sound like they have a Captain Beefheart influence – was that a conscious decision? Has Beefheart been an influence on you?
Captain Beefheart has been a musical and lyrical favorite of mine for a long time. The influence manifests in a certain resonance of their themes and forms. I like syncopation, I like dissonance, I like wordplay, and I like music with detail and complexity. Listening to Beefheart changes you at the molecular level, if you’re in tune with it. They’re not easy, but if you can fall into line with it and it feels good, then it becomes part of you.
Harvey Mapcase is an unusual name. How did you come up with it?
The name Harvey Mapcase traces back to the Comedian/Film Star Harpo Marx, whose wonderful 1961 autobiography supplied it. It tells how in 1933 he embarked on a solo tour of Russia, and upon seeing the poster for his one-night-stand in Moscow, with his name spelled out in Cyrillic type, he declared himself “Exapno Mapcase,” which is what it looked like. I tried using Exapno Mapcase but Exapno was just too much of a puzzler. I thought Harvey was a plausible alternative, and it stuck.
You’re bringing out this CD independently on your own King Harvey label. What led to that decision, and how has it been, taking the independent route?
I've run the gamut of Records labels from small to large, and all to varying degrees limit the control you have. Some try and direct the songwriting and recording process, others will try to dictate what happens with promotion and distribution. With Dot Kill Dot I wanted to have complete control so I could produce something that sounded just the way I intended, and also looked wonderful so people would want to own it, thereby maximizing the impact both for the band and for CAW.
What’s next for Harvey Mapcase?
I have some songs I’m working on with Doug and Matt for the next album. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of ornithological research online; I have a folder called “Birds” which gets bigger by the day. That’s sure to provide plenty of inspiration.