This new project from London-based producer and singer Minimal Animal has been brewing for some time, and we’re super pleased to share the video for ‘Happy Here’ from his new EP I thought we would be happy here.
The producer’s fresh take on ambient pop combines big melodies with brilliantly executed sound design. After conquering a stifling perfectionism (read more below), everything about this music feels direct, decisive, and fresh. The long-awaited creative eruption has resulted in a record defined by big and clever production, with clarity and boldness that confer striking immediacy.
Check out the stunning video now, and read on to find out more about what’s gone into the project.
Watch: Minimal Animal – Happy Here
What is Minimal Animal?
Minimal Animal is part quarter-life crisis, part therapy, and part artistic outlet. I’ve not released any of my own music for over four years, since my last band Screaming Maldini split up. These years were characterised by some pretty substantial self-doubt and a healthy dose of premium-grade creatively-paralysing perfectionism. I’ve come out the other side older, and with a deeper understanding of my own emotional and physical well being. And as a result, for the first time I feel as though I have something meaningful and interesting to say lyrically – it was a running joke in Screaming Maldini that I tended to just write about the weather – with themes touching on depression and social anxiety. So its a way for me to say some stuff that I feel might be interesting to others, and frame it inside some hooky, minimal, melodic, electronic vocal pop.
Tell us a bit more about yourself.
I was born and raised on the outskirts of London. I moved to Sheffield for university and stayed there for fourteen years. I’ve recently moved back to London, and am now based south of the river in Brixton. But I’ll forever be in love with Sheffield and its people.
Tell us more about what it’s like being a musician in London after spending so long up north.
In all honesty, I’ve not done a huge amount of’ ‘musicianing’ in London in terms of playing. I’ve been doing a fair amount of production from my studio at home, and am writing for a few London-based music libraries and agencies, as well as doing some sound design and live sound at a Cabaret show in town. But I’ve yet to make any solid regular musical connections with other players.
Working as a musician in London is definitely different from Sheffield, but I think that’s in part because I’ve not been here very long. In Sheffield, I had built up a big network of musicians over the fourteen years I was there, and down here it’s like starting from scratch again, so it will take time. That said, I’ve been doing as much collaboration as possible, which has largely manifested itself as working with some amazing electronic producers, providing vocals and piano here and there.
One of the highlights has been composing for a comedy duo called Hunt and Murphy for their Edinburgh run last year. What has really set London apart for me is that I’ve been exposed to performers from many different art forms – comedians, jugglers, dancers, burlesque, contortionists. It’s been fascinating getting to know these people and how their freelance lives work in London. and has given me a much broader knowledge and appreciation of what they do.
In particular, I’ve fallen completely in love with dancing (although I still can’t dance myself!). It’s such a powerful and athletic pursuit, and can transform music in ways I’d never before imagined. I’ve worked alongside an incredible creative director Diana Pintado Cadenas doing sound design for a cabaret show in town since 2017, and it’s blown my mind.
The video for Happy Here is a direct result of this side of being in London. Sonia Apera worked on that same show. She has an incredible, magnetic, distinctive style of dancing. When I started brainstorming ideas for visual content for Minimal Animal, she’d just put an amazing DIY-style video on her Instagram. It was this super cool bit of freestyle contemporary choreography she’d done which I thought would suit the style. Sonia was keen to be involved and suggested her friend Bruno Duarte. When I saw his stuff on Instagram, I was absolutely blown away. Such a force of nature. I left the song with them, with no more direction other than I wanted it to be about that power and athleticism, and they came up with this really compelling choreography for it. After spending a day trawling around London for locations, which took me from Brick Lane to the South Bank, to Dalston, to Clapham Common, we finally decided on Brockwell Park in South London.
How far has the place that you’re based affected what you’re doing musically?
The first few months after I moved down from Sheffield, I was based in the very heart of Brixton, on a road called Bob Marley Way. It was every bit the modern London gentrified cliche – avocado on toast in every cafe, artisanal bakeries on every corner, and micro-breweries serving up craft ales whichever way you turned. But alongside that, there’s a real sense of history.
The food market on Electric Avenue is a hive of activity during trading hours. There are musicians playing on the street, and no matter what time of day you come out of the station entrance, the high road is a-buzz with people of all ages and backgrounds. Being surrounded by all that energy and noise has really seeped into me as a song-writer.
What has been great is the sheer amount of performances that go on all the time in London. I’ve seen some incredible shows down here since I’ve arrived – Maggie Rogers, Nao, Christine and the Queens, Ezra Collective, amongst others – and for the first time in as long as I can remember, my main emotion at the shows wasn’t an overriding jealousy that I wasn’t up on stage performing. Instead I felt elation at the performance, a real appreciation and fascination at the stage craft and show design. And I’ve come away actually wanting to perform again (which, again, hasn’t happened in years).
That said, because I didn’t have anyone to write with when I first came down – and still now I’m only just starting to build up a network – it’s forced me to learn how to create music by myself, and to explore a more electronic direction. I’ve learned Ableton (having put it off for a long time) and I’ve built a solo live show (with the help of a super talented friend of mine) which I’m hoping will be pretty banging.
What else has influenced the music that you’re making today?
I pretty much fell out of love with music-making after Screaming Maldini split. I had no urge to form another band, no urge to play, even. And at the same time, after 29 years of no exercise, I fell pretty deeply in love with cycling, riding thousands of miles up and down the hills of the Peak District near Sheffield.
The topography changed me both physically and mentally. I made friends outside of music, and for the first time I preferred getting up early and suffering out in the hills, to staying up late and suffering at home the next day. It gave me a new perspective on life really, and a healthier outlook where music wasn’t all-consuming any more.
Then, in 2018, I rediscovered a drive for writing my own music again, having spent a few years producing for other artists (Sheffield luminaries, Before Breakfast and Dead Slow Hoot amongst others). I feel as though I’m approaching composing from a totally different angle now compared to when I was younger. It’s much more a way for me to process my emotions. The tempos are slower, and there’s much more focus on stripping things down to the bare minimum in terms of instrumentation and production. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and my brain isn’t firing thousands of weird thoughts at me every second any more. I’m certainly writing from a much happier place these days anyway.
Another thing that has really influenced me – especially in terms of writing, finishing, and releasing stuff – has been discovering stoicism (through a highly recommended book by Derren Brown called Happy). One of the things that really resonates with me is a line about a piece of art’s intrinsic worth not being changed one iota by someone’s else’s praise or criticism of it. Back when I was in the band, reviews – either positive or negative – would have a tangible effect on my day to day happiness, and I hope that’s no longer the case. Because looking back, it’s a pretty unhealthy way to live your life.
I personally really like this EP and the songs that I’m writing at the moment, and in many ways, that’s good enough for me. Obviously, I would love for everyone else to love the songs too, but if they don’t, I think I’m cool with that, in a way that I never would have been before.
What’s next for Minimal Animal?
Between now and the end of the year, I’ve four more songs I’m going to put out. I’ve got some live videos coming up, and some online tutorial-style breakdowns of the Cubase projects I used to create the songs for anyone interesting in DAW geekery. Hopefully one or two live shows too. Stay tuned/come and say hello on Instagram, and Facebook.
Header image: Ben Nelson