MPSE an exhibition in delicious pop-folk

By Jordyn Marcellus

MPSE are a lot different than the stereotypical singer-songwriter. The group, who won the 2009 Calgary Folk Music Festival Best New Song competition, find themselves with an aggravating problem: they keep being asked who the brains behind the song is.

Their music is full of atypical pop arrangements, including musical acc-ents like handclaps, trombone and breezy vocals by keyboardist Maddy Purves-Smith and guitarist Liam Law. The entire group worked on their winning song, collectively arranging each track, with Purves-Smith and Law writing the lyrics after the arrangement had been nailed down.

“We definitely always wanted lyrics to give something to the music,” says Purves-Smith. “Whether it be in terms of storytelling or almost as an additional instrument, it’s definitely been fun using that to our abilities.”

The two start brainstorming with one-word imagery and build from there. Law says the process is “a big thought shower,” with lyrical content reflecting the musical imagery. This flies in the face of popular thought concerning singer-songwriters — the music doesn’t reflect and accent the lyrics, the lyrics become another instrument to reflect the musical imagery the instrumentation evokes.

“For me, the lyrics come more from the images of the music,” says Purves-Smith. “I have a pretty good idea about what the song is about to me, before we even start writing lyrics.”

“The best example is the song we played for the competition, [‘Straight For the Honey’]” adds Law. “We literally both sat down and came up with, I don’t know, a blueprint for what the story is about. It’s a story about a guy — the story is clearer to some than others, but we kind of went with that.”

While this creative system has worked for the group, traditionalists have been quick to recognize Purves-Smith as the ostensible brains behind the act, even though the group works together to create their own music. That leads to frustration, because the music is all equally crafted by the entire band.

“Every e-mail I would get [from festival organizers], I would say, ‘Just have to clarify, all the members worked on the song. I’m just the e-mail contact.’ Then I would get an e-mail saying, ‘Congratulations Maddy,’ and I would have to say, ‘Just to clarify [she trails off].”

Nowhere was this problem felt more strongly than when the band was competing in the Best New Song and Best Song competitions. The group found themselves constantly barraged with questions about who actually ended up writing the song.

“It’s weird; every time we played [at the competitions], we’re asked, ‘Who wrote it? Who wrote it?’ ” adds Law.

While MPSE have played only three live shows — their performance Sunday at the Calgary Folk Music Festival will be their fourth — the professional quality of their music features an exciting pop sensibility that belies the group’s relative inexperience.

Though Law and Purves-Smith are leaving at the end of the summer, MPSE plans to release an EP with the money they won through the Best New Song competition; it will soon be required listening for anyone who wants to be in the know.

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