Mercury Prize nominees: what my album means to me

From Damon Albarn to Anna Calvi, from Jungle to Polar Bear, this year’s contenders for the coveted award tell us about their nominated albums

Anna Calvi One Breath Mercury Prize Music
Domino Records Photograph: Domino Records

Anna Calvi on One Breath (Domino)

“I wanted to explore the feeling of being out of control, and how this can be very scary and yet thrilling at the same time. It’s always important to me that the music tells the story as much as the lyrics, so I was very focused on creating rich textures and a lot of atmosphere for the songs to exist in. This record was made during quite a turbulent time in my life and I like the way I can feel that in the music when I listen back.”

Bombay Bicycle Club Mercury Prize
Universal / Island Records Photograph: Universal / Island Records

Jack Steadman of Bombay Bicycle Club on So Long, See You Tomorrow (Island Records)

“It’s great that it was our fourth album [to get nominated for the Mercury Prize]. Instead of starting at the top and trying to keep the momentum going, I’m really happy that it’s been a gradual and natural progression.”

Damon Albarn Everyday Robots Mercury Prize
Parlophone Records Photograph: Parlophone Records

Damon Albarn on Everyday Robots (Parlophone)

“It’s an album about love, loss, getting older and learning to live with that. I’m not consciously melancholic – in fact, I am often the opposite – so that melancholy feel must come from the way I use chords.”

East India Youth Mercury prize Total Strife Forever
Stolen Recordings Photograph: Stolen Recordings

William Doyle, aka East India Youth, on Total Strife Forever (Stolen Recordings)

Total Strife Forever was a really important step for me personally. I’d become too involved with trying to make music my career; I’d forgotten about trying to be creative and to express myself. When I stopped worrying about those things, the music seemed to come naturally. It has changed everything for me, and for it to receive any recognition at all has been an amazing experience.”

Tahliah Barnett, aka FKA Twigs LP1 Mercury prize
Young Turks Photograph: Young Turks

Tahliah Barnett, aka FKA Twigs, on LP1 (Young Turks)

Barnett couldn’t speak to us for this article but in June, she told Dazed & Confused: “My hope for this record is that people will be able to identify my sound as a producer and understand how much of this I do myself. I’m being fearless and finding a strength in myself to be more confident, to make bolder moves. It’s a tough industry. People always belittle what you’re doing, your creativity. I’m not listening to the sly put-downs. I’m finding the strength and confidence within myself to ignore those voices, and do what I’m doing regardless.”

Go Go Penguin
Arlen Connelly Photograph: Gondwana Records

Nick Blacka of GoGo Penguin on v2.0 (Gondwana Records)

v2.0 is the band’s second album but in some ways feels more like our debut. After an intense three months spent writing and recording, we’ve created an album that better expresses our identity as a band. By bringing together our individual ideas and influences – everything from Arvo Pärt and Shostakovich to Aphex Twin and Four Tet via Blade Runner and the Manchester cityscape – we’ve created a record that’s musically more cohesive and sounds like us.”

Jungle band Mercury Prize
XL Recordings Photograph: XL Recordings

‘J’ of Jungle on Jungle (XL Recordings)

“For us, the album means everything. It taught us how to be honest with our creativity and to trust our instincts.”

Kate Tempest Mercury prize
Big Dada Records Photograph: Big Dada Records

Kate Tempest on Everybody Down (Big Dada)

“The album means everything to me, but now it’s finished and out, what it means to me isn’t important any more; what’s important is what it means to the people who find it and feel it. I hope it will be taken in as a whole piece. I hope it will feel as exciting to listen to as it felt to make. I hope it feels generous. I hope it lives to mean many different things to many different people for many different reasons. For me, it means the world. But it’s not my world any more. And I like that about it.”

Nick Mulvey on First Mind (Fiction Records)

Nick Mulvey photographed by Richard Saker for Observer New Review Mercury Prize
Nick Mulvey photographed by Richard Saker for Observer New Review Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

“For me, this album is the result of diving head first into the unknown and placing full trust in my instincts. That’s why I called it First Mind – no second guessing or over-thinking. If it feels right, it is right. Truth be told, there were moments of doubt, that’s only natural, but instinct always prevailed. Faith in doubt.”

Polar Bear band Mercury prize
Polar Bear by RJ Fernandez Photograph: RJ Fernandez/The Leaf Label

Seb Rochford of Polar Bear on In Each and Every One (The Leaf Label)

“The band were going through a pretty turbulent time; each of us had lots of different things going on, so it’s quite an intense album in that sense. It was really personal to me; more so than our previous albums. Pretty much all the songs are about specific people and my experiences with them. It’s weird: when we were working on this one, I would lock myself away for a month, trying to improve it, and not let the rest of the band listen. I think we worked harder for this one.”

Royal Blood Band Mercury prize
Black Mammoth / Warner Photograph: Black Mammoth / Warner Bros

Mike Kerr of Royal Blood on Royal Blood (Black Mammoth / Warner Bros)

“It’s a record that began when we first started the band, so it’s like a documentation of the band from our inception – in fact, some of our first demos are on here. By virtue of it being our debut, it obviously means a lot to us, and it’s great for it to be recognised among such prestigious talent.”

Young Fathers Mercury Prize
Anticon / Big Dada Photograph: Anticon / Big Dada

‘G’ Hastings of Young Fathers on Dead (Anticon / Big Dada)

“The title means no one is going to hold your fucking hand. When you’re scared to die, then you’re not, and you have a laugh about it. Now you can say it out loud with no bad juju. DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD.”


The Observer

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