Empathy, Volatility, and Avant-Folk: A Conversation with Mappe Of

Mappe Of © 2017
Mappe Of © 2017
The cancer eats your lungs
Tearing up and trimming the brush beside your bed
And now your body’s cold
Settling for sympathy and carrying the weight
But it’s not that simple
– “Cavern’s Dark,” Mappe Of

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Every so often, there emerges an artistry so refreshing that it breathes new life into those who stumble upon it. In the case of Mappe Of’s music, catharsis comes from a deep dive into the core elements of our shared human experience: Mortality, Empathy, Volatility, and the Journey.

A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone - Mappe Of
A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone – Mappe Of

Released 7/28/2017 via Paper Bag Records, Mappe Of’s debut album A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone is an emphatic, breathtaking and intimate introduction. The self-described “ethereal avant-folk” musician employs a haunting array of dynamic and subtle energies to produce a beautiful record that ebbs and flows like life itself.

“I [wanted] it to have that sense of motion – a beginning and an ending; some sort of resolution,” explains Tom Meikle, the creative force behind Mappe Of. The Toronto-based singer/songwriter/producer kept his identity unknown up until recently, lending an aura of mystery and authenticity to his work. Those who discovered Mappe Of discovered an intricate web of layered sound and emotion, beginning with the warm acoustics in lead single/album opener “Cavern’s Dark,” whose depth and color sets the perfect scene for the rest of the record.

I’m not the first of your kind
But I won’t be the last to say
you were right and I should have known,
but no remorse
I’m a martyr’s son
A northern star, a perfect stone
Ripping out the stains from my clothes
A cavern’s end, the lamps are out
I feel you in the dark and I am found
– “Cavern’s Dark,” Mappe Of
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Structurally unconventional and poetically poignant, “Cavern’s Dark” is a musical masterpiece in and of itself. It also exhibits the artist’s great creativity and open-mindedness – how he will do whatever it takes to capture the feelings and ideas he wants to emulate and reproduce through music. Meanwhile, second track “Nimbin” displays the artist’s grasp of traditional folk and pop stylings, once again evoking great feeling through his own medium.

Though it is not a concept album, the songs in A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone do feel connected through more than just an artist’s voice and acoustic guitar; Meikle describes it as a “textural theme,” a space or vibe that resonates differently on every track while keeping listeners in a state of introspective reflection. Three instrumentals (“I. Scathefire,” “II. Leaftail,” and “III. Cerulean”) coat various moments with light musical motifs, referencing past ideas and laying the groundwork for future ones. Some songs are about Meikle himself, whilst others evoke new characters with their own perspectives and points of view – an old man with Alzheimer’s, a traveler a world away from his family – and yet, that diverse cast are all welcome and at home with Mappe Of. Consider A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone one person’s quest to understand life a little bit more: “Each song [makes] reference to areas of development, for me as a human being, or particular moments of new understandings of how I relate to other people, and that sense of empathy,” Meikle shares.

Personal development and new understandings. Mappe Of’s compelling music wears the weight of humanity proudly on its chest, offering all a place to indulge – both in its mesmerizing, forward-facing blend of folk and electronic music, and also in life’s deeper, difficult questions. Life doesn’t have a roadmap; it doesn’t come with any directions. But what we do have is each other: Our fellow wanderers, and the stories and lessons of those who came before us. A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone is stunning and stirring, a fresh, invigorating breath of life. Dive into Mappe Of’s music with our exclusive interview, and stream A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone – out now on Paper Bag Records!

:: A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone vinyl/digital ::

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Stream: A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone


Atwood Magazine: So Tom Meikle, you are the mystery man behind Mappe Of!

Mappe Of: (laughs) That’s right!

Diving right into your music, I've realized how defiant you are of traditional song structures. What is your approach to your own music - is that something you're conscious of?

Mappe Of: I think I am conscious of it, but it would be counter-productive to go into it with that in mind. If a song were to come to me in a traditional structure, then I wouldn’t resist it – and there are a couple on the record that are close to that – but I think growing up listening to a lot of progressive music and less traditionally-structured stuff, and dipping my toes into a lot of different genres, meant that the prospect of writing a traditional verse-chorus song just didn’t really occur to me all that much. I set that challenge for myself a couple of times, and it just felt like I was restricting myself.

You introduced yourself through the songs “Cavern’s Dark” and “Nimbin.” What was it about those two songs that you felt make them right to introduce yourself to the world?

Mappe Of: Well I think with “Cavern’s Dark,” the way the song is structured, as you mentioned, it sort of has this post-rock build about it, and it just really feels like an introduction, which is the reason it’s first on the record. I was a bit hesitant about putting out the first song on the record as the first single, but as far as an introduction to the project is concerned, it just seemed like the perfect fit. “Nimbin” showcases this different, more traditional folk songwriting, but a side of my songwriting that I felt was necessary to showcase at that time.

It's sort of a balance of chaos and structure. Why have you chosen to remain unknown?

Mappe Of: I don’t know how conscious that was… I think it’s just like, from my perspective it makes a lot of sense to present the music before you fill in the blanks about where it’s coming from – as far as the human that it’s coming from. Also, naturally being more introverted, it didn’t make sense for me to pop out there like a social media personality. I wanted to put the music out there for consumption, before there was any preconception as to where it originated.

You've really been just about the music as the representative body of music of work that it is.

Mappe Of: Exactly!

You touched on this a bit just now, but why did you choose “Cavern’s Dark” as your debut?

Mappe Of: As I said, the structure lends itself to an introduction, but also the production and the lyricism felt like a mission statement, at least for both this record and the project as a whole – where it is, at the moment. It just felt like the most accurate representation, contained within a single song on the record. I did my best to try to create identities for each song on the record, and the reasons for their coexistence, but that one, I think, has the most of the middle of the Venn diagram, if you know what I mean.

It's a good introduction. You mention identities, and I understand your album has these various characters strewn about it, like an old man slowly dying from Alzheimer's. Where are those identities and voices visible on the record?

Mappe Of: I think there’s a fair balance between catharsis from me personally, and through characters. Some of them are people I actually met; some are stories I heard and stuck with me. There’s a couple songs that are more or less recounts of events or stories that were told to me, and some are family members, but I like the concept of diving into someone else’s brain for a certain period of time and trying to figure out, to the best of my ability, where that individual would be coming from and why they made the decisions that they made. An example of that would be “Nimbin,” which is about a traveler that I met who had distanced himself from his family. That was a very different experience from mine… for which reason, the conversation that we had stuck with me for quite some time, and it felt appropriate to write about. But obviously not being him, it’s difficult to perfectly summarize his experience, but I think empathy is a huge aspect of songwriting, and that was one way for me to explore that… on the record.

Mappe Of © 2017
Mappe Of © Matt Barnes

I'm inspired by your ability to put yourself in another's shoes. I always felt my life was boring, and tried to write these fantasy worlds. But it's fascinating when you say, I am not the main character anymore.

Mappe Of: I think that concept is interesting to me, and we probably relate in that regard, having fairly peaceful upbringings, not being exposed to an abundance of turmoil, which I’m very thankful for. It also creates this sense of exploration, you know? A desire to understand the plights of various individuals, and songwriting is sort of the method that presented itself, to explore that.

Where do you find inspiration, musically?

Mappe Of: Obviously life experience, film and the arc of a film – the exploration of character and the subtleties about it are a good constant reminder – but I think above all else, is experience and stories and experimentation. From a production standpoint and songwriting standpoint, tinkering a lot with electronics and pedals and the slightest off-kilter sound can trigger a whole set of new sounds, so the inspiration can be a word, it can be a certain chord voicing… it’s pretty volatile, so I just try and latch onto things when they are captivating.

NPR recently likened you to a young Bon Iver.

Mappe Of: I understand the parallels; I think there’s places to dig for the origin of those influences elsewhere, but I would take that as a compliment!

I feel like with your music, what makes it different and unique is that you don't really go for minimalism.

Mappe Of: I think dynamics are a huge aspect of what I consider the flow of the song. So, if minimalism is called for, then I’ll explore it; I’m really into the idea of minimalism – like Steve Reich and Terry Riley and that whole movement; the whole New York scene of minimalism is something I’ve recently dived into really heavily. But overall, it’s more about, in the context of songwriting, what is going to serve the impact of this particular point in the trajectory of the song.

That's why I think your music really does have this unique quality to it that is just so unlike what's coming out these days. Another thing I want to talk about are these three little mini-songs.

Mappe Of: The initial idea was that a lot of records I was really obsessed with were these sort of progressive concept records that had this sense of flow about them and continuity, and that’s something I wanted to try to foster in any sort of full-length release that I were to do. The idea sort of came to create this introduction of color through different points in the record, and to try to establish, not necessarily melodic themes, but more of a textural theme, or a space – a general vibe – and so they’re sort of placed in a way on the record to call back to previous areas. For example, “Leaftail” has that sort of mountainous vibe that “Nimbin” has, and it was sort of meant to be placed there to establish that relationship. Once you travel to the place that “Ruin” takes you to, it can be jarring going in that direction, so I wanted to bring people back home, so-to-speak. “Cerulean” was initially meant to be an instrumental to complete that trilogy, but speaking to this single drone, the subtle igbo drone that I built the song around… There was something about it that was sort of nautical to me, for some reason. I know it’s probably overstepping the pretentious line there, but there was something about that, that called this idea of setting off, you know. And there was something lyrical there that I felt needed to be said to really wrap up the themes of the record. I mean, it touches on mortality, which is a huge concept on “Cavern’s Dark” – that’s sort of the main contemplation there – and “Cerulean” somehow found its way to try to summarize those ideas, to the best that I could.

There's very much this journey from start to finish that takes place.

Mappe Of: I don’t think I’m at the stage in my musical development where I could confidently make a concept record and have it be impactful and meaningful, because there’s so many consideration when it comes to that and these songs were collected over a period of time, but I did want it to have that sense of motion – a beginning and an ending; some sort of resolution.

A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone - Mappe Of
A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone – Mappe Of

You mention this sense of time; does A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone capture a certain moment in your life, or is it rather the compiled introduction of an artist's many different fields?

Mappe Of: I think just by nature of the fact that a handful of the songs were written over this two or three-year period, it wouldn’t end up being sort of a debut record as that tends to happen. It wouldn’t be an accurate snapshot of any particular time, but each song does make reference to areas of development, for me as a human being, or particular moments of new understandings of how I relate to other people, and that sense of empathy.

What spurred the album's name?

Mappe Of: That came out of writing “Cavern’s Dark” organically. It was one of those lyrics that just… appeared! That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s not necessarily a dichotomy, but it is these two sort of distinct images or ideas, and it started to connect that, I come from two individuals: A mother and a father, whom I care very much for. That sort of turned into this contemplation about their mortality, and putting value into each moment with them, and being aware and present in that time. Those two images, of the northern star and the perfect stone, felt applicable to a lot of the themes on the record, as far as that presence and that entity is concerned. As images in and of themselves, I find them compelling.

You've been getting a lot more attention recently, from the likes of NPR, etc. Is that sinking in at all - the immediacy of this moment?

Mappe Of: It’s hard to say whether it has sunk in; it has, in the sense that I’m blown away by it, and I’m very thankful for everything that’s happening. But part of me is resistant to acceptance of it, because I think I probably function best when focusing on the task at hand. But I am very grateful for the relationships that I’m developing, and for the people who are clearly invested and excited about the project. The more, the merrier, in that regard!

You play your first live show on August 2 at Toronto's Drake Underground. What does the Mappe Of live show look like? What can we expect?

Mappe Of: I have a backing band of four of my friends who are quite honestly the best musicians that I know, and they’ve really taken it to another place that I didn’t imagine making this record. I never contemplated playing it live in the process of making it; the process of taking it into a live context was pretty daunting to me, but these guys sure helped me along the way. It’s pretty exciting! (tickets & info here)

Congratulations so much on this debut! What's coming up for the rest of 2017 for you?

Mappe Of: Well, the immediate thing is our album release show! There’s a lot of prospects and conversations being had, so I don’t have an answer for that, but hopefully big things!

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:: A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone vinyl/digital ::

— — — —

A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone - Mappe Of

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? © Matt Barnes

Mappe Of’s “Cavern’s Dark” Glows with Light of Mystery and Serenity

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