Based between London and Brighton, ME REX started out the solo project of songwriter Myles McCabe and has since expanded into a trio with the addition of Phoebe Cross (drums/vocals) and Rich Mandell (bass/keys/vocals). As a full band, the band released the double EP Triceratops/Stegosaurus via the UK label Big Scary Monsters in late 2020, and followed it up a year later with Megabear, a uniquely ambitious and immersive 52-track collection meant to be played in shuffle mode. Another compelling pair of EPs, Plesiosaur and Plesiosaur, came out in 2022, when ME REX were prepping what’s billed as their debut album proper, Giant Elk. Despite being recorded at four different studios, with the band having limited time to practice the material before laying it down, the songs cohere into a cathartic, fully-realized work whose cyclical structure mirrors the narrative that unfolds – one of growth through loss, loneliness and unity. Bound up in metaphor, the details may be hard to pin down and are open to interpretation, but the story resonates more than it confounds, and the music reaches new peaks of sweeping catharsis. The backdrop may always be one of impending collapse, but as ME REX put it on the closer, ‘Summer Brevis’, there’s still “a little bliss and ecstasy yet to squeeze out of the days we have left.”
We caught up with ME REX’s Myles McCabe and Phoebe Cross for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about the journey behind Giant Elk, the mythology around the album, and more.
You put out two doubles EPs and the Megabear project before Giant Elk. When did you realize this collection was shaping up to be a full-length record, and what did that affect the way you approached it?
Myles McCabe: It was a real journey with this one. There were times when we were like, “Oh god, it’s taking so long, we’re not gonna have time to finish it.” It kind of put itself together in a way, in the sense that, we have a concept for what the next record is going to be, but it’s a bit of an ambitious one, so we knew that we would have to put something out in the meantime. We looked at re-recording the EPs that I made before Rich and Phoebe were in the band and reinterpreting those songs. I was like, I’ll write something else that fits in with the context of those songs and very much sits within the themes of those records. So ‘Python’ came – I believe that was the first one. But then writing from that position, a couple of more songs came, and then another one and another one, and at that point made more sense for it to be a full-length record. The songs kept on coming, and it got to the point where they were actually pushing the older ones out as well because I was writing songs, bringing them to the band, and we were completing them together. The new songs that were coming were very much in that world, and for me, it began to take the shape of this sort of narrative – but even then, that in my mind is this very amorphous, loose, shifting thing. I don’t know if you could call it a story, exactly, but a narrative certainly.
How much do you still see that narrative as an extension of the mythology of your previous work, and how much do you feel like it’s moving forward from it? Does mythology feel like the right word for it?
MM: I think of it very much as sitting in the same world. I like to think of it in comparison to Discworld, if you’re familiar with Terry Pratchett – the way that you’ve got all these different stories but they take place in the same universe and there’s crossover between them and there are different throughlines as well. I think mythology is a good way of putting it, because you have these perspectives that maybe shift around, or you have characters who appear as one thing and then somewhere else may occupy the same sort of space but arrive in a very different way, and are communicating, in a sort of transrational sense, something outside of that. Someone actually compared Megabear to Finnegans Wake, this book that’s pretty much incomprehensible, but you have, from what I could glean from the introduction, the same few stories that are told over and over again in different ways, using language very differently, using characters that represent the same things each time the story is told, but the characters change, the language changes, the perspective changes, the meaning changes. That’s in a sense how I approach interpreting something like Giant Elk.
Phoebe Cross: Is that what you were reading on tour once?
MM: I definitely brought it with me on one of the shows or festivals or something.
PC: You’re so mysterious, because I’ve never seen you read, but I feel like you read a lot.
MM: [laughs] I certainly like to give that impression.
Is that narrative framework something you discuss as a band?
MM: We actually had a bit of a moment when I tried to discuss what the album was about, and everyone was like, “What are you talking about?”
PC: I was like, “What are you talking about, worms? I’ve interpreted the whole thing wrong!” [laughs]
MM: The way that I like to approach this kind of thing is that everyone’s interpretation is just as valid as anyone else’s, including myself. So I don’t like to be too prescriptive about meaning or interpretation, but when it came to preparing the release, we got a question: So what is the album about? I wrote out this long thing, saying, well, it’s about the worm who’s split in half, but that happens cyclically and infinitely – but they’re not worms, but they’re people, but it’s me, but it’s not me. It was this long explanation of this thing that is very abstract in my own understanding and is really, to me, just an interpretation of what is on the record. It’s something I struggle a little bit with when it comes to this thing of having to define and nail down a meaning, because then I feel like you’re cutting away at all of the other possible interpretations. By saying it means this, you’re saying doesn’t mean that. Also, I have the belief as well that you can write things that you don’t know are in there, so to say it’s about this, I am potentially selling short my own understanding of the piece.
PC: I posted on one of our stories today that it’s not our album anymore, it’s yours. It’s like, “There you go, world, what do you make of this?”
MM: As soon as the vibration leaves the speaker, it’s yours to do with what you will.
Phoebe, how did your own vision or understanding of the record develop over time?
PC: This is the most collaborative we’ve probably ever written together, so it was lovely getting in the rehearsal studio, and depending on what mood I was in, the songs became different. I think the drums speak a lot and give a lot of energy or less energy depending on you know how it’s going that day, so some some of the drumming ideas I had really stuck. Just because the other two were like, “Keep going like that,” it was quite nice to be like, “Alright, I’ll do this drum pattern,” and it can completely change how a song feels. It’s just been lovely watching it grow that way. It really felt like quite an emotional album to be a part of for me.
The opener, ‘Slow Worm’, provides a kind of thesis for the album: “Everything that comes together will eventually divide.” What drew you to that idea, especially as a starting point for Giant Elk?
MM: I think central to it for me is a grief metaphor. A lot of the stuff that I’ve written in the last couple of years has been touched by the fact that I lost my dad in 2020, and coming to an understanding of what grief is. To me, that metaphor of the worm being cut, losing a part of itself but growing into a new creature – everything that comes together will eventually divide, and then divide and divide and divide again, and in that way, multiply and continue and become whole.
PC: I have such an image of cells. I don’t know if it’s because I did a biology degree, but I just realize how much I have that in my head when you’re singing it: the beginning of life, but I suppose also things like cancer, things dividing wrong. It’s life and death, innit?
MM: [referencing a lyric from the song ‘Python’] It’s not life and/or death anymore. But yeah, exactly, that is an image as well that has occurred to me. The idea of evolution as well and dividing out down through generations, splitting and changing and diversifying and becoming this huge breadth of living things.
This idea of a huge mass of living things serving as the narrator was part of what drew me to Giant Elk, and it’s what made ‘Spiders’ stand out as being quite personal, because it doesn’t center around a “we” the way most of the songs here do.
MM: Interestingly, that’s the first song that I ever wrote as ME REX. That one’s really old, and it set the tone, certainly for those early EPs, and by extension for all the recent songs. So in a way, it’s all building into the world of that song.
Do you see it differently now it exists as part of that world?
Yeah, absolutely. If you’re the same person that you were a decade-ish ago, you’re doing something wrong. [laughs] So I almost see that person as a character within this world, and I look at that person with more compassion now and a little bit more understanding than I would have looked at myself at the time when I wrote. I suppose in a way it’s sort of a dialogue with that person, the newer songs.
Do you have any favorite memories of recording the album?
MM: There were definitely times in rehearsal, particularly as it was getting to the crunch where I had not finished writing my part for the songs and we had the dates in and we had to record – I don’t particularly write well under pressure, but playing, for example, ‘Summer Brevis’ together, they both really changed that up. Phoebe, for example, was like, “Let’s just slow it down.”
PC: We slowed it down, did we?
MM: Yeah, we massively slowed it down.
PC: I’ve been having such a Big Thief moment for years now, but I’d watched a lot of [James Krivchenia] lately, and that drum part I really wanted to do.
MM: It just completely landed, and the song took on a completely different character from that point. It makes much more sense as an ending song.
Could you share one thing that inspires you about each other, as musicians or just friends?
MM: I’ve got quite a lot that inspires me about about Phoebe and Rich.
PV: Aw, go ahead. [laughs]
MM: With Phoebe, it’s a very specific kind of optimism and a very genuine positivity, very much seeing the best in people. Rich is kind of the rock of the band. He very much holds us together, and he has such an eye and ear for detail and quality, for things that work and things that could be adjusted. I could go on all night about them.
PC: That’s so sweet. Obviously, Myles, I love your lyrics and musicianship. I was listening to Miles before I was even in a band with him. Whenever a ME REX gig was happening in London, I’d try and get down to it, so I was already a big fan of Myles, and I’m glad he let me be in his band and do all these things for the last – it feels like we’ve been doing this for quite a while now as a full band. But Myles has got this quiet determination about him as well – nothing seems to faze him. Me and Rich are hard-wired to be a bit more nervous and anxious, but Myles is quite a solid – a rock in a different way, you know. I think you need that in a band.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.