South-London-based 6-piece Tapir! have today shared the video for ‘My God’ and announced details of the release of their album, The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain, which is out on Friday 26th January 2024 on Heavenly Recordings.
Produced and engineered by Hywel Pryer and Honeyglaze’s drummer Yuri Shibuichi and citing a host of artists from Eiko Ishibashi to Jim O’Rourke as discrete inspirations, ‘My God’ hints at far-out fantasies; tickling the fringes of doledrum day-to-day and is the first track to be taken from the Act III EP, the final of the three acts which make up their debut album.
The stirring chorus of ‘My God’ – ‘But don’t let it break you/There’s no complication/It’s your imagination that you’ve found again’ – ultimately sums up vocalist / guitarist Ike Gray’s guiding principles from the band’s art collective, My Life is Big to Tapir! and beyond: this all-inclusive insistence that ‘just because you’re not technically amazing at something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.’
As with the previous acts, ‘My God’ continues to tell the tale of ‘The Pilgrim’ and acts as a prologue to the tale – The Pilgrim learning the history of their land, in which the cracking of a gigantic mysterious egg led to the yolk-soaked desolation of the landscape.
However, the song also feels like an alternative conclusion: as if the narrator and listener are waking from a dream into an even stranger reality loaded with commercial branding and gadgetry (Hugo Boss, Maybelline, a £2000 laptop) after our travels in and out of the Nether.
Talking about the track, Ike said:
Written during lockdown, ‘My God’ intends to promote persistence to carry on even when the world feels rotten. Whilst it highlights issues in the world such as commercialism, natural & man-made disasters it isn’t intended to be a criticism of religion but more so an open conversation about faith – whatever that may be for an individual. At the end of the day, we all have something we believe in to help us push through.
The track is also accompanied by a beautiful mixed-media video directed by Los Angeles based artist collective ‘Everything Is Terrible’’ which visually tells the tale behind the song with a mixture of found footage and playful Claymation.
‘From atop a green hill, The Pilgrim did hear a call from the distance. Their people are near. Towards the tall mound The Pilgrim must set, carrying only this sack, into the Nether…’
And so begins Act I of Tapir!’s debut album, The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain, a multiform record that owes as much to folk art and folklore as it does to alt-folk experimentation.
The South London six-piece – Ike Gray (vocals/guitar), Will McCrossan (keys/drum machine), Tom Rogers-Coltman (guitar/saxophone), Ronnie Longfellow (bass), Emily Hubbard (cornet/synth) and Wilf Cartwright (drums/cello) – describe Tapir! as a ‘boiling together’ of different mediums: at once musical, theatrical, mythological, artistic, collaborative, narrative-led and, above all, something to be enjoyed and shared.
The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain follows a three-act structure – released by Heavenly Recordings as three four-track EPs – telling the story of a solitary traveller, an ambiguous red creature known as The Pilgrim, on a journey across a mythical landscape of eerie forests, stormy seas and unholy mountains populated by beasts, injured birds and idealised eidolons. A fantastical offbeat fable carried along by Gray’s crisp, heartfelt vocals and the band’s instinctive, idiosyncratic melodies, the project at times feels like the musical equivalent of the paintings of Henry Darger, Henri Rousseau or Philip Guston.
Gray and McCrossan formed Tapir! in 2019 and after playing just one show at their beloved George Tavern, East London, the UK soon went into lockdown, forcing them to continue the project online, developing songs that combined off-kilter acoustic guitar and Randy Newman-esque storytelling with the reliable propulsion of their Elektron drum machine.
What was to become the world and storyline of The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain would be pieced together gradually over the next year or with help from the art collective My Life is Big. Similarly the band would slowly recruit more members – and more and more friends to help build The Pilgrim’s world, its costumes and its sets – as the national lockdown lifted.
The collective, collaborative ethos of Tapir! stems in no small part from the inclusive, non-judgemental, anything-goes spirit of the George Tavern. A Grade II-listed pub and grassroots venue owned by artist Pauline Forster in a remote corner of Shadwell, the George has a long history of providing a home for theatrical and musical experimentation. Steered since 2019 by the tireless, open-minded vision of booker, venue manager and friend of the band Francis Albrecht, the George is now positively thriving in defiance of repeated threats of closure over the past decade, with ‘different arts springing out of it,’ says Gray.
When Honeyglaze drummer Yuri Shibuichi saw Tapir! live at the venue, he encouraged them to record their songs, and the band stress it was his enthusiasm (soon coupled with the increased attention after they won a place on the Green Man Rising stage in 2022) that led them to take the project more seriously. Without Yuri, The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain might never have come to fruition. Shibuichi’s playful, carefree production (always urging the band not to overthink) perfectly suits Tapir!’s unassuming, handmade, DIY nature.
Nonetheless, the LP hangs together like a strange but familiar fairy-tale. Each of the three acts opens with Little Wings’ Kyle Field – another influence turned collaborator – narrating a few lines of The Pilgrim’s story in his warm Californian burr over field recordings and atmospheric instrumental passages. Over the course of the LP’s forty-five minutes, melodic motifs reappear like a trail of twinkling breadcrumbs, while lyrically the simple tale – essentially ‘just a journey up to the top of a hill,’ albeit with a death, a storm and shipwreck along the way – centres on themes of ideology, idolatry, and what Gray calls ‘the fine line between belief and conspiracy.’
With The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain, Tapir! have proven they are more than technically adept at transporting the listener to another realm. You could read the whole album as being an escape from the trappings of the modern material world, a sidestep into a pre-industrial, pre-internet wonderland where creativity and community reign supreme. The narrator of ‘My God’ might suggest to us ‘Maybe it was Maybelline that put you at a loss/That’s my God’, but for Tapir! it is imagination itself that is king.