Every so often an album comes along that immediately captures the imagination of seemingly everyone who hears it. That’s been the case with A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone (Paper Bag Records), the debut release by the artist known as Mappe Of. Even before its official arrival on July 28, the record was earning widespread praise for its ethereal songcraft and blending of unusual instrumentation into an overall sound best described as “avant-folk.”
It’s all the brainchild of Tom Meikle, a native of Whitby, Ontario, who up until now has been a member of the art-rock band Common Age, as well as spending significant time busking in Australia. A spirit of adventure is certainly the basis of A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone, as Meikle ostensibly threw the rule book out the window in order to create music he’s described as being grounded in reality while simultaneously feeling like it’s from somewhere else.
Recording in virtual isolation also helped establish the proper vibes. Collaborating only with Amelia Fraser who contributed violin, flute and various other instruments, tracks were laid down during covert, late-night sessions in a studio belonging to a notable college’s recording arts program. Fortunately, the bulk of the work was completed before the administration found out.
Now, having recently performed live for the first time as Mappe Of, Meikle has to start dealing with the fact that his secrets are being revealed. But for listeners willing to immerse themselves in A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone, its songs will surely never fully shed their enigmatic qualities.
Most people are just getting introduced to you now. How do you describe the evolution of Mappe Of?
The project really started to take shape after I began to approach songwriting from a lyrical perspective. Up until that point, the focus had been guitar riffs, flurries of notes and exploring the technical side of musicianship. Once I started to experiment with lyricism and become more comfortable with the idea of singing those songs, everything felt like it was guiding me in this particular direction, one where songwriting could combine with the knowledge I had from technical/theoretical pursuits and experimenting with technology. With that came the manipulation of acoustic sounds, which became a key element of the creative process and opened a lot of doors for me. As the songs came, pieces began to fall into place and become more cohesive, and I felt compelled to this challenge of making a full-length record.
The album is being warmly received. That must be very satisfying, since it seems this was a very solitary project, yes?
The genesis of a lot of the music on the record was solitary for the most part, but a handful of people close to me played a key role in getting it made, whether through encouragement, suggestions or technical assistance. As far as the reception, it is heartwarming. In making it, I had no expectations other than the hope that it would provide an experience for someone that could leave a mark. It seems to have done that already for a handful of people, and for that I'm so grateful.
You're also in the band Common Age. What drew you to making more of a singer/songwriter record?
Common Age is a group of my closest friends who are also incredible creative minds and very talented musicians. We've been playing together for a few years now in various projects. I had been writing music on my own in the Mappe Of vein even prior to that, and they all understood that it was a compelling experiment for me, to create this self-contained and self-produced piece of music, to see it through more or less on my own and challenge all aspects of my creativity. There are certain subjects or influences you understand don't work in a specific creative chemistry, and sometimes you need a place to put them.
You also spent some time busking. What did you gain from those experiences, and did that make it into songs on the album?
I busked for a few months in Australia during a backpacking trip. It provided me with a venue in which I could try anything—within the confines of a voice and acoustic guitar—in front of a completely unbiased audience. They either stay, or they go, but it's always about the ones that stay. Prior to that experience I hadn't sung in public without being horrified or so nervous I could hardly stand, so it put my feet to the flames in that regard. Most of the record was written after that, but it made a substantial difference in my confidence level.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
When I was 12 years old, my elementary school friends and I were in a metal band. We rehearsed in our singer/screamer/growler's basement, on a collection of pointy metal guitars and terrible sounding drum kits. In all of our experimental glory, we featured a classic 80's Casio keyboard—the one in your grandparents' basement—in one of our more black metal influenced songs. We showed up to the venue called The Dungeon (R.I.P.) to a crowd of reluctant parents and the seven other bands we were playing with. We had to sell tickets for the show, and we didn't sell enough--obviously, we were 12—so our parents had to buy up the remainder. Minutes before our set, I realized we didn't have a keyboard stand for the Casio... so I had to learn the keyboard part on guitar in a frenzy. Needless to say, the show was flawless and we're currently enjoying retirement from the millions we made from our hit tune, “Mask of the Dead.” [Laughs]