Name: Nylenda
Members: Øivind Hatleskog (vocals, organ, Mellotron, analog synths), Sigbjørn Håland (analog synths, drum machine, guitar, Danelectro Babysitar), John Olav Håland (bass)
Interviewee: Øivind Hatleskog
Nationality: Norwegian
Recent release: Nylenda's single “Slowly Backwards/Skurkebass" is out via Skurkebass.

Tool of Creation:  Mellotron
Type of Tool: Electro-mechanical proto-sampling instrument
Designed by: Bradmatic/Mellotronics
Country of origin: Britain

If you enjoyed this interview with Nylenda's Øivind Hatleskog about the Melltron and would like to find out more, visit the band's official website. They're also on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.

What was your first encounter with the Mellotron?

I think the first time was as a teenager listening to OK Computer. In the refrain of “Exit Music for a Film” there is a choir part played on the Mellotron.

The choir sound in a Mellotron has such a haunting and alluring character, and at the same time being really robotic and unnatural because of how the sung notes abruptly starts and ends. I don’t think I knew at the time that the sound was a Mellotron, but it was a sound impossible to not notice.

I really love the choir patches in a Mellotron but it’s almost impossible to use in a new context because it’s such a specific sound.

Just like any other piece of equipment, the Mellotron has a rich history. Are you interested in it? And if so, what are some of the key points from this history for you personally?

The whole story about how the original creator Harry Chamberlin was ripped off by his own salesman that sold the patent off and made his own company is next level scheming. I won’t bore the readers with history details, but it’s worth to read up on.

Another interesting part is how the Chamberlin and Mellotron differ in sound. The Mellotron took the Chamberlin patent, but by technical reasons I don’t know, the Mellotrons recordings ended up losing a lot of the fidelity in the sound. The Chamberlin recordings were way more crispy.

But that’s what makes the Mellotron sound so good. It has a such a mellow and warm character.

What, to you, are some of the most interesting recordings made with the Mellotron?

Mellotron Variations is definitely an interesting recording from recent years. It’s an album released in 2019 from a group with the same name, containing only sounds from the Mellotron(!).

There are of course a lot of amazing classic recordings where the Mellotron has an integral part in the sound. In the court of the crimson king by King Crimson,

“Watcher of the skies” by Genesis,

and Pheadra by Tangerine Dream are some of my personal favorites.

For a more contemporary example I would definitely mention “Ya love”, one of my favorite songs by King Gizzard, that has a Beatles-esque Mellotron flute in the verses.

In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I don’t try to adhere to certain genres or traditions when making music. At the same time my mind is mostly in the musical past, and I’m really drawn into sounds and electronic music from past eras.

I really resonate with early electronic music from the 70s with bands like Harmonia, Ashra, and Tangerine Dream. And lately I've also be drawn into ambient electronic music from the 90s with artist as MLO and David Moufang (Move D) and Pete Namlook (apparently a lot of German bands!).

[Read our Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Harmonia interview]
[Read our Hans Joachim Roedelius interview about Ego as an Energy]
[Read our Hans Joachim Roedelius interview about Collaboration]
[Read our Michael Rother of Harmonia interview]
[Read our Michael Rother interview about improvisation]
[Read our Tangerine Dream interview]
[Read our Tangerine Dream interview about Improvisation, Collaboration and Speculation]
[Read our Steve Jolliffe of Tangerine Dream interview]
[Read our Paul Haslinger of Tangerine Dream interview]

Because my musical preferences are from the past, I usually go after those “traditional” sounds, but I’m not dogmatic about it.

What interests you about the Mellotron in terms of it contributing to your creative ideals?

Using a Mellotron is like an auditory time travel. You are instantly put decades back in time, listening to music played back on a wonky tape. It has such a distinct sound and feeling. That’s why I really have to hold back on using it. It almost has too much character, and can take too much attention in the soundscape.

I mostly try to use Mellotron sounds as an interesting texture or drops of acoustic elements in a mostly electronic sound. It’s really cool to mix in the vintage sounds of the Mellotron with spaced out synths and a dancey drum-beat.

What are some of the stand-out features from your point of view?

It has to be the distinctive sound, it’s limitations, vibe and ease of use. It also has a lo-fi texture that blends really well with other electronic elements.

Prior to using it for the first time, how did you acquaint yourself with the Mellotron? Will you usually consult a manual before starting to work with a new device – and what was that like for the Mellotron?

I actually quite enjoy reading manuals for music gear. I had my first eureka moment with synthesis reading the manual for an arp 2600 front to back (without owning an actual 2600, hehe).

With the Mellotron a manual isn’t really necessary because the concept and design is so easy. It’s essentially a sampler that plays back a recorded note without much means of manipulating the sound source.

Tell me a bit about the interface of the Mellotron – what does playing it feel like, what do you enjoy about it, compared to some of your other instruments?

It’s really easy laid out. You choose an instrument, and you play it with the keyboard – instant nostalgia.

You’re basically using a keyboard to press play on a tape deck, and when you release the key, the playback stops. With synths I enjoy the process of sound design, and the manipulation of the sounds – I can easily get lost for hours in sound design, and forgetting to actually “make music”. With the Mellotron it’s a way more immediate process.

One of the staple features of the Mellotron is the blend function. You always have two instruments that you can blend and crossfade between them. Some of my favorites are blending vibraphone with harpsichord, and “3 strings” mixed in with “brass” lets you get that 70s prog texture.   

There’s also the pitch knob that I probably use to much – wiggle away to make the Mellotron sound even more old and broken. (laughs)

How would you describe the sonic potential of the Mellotron?

It’s really limited in some ways. You only got the instruments sampled to the Mellotron (even though the digital version has a lot more instruments available than the old ones that used real physical tapes). But the limitations are what makes it unique and keeps it being inspiring to use.

I easily fall into the habit of using the same sounds on the Mellotron (the usual suspects being flute and strings) but I try to force myself to use new sounds, especially in the studio.

For Nylendas latest single “Skurkebass” I used the alt saxophone and bass clarinette on the Mellotrone for a lead line. By themselves they sound kind of cheesy, but in context of the mix they really fit.

I also almost always use effects with the Mellotron to expand the sonic potential. Combining it with spiraling delays and splashy reverb always leads to psychedelic and inspiring results.

In which way does the Mellotron influence musical results and what kind of compositions does it encourage / foster?

Because of the actual length of the tape that was in the analog Mellotrons, each sample or played note can only last for up to 8 seconds. That takes some time getting used to when you’re playing. But the limitiation on note length really influence what kind of compositions you can make on the instrument. It forces you to create lines of music that keeps moving.  

More generally, how do you see the relationship between your instruments and the music you make?

In my experience gear/instruments and music making go hand in hand. The instruments play a big part in music making for me. Not just in the sounds you can produce, but how you interact and connect with an instrument, especially with synths and an instrument like the Mellotron.

Each instrument has their own strengths, limitations and unique character which inspires you in different ways, sparks different ideas and influence what kind of music you end up making.

Could you describe working with the Mellotron on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

For Nylendas next album there is a song that used the Mellotron extensively. I guess it’s almost 20 Mellotron tracks slowly cascading and pitch-gliding into a cacophony until resolving into a chord. I love that quirky part, and grinned all the way through playing it.

How does the Mellotron interact with some of the other tools in your studio?

The Mellotron brings a whole other pallet of timbre and textures to the table when comparing to the rest of the gear in Nylenda's studio. Synths, electric bass and drum machines usually forms the fundament of our songs, and a lot of the synths and drums are sequenced and looped.

I have a digital Mellotron, so it can of course be triggered and sequenced by midi, but I’ve never used it that way. I always play it by hand and use it to bring in a more warm and organic texture to the rest of the mix.

Are there other artists working with the Mellotron whose work you find inspiring? What do you appreciate about their take on it?

Last year I had the pleasure of seeing Motorpsycho live, featuring the amazing Reine Fiske from Dungen and two Mellotrons on stage.

Both Fiske and Snah from Motorpsycho were using the Mellotrons together with tape echoes to make some wild psychedelic sounds. Really inspiring seeing someone take the mellow sounds of the Mellotron, and using them to produce a noisy spaced out jam.