- Words Yazzi Gokcemen
Maimuna Memon's debut EP 'More Than I Bargained For' is deeply personal, but the narrative is resonating.
Before releasing the EP More Than I Bargained For, Maimuna Memon was better known for her theatre work. Acting and writing songs and lyrics for plays won the 31-year-old critical acclaim – including a nomination for the prestigious Olivier Award – but her dream has always been to unite theatre with music, her two greatest passions. Through this short yet thematically expansive four-track project, Maimuna has achieved exactly this. The EP forms the basis of her Fringe First Award-winning play, ‘Manic Street Creature’, now showing until November 11th at Southwark Playhouse.
Listening to More Than I Bargained For, it’s easy to see how it could be transformed into a theatre production. From the first song ‘Sinner’, which explores family heritage and religious guilt, to the finale ‘Father of Mine’, about codependency and unlearning inherited ideas, there is a clear and poignant narrative. Maimuna Memon wrote the songs during lockdown – sitting with her guitar every day whilst reflecting on the ebbs and flows of her mental health was a ‘form of therapy’.
Maimuna’s storytelling prowess, soul-stirring vocals and lyrical intelligence come to life on stage. Those lucky enough to have scored tickets to her play (where she sings the first three tracks of the EP) can vouch for this. It’s musical theatre, but not as we know it.
Hi Maimuna! Congrats on your ‘More Than I Bargained For’ EP. How does it feel to have it out in the world?
Thank you! I feel so happy that the EP has finally been released into the world. It has been a long time in the making. I know it is only four tracks but I have spent a long time harnessing my sound and wanting it to feel true to me. I feel that my EP truly reflects who I am as an artist and a songwriter.
What genres and sounds did you incorporate into the project?
Folk, soul, indie-pop. Myself, my manager and the producers I have worked with on this EP have spent a long time distilling my sound. I feel like we have managed to achieve an exciting balance between the organic and synthetic. Lots of guitar, piano and strings in combination with sub, synths and electric guitars. I also really love bringing my heritage into my music (I’m half Pakistani and half Irish), so I use the harmonium in almost every track. I love it as a sound because it feels like it relates to both sides of my culture.
Thematically, the project covers so much – from both optimism and intimacy issues in new relationships, to grappling with familial relationships and self-forgiveness. What was your starting point for writing it, and how did it evolve from there?
I have always written from personal experience. We are all a little bit messed up, and what better way to express and process that than through music? Music has always been a great form of therapy for me, a way to release my emotions. I spent a lot of time over lockdown trying to process a lot of feelings, unpack things I hadn’t had time to think about before, and with that, the music just poured out of me. If I’m honest, I’m not sure there was ever a starting point, at least not one that I am acutely aware of. It was more sitting down on a daily basis with my guitar and writing down whatever came out. A little later on I came back to the songs and spent more time finessing them in the studio with Charlie Andrew, Jonathan Quarmby and Neil Comber (my producers). I played a lot of songs to them and we made a collective decision on which tracks to put on this EP. What was most important to me was that this EP spoke of who I am, warts and all, and I think it does that.
Do any of the tracks feel particularly vulnerable for you to put out?
All of my tracks are very personal but ‘Father Of Mine’ in particular is my most vulnerable (for obvious reasons). Writing it was painful but also cathartic.
How do you hope people will receive it? Do you want them to relate?
I really hope people can relate to my music. All of my songs are little stories and I hope it can bring people a sense of comfort, release or joy. The best thing about music is getting to share it with people.
Which taught you the most whilst writing it?
Oh gosh, I feel like every single song taught me a hell of a lot. Again, ‘Father Of Mine’ is definitely the most personal, and writing the lyrics for it was very eye-opening for me.
How would you describe the project’s visual world?
For the artwork, we worked with an incredible photographer and artist called Charlotte Patmore. The scrapbook-esque world of the artwork was something that came organically, but I love how it relates to the idea of childhood and fragmented memories. How we take little parts of seminal moments with us and use them to inform future decisions. The vibrancy of colour felt very important too. As an artist, I love bright colours.
With three of the project’s songs providing key moments in your new show ‘Manic Street Creature’, how does it feel to be bringing your stage performance and your recording music into the same world?
It feels like the perfect marriage. For me theatre and music have always played equally important roles in my life, and now I am lucky enough to get to celebrate them both in one place. I think so often people think of ‘musical theatre’ as jazz hands and high kicks, but for me, I am really passionate about bringing my music on to the stage and inviting a new audience to the theatre. Music theatre can be whatever you want it to be, including a show like ‘Manic Street Creature’ which is essentially a concept album on stage. I have always wanted to try and tie in the music industry and theatre world, and with ‘Manic’ I have loved bringing songs you might hear on record to the stage.
For those who don’t know, what story does ‘Manic Street Creature’ tell?
‘Manic Street Creature’ is a love story. It’s about two musicians and their struggle to look after their own and each other’s mental health, it’s about our relationship to mental health care and why we are drawn to certain people, and it’s about learning to look after yourself, all encapsulated within the framework of the making of an album.
How does it intersect with the EP’s themes?
Before I knew I wanted to write ‘Manic Street Creature’, I knew I wanted to talk about themes of mental health care, family and love through music. The songs on this EP came before I wrote the show and they were my inspiration to write more.
Growing up, did you always want to be a performer?
Yes. I tried to be a lawyer. My body and heart would not let me. Being able to share experiences with a live audience is the best thing in the world, I have loved being on the stage since I was tiny. I love how every performance is unique, how every night is different, how every audience is different. I love that connection, I love how for a moment in time live performance can transcend what is going on outside.
How have you found navigating the industry since then?
Regardless of whatever artistic field you are in, it is tough. Art is so subjective and when you are putting your own personal work out there it is hard to not feel vulnerable. But I also have had such incredible support and love from so many people in this industry, who have believed in my work, helped me to grow and pushed me forward. It is a graft, but that has made me even more grateful for the opportunities I have been given.
What advice would you give to your younger self, or to anyone else looking to pursue an eclectic career like your own?
Write your own story. Challenge yourself. Work hard. And be kind to yourself and others.
What’s next for you?
A holiday. Then, more music releases, and writing my next show! I am hoping to release the live album of ‘Manic Street Creature’ soon. I would also love to adapt it for television.