Marion Belle Shares Background to the MELT EP and Discusses Working with Late Artist and Producer Sam Mehran
Slightly over a year since the untimely passing of artist/producer Sam Mehran, label Total Decay is releasing Marion Belle and Sam Mehran Present: MELT . As the full title indicates, the creative team behind the five-track EP consists of Mehran and Belle, both of whom had established formidable track records independently before joining forces in the project that would eventually create the tour de force MELT.
Although WMF unfortunately never had the opportunity to meet Sam Mehran, we were familiar with his prestigious musical CV, which boasted not only co-founding Test Icicles, but also stellar production work with Maraschino and SSION (including the “At Least the Sky Is Blue” collaboration with Ariel Pink), among others. We have, on the other hand, had the pleasure of touching base with L.A. underground mainstay Marion Belle (known to many through his work under moniker Fatal Jamz) in the past, and were grateful that we were able to speak with him about the MELT EP in an effort to gain insight into this important and emotion-laden creative endeavor. Marion graciously provided a backdrop to MELT’s origins and process in the following conversation, which we are honored to share here.
Bobby Weirdo: Looking at the conception, recording, and release of this EP, it strikes me that the entire journey took place quickly. You and Sam only really met each other in 2018, the same year he died, and everything that led to this EP happened in-between those two events. Going back to more or less the beginning, you met at a rehearsal space here in L.A., if I understand correctly. Was that Bedrock?
Marion Belle: I had a lockout at a place called Black Diamond in Lincoln Heights, by Footsie’s.
BW: How would you describe the trajectory of meeting someone, brainstorming an idea for a project, then writing and recording the project, and Sam was even mixing some of it…
MB: Yeah, he was.
BW: And then Sam passed away, so he’s with you in a spiritual way, but from that point on of the journey, you’ve experienced this project without him. You’ve dealt with the passing of a collaborator, a friend, and a project you probably thought was in its infancy and only starting to happen.
So it’s a big question, but what has this journey meant to you?
MB: It was about meeting someone new who believed in me and who inspired me in so many new ways — someone I fell in love with. We both just loved pop culture and we’re kind of obsessed with making something really sick and fun. We created our own sound that is just pure to who we are deep down. We were going to make a lot of records together [and] I was already sending him demos for the next round.
BW: Without presuming to have personal insight into your creative partnership with Sam, it would seem likely that there was not a neat or logical arc to this project, and that its end was as unexpected and sudden as Sam’s passing.
MB: We just started creating again like we were kids. But at the same time we were looking at each other like, this is already classic, like Sugar Ray! It quickly evolved from this fuck it/mixtape mentality to “We’re making huge American hits.” We were driving to the studio and he asked me “Would you sign a major label deal?” There was a pause, and he was looking at me about to crack up and I said, “fuck yeah.” And he lost it and started slapping the dashboard. We were driving by the fountain on Riverside that day.
The weekend before he died, he was putting together a monster mixing station. I drove him all over the Valley to pick up different pieces of gear — NS-10 speakers, Orolex speakers. We had a beautiful day. The guy he bought the speakers off of…we were at his house in Sherman Oaks for like an hour. When he walked us to the car he was like, “What do you guys do?” I pointed to Sam and was like, “This guy is a rock ‘n’ roll legend.” Sam said, “I’m a producer.” That Sunday was the last day I was with him.
We were getting really close. In my room, I’d printed all these pictures up as a mood board for this record, and I’d basically shifted all my career ambitions into this [project], and Fatal Jamz was on hold. But then that shifted too, and the career stuff didn’t really matter. I couldn’t take those pictures down for some reason until recently.
BW: First and foremost – before the music – you were dealing with the loss of a friend and collaborator. Did you think that this music would ever come out? How did you get to the point of thinking it could or should come out? Did you ever think it would be inappropriate to share it?
MB: For months I didn’t want to face [the tracks], so I stepped away emotionally. But I did get a lot of people who he had played it to telling me “You have to finish this.”
[Because of] that encouragement, and honestly, because Sam’s music on these songs [is] just so dope…to me it’s some of the best and most unique pop production I’ve ever heard. It somehow manages to be joyful and contain that devilishness that great rock ‘n’ roll is made of. So I knew at some point I would find the spirit to get it heard.
BW: What is the breakdown of what we hear on the EP – who sang, who played what…were those contributions distinct?
MB: Sam is playing every note, and I’m singing. I brought in some of the songs on acoustic, and he just took them and ran. He was about to take over the game and I’m going to rep for him forever because he was the one.
Catch the stage debut of MELT Friday, August 23 at Vocal Warehouse. Also on the bill: Kitten, Cowgirl Clue, Princess Gollum, and more.
Cover photo: Cameron Murray for WMF