Interview with... Mylo: The musician and record producer looks back

The musician and record producer recalls uni life

Wednesday 18 August 2010 00:00

He spent a year at The University of Edinburgh, three at Oxford, and another at University of California, Los Angeles. SSG speaks to Mylo about student life, Alan Bennett, and “the suppurating evil” that lies beneath Los Angeles

SSG: You were a student at Brasenose College, Oxford. That’s very clever.

Mylo: I went to my local high school on the Isle of Skye, and then went on a scholarship to a big school in Edinburgh. I did six Highers in the first year there and then five SYSs (Scottish A-levels), which were chemistry and four doses of maths. I found myself in a small group of hardcore maths geeks, most of whom were going to Oxbridge. It was a bit like Alan Bennett’s History Boys, minus the homosexuality.

I’ve never been any good at forward planning. I left school with no university place. I wanted to lay bricks in Australia, but I was too young. My 17th birthday was during my final school exams, so I couldn't get a visa. I started at Edinburgh Uni instead. They put me straight into second-year maths lectures. I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I went out a lot and lived in chaos. [He lasted a year.]

I then applied to study maths and philosophy at Oxford and submitted an open application, which means you’re randomly allocated a college. I didn’t think my interview had gone well and I

was surprised to get a place. I ended up at Brasenose. I underestimated the extent to which the colleges have their own personality. I suspect I would have been better off somewhere else. Brasenose is quite conservative, big on rowing and rugby – neither of which I did. Its most famous ex-student is old gammon-face himself, David Cameron.

My maths tutor was very understanding when I decided I’d had enough of maths and wanted to do psychology instead.

SSG: How did Oxford compare to Edinburgh?

Mylo: I had two or occasionally three essays a week, as opposed to the one or two a term I was used to in Edinburgh. The accommodation story probably wasn’t that different to any other uni, though. In the first year, I was in a hellish concrete room hidden away behind the old buildings in Brasenose. In the second and third years, I shared houses away from college. The Oxbridge focus on sports and traditions almost passed me by – although I played for the football team. I also played the drums in a production of Cabaret, the musical. I was never in the college bar.

SSG: How focused were you |on your studies?

Mylo: Only to the extent that I was hopeless at getting involved in other things. I decided I couldn’t afford to join the Oxford Union. I didn’t even do student newspaper stuff, which I massively regretted later when I was trying to get jobs in journalism.

I suffered mild hearing loss from a viral infection just before arriving at Oxford, so, on my doctor’s advice, I stayed away from music. I didn’t get into production or DJing until later. I didn’t really have goals. I assumed I would end up a mildly depressed academic.

SSG: You also did a PhD in Philosophy, tell us about that

Mylo: I only did one year. I’m still officially on a leave of absence from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Being in LA was great, if quite surreal. I spent most of my time in the car listening to the Eagles. I was only there long enough to get to know the superficialities of the city, and a vague sense of the suppurating evil that lies beneath.

SSG: What did you miss most about home?

Mylo: I was living out of a backpack from the age of 15, so I never accumulated some of the junk I would have needed to get into music – like an Atari computer and an Akai sampler. I didn’t get any music gear until I was about 23.

I’ve always found Americans to be really odd. I feel much more at home in Europe. And I missed the dreary misery of Britain. Also there was quite a dark political shift going on in the US at that time. Bush Jr “won” the election a couple of months after I got there. I was shocked that some of my classmates intended to vote for him. They were educated, but they were Christians – which apparently equates to an obligation to vote for the “god-fearing Republican party”

I don’t think that I could have voluntarily lived there through the last administration, looking at everything they did.

SSG: How was the whole uni experience for you?

Mylo: It was definitely good. I got interested in my subject and found it really addictive. And I was probably less of a screw-up when I left than when I started. Uni functions as a breathing space between horrifically awkward teenage years and the rest of your life.

If I had to do it again, there’s no way that I would consider not going to uni. I ended up doing something unrelated to my subject, but I don’t think that I would have had the confidence to do music at all if I hadn’t been to uni.

SSG: How did you move into music?

Mylo: When I left UCLA in 2001, I moved to Glasgow because my old friends and my brother were there. It’s a brilliant place to live, and cheap. I got work as a journalist at BBC Scotland, and bought an iMac with my first pay cheque.

It was a great time to get into electronic music. After the excessive amounts of bad house music over the millennium, there was a crash and a rebirth, with what became known as electroclash. But my favourite albums from around that time weren’t at all that sound. I was into The Avalanches’ Since I Left You and Röyksopp’s first album.

I don’t think that my studies fed into my music – although I did use a few slightly freaky American speech samples in my first record, which was probably triggered by my experiences in the US.

SSG: What’s on the horizon?

Mylo: I’m looking forward to Bestival [in September]. Rob da Bank [the man behind Bestival] is a genius at throwing parties .And it looks like I’m going back to Japan for Fuji Rock, where I haven't been since 2005.And I hope to finally get an album or maybe a double album out later in the year.

SSG: If you could offer your 17-year-old self some advice, what would it be?

Mylo: Cheer up, I suppose.

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