Entertainment editor Seán Enda Donnelly interviews Trick Mist on the release of his new album, The Hedge Maze and the Spade, a strikingly surreal mediation on loss, childhood and the future.

Neuroscience suggests memories weave together our past, present, and future. The same brain processes that we use in recollection aid us in future planning by helping us imagine different scenarios; the what-could-have-been’s and what-might-still-be’s. Those experiencing anxiety or depression struggle with a memory impairment that not only affects recall, but also the ability to imagine different outcomes. In times of extreme doubt, that cocktail of brain chemistry can make a dire situation feel hopeless. Grief forces us to reconcile the memories of a person we knew with the reality of their loss, making us question how well we actually knew them. Such was the experience of Trick Mist, whose second full-length album The Hedge Maze and The Spade was composed in response to the death of his 96-year-old grandmother, whom he describes as a ‘key to the past’ in our interview. 

Though his grandmother’s wake served as the catalyst for the album’s construction, Trick Mist’s influences are rooted in the absurdism of Flann O’Brien’s works, chiefly The Third Policeman and An Beal Bocht (‘The Poor Man’), which anchor a darkly comic and surreal sensibility in rural Ireland that is nostalgic on the surface, but possesses a satirical edge underneath; Trick Mist refers to this genre as ‘investigative romanticism.’ It plays out in his conception of the album as a careful balance of the romantic and critical without ever devolving into sentimentality. He tries to understand and explore their relationship through his personal, intimate viewpoint. ‘When she died,’ he relates, ‘I thought I need to continue the exploration and figure out what lessons can I take from our experience together and how can I implement them into my future.’ If the album’s past is rooted sometime in the 1990s, a time that is much further ago than you may think, then the present is rooted in Irish society circa the COVID-19 pandemic. A time where, Trick Mist opines, ‘capitalism came to a halt and people had space to think.’ The pandemic was a reminder of humanity’s fragility, and with the spectre of the climate crisis heavy on the artist’s mind, he sought to ask hard questions of himself and the future that we all share.

This sentiment defines an album that looks forward as much as it looks back, crossing the hazy border between reality and imagination experienced by a mind in grief. The journey is inward, the path uncertain. The only way is through, a trek that Trick Mist likens to a train departing from ‘that boring station junction‘ in his haunting song The Junction. A train junction is a liminal space, a place designed to be left behind, but for what? For Trick Mist, it is an on-rails journey dictated by a nameless conductor ‘at the front of the train.’ Just as Trick Mist explores his loss, the nameless musician braves his way to the frontmost carriage to ‘see where this is going.’ 

But to find out where we’re going we must first look at where we’ve been. Trick Mist is no stranger to Motley Magazine. As an artist he wears many hats: songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. Trick Mist commenced in 2014, which he describes as a period of flux for bands; members dropped out to either go solo (as he did), emigrate, or both. He describes himself as primarily a singer, but one who is, ‘willing to try my hand at anything. In particular his drive towards singing and composition played into the album’s construction. The album’s conception originated in a twenty-minute free-flow writing session following his grandmother’s wake. The lyrics were written first, before being expanded across two years into the present album. One question motivated him throughout it all: ‘what does this song need musically?’ With each song, Trick Mist sought to stimulate the listener with ‘charged music’ and ’emotional triggers‘ to whisk them to a landscape that – depending on the song – could be realistic or imaginary. Trick Mist describes this dichotomy as a choice between ‘capturing‘ or ‘fabrication.’ It’s the difference between the sincere and the staged, human and virtual, a single take versus a meticulous, laboured edit. 

Just as this album blurs past and future, Trick Mist blurs traditional Irish and folk with experimental electronics to create an ambient, meditative space with a tinge of the familiar amidst the strange. The Hedge Maze and The Spade continues this style, an album where ‘oddity and accessibility‘ exist in harmony. Flag Bearer and The Junction also exist in a unity of opposites: remembrance and foresight. The former song is poetic yet visceral, in the same way that a ‘particular musty smell’ hitting one’s nose is. Flag Bearer details the decline of those we love and the flood of memories that it inspires, all the ‘small talk/And the tea and the same utensils.’ Trick Mist is not simply a lyricist, but a storyteller. His songs engage our senses and root us in a specific time and space. As the narrator reflects on their love for the person they’ve lost, they take time to notice, ‘that coving on the ceiling’ or how ‘squeaky wheels rolled on forgotten pretty tiled floor.’ The Junction opens with the warm friendliness of ‘a fried egg in the cupboard for ya,’ its tinge of nostalgia grounding us in the familiar, the accessible, the modern, even as we deal with the weight of bereavement. That ‘threshold‘ between life and death, between numb certainty and harsh uncertainty, is a border that is crossed each and every day. Maybe you too have lost somebody close recently. As Trick Mist pushes at those borders in The Hedge Maze and The Spade, he creates a cathartic space for himself to exist after suffering loss. In this, the second album of an intense yet comforting artist, he invites you to join him.

The Hedge Maze and The Spade releases on 23/09/22 via Pizza Pizza Records. To celebrate its release, Trick Mist will be touring from 7th October until 23rd October in the UK and Ireland. Tickets and locations can be found via Trick Mist’s Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/trickmist/) and Linktree (https://linktr.ee/trickmist).