Prelude to Ecstasy

Prelude to Ecstasy

“We weren’t really expecting it at such a rate,” The Last Dinner Party’s guitarist and vocalist Lizzie Mayland tells Apple Music of the band’s rise, the story of which is well known by now. After forming in London in 2021, the five-piece’s effervescent live shows garnered an if-you-know-you-know kind of buzz, which went into overdrive when they released their stomping, euphoric debut single “Nothing Matters” in April 2023. All of which might have put a remarkable amount of pressure on them while making their debut record (not least given the band ended 2024 by winning the BRITs Rising Star Award then topped the BBC’s new-talent poll, Sound of 2024, in January). But The Last Dinner Party had written, recorded and finished Prelude to Ecstasy three months before anyone had even heard “Nothing Matters.” It meant, says lead singer Abigail Morris, that they “just had a really nice time” making it. “It is a painful record in some ways and it explores dark themes,” she adds, “but making it was just really fun, rewarding, and wholesome.” Produced by James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence + the Machine, Jessie Ware), who Morris calls “the dream producer,” Prelude to Ecstasy is rooted in those hype-inducing live shows, its tracklist a reflection of the band’s frequent set list and its songs shaped and grown by playing them on stage. “We wanted to capture the live feels in the songs,” notes Morris. “That’s the whole point.” Featuring towering vocals, thrilling guitar solos, orchestral instrumentation, and a daring, do-it-all spirit, the album sounds like five band members having an intense amount of fun as they explore an intense set of emotions and experiences with unbridled expression and feeling. These songs—which expand and then shrink and then soar—navigate sexuality (“Sinner,” “My Lady of Mercy”), what it must be like to move through the world as a man (“Caesar on a TV Screen,” the standout, celestial “Beautiful Boy”), and craving the gaze of an audience (“Mirror”), as well as loss channeled into art, withering love, and the mother-daughter relationship. And every single one of them feels like a release. “It’s a cathartic, communal kind of freedom,” says Morris. “‘Cathartic’ is definitely the main word that we throw about when we talk about playing live and playing an album.” Read on as Morris and Mayland walk us through their band’s exquisite debut, one song at a time. “Prelude to Ecstacy” Abigail Morris: “I was thinking about it like an overture in a musical. Aurora [Nishevci, keys player and vocalist] composed it—she’s a fantastic composer, and it has themes from all the songs on the record. I don’t believe in shuffle except for playlists and I always liked the idea of [an album] having a start, middle, and end, and there is in this record. It sets the scene.” “Burn Alive” AM: “This was the first song that existed in the band—we’ve been opening the set with it the entire time. Lyrically, it always felt like a mission statement. I wrote it just after my father passed away, and it was the idea of, ‘Let me make my grief a commodity’—this kind of slightly sarcastic ‘I’m going to put my heart on the line and all my pain and everything for a buck.’ The idea of being ecstatic by being burned alive—by your pain and by your art and by your inspiration—in a kind of holy-fire way. What we’re here to do is be fully alive and committed to exorcising any demons, pain or joy.” “Caesar on a TV Screen” AM: “I wrote the beginning of this song over lockdown. I’d stayed over with my boyfriend at the time and then, to go back home, he lent me a suit. When I met him, I didn’t just find him attractive, I wanted to be him—he was also a singer in another band and he had this amazing confidence and charisma in a specifically masculine way. Getting to have his suit, I was like, ‘Now I am a man in a band.’ It’s this very specific sensuality and power you feel when you’re dressing as a man. I sat at the piano and had this character in my head—a Mick Jagger or a Caligula. I thought it would be fun to write a song from the perspective of feeling like a king, but you are only like that because you’re so vulnerable and so desperate to be loved and quite weak and afraid and childlike.” Lizzie Mayland: “There was an ending on the original version that faded away into this lone guitar, which was really beautiful, but we got used to playing it live with it coming back up again. So we put that back in. The song is very live, the way we recorded it.” “The Feminine Urge” AM: “The beginning of this song was based on an unreleased Lana Del Rey song called ‘Driving in Cars With Boys’—it slaps. I wanted to write about my mother and the mother wound. It’s about the relationship between mothers and daughters and how those go back over generations, and the shared traumas that come down. I think you get to a certain age as a woman where your mother suddenly becomes another woman, rather than being your mum. You turn 23 and you’re having lunch and it’s like, ‘Oh shit, we’re just two women who are living life together,’ and it’s very beautiful and very sweet and also very confronting. It’s the sudden realization of the mortality and fallibility of your mother that you don’t get when you’re a child. It’s also wondering, ‘If I have a daughter, what kind of mother would I be? Is it ethical to bring a child into a world like this? And what wound would I maybe pass on to her or not?’” “On Your Side” LM: “We put this and ‘Beautiful Boy’—the two slow ones—together. Again, that comes from playing live. Taking a slow moment in the set—people are already primed to pay attention rather than dancing.” AM: “The song is about a relationship breaking down and it’s nice to have that represented musically. It’s a very traditional structure, song-verse-chorus, and it’s not challenging or weird. It’s nice that the ending feels like this very beautiful decay. It’s sort of rotting, but it sounds very beautiful, but it is this death and gasping. I really like how that illustrates what the song’s about.” “Beautiful Boy” AM: “I come back to this as one that I’m most proud of. I wanted to say something really specific with the lyrics. It’s about a friend of mine, who’s very pretty. He’s a very beautiful boy. He went hitchhiking through Spain on his own and lost his phone and was just relying on the kindness of strangers, going on this beautiful Hemingway-esque trip. I remember being so jealous of him because I was like, ‘Well, I could never do that—as a woman I’d probably get murdered or something horrible.’ He made me think about the very specific doors that open when you are a beautiful man. You have certain privileges that women don’t get. And if you’re a beautiful woman, you have certain privileges that other people don’t get. I don’t resent him—he’s a very dear friend. Also, I think it’s important and interesting to write, as a woman, about your male relationships that aren’t romantic or sexual.” LM: “The flute was a turning point in this track. It’s such a lonely instrument, so vulnerable and so expressive. To me, this song is kind of a daydream. Like, ‘I wish life was like that, but it’s not.’ It feels like there’s a deeper sense of acceptance. It’s sweetly sad.” “Gjuha” AM: “We wanted to do an aria as an interlude. At first, we just started writing this thing on piano and guitar and Aurora had a saxophone. At some point, Aurora said it reminded her of an Albanian folk song. We’d been talking about her singing a song in Albanian for the album. She went away and came back with this beautiful, heart-wrenching piece. It’s about her feeling this pain and guilt of coming from a country, and a family who speak Albanian and are from Kosovo, but being raised in London and not speaking that language. She speaks about it so well.” “Sinner” LM: “It’s such a fun live moment because it’s kind of a turning point in the set: ‘OK, it’s party time.’ I was quite freaked out about the idea of being like, ‘This is a song about being queer.’ And I thought, ‘Are people going to get that?’ Because it’s not the most metaphorical or difficult lyrics, but it’s also not just like, ‘I like all gendered people.’ But people get it, which has been quite reassuring. It’s about belonging and about finding a safe space in yourself and your own sense of self. And marrying an older version of yourself with a current version of yourself. Playing it live and people singing it back is such a comforting feeling. I know Emily [Roberts, lead guitarist, who also plays mandolin and flute] was very inspired by St. Vincent and also LCD Soundsystem.” “My Lady of Mercy” AM: “For me, it’s the most overtly sexy song—the most obviously-about-sex song and about sexuality. I feel like it’s a nice companion to ‘Sinner’ because I think they’re about similar things—about queerness in tension with religion and with family and with guilt. I went to Catholic school, which is very informative for a young woman. I’m not a practicing Catholic now, but the imagery is always so pertinent and meaningful to me. I just thought it was really interesting to use religious imagery to talk about liking women and feeling free in your sexuality and reclaiming the guilt. I feel like Nine Inch Nails was a really big inspiration musically. This is testament to how much we trust James [Ford] and feel comfortable with him. We did loads of takes of me just moaning into the mic through a distortion. I could sit there and make fake orgasm sounds next to him.” LM: “I remember you saying you wanted to write a song for people to mosh to. Especially the breakdown that was always meant to be played live to a load of people throwing themselves around. It definitely had to be that big.” “Portrait of a Dead Girl” AM: “This song took a long time—it went through a lot of different phases. It was one we really evolved with as a band. The ending was inspired by Florence + the Machine’s ‘Dream Girl Evil.’ And Bowie’s a really big influence in general on us, but I think especially on this one. It feels very ’70s and like the Ziggy Stardust album. The portrait was actually a picture I found on Pinterest, as many songs start. It was an older portrait of a woman in a red dress sitting on a bed and then next to her is a massive wolf. At first, I thought that was the original painting, but then I looked at it again and the wolf has been put in. But I really loved that idea of comparing [it to] a relationship, a toxic one—feeling like you have this big wolf who’s dangerous but it’s going to protect you, and feeling safe. But you can’t be friends with a wolf. It’s going to turn around and bite you the second it gets a chance.” ”Nothing Matters” AM: “This wasn’t going to be the first single—we always said it would be ‘Burn Alive.’ We had no idea that it was going to do what it did. We were like, ‘OK, let’s introduce ourselves,’ and then where it went is kind of beyond comprehension.” LM: “I was really freaked out—I spent the first couple of days just in my bed—but also so grateful for all the joy it’s been received with. When we played our first show after it came out, I literally had the phrase, ‘This is the best feeling in the world.’ I’ll never forget that.” AM: “It was originally just a piano-and-voice song that I wrote in my room, and then it evolved as everyone else added their parts. Songs evolve by us playing them on stage and working things out. That’s definitely what happened with this song—especially Emily’s guitar solo. It’s a very honest love song that we wanted to tell cinematically and unbridled, that expression of love without embarrassment or shame or fear, told through a lens of a very visual language—which is the most honest way that I could have written.” “Mirror” AM: “Alongside ‘Beautiful Boy,’ this is one of the most precious ones to me. When I first moved to London before the band, I was just playing on my own, dragging my piano around to shitty venues and begging people to listen. I wrote it when I was 17 or 18, and it’s the only one I’ve kept from that time. It’s changed meanings so many times. At first, one of them was an imagined relationship, I hadn’t really been in relationships until then and it was the idea of codependency and the feeling of not existing without this relationship. And losing your identity and having it defined by relationship in a sort of unhealthy way. Then—and I’ve never talked about this—but the ‘she’ in the verses I’m referring to is actually an old friend of mine. After my father died, she became obsessed with me and with him, and she’d do very strange, scary things like go to his grave and call me. Very frightening and stalker-y. I wrote the song being like, ‘I’m dealing with the dissolution of this friendship and this kind of horrible psychosis that she seems to be going through.’ Now this song has become similar to ‘Burn Alive.’ It’s my relationship with an audience and the feeling of always being a performer and needing someone looking at you, needing a crowd, needing someone to hear you. I will never forget the day that Emily first did that guitar solo. Then Aurora’s orchestral bit was so important to have on that record. We wanted it to have light motifs from the album. That ending always makes me really emotional. I think it’s a really touching bit of music and it feels so right for the end of this album. It feels cathartic.”

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