For as long as Mike Mewborne can remember, he's been fascinated with outer space. Growing up, the leader of Columbia electronic-pop outfit The Lovely Few used his telescope to look for nebulae and craters on the moon. In college, he watched meteor showers with his friends — one of whom he'd eventually marry.
As an adult, Mewborne still mines the heavens for inspiration. Since 2012, The Lovely Few — multi-instrumentalists Mewborne, his wife Kate Mewborne, and Alan Davis — has combined Postal Service's confessional crooning and glitchy grooves with lush touches and vertiginous arrangements of chamber pop. But the trio has also progressively explored the cosmos with its Meteor Series, a group of loosely thematic records inspired by, you guessed it, meteor showers.
For Mewborne, there's just something about the cosmos that gets the creative juices flowing. "It's a good way to get out of my own head," he says. "It's a good starting point for me. It's a sort of connect-the-dots thing for me that allows me to be more creative, I think. It gives me a little more freedom. And I can be as metaphorical as I want or as literal as I want."
Some songs use astronomical markers in name only. "Mercury," for one, consists solely of a three-line refrain ("Mercury / Come to me / Tell me that you believe") over a coruscating Sufjan Stevens-ish arrangement. "Venus" works similarly: The bulk of its narrative focuses on the Mariner II satellite, which used radiometers and magnetometers to chart the atmosphere on Venus. Mewborne uses the grander allusion of Mariner II's complex data-decoding process ("Sending back my data sheets," Mewborne creaks, "You're the only one who knows just how to read them") to explore the fine points of personal growth and connection.
"From all that decoding, they're able to say, this is what the atmosphere on Venus is like," Mewborne says. "We're always improving. We're always trying to know the universe better. We're always trying to understand other people better. We're learning about ourselves more."
Therein lies the method to Mewborne's astral madness. By deploying allusions to myths, NASA satellites, astronomy, and asteroids, Mewborne uses the heavens and their attendant metaphors to tell stories both personal and universal. "Mariner" finds Mewborne grappling with existential confusion. Three songs use the myth of Castor and Pollux — in Latin, the twins were known as the Gemini — to delve into the duality of man. The songs explore the basic values of being human, whether they're evoking ancient myths or futuristic science fiction.
"Science fiction is very personal," Mewborne says. "You look at Star Trek. You can get bogged down in the tricorders and the transporters, but there's always that larger human message. All these science fiction franchises — whether it's Star Trek or Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, whatever — speak to some very deep truths about who we are and who we want to be, where we come from, where we're going. Our fears. Our dreams. I like seeing that. I like reading about that, so carrying that into the music just felt like a natural thing."
The next Lovely Few EP will use the gas-giant planets and Kuiper Belt of the outer solar system as a springboard to explore isolation and loneliness. Contributions from Kate and Davis have become increasingly integral to the core of his songs, and more and more Columbia musicians are being pulled into the trio's orbit.
That orbit stretches to Charleston, too. Hearts & Plugs released each of the Meteor Series records (2012's The Perseids was the label's second release), and label founder Dan McCurry regularly collaborates with the band. In addition to being a helpful cheerleader and advocate for the promotion-adverse Mewborne, McCurry has played on all three installments; his Apartment A studio also served as the mission control for The Lovely Few's past two recordings. Other Charleston musicians, like Nick Jenkins, have contributed to the songs, too.
"I think we're really finding a second home there," Mewborne says. "Sometimes it's really hard to play in your hometown; it's easier to play on the road. And Charleston gets to be that place on the road, but also kind of a hometown."