Having launched their wonderful Constellations album this week, Moulettes Hannah and Oliver took time out to give FRUK an exclusive insight into their unique sound and what makes them tick.
Where does the name come from?
H: It chose us… It has a few meanings – little muscles; a marine creature with a hard shell, who can exert disproportionate force and tenacity compared to its size; it is also the name for the seed pods that germinate into worlds in The Observatory… (more on that in our forthcoming book.)
Reading your Wiki page it makes it sound as if the line up of Moulettes has been a little fluid. What’s the current state of play and who are the people involved? How did Moulettes originally form and what has been the process of evolution?
H: Ruth, Ollie and I met when we were 16 or 17. Indeed Moulettes has survived through many incarnations, and quite a few celebrated players have come in and out – but always with the three of us. Multi talented instrumentalist Jim Mortimore joined Autumn 2011 and the four of us are now the core of Moulettes operations.
O: We are lucky enough to have many fantastic musicians in the fold who play with us in different configurations. The touring band at the moment includes Eliza Jaye, Kate Young and Emma Gatrill. Emma also played beautiful harp on the record, and all three have their own projects and are well worth a good listen.
What music do you bond over and what feeds into the Moulettes? Do you all have similar tastes or wildly different?
H: Id say we all listen to all kinds of good music and there is loads of overlap between what each of us like. We like the same qualities in music, whatever the style. We like exploring music and sounds, and share in more than 80 years of recorded history. People often comment that we’re difficult to categorise, and there is lots going on. What goes in must come out…
O: Around the time of the record pre-production time we made a grand list of music that we were listening to at the time – bands like tUnEyArDs, My Brightest Diamond, Bjork, Portishead, Dirty Projectors, Talking Heads, Pentangle, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tom Waits, Scott Walker, Talk talk (Spirit Of Eden)… The usual.
Are there other bands that you are close to or identify with?
H: We are surrounded by some truly inspiring writers and players- and multiple great bands- Happily, we managed to get quite a few on Constellations, which made making it such a pleasure. All the guests and moulchestra players are brilliant, and all of their respective musical activities are worth a listen, if you’re not already familiar with them.
Bunty’s Multimos Project and also a trio she is part of, Le Juki really make me happy. They are adventurers in sound! Bunty has just released this video:
Liz Green recently released Haul Away, a beautiful record, made to tape in Toerag Studio, a London cave of analogue delights. I played some cello on the record, and Liz Green has played shows with us and has added her lovely voice to Blood And Thunder on the Bears Revenge album. All her videos are exquisite; the artists and animators she has worked with have each engaged with Liz’s own character-rich and unmistakable etchings and brought it to life with puppetry and animations.
O: We seem to get on with many types of musicians. It’s a shame we don’t get to hang out more. Everyone is on tour all the time, which is good. I identify with any band who I sense is trying to do something new with what they have got. As long as I can detect that attempt – whether successful or not – I will like it. Then I do just like a band that can rock out too.
How has the sound evolved over the course of your albums? How do you knit your sound together? How do you write and work together?
O: In terms of recording I think we try to evolve as much as we can, given the resources we have at our disposal. The studio is our favourite place to be really – it’s the laboratory.
H: Records are a bit like offspring maybe. You try and bring them up as best you can, and hopefully you get better at it with each go, and you come to realise how much you didn’t know the time before.
The songs tend to start in my brain, with lyrics, melodies and some arrangement, then I play them to Ollie. I’d say each song has its own story as to how it ended up the way it is, some old songs have been totally re-imagined, some songs appear nearly fully formed, some have to be coaxed in to a different shape, and some change almost imperceptibly, over time.
Ollie is a great one to gauge the right groove to give a song legs, a marvelous ear for arrangement and a good production head to boot, as does Jim.
O: Constellations is the first album where I was able to grasp the vision and see it through completely. The other two albums had restrictions on time, money and resources. I enjoy taking Hannah’s loops and hand held recordings and some of the band’s jams we recorded on Wilkinson’s Cider and chopping them up and arranging them. By the time the session came about we had rough demos and moods. It was then up to the three of us with Joe Gibb to work through the semi tropical heat of last summer in our dark studio cave. Brass, strings and woodwind players came in on their appointed days, and Nick Pynn turned up with the crystal sisters, his tuned resonating glasses, and a bag of tricks as well as a day of hilarious inventor-in-his-laboratory dialogue… If you listen closely you can hear him in The Observatory….
Did you have a clear idea of the sound of Constellations when you started the recording process?
H: We did quite a bit of pre-production work on the songs and tried different ideas. Ollie masterminded a plan; we had the nature of the songs to work with, and the conceptual ideas behind Constellations sometimes determined how we wanted it to sound.
O: There are always pleasant surprises on the day, however. Recording is still about capturing something. We were working again with Joe Gibb (Catatonia, The Kinks, Leftfield), who we made The Bears Revenge with, so we already knew what we could get out of working together – each other’s approach. Joe Gibb has a great ability to get good takes out of players. If it’s not good he’ll tell you straight up. He’s not soft. But he is also extremely fun and fully immerses himself into it. He even created his own fantastical studio alter ego ‘Grumpelstiltskin’. He had a book full of Shakespearean insults that he would shout down the talk back mic if we were playing badly.
Where there specific sounds or ideas that helped create the overall feel of the record. I though I could detect something a little Asiatic, but of course I am probably entirely wrong. Are the songs thematically linked?
H: There are a few layers of answer to this question. One of the reasons why we set up camp for 5 weeks in our dark bat-cave is because one of the pleasures of making a record like that, is that it is such an immersive process- motifs are mirrored around the album – the music leads you to other ideas and they circle round your head- this gives an album some cohesion I think…
O: We were in the kind of curio-littered workshop area that Lewes is remarkable for artists, musicians, welders, carpenters, sign writers all work in the nearby phoenix estate. They lent me all sorts of objects for my percussion corner- we used these sounds- filing cabinet slams, heavy chains on the cabinet, a massive spanner!, old wooden pipes from a church organ (amongst other things) – throughout the record.
H: Some of the strings have an Asiatic feel. We were experimenting with that modal-y sound, and also layering strings in octaves, which is haunting and quite magical…
Within the songs themselves, there are a few narrative threads, the stories are linked. For example, Constellations and Land Of the Midnight Sun are two views of the same event- there is an atom in the lyrics and artwork, which is represented in the audio. Listen out for the sound of the singing cog! (It’s a clockwork cog someone gave me that has the most perfect pure note when you strike it.) I like things like this even if not many other people notice it…
Did you approach the record in the same way as you have previously? What role does Joe Gibb have?
O: We learned a lot from The Bears Revenge, so we did do quite a few things differently. In turn we learned a lot from this one too, and the next will be different again. We recorded strings brass and woodwind in chamber size ensembles, and bigger orchestral, cinematic arrangements and there are songs where the emphasis is more on the solo instruments’ voices. I suppose we approached it a bit more head on this time. I thought Joe was the right person to work with because I wanted someone who could explore how we can make acoustic instruments a bit more punchy, rocky…like we do live.
H: Joe Gibb is an old friend now, he has a few roles! He has worked with some of the greats- the Kinks, Madonna, Catatonia, Leftfield, Million Dead; he is a fine engineer and producer- and he has the best turn of phrase of anyone we’ve ever worked with.
What was the reason for bringing in the different guests and what did they contribute?
O: Making a record is an event! It’s an excuse to bring friends and people you admire in to a project and make something beautiful that is more than the sum of its parts. It’s also a time when you are still – which means making plans to meet up with friends easier. People knew we were in the studio for five weeks. In my opinion music is best when shared. It felt right that Constellations should bring old and new – people/forces in different realms; from different places and genres together all of whom have been part of our story so far.
We had a really good time making those big arrangements happen, it’s a lot of fun to make that many textures possible. Brighton has a whole host of excellent musicians.
H: Some of the guests are legendary- Arthur ‘God of Hellfire’ Brown; who caused havoc with his highly theatrical stage shows and 4 octave voice whilst on tour with the likes of Jimi Hendrix. Herbie Flowers is one of the most esteemed session players since the 60’s. He played the same bass on Land Of the Midnight Sun that he has always played on Lou Reed’s Transformer and David Bowie’s Space Oddity no less. That is a real honour for us. Some of the more contemporary guests are people we played with on the circuit a few years ago – Band of Skulls, Mystery Jets, and more recently, Resonators. Emma, Blaine and Faye are all fantastic singers, and we love the music they make. I had worked with Adrian McNally on The Boat Project and we had met the Unthanks at a few festivals and we love their voices. I was really pleased with this one – it was an old song we revived and added to and they transformed it for me.
It’s a big and complex sound, is it easy to translate into a live setting? What are the challenges? What is planned for the rest of the year?
O: It’s always a challenge getting acoustic instruments loud enough. It’s a quest to try different combinations of equipment to amplify an instrument most faithfully. But interesting things can also happen when you accept that it’s never going to sound the same as it does acoustically. We’ve had to get quite creative to make sure parts are covered with less people and it’s always a slight compromise between what is tour-practical and what is faithful to the album. Its fun trying out things though.
H: We’ll be at festivals in the summer, and releasing a single on the 16th June. Writing for the next chapter has already begun so we will be enjoying ourselves with that. We occasionally get in more players. We are planning a big show on 6th December for Cecil Sharp House with a chamber ensemble and visual treats– and preceding that will be an Autumn tour in Europe and the U.K.
Interview by: Simon Holland
Constellations is out now via Navigator Records
ON TOUR NOW: http://www.moulettes.co.uk/shows/