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discover: Moulettes

By Anthony Garone

The explosive progressive folk/pop band from Brighton.

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Moulettes are a progressive folk/alt pop band from Brighton, England. They write great music and are even better live than they are on record. I saw them perform twice in Montreal when I attended GORGG 2015. One member of the band, Dr. Ruth Skipper, played the electric bassoon (a technique she learned from Paul Hanson) and autoharp. Their performance was so powerful, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing.

It took several months to coordinate, but our schedules finally aligned and we got an interview set up. I hope you enjoy these authentic musicians and their attitude of wonder toward the world and music.

Check out Moulette’s website! 

Interview video

Here’s a video of our interview with Ollie Austin and Hannah Miller of Moulettes:

Also check out Alan Miller guitars . Alan is Hannah’s father and makes incredible instruments!

Interview Audio (Podcast)

(NOTE: hitting the “play” button requires a hefty download of the entire audio file!).

Or, download an mp3 .

Thank You

Special thanks to Rod Knowlan, guitarist for the Vancouver, Canada-based indie rock band, HEAD . Rod is also a fan of all manner of music, weird and otherwise. I met Rod at GORGG 2015 in Montreal, where I also met the Moulettes! What a day!

Interview Transcript

AG: Hi, this is Anthony with makeweirdmusic.com and I have special guests here from England, the band Moulettes. We’ve got Ollie Austin and Hannah Miller. Ollie and Hannah, thank you so much for joining us.

OA: Thanks for having us Anthony.

HM: Thank you.

AG: No problem. So, I’ll let you guys get this started, can you tell us about Moulettes and can you tell us about the history of the band a little and about what makes you unique?

OA: Where do we start? I suppose Moulettes has been the project that Hannah and myself have been doing since we were at college together. It’s a bit more of a band, we’ve grown up with it as well so…

HM: It’s a cult.

OA: It’s a cult, yeah, [laughs]. Many people have come and gone over the years, it’s been quite a ride, really, since we were sixteen or seventeen. We’re four albums down and we’re about to start making our fifth album.

What makes us unique? Wow, what a question! It’s great that you would say that about us. I think that we are unique, I think that’s what we strive for so hopefully it’s our own type of uniqueness and eclecticism that people like about the band. Just by you saying that, that’s a nice achievement in itself, really. I suppose it’s what we aim to do.

HM: We don’t aim to regurgitate old things, we certainly aim for the opposite, I would say.

OA: There’s plenty of bands out there, plenty of artists working out there that, like you said, would deliberately regurgitate stuff…

HM: Or working within already quite familiar parameters, I guess regurgitating has a bit of a vomity vibe…

OA: There’s a lot of vomit out there…

HM: There is quite a lot of vomit out there.

AG: What are some of the parameters that you put into play that are unique? I’m thinking around Ruth Skipper and her electric bassoon, the kind of instrumentation that you have, the vocal harmonies… What are some of the things you guys use to make your music sound like it’s not a regurgitation of something else?

HM: Well, I suppose one really fortunate thing for me is that my dad, Alan Miller , is a luthier. He’s always been really great in that he’s made me these custom instruments.

OA: Look at this beautiful guitar…

AG: Oh, wow!

HM: This is probably the most normal, I could get some other ones.

OA: He gets pretty far out, he’s great to experiment and discuss other possibilities of instruments and he’s made some pretty strange things for us in the past.

AG: I subscribed to him on Youtube  after I met you in Montreal and I had asked Hannah about her cello. It’s so beautiful, he’s got so many great instruments, and demos on his Youtube channel, it’s been cool to see his process.

HM: He just finished a twin-neck mandolin. In fact, he’s coming to stay next week and he said, “I want to make something new, I’m bored with making things that have already existed.” Maybe that’s where some of this impetus comes from. He’s always been around being really keen to help build things that haven’t been built before. I’ve got a six-string cello over there which sounds amazing. The bottom string is a low E, which is quite a long way below my normal bottom string, it’s just great, it sounds like a panther.

OA: You can always get interesting sounds playing with acoustic instruments and making them do things that they’re perhaps not made to do. You can discover some quite interesting things about acoustic instruments. You mentioned Ruth’s bassoon, and Hannah’s five-string cello, we’ve kind of always been trying to experiment with both acoustic setups, whether it be strings or brass or woodwind.

We like to do big rock shows and there a production no-man’s land and in terms of being able to make some acoustic instruments work on a big stage was to put them through amps. You get feedback problems, you can’t quite crank the pickup up enough so part of the fun of what we’ve tried to do is to look into new ways to, like with Hannah’s electric cello, for example, it’s an acoustic and an electric instrument and you can really crank it up and it’s not affected by the drums. We have a lot of fun with that, experimenting with new instruments. Riding the balance between acoustic and electric is something we’ve done a lot in the past.

AG: For people who don’t know about your band, if this is their first time hearing about you, can you tell us how many people are in the band and what everyone plays and what a live performance is like?

OA: We’re not really sure of how many people are in the band. [laughs] It always changes! For Preternatural we made a point of making a record that sounded like the band that was going to tour it. There’s many different approaches to doing albums and we set different parameters.

HM: Constellations

OA: Constellations, the one before Preternatural, I think has about 30 players on it. It’s got a lot of our favorite players. One of the purposes of the concept of the album was to tell the story of Moulettes up to that point. We kind of got players from all around, from bands that we liked, session players, both players that have been on the scene for years and current players. That was kind of like a big chamber orchestra.

Preternatural was very much more “let’s get a band in the room rocking out” kind of vibe. That has 5 people on it, electric cello, drums, electric guitar, bass and we all play synths and then the bassoon through distortion. It’s very much a “band in the room.” That was the concept behind it.

HM: Yeah, that was the instruments concept. Both of those records are conceptual in their nature as records. The most recent one, Preternatural, was centered around the natural world and taking each song as a particular creature. We used that as a starting point for inspiration behind the song. In terms of uniqueness, I haven’t found any songs that are about this specific nematode worm, the halicephalobus mephisto nematode worm . That could be a first.

OA: Could be!

AG: Preternatural is your latest album. It seems to be getting some pretty good press and it’s very well received. Have you been touring? What’s been the activity around the album?

HM: We did our first big coast-to-coast tour of Canada, we’d been there the season before but in this case we started at Fanfest –would you technically say that it’s in Cape Breton ?

OA: I don’t know, I don’t think so.

HM: Then we did Montreal Jazz Festival , which was incredible. Then we went all the way across to Vancouver  and Vancouver Island .

OA: We’re still touring it now, we’ve got a European leg coming up. Because we did the tour of Canada last year and around the release and we’re doing a series of UK festivals and the European ones this time out. It was nice, as well, for the Preternatural campaign, the welcoming in of it, we sold out the Union Chapel  in London, which was a big deal for us. It’s one of those amazing venues that you always want to play at. I’ve been to several gigs there as a kid, seeing bands, so to actually sell it out it was… it’s this amazing, Gothic-style building, it’s really eerie and dark…

HM: It’s a beautiful church, massive stained-glass window…

OA: So it’s good to start off on that positive and it’s been really interesting to see who pops up their head in all the different compartments of the music industry. You often have proggers, indie rock people, folkies. It’s interesting who pops up and says “I really dig this, I really like this.” It seems to happen every time with different people with every album.

HM: Quite inter-generational as well.

AG: When I saw you open for Three Friends  in Montreal I was just blown away! I had no idea there would be an opening act for the show so it was my first exposure to you and I felt like you guys blew the doors off of that show. It sounded incredible, the performances were incredible and I will never forget hearing Behemooth  for the first time, it’s such a powerful song.

HM: Behemooth

AG: Can you tell us a little bit about the new album and some of the dynamics going on and some of the concept? I have never heard a song about a massive sound heard in the ocean.

HM: There was a lot of speculation about that particular sound, which is known as “The Bloop” . During the initial stages of writing it, you know when you go down a little Internet rabbit-hole and you kind of get excited about something and it soon becomes more and more obvious that it’s very unclear what the facts are. That’s how this started, there was a lot of speculation about noise because of the people who were talking about it. If you listen to the noise–have you done that?

AG: Of course! I showed my kids! I told them all about your album.

HM: The noise itself is very eerie and it does sound like a big, massive mammal. But there are people who say it was an ice-quake , or the sound of a distant ice-quake. But I haven’t had any confirmation on either side as to what it is. The whole point is, we changed the meaning of that song so it isn’t just about that noise.

OA: Made it about scientific enquiry…

HM: Yeah, about the speculation itself…

OA: And the dialogue around it. It’s still a very relevant subject, about how people talk about science and what they think is true and what is not. One of the strands of all of Moulettes albums, including Preternatural, is there’s always a celebration of science or a discussion of science. There’s also an underpinning of some environmental stuff that we are very interested in.{: .interviewee }

We’re from Brighton, one of the only places that has a Green (Party) MP , it’s the only Green MP in the UK. We are engaged on a kind of political level but it’s not kind of in your face, it’s trying to start a discussion, really, about certain issues like animals… it’s great fun, kids love it as well. Like Hannah was saying… it’s great inter-generational stuff. It’s great what some people come up with when you have animals involved. There are some massive animal lovers out there, serious animal lovers.

HM: Everyone can agree on David Attenborough  as well, that’s a really nice thing. He sent me a letter!

AG: What?!

HM: Yeah.

OA: Maybe we should show it, it’s one of our proudest moments.

HM: This young woman, I don’t know how old she was, maybe 15, who is also a cellist, came up to me after a gig and she was so excited about this nematode worm, and she correctly categorized it as an extremophile . It’s one of these creatures that lives in circumstances that we previously thought were impossible (to harbor life). Anyway, we sent David Attenborough the CD and the vinyl (of Preternatural).

AG: That’s awesome.

OA: What was amazing about it was that he was celebrating his 90th birthday that week and he apologized in the letter for being slow to reply. It only took him a week.

AG: [laughs]

OA: Amazing!

AG: And hand-written! That’s nice.

OA: Yeah!

AG: So, what is your tie to Gentle Giant ? You opened up for Three Friends, you hung out with the whole GORGG crew, the Gentle Giant celebration. What is your tie there?

OA: A love of great music, I think. Talking about your [Hannah’s] dad again, he was a Gentle Giant fan.

HM: Yeah.

OA: IS a Gentle Giant fan.

HM: Yeah, it was great meeting the GORGG. The obvious connection is Jim (Mortimore), who plays the bass in Moulettes.

OA: Jim joined us just at the end of the second album campaign and he’s just been brilliant, he’s a brilliant musician. He’s the son of Malcolm Mortimore , who was one of the drummers from Gentle Giant and is the drummer on Three Friends . He’s an incredible drummer. Malcolm has managed to play with incredible players. We’ve met some of the best people in the business by hanging out with Malcolm. We managed to meet Herbie Flowers . Herbie Flowers even played on our last record.

AG: Oh, wow!

OA: He’s one of the thirty people that we managed to get to come and play. Herbie Flowers is one inspiration, how many good records has he been on? How many good records did Gentle Giant make? It all started with records, I guess… and discovery. We’ve always been into prog music–not that Gentle Giant is just prog music, it’s its own entity…

HM: And world… The amazing thing about having Herbie play on the last record was that you really recognized that bass, he’s always played the same electric and the same upright bass.

OA: It’s the same sound that you hear on the records…

HM: That sounds like stating the obvious, really, but it was so familiar as well, from things like Walk on the Wild Side , where I think he played both.

OA: Acoustic and electric when he did the harmony, yeah. As soon as he picked up and played the double bass on Land of the Midnight Sun  and we were listening to it I thought “that’s signature Herbie.”

HM: Like some of your favorite records… yeah.

OA: A great musician. And he’s hilarious, really good company.

AG: So for people who have never heard Moulettes, where would you recommend they start and where are you guys going next?

HM: Where would they start?

OA: I suppose start with the recent thing then go back. Each album is completely different so if you’re prepared for that and the different instrumentation and all sorts of stuff–it’s all different.

HM: We’re going to say that because you’re always into the last thing you’ve done, really.

OA: What’s great is that the recent album, Preternatural, is more reflective of what the band actually sounds like live. All the other albums we’ve done, we’ve had a flux of players in and out during the session and then see who’s around for the campaign. I would say that to see the show, Preternatural is a rock show and I think we’re probably going to stay in that realm–probably, we don’t know, really. We like to mix it up but I’m enjoying playing the bigger shows, the bigger festivals and putting out a bigger sound. Crank it up, use some amps… that’s probably where we’re going to explore, I’d say. Who knows, it’s all up for grabs…

HM: Well, there’s more to it than that, as well. There’s quite a lot of different moods on the record so there’s something you could find that you enjoyed on it. Each song was built around what we thought the creature would want or what the themes of the song kind of evoked. There was quite a comprehensive thought process between how they all sound. So, obviously, Behemooth, being this big gentle giant of the ocean wanted quite a grandiose prog anthem.

OA: Naturally.

HM: Naturally. So we were kind of guided by that kind of idea, that kind of a theme song for the beast.

OA: You can always depend on a concept album as well from us. We love to get stuck into a concept album.

HM: Love of parameter.

OA: Next record, we haven’t decided on the concept, I don’t know, do you have any ideas for a concept, a good concept?

AG: Well, if you guys are into science there’s that show Fringe . There’s all sorts of odd topics or X-Files , you could look at extraterrestrial type things…

OA: Whoa… [laughs]

AG: Or some of the ideas behind quantum physics, like given an infinite amount of time you have an infinite probability that certain odd things could happen… and odd things happen all the time. Media is everywhere now so strange things are reported all the time. There’s that show Stranger Things  on Netflix that’s kind of taking off. There’s a societal or cultural fascination with inexplicable things. I think that’s interesting.

OA: Do you think we’re alone out here or do you think there are extraterrestrial beings?

HM: Definitely…

AG: I think the universe is so big, it’s like that line in Contact  that says it’d be an awful waste of space…

HM: If there was only us…

AG: Yeah! There’s so much space out there, there are so many planets that have to be supportive of life. I would bank on the likelihood, looking at the universe from a distance (not that I can do that), looking at something that big and I just can’t believe that we’re the only things out there.

OA: There’s an interesting theory–I mean there’s a lot of theories about the universe, as you know–but one of the ones that I really find fascinating is in, I would say maybe the evangelical Christian world, when I was talking about the size and scope of the universe, there’s a whole group of Christian believers thinking that, essentially, the universe was made to live eternally in it so it’s that big because we have to live in it for eternity, or, at least, it was initially designed to be like that.

AG: Hm…

OA: Which is just nuts–I love all the different points of view of those things–but even if you live forever, you might get bored.

AG: Oh, yeah.

OA: The universe is definitely finite, we’ve worked that one out.

HM: I was reading recently about this topic and what the inference was that we were so low down the scale of intelligence that there are a bunch of other higher intelligent forms of life but they’re not bothering with us because they’re just watching the car crash thinking, “Oh, no.”

AG: There are lots of interesting theories, like the one that you don’t want to encounter extraterrestrial life because if you do, they’re likely so far advanced…. I forget, there are something like two or three different perspectives from a couple of scientists that either the other races have already existed and have wiped themselves out or have been wiped out somehow or that they exist somewhere else… I don’t know. There are a bunch of interesting theories that could make for a good concept. Or you could just prime the punch and make an album about that. [NOTE: I was thinking about the Fermi Paradox .]

HM: Yeah?

OA: Sounds good, taking a book is a good idea, Tales of the Afterlives , Brian Eno did a series on that. That’s a good angle as well.

AG: Laurie Anderson  did one on Moby Dick . I actually did one with my dad on Moby Dick and one on the Epic of Gilgamesh. We made albums about those stories, it was fun.

HM: Yeah! Good ones.

OA: Brilliant.

HM: You know that octopuses have the most complex sequence of DNA that we know of, including being more complex that ours.

AG: Yeah! They just discovered that those little water bears…

HM: Tardigrades !

AG: Yeah! They just did a DNA sequence on those and the least DNA in common with any other animal on the planet.

OA: And they can actually survive in space for like…

AG: Three years…

OA: Three years. Those guys are hard-core.

AG: Yeah! [laughs]

HM: [laughs]

OA: Maybe we should just do a post hard-core album or even just a straight-up hard-core album about the tardigrade.

AG: Yeah, with the 5-sting cello distorted..

OA: Yeah, man. You got it… [laughs]

HM: 6-string!

AG: Yeah!

OA: Yeah, there’s a new 6-string lying around.

AG: Alright, well I think we’ve digressed quite a bit. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you guys doing what you do, I think you guys are awesome, I love your music. I hope I see continued growth and success in what you’re doing. Keep it up and if there’s anything I can do to help promote more here in the US I’d be happy to do it.

OA: Whilst we’ve got you on the line, the world is watching, what are your thoughts on the debates and the presidential run?

AG: [laughs]

OA: In a nutshell. Maybe we could do a whole concept about that.

HM: Oh, yeah.

AG: [laughs] There’s a great concept.

HM: It’s tainted with… ehh.

AG: I think Hannah and I have similar sentiments. [laughs] I just watch it in kind of disgust and I think this is a problem that we’ve created over many decades. This isn’t new, this is the result of behaviors over a long period of time that have allowed these kinds of people to come into power. People say the world is worse now than it ever was. I think that’s a logical fallacy that every generation says that.

HM: Yeah

AG: But I would say people don’t think about the consequences of their behavior or decisions and that can lead to, in a macro-economic-cultural-social sense it can lead to some problematic outcomes where, if we do short-term gain we can end up with long-term pain. Wow, that’s really cheesy, I just made that up.

OA: That’s a lyric, write that down!

AG: [laughs]

HM: (singing) Long term gain…

OA: We feel sorry for a lot of our friends in the US at the moment because they’re going nuts. And, of course, a lot of the world is, you know. It’s been interesting. I guess one thing to plug, we are coming back to Canada…

AG: Oh, cool!

OA: We’re doing a theater headline tour in October 2017 and we’re going to try and fit in some US dates but as you know, it’s complicated.

HM: It’s a lesson. [laughs]

OA: It’s complicated with visas and whatnot. Most of the good ones are going to move up to Canada anyway, so maybe you are… no, just joking.

AG: Actually, we are going to spend two and a half months in Germany next year, get our toes in the water to see what it’s like living somewhere else. Maybe I’ll catch you on the road there!

OA: Yeah, in February we’re there. Are you going to be there in February?

AG: It will be May through July. We’re going to try travelling on weekends, I’m hoping I can make it up to London, maybe we can catch up.

HM: Yeah, come to Brighton.

HM: Which bit of Germany?

AG: Munich.

HM: Oh, nice!

OA: Good beer there! That’s in Bavaria, in the heart of Bavaria.

HM: Kaeder(?? Couldn’t understand what she said) Which is just this outrageous cheesy noodle thing.

AG: My wife speaks German, she taught German at the local university so I’m hoping that she can help us navigate and we can order good foods.

OA: Yeah, good beer there…

HM: Good beer and good schnitzel.

OA: Germany has a lot of great things about it. Have a great time.

AG: I will!

OA: It would be good to see you in Europe.

AG: Absolutely!

HM: We love Canada. We really love coming to Canada.

AG: Yeah.

OA: We’d just love to get out to the US as well, once you kind of get out there. It’s huge, as you know. It’s terrifyingly huge for us.

HM: Montreal especially, it’s just great.

HM: Is it getting cold there yet?

AG: I live in Phoenix, AZ. It’s probably about 30-35 degrees Celsius today.

HM: Fair enough.

AG: Yeah, it doesn’t get cold that much here in Arizona. Thank you so much for your time, I have to get ready for work, I really appreciate talking to you guys. It will be a few weeks before I get this thing online but I look forward to getting it posted and spreading the word.

OA: Thanks for your help.

HM: Thank you, Anthony.

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