Christopher Moll is a man who enjoys delightful, slightly melancholy, breezy jazz-pop. Though the debut album from his latest project, the wonderful The Postmarks, has sent the blogger-types into a frenzy of universal love, this is not the beginning of Christopher Moll's career. No, in fact, he's been responsible for several other equally excellent (and criminally ignored) groups, See Venus, a proto-Postmarks band and Timewellspent, a duo making Eric Matthews-styled pop. For those who know, The Postmarks is a mere notch in the man's discography, excellent as it is. The chance to speak with him led me to discussing all three of these projects, and it is my sincere hope that this interview will serve as the catalyst for you to investigate them. The Postmarks may be the current next-big-thing, but it would be a shame to have these two equally as excellent bands continue to be overlooked. As for Moll, he's a quiet, unassuming fellow, and his charm and passion for music is reflected below as we discuss his past, present, and future.
I've really enjoyed the debut, and something I did was I went back and listened to the See Venus and Timewellspent records, and, to me, there's a definite sonic continuum running between all three groups. Are you pursuing a particular sound? Is there a perfect sound you're trying to capture?
I think you're always going to have the way that you write, in terms of ideas and chord progressions and such, but generally I like lush, well-arranged, cinematic music. That's something I definitely wanted to push forward with The Postmarks.
It's just something I'm curious about, because you've had three different bands with three different lineups, and as the previous two groups only released one record, I'm just wondering if there's an ideal sound you're pursuing that you haven't quite hit upon with the people you're working with.
I see what you're saying, but no, I don't think it was a case of that. Timewellspent is definitely not done at this point; we started working on some preliminary stuff recently. See Venus has run its course; the other members just wanted to move on. I don't think I was trying to be a perfectionist, though.
Tell me a little bit about how The Postmarks came to pass.
I was looking to do something new, and our drummer had also been working on some things. We sort of put together a new project and started to work on demos. I wanted to do something a little more cinematic and grandiose, something a bit less "indie" sounding, to be honest. Anyway, he had this girl perform one night, a girl he had heard and had was amazed by, so he had set it up for me to come by and check her out. I did and I was taken aback--she embodied everything I had envisioned for this new project of mine. I approached her, and it took a little bit of time for us to get on the same page, but when we did, it was great.
Does she come from a jazz background?
No, I think she's more from an indie-pop/lo-fi background. I saw her performing acoustically by herself, and we were just taken with the clarity of her voice and the honesty of her music. Lyrically, we discussed ideas about what we were trying to get across, and she fit in well. One of the reasons I write down Burt Bacharach as an influence is that the way she and I work right now, it's really been like my Burt Bacharach combined with her Hal David and Dionne Warwick. A lot of times, Burt would write the songs, and he would have an initial idea about what he wanted to get across lyrically, and Hal would go away and perfect it.
On two of your three recent projects, you use a female vocalist. Do you see yourself as writing for a female voice, or does she write the lyrics and you handle the arrangements?
I handle all of the songwriting...but I think it just sort of happened that way. I'm not opposed to working with men on songwriting, but it just kind of happened that way. See Venus was just more about the people I happened to be working with, and then The Postmarks came about when we stumbled onto Tim. I kind of knew what I was looking for, but I hadn't quite sorted it out, and then when she came into the picture, it all evolved into what I wanted to do.
I find it interesting in that what you've created, it's very jazzy, and it seems like lately there has been a resurgence of bands making that same kind of Bacharach-inspired pop. When I listened to The Postmarks' debut, I was reminded not of something old, but of a contemporary band, The Bird and the Bee. They're also a new band with a record coming out the same day as yours, and they're on Blue Note. Like you, they too are a band that's floating around in the blogger buzz-bin.
Oh yeah! It's really been shocking. All of the love we've received from CMJ onward, it's been a shock. I think anytime you work on an album, it's hard to keep sight of things like the world outside the studio. You get so immersed in the studio, you just don't know what's going on outside. I just worked hard on getting the music the way I wanted it to sound and that it's been so well-received, even before the record's out, it's just beyond my expectations.
I can imagine, especially since the other two records that were similar in style fell through the cracks.
(Amazed) And yet--and yet I got an email from somebody in Brazil this morning, and they said they loved the See Venus record and just wanted to let me know. So I wrote them back and said it made me really, really happy to hear that. I do feel like it unfairly fell through the cracks. Every once in a while, I'll get an email about See Venus or Timewellspent, and it's kind of shocking. As far as the jazzy aspect, it's something I've been into for a long time. I've always written in a melancholy kind of way, so that kind of thing has always caught my ear.
Chronologically, Timewellspent was before See Venus, right?
Well, actually, it was simultaneous to See Venus. We'd recorded at the same time the other band started. It was mainly my friend Casey's project. He had a space and allowed me to do the See Venus album, and in return I would work on his stuff when See Venus got to a point where we wrapped up work. I'm not somebody who can give 110% on any more than one thing at a time. The main thing about Timewellspent is that it's not my songs; he wrote them and I came in and embellished the arrangements.
How was it to work with Andy Chase?
It was amazing! It was amazing to have somebody you have a world of respect for then turn around and show you that same level of respect and admiration. Actually, he was a name that was seriously tossed around to help us out on the See Venus album. It didn't happen, but I always kept that in the back of my mind. I was looking for somebody to mix the record, so I took a gamble and approached him, and he fell in love with it. Still, in the beginning stages, I was only looking at him to mix the record and then I'd shop it around to labels myself. He said, "I don't know if you realize it, but I have a label, and though I've never really been interested in signing anybody, because it's mainly for the Ivy back catalog and other band-related projects, I'd like to release it." That was a perfect situation to be in, you know? To have somebody of that level totally behind us, plus to be the only band on the label.
When you tour, is the band just the three of you, or do you expand the lineup?
When we played CMJ, there were six of us. That was guitar, bass, drums, two keyboards, and vocals. One of the keyboard players switches over to guitar and gives us a fuller sound.
Is Eddie Alonso (leader of Miami band Feathers) in the band? I’m a big fan of his work, and I can hear some elements of what he does now in See Venus.
No, he's not. He's a great musician. I went to go see them at CMJ. There were only, like, ten people in the audience, but they were really good. It's always a weird situation, seeing your former band mates on stage. You kind of think you should be up there, too, playing a show. (Laughs)
With the expanded lineup, do you think you have the live sound in the right way to translate your ideas to the stage? Or do you like to have a bit of leeway with your songs when you play live?
With See Venus, we really took a lot of liberties when we played live. We thought it'll be what it'll be, and it didn't matter to us if a string line was played on a synthesizer. With The Postmarks, a lot of people who have seen us, aside from knowing that as a live band we're still a little green, they said it actually translated better than on the album.
Was CMJ your first set of shows?
WE played some shows around that, and the response we received was quite awesome. Andy had all his celebrity friends around there. Guys like Adam Schlesinger, Albert from The Strokes, guys from Marilyn Manson, and it was quite an evening! Andy kind of said that Adam loved it, and he said Adam is really hyper-critical of everything, so he walked away impressed. So I guess we're doing something right! (Laughs)
The Postmarks is available February 6, 2007, on Unfiltered Records
Labels: The Postmarks, Unfiltered Records