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Call & Response: Michael Mooney

Posted by Theo / February 20, 2012

Michael Mooney, an Australian now living in Montreal and an artist we've featured on our podcast, has released two EPs over the past year, Machine-Made-Hand and Another World's Sun. He sits down with Midnight Poutine to answer a few questions before his show on Tuesday, February 21st at Casa del Popolo.

Midnight Poutine: Has this been the most bearable winter for you thus far?

Michael Mooney: It's fantastic! I've gotten the gumption up to actually run this winter as much as I can, because after I came back from a wedding in Australia and catching up with everybody there... it involved a lot of boozing. It was around October and I had finished my last record. I wanted to do sort of a mini tour there and, naturally, that involved catching up with some people which can be relentless because you're only back for a little while... So, yeah, this winter's been fantastic for trying to work off the good time I had over there. I say, "yes" to this winter.

MP: What brought you to Montreal and how are you finding the music scene here? Did you know any musicians here before hand?

MM: No, what brought me here was a lady who is now my wife. I met her when I went to Melbourne to record with a guy named Jonathan Burnside. I had half a record, so I went [there] to try and finish it. On my way down there he said, "look, we're going to half to delay it a few days" - he had some record still on the go - and so I rang my sister who was living in Melbourne and said, "I've got a couple of days, do you want to do something?" She was hanging with my now wife and I fell madly in love and I chased her here.

So I didn't know anyone in the music industry here at all. I didn't know anything about Montreal!

MP: Arriving here on your own, how did your band come together?

MM: My wife's cousin told me know about a studio here that was doing some commercial work and, well... there's a wonderful naiveté that you have when come to a new place like I did and you kind of convince yourself that you can do everything even though you don't know how good everybody is.

Of course, now I know the music scene here is fantastic, but then, I went to the studio fairly confident I'd find some work just by bugging people and having an accent. It worked out and I started working some commercials. The band was kind of born from the guys who worked there.

MP: Was it difficult for them to see your vision of what you wanted your music to sound like or did you have similar influences that you could draw upon?

MM: It kind of happened organically. I started to write some songs [for work] and to do that job I had to learn a lot more about computers, which I was sort of shy of doing. So I would just write songs and work on them, I suppose, and one day an engineer came in and heard something I was doing and said, "hey that sounds really good. Now let's record it better." Then a few other people at the studio were really encouraging and just gradually got involved.

MP: The arrangements and production on your EPs are a little more rich and detailed than what you often hear on early albums from independent musicians. Did you enter the studio with that sort of sound in mind, or did it develop during your sessions?

MM: Yeah, probably a combination of the two... I think one of the interesting things working in a place with commercial music is that you're exposed to, and learn how to do a lot of things [in the studio]. A lot of the work involves flexing your production muscle and I do... I love production like I love song writing, but certainly with the studio - with technology the way it is - there's no excuse to not try and explore.

Now, we spent so much time in there and possibly got carried away, but it was really important to me for each EP to be a work of art from start to finish. Like the lyrics, I really spent some time on the production with the guys I work with. They're all very well versed in music and technology and I was in a situation with musicians in a studio and with the chance to use string and horn players... I wasn't going to turn down that opportunity.

MP: Was there a musical inspiration for tracks like "Another World's Sun"? That song reminds me somewhat of a soundtrack to an 80s British sci-fi show.

MM: I really wanted that song to feel like you were watching Labyrinth on VHS tape at your parents' house. That's the sort of stuff I really grew up on and I guess my mum is sort of a Brit-o-phile. She's been watching Colin Firth in whatever he's in... you know, like Pride & Prejudice. I grew up in a house that was fairly full of British art and comedies and whatever. So, I'm probably more influenced by British music than American and that was one of the interesting things in coming to Montreal because there is more of an American influence here than in Australia.

MP: Growing up in Australia, what artists were you into?

MM: Well, apart from the obvious British artists, my first record was John Farnham who nobody really knows here. He was like a male Celine Dion - a big domestic star, long mullet, huge voice. In my teenage years I was into U2 and a number of Australian artists.

MP: Were Midnight Oil as big there as they were here?

MM: Yes, they were huge and very important for us and I guess Crowded House was there too. AC/DC... we were just very proud of them, although they're kind of Scottish, but don't tell anybody.

In the 90s in Australia I guess there was Nirvana for me and a real game changer was hearing Radiohead's The Bends. I kind of had a high voice like that so when I heard [Thom Yorke] I thought, "wow, maybe I can do that."

You know, you have certain records from when you were young that stick with you. David Bowie, Lennon... he was probably the big one for me. My old man was a bit of a Lefty so for things like Christmas, we'd play Lennon. Dylan as well - lyrical stuff like that. These days I tend to listen to stuff that doesn't really have lyrics.

MP: What kinds of bands did you play with in Australia?

MM: I had a band called The Hollow Bodies. We recorded some stuff and we were pretty young, but some of it was pretty good. I was lucky to find Jonathan Burnside. I really learned a lot from him. There's probably some of the influence of working with him on the last record. He produced a band called The Sleepy Jackson and one of those guys went on to be in the band Empire of the Sun. Anyway I really thought the Sleepy Jackson record was amazing and we had a song called "Machines" which got a bit of radio play in Australia so I was able to find him and work with him.

MP: Two EPs down, a full album to come? Will you take a different approach to its sound?

MM: Yeah, I'll take a different approach. I'm going to try to limit the instrumentation a little and I'd like to focus on the song structures a little more, you know... making them catchier, making them more repetitive yet a bit less structured. At the show on Tuesday at Casa del Popolo there are a few new songs and we've had to find a way to play the dense tunes with less people and less stuff and I think it's sounding really good. So yeah, anything in the future will have a little less instrumentation and probably less lyrics too. You know, I really wanted to tell stories in my songs and now I think I want them to make a little less sense. I feel like I've done that thing and now I'm going to try to do something else. Maybe something a little quicker too... the first two EPs really took time in the studio. There are a lot of man-hours in those tunes.

MP: Any tours planned for the future?

MM: No, not at the moment. I'd like to get myself across Canada at some point, but now I think I need to do a full-length record.

MP: Vegimite - yay or nay? Is it the equivalent to poutine in Montreal?

MM: Nay, man. Nay! I hate it. If you could eat vegemite when you're drunk and it would help in some way, I could see it as an equivalent, but it doesn't have the medicinal qualities that poutine has.

MP: Waltzing Matilda or Advance Australia Fair?

MM: Waltzing Matilda. Even though it's about suicide and killing sheep, I have to say Waltzing Matilda.

MP: Who is your favourite Canadian artist?

MM: Neil Young.

MP: What do you love most about Montreal?

MM: It's such an easy city to live in. It's encouraging to the arts and it's cheap... hmm, I should be more specific... the stairs! The stairs outside my house... I laugh every time I come up them. They're so steep and ridiculous. I can picture a woman with two kids trying to get up those stairs. My god.

MP: What do you miss most about your hometown, Jamberoo?

MM: I guess the ease of life there. The winter here does require effort to be comfortable, so I suppose the ease of life and certainly the country life.

MP: What do you love most about Poutine?

MM: To be honest I haven't eaten too much. When I came here I was too old and too aware of my gut.

MP: What do you hate most about Poutine?

MM: Hard to say... I haven't eaten enough.

MP: How did you spend your 16th birthday?

MM: At Jamberoo Pub playing pool, if I remember correctly, on a small table with a huge lean. You could hit the ball anywhere and it would fall into the far left corner pocket. It was a terrible table.

But yes, the wonderful thing about growing up in the country is that you could drink far before you probably should. The drinking age is 18 there, but at the country pub I had no problem getting myself a beer before then.

So yes, playing pool and probably listening to this band called Cold Chisel on the jukebox.

See Michael Mooney at Casa del Popolo this Tuesday, February 21st. Check out his music here.



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