I'm delighted to welcome the return of Mick Dillingham to our little corner of the world wide web. People remark about my taste, well I bow to the masterful way, Mick picks the old and new from out of the ether.
Mothboxer are one of those bands that you hope will breakout. Similarly to Spygenius and Captain Wilberforce, Dave Ody's excellence should be admired by the world. I often bemoan the lack of truly great Guitar Pop coming from out of the UK, there are certain exceptions and we should celebrate them.
Mick Interviews Dave Ody about his career and as you listen to some of the back catalogue, you will hear what you are missing. Mothboxer should no longer be our little secret.
What an utterly glorious band Mothboxer are. Centred around the prestigious talents of Dave Ody, they have spent the last ten years recording five virtually faultless, albums and three EPs of such quality and grace. These adventures effortlessly propel them right up there into the highest echelons of modern day classic combos alongside the beloved likes of The Luck of Eden Hall and Pugwash.
Entering the spellbinding musical world of Mothboxer you cannot help but be helplessly dazzled by the winning songs swathed in beautifully crafted, inventive playing and multilayered production values that are second to none on the listening pleasure scale. Musically they dwell in that most cherished garden of delights, yes its all our favourite P’s: Power Pop, Psychedelia and Progressive.
While the influences are there to notice on first play it isn’t too long at all before they fall away from the consciousness leaving only the unmistakable individual sound of Mothboxer to delight in. This is the hallmark of true talent and it’s a wonder to behold.
The past decade or so as home recording equipment has grown to rival the sound delivered by a professional recording studio, there’s been a quiet revolution in creativity unhindered by record company meddling and the constraint of budgets. A joyous artistic autonomy of creative freedom that at its finest can be cherished both by the artist and the listener in equal measure.
What you get in such circumstances is not some corporate money men’s often arbitrary idea of what an artist should sound like but instead the true sound of what the artist themselves think they should sound like. Obviously the artist is not always right, the third Semisonic album springs to mind, but when they are right, as is the case here, then just sit back and watch the majesty unfold.
Anyway I think I’ve drowned you all in enough superlatives for one day and anyway half and hour or so spent listening to their output on Bandcamp will effortlessly show you that each and every gushing word is well deserved. But enough of my thoughts, let us, gentle reader, get on with the business at hand which is sitting down with the esteemed Mr. Ody to find out the story so far.
What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?
Most of my early memories have music associated with them. I distinctly remember hearing David Bowie’s Jean Genie on the little kitchen radio my parents used to have. I must have been about two to three years old.. There was always music on in the house, either The Beatles or The Beach Boys with a bit of The Kinks for good measure. I remember trawling through my parents record collection around the age of six and discovering Revolver for the first time. To this day, Tomorrow Never Knows is, as far as I’m concerned, the most impressive three minutes of audio production there is and is probably what planted the seed for my interest in production.
In fact, from about that time onward, I remember figuring out that if I held down the record button on my music centre tape deck half way it would record at half speed or even slower. I also discovered that if you plug headphones into a microphone jack they would become a basic microphone… try it! Somewhere there are cassette tapes with these “experiments” on them.
Which music artists first made you sit up and take notice?
I suppose it would have to be The Beatles and The Beach Boys. My Mum was very into Fifties Rock n Roll too, which was the music of her youth, so I remember being very impressed as a small child with artists like Fats Domino, Little Richard and Elvis among others. It was obvious even as a kid that these guys did something that changed music forever and the bands in the sixties and seventies and beyond owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
I still discover artists that make me sit up and listen which is great. I know a lot of people who have an “era”. Usually the music that was around in their formative years and have great difficulty looking beyond that but there’s still SO much great music out there. Mainstream TV, radio and press do just not cover it as they’re forced to play it safe and are unlikely to take a risk. Same story with labels and publishers. I get it, it’s all about return on investment, sadly.
Stuff from the last couple of decades that has had the same goosebump effect on me as music I heard as a child include Fleet Foxes, Grandaddy, Jaguar Ma, and Field Music. Particularly, there's a cult English band who’ve been around since the late seventies, Cardiacs, who had an enormous effect on me as they are totally original. If you don’t know about them, you’re missing something special, although be warned, they are very, very unusual at times!
When did you start playing an instrument?
I remember having a Bontempi organ when I was again, around five or six. When you switched it on it sounded like a broken vacuum cleaner or some kind of industrial machine! It sounded horrible but I worked out basic chords and musical intervals on it. I had a Beatles chord book that I got one Birthday or Christmas from my parents, one of the greatest presents I ever received, it had notation of every Beatles song which I couldn’t read, still can’t to this day.
But usefully, it had the chords listed above the notation so I learnt from there. I progressed (regressed?) to guitar around the age of fourteen or fifteen after re-stringing my Dad’s electric guitar to left handed, I am right handed but for some reason play the guitar left handed… just makes more musical sense to me.
When did you start writing songs?
I started attempting to write songs around the time I was learning guitar. None of them had any merit whatsoever….what can a fifteen year old really write about in all honesty! The first song I wrote where I thought.. “ah, that’s not too bad” was a song called “Help Me Out Now” which was lyrically diabolical but musically had enough going for it for me to carry on writing and improving my skills.
Were you in any early bands?
Yes indeed. My first band was at school. It was called “Concrete Tonsils” and was about as good as the name suggests. We played covers and not very good ones at that, but you have to start somewhere and we were having a good time! In fact, two of the members of that band are still very dear friends and in fact, the drummer Phil Davies plays on many of the earlier Mothboxer tracks.
Tell us about some of your previous recording projects prior to Mothboxer, Kid Galahad and The Furze
So, post “Tonsils”(classic, musical differences split obviously.) I met local bassist Paul Seaman. We had loads of favourite bands in common and we enjoyed jamming over Hendrix and Cream covers! Writing wise, we were both finding our feet and a few line-ups later we had the first iteration of the band that became Kid Galahad.
KG was the first band I was a member of where we all wanted to do it seriously and we chased the elusive record deal. When we were good, we were very good, if a bit musically all over the place. We never had a solid musical direction and that was ultimately our downfall, but it was fun while it lasted.
In fact, we achieved quite a bit looking back. We had NME single of the week, a few primetime Radio One plays and some MTV2 heavy rotation. We also supported some pretty hefty bands at the time, Supergrass, Kaiser Chiefs first iteration “Parva” and on our first US visit we supported the legendary Elliott Smith at the Silver Lake lounge in LA. It was the first time I was starstruck, sitting in the same dressing room as him and his entourage while he jammed through Beatles White Album tracks. Amazing and sorely missed legend of a man.
When, inevitably our deal expired as Kid Galahad in 2004 we re-thought it all. After self releasing a few EP’s and singles as Kid Galahad we decided, stupidly as it turned out, to change the name to The Furze, a reference to the senior school three out of four of us attended in Furze Platt. When it didn’t really happen again for us, the band kind of naturally went into hiatus in 2006.
How did the Geen album come together?
By the time of Kid Galahad, Paul and myself had become pretty prolific and accomplished songwriters and along with singer Ash Bull, who contributed many of the lyrics and drummer Dave Strows we had a tight unit. This meant I’d built up a huge catalogue of songs from the late nineties all the way up to 2007. Most were for and used by KG but there was a collection of tracks, particularly around the time of the band’s dissolution that sounded like an album waiting to happen.
I was becoming more confident in the studio and as technology became more and more advanced and accessible, I was teaching myself modern music production and it became “my thing”. I enlisted the help of a local friend and label owner Bob Barker of LineOut Records and he kindly agreed to release Geen on his label. It got some pretty good reviews and a fair bit of local radio and internet play so I was encouraged enough to continue. It does still sound like a collection of demo’s but that’s it’s charm I suppose.
You then put together a live band, who were the other members and how did you enjoy playing live?
The live band came about after a lunchtime pint and chat with Bob. I had Phil Davies in mind as drummer and I was working with and producing a local musician and songwriter, Robbie Burley a.k.a. Finchey who was an obvious choice to be involved on guitar and vocal duties. I asked Paul initially to join on bass but for one reason or another it didn’t pan out, so we enlisted bassist Jon Hawes from Phil’s previous band Mother Black Cap.
As a live act, Mothboxer only played about five or six gigs. Mostly in and around London with the exception of 2013 when we played the prestigious IPO festival at the Cavern in Liverpool. That was a great gig but ultimately, it was getting harder and harder logistically and financially to keep playing live. It felt like I was starting from scratch and being older and having responsibilities like being a Dad and trying to hold down a day job, something had to give.
Add to that the fact that I always suffered horribly with stage fright, it was an obvious decision to stop gigging. I am quite often asked if Mothboxer will ever play live in some form or other again and I usually say something like “you never know”. That’s still the case. I like to keep my options open but there’s no plans currently.
Weirdly though, there is a Kid Galahad one off reunion at PennFest this July in the UK, which will be the first time that line up has been on stage in about twelve years. I better start re-learning that material. This news has just been confirmed, so you have an exclusive here. We’re on Friday July 20th, one of the main stage supports, stage time still to be announced.
Tell us about the first album proper.
Yes, back to Mothboxer… As a kind of follow on from Geen, in 2009 I booked our local studio for a full day to record the drum tracks for what would become “Mothboxer”. By this stage I had loads of new material so as well as re working some of the Geen tracks to include live drums and a somewhat improved production, the album ended up being a mammoth fourteen tracks. This album was totally self released, as are all the Mothboxer albums to date and the response was encouraging getting favourable reviews as well as local BBC radio exposure.
Frequency followed in 2011 and was very much a studio based project. For me, it was more of a production learning album. so I took more of an electronic approach and it was all done “in the box”. It does still have one of my favourite Mothboxer tracks on it though, namely “Somehow, Somewhere”
2012’s Three was the first album where I felt I’d nailed the production. It was also the album that I’d had more time to work on as like a lot of people around the time of the financial crisis, I’d just been made redundant from my day job. Not ideal financially but it made me focus on music to stop myself going totally off the rails.
This is also the album that gave Mothboxer wider exposure, particularly in the US, thanks to endorsements from Power Pop luminaries like David Bash who named Three as his number one album for the year which was such a great accolade to receive.
After Three was so well received, Sand And The Rain came very quickly. I wanted to get back to a more concise pop record, it’s just 10 tracks. Again, very positive reviews for this one which was lovely.
It also contains another track that I really enjoyed writing and recording “In The Morning”. There’s also the inclusion of a debut album outtake called “Everything’s Changed” recorded in 2009, which had sat on a hard drive for four years gathering dust. Amazing what you forget about.
You also have three EP releases. What makes you decide to do an EP rather than save the songs for an album?
I think it boils down to the fact that sometimes I have songs that either don’t fit in with an album but are too good to discard. Or more usually, I’ll write a few songs that I’m really happy with and just want to get it out there as it’s own thing.
So onto the new album The Secret Art Of Saying Nothing
I think this album contains some of the best material I’ve released under the Mothboxer name. It was a tricky one to write and record though as it was all a bit disjointed. I had a lot of stuff going on during the writing and recording, a busy day job involving a fair bit of travel, amongst other things. So considering that, it turned out pretty good.
How was the recording process?
To go into a little more detail, it was no different really to the previous albums. I tend to get ideas pretty quickly once I latch onto something I like, a melody or a chord sequence and a lot of songs are written and the basic tracks recorded in the same process.
For this record I wanted a back to basics sounding band record even though a lot of it was recorded in the box. In fact, as a whole it’s Mothboxer’s heaviest record to date. I’m pretty happy with my studio setup now so the workflow is a lot more fluid than it was even three or four years ago. I’m a huge technology geek so as far as production is concerned I’m always learning how to use new plugins and software and always trying to hone my skills not only as a writer but as a producer.
The producer hat is something I’ve been wearing for a while now and while I was working on Secret Art, I was also working on two other projects. Firstly for upcoming artist Patrick Martyn, the best singer songwriter I’ve heard since Elliott Smith and also Finchey’s second album, both of which are quite stunning in their current state and they’re not even finished. Both of these will be out this year if all goes to plan.
How happy are you with the finished album?
Very happy with it to be honest, as I mentioned earlier, it was a strange period but it all came out well in the end! I think it flows pretty well as an album, not that people really listen to albums in order anymore, shame really…
Were there songs you didn’t use?
Only a couple of things as I recall. They had a few promising moments, but didn’t end up making it to a “song” as such. I had enough tracks that made sense as a cohesive whole already. I’m sure some elements of them will end up on the next record though.
What are your favourites on the record?
I keep going back to “Right Time To Say Goodnight”. I’m happy with the feel of it and also lyrically, so that’s a favourite. I also really like “Way We’re Gonna Live Tonight” which closes the album. It’s a bit of a rousing chorus that one.
How does the song writing process work with you?
Wow.. Big question. So usually, I’ll be playing around with a chord sequence on the keyboard, trying out a new sound on a synth plugin or even just jamming a few chords on the guitar and more often than not, something starts to form as a verse or chorus. Then it’s just a question of building it out into a song structure.
That’s not to say it happens like that all the time. There’s many occasions where I pick up the guitar with the intention of writing something and literally nothing decent appears but thankfully those moments are still few and far between.
Are you slow or prolific?
I suppose because I dedicate a lot of time to music I’m pretty prolific. Having said that, there was a long gap between Sand And The Rain and Secret Art, nearly two years, but I suppose the workaholic side of me decides that working on at least three projects simultaneously is just fine and not in anyway impacting on my mental health.
What would you say were your biggest influences?
There’s probably two threads to this answer:
Musically, I have influences that are very different and not all of them reflect necessarily in the music I release. Obviously The Beatles are ingrained in my DNA, as are The Beach Boys, especially the Pet Sounds, Smile era naturally. But I also listen to some fairly obscure stuff too. I mentioned Cardiacs earlier. Leader Tim Smith is one of very few artists I would describe as a genius. Speaking of geniuses, Frank Zappa also had a huge affect on me and I suppose in some of the Mothboxer madder moments his influence is noticeable.
Secondly, I’m influenced by people. Friends and family particularly. My daughter has a huge influence on me as a person and therefore there’s a lot of her influence in what I do.
How’s the feedback to the album been so far?
Very good so far, thankfully. Some blog reviews have described it as the best album yet which is so nice to hear. It validates the work that goes into creating the records and keeps me keen to release stuff that I would want to hear.
I think that’s the key to writing and producing music. I could try and second guess what would “hit” for want of a better word but ultimately I would be chasing my tail and never get anything done.
I’ve seen this happen first hand where very talented writers continue to tweak and change things to sound like stuff that’s popular and going viral but they always end up two steps behind. It’s far better to stick to your guns and create stuff that you yourself would buy/download/steal. Whatever it is that people do nowadays!..............................................
You can listen to and buy any or all of the Mothboxer albums here. The latest album, The Secret Art Of Saying Nothing is a wonderful affair and a bargain at £5. It was in my Top 10 albums of 2017. I've chosen the song selections here, but there are others that Dave suggests. I would say that Mothboxer albums are essentially best from start to finish, there is obviously a lot of thought that goes into the track order.