Mold Omen interview with Andy Livingston to coincide with the new release for the library #11, No Edits in Heaven, available now.
hey andy, how are you? thanks for being into this man! i want to talk about some of the writing you do off the top, there’s a great and funny and conversational prose style descriptionary purpose to the things you say about yr releases on bandcamp, etc, what would you say about this tape we’re releasing today? i’m a big fan of having a few words match up with releases and to help shape or describe or get one thinking about other connections and techniques or whatever, setting the table so to speak, have you always been writing free form about yr material and do you write in any other capacities?
This album was literally a lost one. I was looking on a hard drive for something else and came upon the folder where these tracks came from. And they were recorded at Mike’s house Winter 2013. I even want to say Mike’s brother Martin recorded them, but I could be confusing myself. We remembered very little about the session, but it was so far away from the kind of stuff we are currently doing it was an interesting snapshot of what we were doing back then.
What I would say about it was that there was a heavy impromptu drone aspect that we laid down, in order to pile up random things on top. What those things are are kind of a mystery now though since it was so long ago!
It’s funny that you bring up writing, cause that’s how Mike and I met, we were both staff writers for the late Foxy Digitalis blog and started corresponding and instead of meeting for a beer, we started to jam and that was like almost seven years ago. Mike continues to write in a number of ways (both academic and pop culture stuff). I tried to do the freelance thing for about a year but it drained my soul and I have written one thing in a year and can’t really see myself doing it again for a while.
do you think humour is an important element in noise/experimental music? to not take yrself too seriously? some of the album/song titles are great! i dig it. i’ve long held the opinion that we need to be able to loosen the grips to connect on a real level and humour and wit and sly/sneaky attitudes help with that. we’re all just teetering over the abyss with all of this anyway, no?
I think a sense of humor just comes from a really natural place of finding stuff weird and laughing about it and ourselves. The band is a very expensive and consuming hobby and I can’t see how sustainable it could be if we were both really trying to explore a dark side all the time.
Although we take what we do pretty seriously, at the end of the day it’s a band that improvises noise and we’ve found ourselves singing into bubble wrap. So taking it seriously just isn’t really for us.
where does the heavy drone/dissidence stem from? was this pre-planned or thought/talked about before you got this project going? or maybe this is the natural trajectory of playing together? it seems like a no-rules project and one where you can go deep into textures and atonality with freedom, that must be a pretty rad thing to have all the doors blown off? do you ever go too far where you have to rope it back in?
We never, ever talked about setting a goal of what to achieve as a group when we started. I think it was less about achieving a sound and more about letting the band be an active and organic thing. So whatever we wanted to do was immediately on the table.
The drone stuff is better as an element instead of a whole meal and since there are only two of us, having something as a drone does fill out the sound more and allow us to build up textures and play multiple instruments at a time if we see fit.
I don’t think there exists a “too far” when we play. The best songs we ever have are ones where things seem like they can fall apart at any minute, or the ones that do fall apart at every minute.
you’ve had quite a few releases on a bunch of different weirdo labels, mostly tapes and a couple of cdrs, do you guys have a particular format in mind with each release? or are you just going where the wind takes you?
I think whatever comes across the imaginary desk of Mold Omen Industries is always something that’s worth pursuing. I don’t think we’ve had set ideas on releases relating to formats, except only in terms of editing and track sequence.
mold omen is you and mike pursley, can you describe what each of you brings to this project? are there distinct sound-creating ideas and modes that separate out the duo and help push it forward? or do you switch up on instruments and try to blend yr voices/ideas into one?
Like any relationship, it takes some work and mixing things up every once in a while. I think at one point I thought that what we brought broke down to rhythm & lead. The rhythm part doesn’t necessarily mean drums or bass, but providing some kind of bed to lay down whatever the lead (also not necessarily meaning guitar) to go along with.
Although there have been times when we’re both the rhythm and both the lead, so I don’t know how any of that actually stands. There’s almost no pre-planning of what we do except we tend to work out a set beforehand if we play a show, just to get an idea. It’s also helpful so we know what each other is bringing in terms of gear. If we’re recording anything is possible though.
is mold omen music improvised on the whole? what are yr thoughts on improv vs composition and do you ever think about long-form scripted type work? modern classical/ensemble music with notation and cues? ever think about making mold omen a larger group? has membership changed at all over the years?
Yep, everything is improvised. We may have a larger conceptual idea of what things should sound like, but there’s never any real directive. I can’t read music and I have wonky double-jointed knuckles that makes changing chords almost impossible, so we have never really talked about composition because of those limitations. I think doing something larger scale would be interesting, but I think it would have to come from a natural place of thinking of some large idea that would use cues and notation.
MO is just us and always been us and if that changes then it won’t be called Mold Omen anymore. We’ve jammed with a couple of other people before, but nothing really jelled past then, but we’re always available to be someone’s backing band. I’m mostly serious about that.
what are the advantages or disadvantages of living in baltimore? yr close to a bunch of different places, must make travel and touring more of a possibility and something you can bang out on weekends, do you guys tour much? or play out much at all? and how would a live mold omen set differ from the home stew?
Baltimore is small but has an irrationally large art and music scene for the amount of people here. Despite the size there’s a clique element to the city. We’ve both benefited and felt limited by the clique approach, but what can you do? We played out a lot more before we took a brief hiatus while Mike and his wife had a child. We’ve been slow to get back into it, but venues close and change pretty frequently here so it’s not uncommon for a lull in shows.
The only thing that’s really different in our approach to playing live is we generally have a better idea of what we’re doing and almost inevitably some piece of equipment breaks or malfunctions in front of people when we’re setting up.
andy, you’ve started yr own tape label, volcano casanova (great name!), what made you want to get that going and how do you think that’ll help with future releases of mold omen or yr own solo jams? is it a vehicle to keep pumping everything out, you mentioned that you have a pretty good archive of work waiting/ready for release at any time? do you have plans to release other material outside yr family tree? and so far it’s been recycled tape styles, any other format plans? or professional duplication?
I want to limit the number of releases that I’m involved in and would rather start to promote other people. I chose an album from myself because I was ready for that to come out and I knew Mold Omen had a killer exotica album in us. I have a few releases lined up, and the timeline is pretty fluid so I’m not too worried about doing this above a hobby level at this point. I definitely want to have more people outside of us do it, but I like having the format of the label be hyper curated. Even if there’s an artist that hasn’t really played around with those sounds, but I think they’re sonically interesting I’m probably asking them to do an album.
I won’t do professional duplication. I don’t have any kind of strict political feeling about it (obviously many MO albums have been done this way) but for me, I just rather have the feeling that this tape with weird sounds came from some place else entirely. Also economically, it just makes more sense for me to do it this way.
how do you define post-exotica and what are some of the styles or techniques that yr into that you think pushes some of this music into this frame?
Post-exotica is easy listening gone through the orgone machine. All the nice, vaguely familiar and soothing sounds turn into tales of anxiety. Although there are lots of people who previously have used these templates to explore the farther reaches of relaxation, I always think of the twin peaks of post-exotica as Mike Cooper and Tom Recchion.
when did you guys start to get into more experimental or underground sounds? i’m always fascinated with the curve we all take towards more specific scenes or sounds that we’re looking for, or chasing, and i think we all tend to stumble into weirder shit in neat ways. sometimes it’s a natural progression from say college/indie rock into captain beefheart into free jazz into sun city girls, etc, or it’s a mind-blow of a concert/show/drugs/situation where it all comes at once, do you guys jump all over the place in yr listening habits? i would guess that you guys stretch into pretty extreme tastes across the board?
At some point in my twenties I just hit a wall and I remember thinking “I just can’t listen to another white guy with a guitar talk about his feelings” and then really pushed myself to figure out what was going on with something like Wolf Eyes.
So it was just going further and further away, but I always think in terms of Mold Omen, we’re a song based group so the kind of thing that we listen to is probably not that too out there.
what’s been blowing you away of late? anything on yr minds pertaining to any scenes or formats or changing listening patterns? authors or filmmakers that inspire? life things that yr grappling with?
The last time I was at Mike’s he had the new Alan Bishop and the Beatriz Ferreyra. Lately for me I have not been into a bunch of new stuff, but taking a detour into guys like Eugene Chadbourne, Daevid Allen, and Henry Flynt. I took a two-week sabbatical from home recording and finally read Ulysses, which was really great. No wonder people talk about that book so much.
you seem to revel in blown-out and busted-up gear and sound choices, where do you land on the gear fetishist scale? (zero being ‘don’t give a shit, just play’ and ten being ‘i collect vintage tube amps and reel to reel machines’) and do you have preferences for home recording vs studio styles. and the lower fidelity and hairier audio choices are part of the master plan, correct?
We did a majority of our recording in the basement of a house I lived in for about four years and the natural reverb of that spot was really great. Since then I’ve moved into other apartments and capturing the sound has become a challenge and has made us think about different ways we can alter our recording. But mostly it’s still just practice amps being recorded into the onboard mic of a computer.
I’m really not a gear fetishist. I certainly have preferences for stuff, but the most interesting sounds come from different things. I have a violin that I’ve owned for as long as we’ve been a band and I never changed the strings. Since I don’t really know how to play any instrument anyways, it’s more an effort of making the most interesting sound out of anything I’m in front of.
can you tell me what’s going on with this new album? some heavy droning guitars and feedback, what is it we’re hearing? what are the instruments at play here? is tone and sustaining figures the goal, and just holding drones to sink yr teeth into? there’s a beautiful balance between long held tanpura-type drone/sustain/ring and some wild sharrock’esque guitar skittery, even some druggy vocal moans, a nice mix of drifting eye-close and wake-the- fuck-up, that on purpose here? two sides of the same coin?
I’m pretty sure you nailed it. There is guitar, keyboard (maybe even from both of us), droning vocals, probably a cassette being played or the oscillation of a pedal chain. I think since we were both doing music reviews at a high point for drone releases (2008-2010- ish) it was sort of draining to try and find a new way to write about a record that just sounded like someone turning up a knob very slowly. There was a concerted effort to add more sounds to a drone, especially cause we were not interested in being a “drone band”. Drones are precise and we are not. And if it sounds like we were being precise, that’s either a trick of recording or editing or both.
if someone from work or in yr family says ‘oh yr a musician? what kind of music do you play?’ what do you respond with?
Haha, my family doesn’t really ask questions about what I’m doing with my life, but they understand I’m pretty weird. I think they would just nod politely in that way that people do when they have no idea what you’re talking about.
do you have any patterns or rituals when it comes to jamming together and for recording? and do you record everything? record with tape and/or digital?
We definitely do the “record everything” thing because you just never know. A lot of times you wind up using something like 25% of that (or less) because of technical issues, or you listen back and you don’t like what you’re playing or you’re gear starts fucking up.
We also do everything digitally cause it’s a step away from editing later. Even though I use cassettes a lot, I don’t have any romantic notion of using tape.
thanks andy, appreciate taking the time to answer these! what’s coming up with yr solo work and what are the future mold omen plans?
We have another album coming out on Moon Myst tapes which will be a nice companion piece to “No Edits in Heaven”. I have a couple of solo albums that I’m trying to finish up and one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done is called “Cabana Dentata” and I believe it’s coming out on Lurker Bias in Chicago.
Other than that we’re just gonna keep being weird.