To successfully nurture singularity within music is seldom an achievable feat. Among shifting ideals of “genres” and influences, music is more than ever a variant of sounds, becoming more and more malleable by the minute. It is infinitely easier to feel desensitized to what “new” music has to offer, because it inevitably all becomes marketed as “new.” Even still, there are artists and bands who are able to stand out from the rest, and actually make it count. Indie electro-rock group MOTHXR is one of these bands.
Already somewhat of an Atwood Magazine favorite, Brooklyn-based four-piece MOTHXR have masterfully fostered a freshness that proves them to be a glimmering gem among otherwise homogeneous dregs of sound. Their debut album Centerfold (Washington Square Music/Kitsune) was released in February of this year, and ultimately proves to be an exquisitely alluring record that is both hypnotic and expansive.
Over the past few months, the band have found themselves touring nonstop with acts like Polica, Charles Bradley, and The Neighbourhood, and recently announced their first-ever headlining tour this upcoming fall. Atwood Magazine caught up with the guys of MOTHXR [sans producer/guitarist Jimmy Giannopoulos] at Terminal 5 in NYC while on tour with The Neighbourhood. Considerate, humble, and lucidly erudite, MOTHXR effortlessly maintain an aura of deft nonchalance while elucidating everything from their seamless dynamic as a band, which of their songs made them cry, and why they’ll never settle on compromises. MOTHXR is refreshingly transparent, upholding their definitive personal truths above all else.
Listen: “Easy” – MOTHXR
A CONVERSATION WITH MOTHXR
Atwood Magazine: So good to meet you guys! I’ve been a fan for a little while, and I actually saw you in London when you opened for The Neighbourhood at Roundhouse.
Simon Oscroft: Oh, no way?
Penn Badgley: That was the first time you had heard of us?
I had heard of you, but I had never actually seen you. But I loved the live set, and wanted to come back!
Simon: Very cool.
Yeah! So, tell me a little bit about how you guys first got involved in music.
Penn: You mean as a band?
No, I’ve read about that plenty of times -- I feel like that gets asked of you every time.
Simon: Yeah. Well, I guess we’ll just go around? I started early; I got my first guitar when I was around 8 or 9 and started busking in the streets, then started bands when I was like 12. I stayed in bands through high school, and then by the end of high school, around 18, I decided this is what I want to do. By 22 I moved to the States and played in a few bands, then met these guys a few years ago. So, it’s just kind of what I’ve always done.
Darren Will: Basically the same; I’m not really sure why. You can’t really answer why. But I saved up and bought a bass when I was around 11 or something, and then just ever since I’ve been playing.
Penn: Same with me, except somewhere in there I started acting, just because it was a branch of the same creative tree. Then that became professional at a very young age, so I didn’t have the opportunity to really devote time and energy to [music] until basically when this project started.
Nice. Yeah, I know that you guys have all done different things — the acting career, Simon, you were in Midnight Youth, and then Jimmy (Giannopoulos) does Lolawolf. Do you find it hard to be able to separate yourself from your past things, or has it helped you with this project?
Penn: Well, what is the present but one step forward from the past?
Simon: It was all necessary to actually follow the breadcrumbs into meeting and colliding with each other. So, you can’t really say anything but that it was fucking perfectly appropriate and perfect.
The stars aligned; it worked out.
Simon: Yeah, sure. And then this leads to another thing; so this is a stepping stone to another thing for all of us, but it’ll always exist, which is the cool thing.
…It was uncommonly seamless the way we made this record and recorded together.
True. It’s just a pocket it time. And “Centerfold,” as a debut record, is very impressive as your splash into the music scene. What was your thought process with picking the songs that you wanted to put on, figuring out your sound; what brought it all together?
Simon: In short, it was very spontaneous and easy and organic and it just was the sound that happened. There was no—if we had a different combination of histories and influences, then it would sound different. But it’s just a combination of the four of our [histories]. You can’t help it, that’s just what it is.
Penn: Yeah, I’d say that this project is, at its essence, the sound of the four of us working seamlessly. I mean, it was uncommonly seamless the way we made this record and recorded together. And that’s that; we have all our influences and we have all the things we bring to it, but it’s just the sound of four people, with effort and not utter ease, [working in] total fluidity. It’s just what came out naturally. We were able to get out of the way so that it could come out. When I think back, it’s really exceptional. Exceptional in the process, not necessarily the final product, that’s not what I’m saying—just to be clear, I’m not saying we’ve made an exceptional record.
I mean, I personally think so.
Penn: Well, sure, but that’s not my place to say.
We’re not sticking to a formula, that’s for sure.
Do you think that you guys have a trademark “MOTHXR” thing that you insert into your tracks that separates you?
Simon: Well to follow on from the last question into this one, there wasn’t a whole bunch of songs. There’s not a main songwriter, and we’re [not] all reactive to that songwriter’s initial source.
Penn: Yeah, we’re all completely responding to one another in real time.
Simon: We’re all responsible.
Penn: We’re all in the room influencing every decision that’s made, whether that’s directly or indirectly. You really can’t quantify those things, but when it comes to the song choices, you know, it’s not like we had this massive thing and then whittled it down and then there was still a thing.
Simon: We built it up to what it got to, yeah.
Penn: It was kind of like, every foot forward was like, “Okay, alright, there’s another song.”
Darren: There isn’t like, a “signature.” I mean, we chose the palette and the instrumentation for the stuff, and then we changed that. So the sonics you’re hearing are changing, they’re always changing. So there’s no real “signature thing.”
Right, I get that. So there’s nothing to specifically differentiate you.
Simon: No. The only thing you really can’t get away from is the tambour of [Penn’s] voice, and the choices that we make. Like—with people like Kanye, and other people like that who we respect—who knows what the second record is going to sound like? Because we’re not sticking to a formula, that’s for sure.
Penn: Right. Obviously there’s a signature sound for this record.
But that could completely change later on.
Penn: Exactly. And that’s just because we did an honest job of letting it all come out the way that it did in this time period. So it’s consistent.
So do you have a favorite song, then? Or one that you attach yourself to more?
Penn: Well, all of us would have a different answer, but I really don’t know at this point. I haven’t listened to the record in so long, and live is very different. Live, I prefer a song that I certainly wouldn’t prefer on the record.
Simon: I like “Touch.”
Penn: Yeah, “Touch.”
Simon: It’s more progressive, and the final product is a very clear view into the window of how we work. It’s progressive in that way; we write songs in a way that’s like a Domino effect. The next section is only a reaction to the previous section, just because that’s how we write. I like “Touch” because it goes on a bit of a journey, because it was one of the songs that we just couldn’t finish, so we just kept making it longer.
Penn: And it’s more of—I don’t want to be cheesy—it’s more of a journey live.
Listen: “Touch” – MOTHXR
Well, with the instrumentals and the crowd and everything…
Penn: Yeah, yeah. What we’ve done, and what any live show does, is you hit all the same points, but there’s more dynamic in between and it’s more organic. So I think live, it’s an incredibly fun song to play.
Darren: I would say kind of the opposite; I think “Wild Ride” is less of a journey musically, but more of a journey internally.
Those lyrics are deep.
Darren: The song is pretty simple, but it showcases sentiment, which I think is kind of special. I also love “Touch,” but for that reason, there’s a lot of space for that meaning to come through [in “Wild Ride”].
Penn: On the record, definitely.
Simon: “Wild Ride” brought us to tears ourselves.
It's very different from the rest of the record!
Darren: As we were “finding it,” it was hard to find the words and the music and everything.
Simon: Then we listened back, and we were just moved by it.
Darren: And then we got the “moment.” It sort of clicked at some point.
Penn: I’m just going to say that the one regrettable thing about that track is that it’s nearly impossible to sing that quietly on a live stage at that register, and be heard. So I have to sing it very differently live, which, it is what it is. We just need bigger stages, bigger rooms, and more production value to get to the point where we can play it live properly.
Watch: “Wild Ride” – MOTHXR
Well you’re headlining in the fall, so maybe you can work on it then. So what are you most proud of with what you’ve done with MOTHXR, at least so far?
Penn: You know, just that it’s working and that it keeps going. Who knows where it’ll go, but we got a lot further than nowhere. So, that’s awesome. We got together, we made this record, and then we wondered what we might do with it. And it’s doing something. It’s not doing nothing, but it’s hard to say what that “something” is. We’ll see.
You’ll figure it out; you’re still pretty new, so it’s fine.
Penn: Exactly. The project has just been building now.
Well as a band, you guys are only two years old.
Darren: Yeah, since we first started actually recording and sitting down and figuring it out.
But you’ve only put out the debut a few months ago.
Darren: Just a few months, yeah.
Penn: That’s true.
So what message are you trying to convey with your music?
Penn: Well with this record specifically, [and] with our music, there’s not one thing that we’re trying to do as MOTHXR. But this record, thematically and lyrically, does touch essentially on the same point repeatedly, just from different perspectives. And that is one of struggling with material addictions of every kind, at a low and high level, and just trying to find a higher plane, and seeking out a higher truth. And that’s veiled, that’s veiled to the point that you wouldn’t necessarily feel that in every song, or maybe you feel it but you’re not conscious of it. I mean, lyrically that is what I was trying to do: point every song in that direction, without beating it over the head. The second record will be different [laughs].
We have success because we’re doing what we want.
What do you think success looks like? Or do you think success can be measured at all?
Simon: I think it can be measured, but I would use the measuring stick as a longevity scale. Yeah, I think if you just stay together and keep making music, that combined evolution, that’s success to me. That would be beautiful.
Penn: Stay together for the kids.
Do it for the children!
Penn: Yeah I mean, that’s a hard question to answer. It’s a good question, but I’m not sure.
Yeah, that’s why I asked if you think it can be measured.
Penn: I don’t know. I think what Simon said is true, but it really is just subjective at this point. But seriously, what is success if it leaves you empty at the end of it? And who’s to say that any level of success can fuel you at all?
Darren: Yeah, we have success because we’re doing what we want. We held out for the right labels, and we’re keeping creative control, and we’re doing the things we want to do. So, that feels successful.
Penn: It’s just one foot in front of the other, and we’re not compromising. Theoretically, there could be much greater heights of success, but is it successful if you’re sad?
Simon: I think you summed it up, one foot in front of the other. I think if you can get the next foot, and then the next one…
Penn: One foot in front of the other, and making no compromises. Or rather, not compromising your integrity. I mean, creativity and creation is compromise, inherently.
Right. So is that kind of like your motivation then? The “one foot in front of the other” obviously I guess would be motivation in itself.
Penn: The motivation is that we’re all creative, and we all want to make music. This project, as a thing, the mission statement is “don’t make compromises that we shouldn’t be making.” There are some projects where you could, and it would make sense, and you could just say “You know what? Fuck it…“
Simon: To follow along with what he said, inherently, and that mantra to “put one foot in front of the other” and have no compromises means that the environment—this is very bullshit and metaphorical—but if the environment around you changes, then your one foot in front of the next one might not be straight ahead, it might be [another] way. So you’re reactive, and you’re fresh and new; the compromise would be just going in a straight line, and we wouldn’t do that.
And you shouldn’t compromise something that you’re so passionate about.
Penn: We’ll compromise between one another, but not for anyone else.
Well that’s good! I mean, if you’re passionate about something, then you shouldn’t, because it’s what you want.
Penn: Right, so in that sense, that feels like success.
So then where do you go from here?
Penn: We tour in September and October, we have a headline tour. That’ll be a telling moment towards the end of the year, because depending on how that goes, that’s information that tells us where we may be able to go or won’t be able to go. Or maybe it’ll just be like, “alright, I’ll just keep doing the same thing.” It’s anywhere from neutral, to neutral-positive, to overtly positive. I don’t know. That’s just the future.
Darren: And also, that’s like on all fronts. We have a new music video that we’re working on; we have new songs that we’re trying to finish up. We just enjoy doing all those things.
Penn: We’re hoping for a record early next year, but it depends on how much this record starts getting response. We’re building things slowly. We can’t put out a mixtape if we have no press. That’s just not the kind of band we are, obviously.
It’s truly not obvious that the reality of MOTHXR’s situation is that they are in fact still finding their footing within the music scene; there is something to be said about the group’s thoughtfulness and infectious charm, coupled with an undeniable musical talent. Having seemingly accomplished a balanced dichotomy of authenticity and appeal — something not necessarily easy to attain within the indie sphere — MOTHXR inherently encapsulates what it means to simultaneously feel wholly relatable while still challenging conventions. MOTHXR may be simply be working toward whatever end goal it is that they ultimately have, but they are certainly doing it in strides rather than strolls.
:: MOTHXR Fall 2016 Tour ::
Tour Dates for September – November 2016
09/03/16 – Manchester, UK @ SOUND CONTROL
09/04/2016 – Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Games Room
09/05/2016 – Glasgow, United Kingdom @ King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut
09/06/2016 – Nottingham, UK @ The Bodega
09/07/2016 – Bristol, UK @ Exchange
09/08/2016 – London, UK @ Dingwalls
09/09/2016 – Southampton, UK @ Joiners
09/10/2016 – Brighton, UK @ The Green Door Store
09/12/2016 – Brussels, Belgium @ Rotonde
09/13/2016 – Paris, France @ La Maroquinerie
09/14/2016 – Lille, France @ La Peniche
09/16/2016 – Rotterdam, Netherlands @ Rotown
09/17/2016 – Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Bitterzoet
09/19/2016 – Frankfurt Am Main, Germany @ Nachtleben
09/20/2016 – Berlin, Germany @ Postbahnhof
09/21/2016 – Munich, Germany @ Feierwork/Kranhalle
09/22/2016 – Cologne, Germany @ Blue Shell
09/23/2016 – Hamburg, Germany @ Reeper Bahn Festival
09/27/2016 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott
09/28/2016 – New York, NY @ The Bowery Ballroom
09/29/2016 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry at The Fillmore
09/30/2016 – Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery
10/01/2016 – Washington, D.C. @ Songbyrd
10/04/2016 – Toronto, Canada @ Adelaide Hall
10/05/2016 – Detroit, MI @ El Club
10/06/2016 – Chicago, IL @ Subterranean
10/07/2016 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue & 7th St Entry
10/08/2016 – Kansas City, MO @ The Riot Room
10/09/2016 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
10/12/2016 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
10/13/2016 – San Diego, CA @ Voodoo Room at House of Blues
10/14/2016 – Costa Mesa, CA @ The Wayfarer
10/15/2016 – West Hollywood, CA @ Troubador
10/16/2016 – Oakland, CA @ Starline
10/18/2016 – Portland, OR @ Lola’s Room
10/19/2016 – Seattle, WA @ Vera
10/20/2016 – Vancouver, Canada @ Cobalt
10/22/2016 – Boise, ID @ The Olympic Venue
10/23/2016 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
10/25/2016 – Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre
10/27/2016 – Dallas, TX @ Dada Dallas
10/28/2016 – Austin, TX @ Antone’s
10/29/2016 – Houston, TX @ Rudyard’s
10/30/2016 – New Orleans, LA @ Hi Ho Lounge
11/01/2016 – Nashville, TN @ Exit/In
11/02/2016 – Atlanta, GA @ Aisle 5
11/03/2016 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506