Musical Jigsaw

25 June 2013 | 6:00 am | Michael Smith

"I was really overdoing the heart on my sleeve, singer-songwriter thing, and I didn’t want to do it this time."

From the first note on the second solo album, An Ear To The Earth, you know that you're in for something completely different from the usually pop-infused, sometimes melancholy, but always sensitive and melodic singer-songwriter Mark Moldre. It's courtesy of a glissando trombone, of the first song, Everything I Need Is Here.

“There was a pretty concerted effort to make a different record this time,” Moldre admits with a chuckle. “And there's certainly a bit of genre-hopping, that's for sure. I'd made records the same way for such a long time – I'd always gone into the same studios with the same people – and even when you try to make a different record, you still tend to fall into the same habits, especially when you're sitting in front of computers and you've got so many options; you tend to maybe put more onto the songs than you might have originally planned and I kind of didn't really want to do that this time.

“So there was a concerted effort to restrict ourselves, which was part of the reason for recording through a small desk and going straight to tape and playing live. I also wanted to capture something that I'd never done before, which was that rawer, looser kind of vibe. So it was a thing about breaking habits more than anything else. I wanted to still work with the people I'd been working with, which is just a lot of my old friends, and we wanted to do this thing where we'd cover a lot of genres but still retain a kind of band vibe that cut through the record, not make it sound just a whole bunch of different styles with a bunch of different people.”

That group of friends included guitarist Jamie Hutchings from Bluebottle Kiss, who also arranged and produced the album and joins Moldre in his live band, along with his brother Scott on drums, Reuben Wills on double bass and Adam Lang on banjo and lapslide guitar.

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Lyrically too, Moldre was determined to work outside his usual comfort zone, the confessional singer-songwriter, though perhaps he wasn't anticipating straying into the kind of dark, Gothic world that one usually associates with Nick Cave – no murder ballads, but plenty of death, bones, graveyards and murky water.

“I was really overdoing the heart on my sleeve, singer-songwriter thing, and I didn't want to do it this time. It's funny – it sent me into a whirlwind of writer's block because I'd never done it before and I think once I decided I wasn't going to write the same way it was… nothing came at first. I'd sail and stare at blank pages of my notebook wondering what to write or where to go. So the songs came slowly this time; whereas before, I'd just write and write and write.

“It probably had a bit to do with what I was reading and watching at the time,” Moldre chuckles at the thought of the morbidity of some of the stories on the album. “I do have a little notebook and even if I'm sitting watching a movie and a line sticks out, or some thoughts in a conversation, or something in a poem, I tend to fill my diary with these little ideas. I copied it down and then started trying to piece all the lines together until I had some stories to tell. So it was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle with the lyrics this time.”