The Future of Music Can Survive Without a Beat Machine: An Interview with Mocky

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Mocky is a busy singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. He has offered his talents to artists such as Kelela, Jamie Lidell, GZA and many others. Yet, in-between co-writing or producing records for his artsy friends like Chilly Gonzales and Feist, Mocky is busy making music of his own. In his career that spans over a decade, he has crossed many genres, including hip hop and electronic music. His 2013 EP, Graveyard Novelas: The Moxtape Vol. I featured a variety of electronic rhythms and was a perfect fit for nightclubs in Berlin, where he lived.

Now, after moving to Los Angeles, Mocky’s new EP Living Time: The Moxtape Vol. II strips the producer of any electronic sounds and reintroduces listeners to his multi-instrumental side. The EP plays like a breath of fresh air and sounds more like a follow-up to his 2009 critically acclaimed Saskamodie album. The EP is a glimpse at what his upcoming record, Key Change, may sound like.

I caught up with Mocky at a busy time in his career. He is in the studio with Feist, working on the finishing touches to his album, promoting the EP, and playing a monthly residency every second Wednesday on the rooftop of the Ace Hotel in Downtown L.A. We discussed the Living Time EP, which is available now, and Key Change, due out in June.

Paste : Before sitting down to record Living Time: The Moxtape Vol. II and the upcoming album Key Change, what state of mind were you in? What was the spark that said, “it’s time for another ‘moxtape?’”
Mocky: I came across a book by my great-grandfather called Living Time and something about it rang true with the times I find myself in. In the book he questions our perception of time and for me, music is the best way to explore these ideas.

Paste : What was the recording process like for Living Time?
Mocky: Most of the tracks on Living Time were made on the sly at other people’s sessions. I would arrive at the studio before anyone else and while soundchecking the instruments I would lay down the entire track. Then, I took stuff home to edit on my own time. Some of the songs were made completely at home, like “Howlin’ at the Moon” and “Les Introvertes.” But, that’s why it’s called a “MOXTAPE” because I really admire the way mixtapes set up a different set of musical expectations than an album.

Paste : Your sound right now is mostly instrumental again. Let’s talk about the instruments on Living Time and Key Change.
Mocky: The first thing I play on any song are the drums. I play and sing the songs in my head while I lay it down. Then I add piano for harmony. I also have a $30 toy bass that I bought at a flea market in London a few years back and it has been on every recording since my Saskamodie album. It’s my only priceless instrument. Other than that I use several stacks of instruments to create new sounds. It’s a bit of a Phil Spector approach, but I can’t divulge more than that.

Paste : Your frequent collaborator Feist and singer Kelela contributed to the EP. Can we expect more features on the full-length?
Mocky: Yes, absolutely. That info is still under wraps as I finish the album, but there’s definitely some of the usual suspects as well as a whole new breed of L.A.’s finest.

Paste : Your entire career has not been in front of a beat machine and you discussed with Wired the need for more instruments in music. How did it feel taking steps back from the machine this time opposed to any other time?
Mocky: It feels really good because now I’m in L.A. and there is such a warm community for this type of thing. The techno style ran deep in Berlin and I learned a lot, but in L.A. I’m close culturally and musically to the great music that is closer to what I’m doing. Right now, I’m working with some of the most cutting-edge artists who manage to find innovative ways to apply themselves to and through the technology. You could say the timing is right.

Paste : You mentioned to Wired that key changes in music are a lost art. Can you elaborate on that comment?
Mocky: Key changes happened for a few reasons. Usually it happened because the music needed a lift, or the singers’ and instruments’ ranges were limited, or it just sounded great reaching for notes just out of reach (think of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell at the end of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”). These situations don’t occur in modern music as much any more because often there is no real-world application for a song until it is already on the album. It has been really exciting in my own work and in collaborating with musicians in L.A. to push back in these areas and use more classic elements such as key changes, tempo shifts, and dynamics in new contexts. An incredible young producer in L.A. named P. Morris and I have been working on some exciting new material in this direction.

Paste : You’re a notable live performer. Once the album is released, can we expect a tour? This is something people will certainly want to see live.
Mocky: Yes. I am setting up something interesting for July right now that includes my favorite thing, which is to play some dates at nontraditional venues such as off sites and galleries. In the meantime, my gig in downtown L.A. is great place to catch a show.