Interview: Laser Background’s Andy Molholt and Norwegian Arms’ Brendan Mulvihill on making music in unconventional spaces (house show tour begins tomorrow)
Yesterday evening, Andy Molholt of Philadelphia psych-pop group Laser Background and his longtime friend Brendan Mulvihill of the junkyard folk act Norwegian Arms moved into Dreamcastle, a house-show space in South Philadelphia. They’re living there temporarily, leading up to the kickoff show of their house show “tour” tomorrow night. The plan is an imaginative one: the band is performing four DIY spaces in Philly over the next four weeks. They have to live in each house for two days prior to the show, possibly constructing a pillow fort. They must adhere to “a strict food / drug regimen.” And they’ve got to write music, and perform the results. I grabbed drinks with Molholt and Mulvihill last week to talk about the unconventional residency series, its ambitions, and their affinity for Philly’s vibrant DIY scene.
THE KEY: Let’s sum up this mini-tour (that you’re not leaving the city for). You’re playing four house shows, and the rules are you have to stay in the house two days before playing the show, and collaborative preparational activities will take place while you’re staying there…
ANDY MOLHOLT: Collaborative preparational activities, I like that.
BRENDAN MULVIHILL: That’s really good.
AM: Make sure you put that in there.
TK: …and a song may result that you’ll perform at the show?
AM: More like a song must result.
BM: It’s a must?
AM: It’s a must! We’re good enough songwriters.
BM: We’re in this house for three days, we might as well do something.
AM: We didn’t really ever talk about if the song was going to be collaborative or not, we still have to figure that out. I thought we’d each write a song for our respective projects and perform them as our respective projects. But since I play in Norwegian Arms, and Brendan’s going to play in Laser Background for one of these shows where some of the guys can’t make it, maybe we can do that too.
BM: We’re not entirely sure what’s going to happen. It’s kind of just a big experiment. We might get into a fight. Or we might make out, that might be cool.
TK: It reminds me of the Netherfriends project where he lived in each state, had to write a song in each state. I guess that project is still ongoing. Was at all an influence on this project?
AM: If any of that factored in, it was definitely unintentional. I used to play with Netherfriends for a little bit, but I didn’t think about that. Residencies are kind of a silly idea to begin with – why would you want to go see a band in the same venue every night for four weeks straight?
BM: Not every night! “Come see us play 31 times…”
AM: [laughs] You know what I mean, though. I get that it’s good for the venue if the band’s popular enough. And you get different crowds each night because there’s different openers playing. But I just think it’s kind of silly. I thought it would funny to self-anoint our own residency at house shows. Then the actual living there idea developed, and Brendan had the idea that we had to write songs too.
BM: I mean, why not, right? Only seems natural.
AM: Brendan and I have known each other since we were 13, so these kinds of ideas come naturally.
BM: And we’re used to sleepovers.
TK: Do you anticipate that any kind of recorded collaboration – a split 7”, a split cassette, a split something – might result out of this?
AM: We were talking about a split something.
BM: Not necessarily a record. Maybe a VHS.
AM: Or a split thumb drive with two different ends of the thumb drive and different sides you plug in have different songs on them.
TK: Why do the tour at a houses? Why not a rotating venue tour, or rotating tour where you play bars on makeshift stages?
AM: Two things. I think that one thing about playing actual venues or bars is that there’s usually a radius clause where they don’t want you to play locally within a certain amount of time. And I’ve also been really wanting to play house shows for a really long time. I had this idea for years and years – “oh, we should play a ton of house shows one month.” [My old band] The Armchairs would always talk about it but it never happened. And it’s a cool thing to do! It’s a lot cheaper than seeing a regular show. It’s a lot less formal, we can have more fun, it gets more rowdy. And like, it’s a different aucience. People who either always go to those spots anyway or its in their neighborhood. There’s a lot of reasons for me to do it – it’s kind of in opposition to playing bars. Personally I just played Kung Fu Necktie, Johnny Brenda’s. So now it’s like, now I’ll take a break from all that. And then I’ve got a plan to play PhilaMOCA at the end of October and Johnny Brenda’s again.
TK: So it’s not in opposition in the sense of “screw these bar venues,” but more you’re looking to do something different?
AM: Yeah, I think it’s two sides to the same coin. If you only flip heads every time…
BM: And also, not to get lofty, but it’s a community thing. I think some people aren’t necessarily aware of some of these venues in different neighborhoods. It’s a Philadelphia-centric thing. There’s certain people that are heavily involved that do a lot of work for it. It’s a celebration of a vibrant DIY community.
AM: That’s one thing I love about Philly, there’s always people doing DIY stuff. There’s actually not that many DIY spaces now, and that was a challenge for us because we were trying specifically for places that people live at. We didn’t want to do PhilaMOCA or Little Berlin or any of the other places I book at a lot because no one lives there.
TK: As musicians who came up in the DIY scene and are still active in it, how do you keep up on what’s what?
AM: I look at where other msuicians play or have played. A lot of times these days I’ll just get invited to some weird event on Facebook, and I’ll be like “where the hell is this place?” There’s a place that popped up, I don’t know if they’re still doing shows, called The Olive Garden. It’s somewhere in South Philly, I never went to any shows there , but that name is in my head. That’s usually how I keep my ear to the ground.
BM: I think that’s the only way to keep your ear to the ground. I guess I actively seek things out, but a lot of times you’ll also randomly stumble across them.
AM: It’s weird as far as, when you’re trying to be somebody who’s trying to start doing DIY shows, how it takes a while to filter its way through the ether. For instance, I don’t know if you knew about that spot Girard Hall, 6th and Girard…it was actually pretty awesome, an old nightclub that had been shut down. I had just heard about that spot because my friends were playing there, and it turns out it was the space’s last show. PhilaMOCA was doing stuff for a year before anybody knew about it, before it gained any traction. But this whole project is definitely going to be fun! It’s definitely going to be weird. The weirdest part is going to be actually living there and interacting with the people who live in the spaces. And also constructing an ambigious couch fort.
BM: A domicile…
TK: When was the last time you constructed a couch fort?
BM: I’ve done a lean-to within the past couple years, I feel like I can apply the same techniques.
AM: The closet thing was when I slept on the roof of the ox, in the elevator shaft. That was a great place to hang out.
The Laser Background / Norwegian Arms House Show Residency 2012 begins Friday, September 14, at Dreamcastle with Jon Pfeffer of Capillary Action and Circadian Rhythms. It continues on Friday, September 21, at Double Deuce with Ghost Light and Roof Doctor; Friday, September 28 at Pi Lam with DRGN KNG and Ladies Auxiliary; and concludes on Friday, October 5, at The Ox with Thin Hymns and Son Step. More information on all four shows can be found here.