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Rolo Tomassi - Interview

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 29 / 4 / 2010

Rolo Tomassi - Interview


Ben Howarth chats to Portland, Oregon-based epic pop act Musee Mecanique about their recent first British tour and debut album, 'Hold This Ghost'

Musee Mecanique released their debut album, ’Hold This Ghost’, earlier this year, (although it had been available in the US since 2009). A woozy, fuzzy, delicate collection - it is ideal for late nights and early mornings. But, underpinning a series of lush arrangements are a collection of genuinely tuneful songs, which nuzzle their way into your head. As I said in my review of ‘Hold This Ghost’, had it been made a decade earlier, I’m sure it would have fitted itself in nicely alongside those other widescreen indie epics ‘The Soft Bulletin’, ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and ‘The Sophtware Slump’. The band claim ignorance on all these comparisons, as I suppose they are entitled to do, but any listeners who voted to make those albums NME Album of the Year winners back in the late nineties will love ’Hold This Ghost’. Some listeners might also be reminded of Air’s under-rated recent work. The band was formed by two San Franciscans, Micah Rabwin and Sean Ogilvie, after they both moved to that indie-folk hotbed, Portland. (This album, duly, comes complete with a series of guest appearances from other Portland bands). After completing their first, all too brief, tour of the UK, Rabwin and Ogilvie spoke to Pennyblackmusic. PB: To begin, could you give me some background on how the band members and when you formed the group? Was this your first musical project? SO: Micah and I actually met some time ago in high school - our ninth grade literature class. We've been friends ever since and have played together in many other bands and musical projects. After some time in college, I played with Tristeza (a San Diego post rock outfit) and Micah played with a few other bands in Southern California until, finally, we sought a different place and culture to inspire us. That's when we both settled down to write music again together and we explored the music heard on ‘Hold This Ghost‘. PB: A question you are perhaps tired of answering, but… what influence has the wider Portland music scene had on your music and approach to the band? Was moving to Portland a choice you took deliberately with the band in mind? MR: First, the latter part of the question. Sean and I moved to Portland very deliberately in order to concentrate on this band. We did not, however, have any idea how thriving the music scene was there... and to be fair it has gained a lot of speed since we arrived. When we did arrive we found many many musicians and bands who were just happy to be playing and happy to support other artists. We found a group of people who were generous and non-competitive and talented, who took us into the fold and absolutely helped practically and psychically to make "Hold This Ghost" possible. Portland is all about collaboration in various forms and that shows in our past work and will continue to be a huge influence going forward. PB: At what point did the band expand to a five piece? To what extent are you a duo with backing musicians, and to what extent is it a full five member band? SO: The other members came about when we were required to perform the music from the album live. We don't consider ourselves a duo unless we are performing the music as a duo (which is rare). When we play as a full five-piece, we are a five-piece. But we don't find the numbers to be as important as the music - what's important is that, whether people are coming to a show or they are playing the record that the come away feeling like they heard Musée Mécanique. PB: It has now been a couple of years since you recorded ‘Hold This Ghost'. Are you still satisfied with it? MR: Absolutely. We worked very hard to create an album that we would be proud of for the long haul. I feel that we accomplished that to our own satisfaction and continue to enjoy playing the songs and supporting the record. That's not to say we are resting on our laurels. We are incredibly excited to be starting work on a new record with new ideas and themes and a different feel. PB: Were the songs always played with such a wide array of instruments, or were the strings/accordions/saws added to the mix over time? SO: The instruments were added at each step of the way. When Micah and I moved to Portland we had only a couple of keyboards and a guitar (as we sold lots of our belongings to pay for the move) and we knew hardly a soul. Acquiring some of the many instruments at local second hand stores and garage sales, we were inspired to incorporate them over course of the recording/writing process and it would constantly inspire new ideas and often change the direction of the song's production. For the instruments we couldn't play (e.g. violin, cello, and the reed and brass) we wrote out the parts and found new friends to come and play the parts - the community was integral to the sound of the record. PB: How significant was the choice of name? Is the Musee Mecanique, in California, something you’re especially attached to, or was it just a nice-sounding name? SO: A bit of both. I used to visit the museum with my very young daughter in its original location at San Francisco's Cliff House next to the old Sutro Bath ruins. It was a very inspiring place full of hand-made automata - each a world of its own. Orchestrions, player pianos, machine operated puppet shows, and games from another time and place, impressionistic, that inspire the imagination. That's what our songs felt like to us, in a way: each unique and imagination-inspiring and from some unknown time and place. PB: Your music reminds me of some of my favourite albums of the late 90s/early 2000s, especially Grandaddy’s 'Sumday', Mercury Rev’s 'Deserter’s Songs' and Air’s 'Moon Safari'. Are these fair comparisons to your ears and were there any particular bands that inspired your music? SO: We've been told these things a few times. We don't listen to Grandaddy or Mercury Rev. We listen to Air a bit, but probably just as much as Ella Fitzgerald. You can safely say we don't take from particular sources - we're inspired by too much to note, but we can say that we're inspired by so many things other than music. And it's amazing what discoveries we can make of things already inside our minds - sometimes it seems we have memories that we never really lived... PB: Now that a second album is in the works can we expect the same kind of melodic, dreamy music, or are you planning a shift in style for the second album? MR: We certainly don't want to make another 'Hold This Ghost'. Our interests and tastes are constantly evolving and exciting us in different ways. I'd rather not speculate on the tone of what's to come but we don't intend to make the same record for sure. I think we are all anxious to explore some new territory. PB: Was there any reason for the UK release of ‘Hold This Ghost’ being so delayed. Having recently played to audiences in the UK who were presumably treating you as a brand new band, did you notice any difference in how the shows ? MR: Of course the ideal would have been to release the record worldwide simultaneously, but for this record that wasn't an option. We had to wait to find the right people to work with in Europe so the release was a bit later than the US release. We plan on releasing the next record in the UK, Europe and the States simultaneously. In terms of the audience response, we've been very pleased with our reception. We are a new band to the UK so the initial excitement that goes with that transfers to us and it keeps us satisfied to play the songs which have been around for a while. PB: Final question, what are your long term plans and ambitions for the band? What would you hope to have achieved in a decade’s time? MR: It's difficult to say. I think we hope to be doing this as long as we can... tour as much as we can and continue making music that people enjoy. We don't have grand ambitions, simply to enrich peoples lives through what we do. At a recent show in Belgium, a fairly foreboding looking man approached us. He was huge and muscle bound... I think he said he was a bouncer. Certainly not the type of guy you'd expect would connect with softer folk music. He told us that he had lost his father recently and had been very depressed. He happened upon our show and told us that it was the first joy that he had felt since his father passed away. That sort of thing is really what keeps us going. If we can continue to effect people in a positive way like that I think that would surpass any ambitions of fame and glory that might be lurking in the recesses of our egos. PB: Thank you.

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Rolo Tomassi - Interview

Rolo Tomassi - Interview

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