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Mojave 3 - Interview with Neil Halstead

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 13 / 10 / 2003

Mojave 3 - Interview with Neil Halstead


In his band's only British-based interview to promote it, Mojave 3 frontman Neil Halstead talks to Anthony Strutt about the the group's fourth album, 'Spoon and Rafter', and why they have spent over a year recording it

The music of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell was first introduced to us back in '91, when they signed to Creation as Slowdive. They produced 3 albums for that label , ''Just for a Day' (1991), 'Souvlavki' (1993) and 'Pygmalion' (1995), but when they were dropped they changed direction and labels and became Mojave 3. Whereas Slowdive were ambient and noisy, Mojave 3's records are fragile, countryish and very singer-songwriter orientated. As well as Halstead (Vocals/Guitar) and Goswell (Bass/Vocals), Mojave 3 also currently features Simon Rowe (Guitar), Alan Forrester (Keyboards) and former Slowdive member Ian McCutcheon (Drums). The band's 3 previous albums are 'Ask Me Tomorrow' (1996), 'Out of Tune' (1998) and 'Excuses for Travellers' (2000), and they have now just released their fourth , 'Spoon and Rafter'.Like its predecessors. 'Spoon and Rafter' has come out on the London label 4AD. Halstead also released in 2001 his succesful debut solo album, 'Sleeping on Roads'. In the band's only British interview to promote 'Spoon and Rafter' Pennyblackmusic spoke to Neil Halstead at the end of a 90 minute soundcheck before Mojave 3's first London concert in nearly three years at Lock 17( the former Dingwall's) in October. PB : In the time between 'Excuses For Travellers' and 'Spoon and Rafter', you toured the world with your solo album,'Sleeping On Roads'. Did you expect it to do so well and that so much touring would go with it? NH :I didn't really know how much touring I was going to do. We kept on getting dates though and I was enjoying it. With Mojave 3, we always have a big problem about touring and how much it will cost because the band is so big. That wasn't an issue with the solo record because I was going out and playing on my own, so I did a lot of touring. PB :I believe Rachel has recorded her solo album at last. NH: Yeah, that's all done. That's out early next year. PB: And I believe Ian has a band called Loose Shoes. Is that with his girlfriend ? NH :No, its not with his girlfriend. It's a band that he set up last year. It's pretty much hard country stuff. PB : Have they released anything yet ? NH :No, they are talking too a couple of labels. Hopefully there will be something out this year. PB : You played a gig last night in Oxford at the Zodiac, and there was also one recently at Brighton's Hanbury Ballroom. I believe those were your first Mojave 3 gigs for two and a half years. The last one before that was supporting the Red House Painters at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, wasn't it ? NH : It probably was. I can't remember, to be honest. PB : When did the solo activities finish and when did you start to think about this album? NH : I finished the solo record in December 2001 and we started to record the Mojave record in January 2002. We did a couple of weeks work on it then and then I went off on tour We did some work on it in August and a few weeks then, but we didn't really get into it properly until January or February of this year and we ended up finishing it in March. PB. The new album doesn't sound like the other 3, does it ? Was that on purpose ? It does have a country feel, but in not such a heavy way as the others. Did you just want to move in a different direction ? NH: I don"t really know if we thought about it in a deliberate way. It was just how it turned out. We had more toys with this record. We had moogs, thermins and a gothasphere, and there's a pedal steel in it as well. There's some different sounds going on on it, and it's definitely not as country-orientated as the others. PB: If you look at the cover you wouldn't be able to say if it was a Mojave 3 record or even a 4AD release. Do you have anything to do with the artwork? NH: We always spend a lot of time on the artwork, and we never let 4AD do it. Other 4AD bands just let the 4AD guys do it. This time around it just suited the mood of the record. It's a bit quirky. It's based on these very English mark signs that we saw at Ian's house and we thought we could use that idea on an album cover. PB: Are all the songs on the album your own or are there any co-writes ? NH: 'Bluebird Of Happiness' is a co-write with Ian. 'Bill Oddity' was pretty much a band co-write and 'The Battle of The Broken Hearts' again was a co-write with Ian. PB: You have all been away from each other for so long. In the interim you have got married. Rachel has split from her husband(Chris Andrews of the 4AD band Cuba-AS) and Ian has formed Loose Shoes. Have all these developments made you gel together more and have you you have become closer as friends because you haven't been together as much ? NH : Recording the album was a lot of fun and I think that was because we hadn"t really played together much in the last year. It was nice to get back into a studio and for me it was great to play with the band again. The band probably benefited as well from it. I think you always benefit from people doing other things because it means there's not so much importance placed on the band. I know it's work, but you're less precious about it which is probably a good thing. PB: On the whole the new album sounds a lot happier. It also sounds like you're having fun with a lot of the songs. NH : It was an enjoyable experience recording it. Most of the records are enjoyable but this was a less intense sort of process. PB: I also think that this record is a lot more structured and thought out. Did you spend a lot of time recording it and did it change a lot between the initial demos and the finished item? NH: Yeah, I think all the songs changed quite a lot apart from 'Between The Bars' and 'Too Many Mornings'. Those are the ones that stayed pretty much the same. Every time we came back to the songs, having been away,we thought we would do them differently. They definitely grew and changed over the periods that we went in and out of the studio. PB : Now that you a happily married man can you see yourself writing as many sad songs? NH: (Laughs) I don't really know to be honest. I haven't written any recently, but I really don't know. I suppose you end up writing songs about different things. I suppose though that my focus is different. Marriage is something that changes the way you look at things. I have always been a footloose sort of chap so I think that it will affect the way I write songs and what I write about. PB: I believe you were going to have a website called www.Mojave3.co.uk but it never took off. I believe the one you have now was an unofficial fan site. NH: Yeah, it is Ed's who is this English guy who lives in Germany. Hi site is www.mojave3online.com. We basically had our own site but we were really bad at actually keeping it up to date. We got a friend of ours to do the site. We liked the concept of it. It had these cartoon sort of things, but she went to Glasgow and there was no one there to keep it going so it was useless as a site and Ed kept on going with this unofficial site. I really like it. I don't go on it often but when I do it's always interesting. I like the fact that there is a forum for people to talk about the band rather than just dry information, so we told Ed we wanted to make his site the official site. We still have to close the other one down which we will do at some point in the next few months, but Ed's been great. He puts a lot of time and effort into it. I think it's a good site. PB: How involved are you all with it ? NH: Rachel's really involved with it. I'm not really involved with it. Rachel keeps up to date with it but as far as I'm concerned I make sure Ed gets the information he needs, but after that, what ever anyone wants to say about the band is none of my business. PB: I believe there is already or is about to come out a German Slowdive tribute CD. Were you touched by people wanting to do that ? NH: I think it came out last year. There's a whole bunch of bands on that label who have done versions of Slowdive tunes and they sent us a copy.And we were touched. It was nice to hear those tunes. PB: Done by other people? NH: It was kind of strange, freaky. PB: I did hear a rumour that you guys recorded a new Slowdive track for it? N: No, there's a few Slowdive things that I don't think have come out yet. Next year we are going to look at maybe seeing if we can get some of the albums reissued and maybe getting some unreleased stuff together. It seems like all the unreleased stuff is available on the web anyway. You think that you are the only person who has a copy of it and there it is available on the web. PB: How did you come up with the album title 'Spoon and Rafter' ? NH: We like the idea of people who travel exclusively by raft. Spoon in old English means to be foolishly amorous, so we liked the idea of foolishly amorous people travelling by raft. PB: I believe a long time ago Mojave 3 supported the band Coley Park(Who sound something like Gomez, if Gomez liked countrified Dylan rather than Tom Waits-AS). They have now released something. You were involved in that, weren't you ? NH: Myself and a friend of mine have set up a label called Shady Lane records and Coley Park have a mini album coming out on that. Hopefully we are going to put out some more bands out. There's a kid from L.A.called Aerial Awo who does this lo-fi stuff which is kind of interesting. Theres a couple of other people as well who we are interested in putting out records out by. PB: You also play piano on the new album. Is that a new hobby or have you done that forever and never used it? NH: I'm a really bad piano player. I did learn piano when I was quite young. I got bored playing guitar last year, because I was doing so much of it. I was just finding it difficult to write songs on the guitar because every chord I hit sounded so familiar, and so I started writing on the piano and it's put a slightly different vibe on some of the songs. PB: To me it sounds slightly like Paul McCartney around 'C Moon' period(1973-AS)when he was mucking about with reggae. N: I don't really know much of McCartney's solo stuff. I would definitely say it has a different feel to it. That's more to do with my limits as a piano player than anything else. It's a fun instrument to play though. PB: Are you listening to anything new yourself, or pretty much the old favourites? NH: Pretty much the old favourites. I really like the Super Furry Animals album, and I guess the Peaches album. I really like the Tyde. Their new album is excellent. There's a guy called Josh Ritter who I really like as well. PB: Anything else you wouldd like to add ? NH: The only thing I would like to say is we had to cancel a UK tour. It wasn't because we wanted to. We would like to do more UK shows. The problem we have is we don't get the support from 4AD there. They try and give us the money but they don't have the money themselves. We find it hard to tour the UK and it's not a case of making money but it's a case of not losing too much money on the tour. PB: Is that because of travelling and hotels? NH: It's because the band is so big. I think we going to try and do some one offs shows here later on in the year. We would love to do some more shows here. It seems because we sell more records in America we can afford to do that there. PB: Thanks for your time.

Picture Gallery:-
Mojave 3 - Interview with Neil Halstead

Mojave 3 - Interview with Neil Halstead

Mojave 3 - Interview with Neil Halstead

Mojave 3 - Interview with Neil Halstead

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