In case you haven’t heard, we’re living through truly unprecedented times. And it was only a matter of time before artists turned their lenses on the new normal – namely, how we’re living and loving in lockdown. And one artist who has made this the sole focus of his latest release is Austin-based newcomer Mobley with “Mate”.
A lo-fi psychedelic love song, the trippy but intimate music video depicts a bed spinning and careering as if in space, with a couple separated on either side, yearning for each other. Relatable for anyone who’s ever faced tricky times in a long distance relationship, but also apt because of the trying times we’re living through with the global pandemic.
“Mate” marks a tonal shift from the rest of Mobley’s exciting new EP “Young & Dying in the Occident Supreme”, with his themes often tackling more cultural and political viewpoints.
“A lot of my songs speak to the problems facing humanity or things we need to do to make the world better,” he explains. “At the end of the day, though, love is what motivates all of it for me, so I wanted to represent that. I wrote this song for my wife and I wrote it in secret. I didn’t want her to hear it until it was done, so I asked her to run a bunch of errands one day to buy myself some time. I raced to track the whole song in a couple hours and surprised her with it when she came home. I tweaked the mix a little after that, but what I played for her that day is pretty much what ended up on the record.”
To support the drop of the new EP, Mobley will be kicking off a virtual tour – The Devil In A Daydream – on Thursday 25 Feb, which will be a series of nine virtual shows performed in unconventional natural and urban spaces. Think uniquely intimate and highly cinematic. The tour will also feature performances by a buzzy roster of artists such as Shallou, Lawrence, Magic Giant, City of the Sun, Spencer Ludwig, Sarah Jaffe, James Petralli (of White Denim), Michigander – with Mobley and the aforementioned artists donating all funds raised to support partnering venues, as well as mutual aid organisation the DAWA Fund.
We caught up with Mobley and talked lockdown love stories, virtual tours and mystical songwriting…
Hi Mobley – how have you been during this uncertain time? How has it impacted your music and creativity?
It’s been a tough time. There’s so much suffering everywhere and I don’t want to let myself grow numb to it. I’ve continued to create because I believe my job is to look at the world around me and to make art that reflects it. Performing live music is how I earn most of my living and, obviously, that has gone away entirely. I try to focus on the things that I can control, but it’s been a very trying time.
You’re based in Austin, Texas, but where did you grow up and how did it influence you sonically? Who were your musical heroes?
I grew up traveling all over the place because of my father’s work. I actually learned to read and write while living in England (just north of Leeds), so my time there looms very large in my biography. I think it shaped a lot of my artistic sensibilities. I didn’t really have musical heroes growing up, but I think moving place to place so much (my current home is the only place I’ve ever lived more than 3 years) help create an appreciation for a great variety of musical and artistic traditions. I think that’s reflected in my work.
Congratulations on your new song “Mate” – it’s this sun-drenched, psychedelic love story – what was it inspired by?
Thank you. That song is about my wife. The writing process was very surreptitious, because I didn’t want her to know that I was writing her a song. I spent a couple days kind of sneaking around humming rough ideas into voice memos on my phone. When I felt ready to actually record it, I made up a few hours worth of errands and I asked my wife to do them. In the time she was gone I frantically recorded all of my ideas and then came up with some more. By the time she got home, I had a mix done and (with the exception of some minor tweaks) that’s what you hear on the record.
Love the bed-bound music video, which has this intimate feel of two people getting to know each other from their own personal spaces. What did you want to evoke with it?
The idea was definitely to make a video that depicted intimacy without physical contact… I think that’s something that much of the world has been struggling to find for the past year. I wanted to reflect what’s happening in the world, but, honestly, I was also trying to come up with a video concept that I could shoot without putting anyone at risk. Hannah Lasure (the other actor) and myself were never actually on camera together and we were able to use a cinema robot so that we didn’t need a camera operator getting up close. It was really a case of art imitating life.
And it’s taken from your upcoming EP “Young & Dying in the Occident Supreme” – why that name?
“Occident” means west. The title reference to the idea that the “West” — often shorthand white, western European countries and the countries they settled outside Europe — dominates the globe because of some inherent supremacy. The record is about the need to challenge and discard that idea to make room for better (true) ideas in order to create a fairer society.
“Mate” is the only love song on your EP, what ties all the singles together and what was the EP inspired by?
Most of my songs focus on the problems of the world and the things we need to change — that’s really what ties them together. What makes “Mate” fit in is that, for me (and many others, I suspect), love is the impetus, the thing that drives us to push for progress and justice; we want a better world for the people we love. That’s what inspired the whole record.
Piano, bass, drums, percussion, trumpet, violin, autoharp, mandolin, melodica, tin whistle, vibraphone, glockenspiel – your music is a smorgasbord of all these instruments. Can you talk us through your process of incorporating all these instruments, and how you get a feel for what is missing from a song?
Honestly, it’s all very mystical to me. When I sit down to write and record a song, I’m almost always surrounded by dozens of instruments. Years of writing and recording has given me intuitions about how to get to that place where a record feels good. It’s hard to put it into words, but I just know when it feels right.
Political differences, the battle between past and future, love, character studies of scumbags – your music encompasses a whole range of themes – talk us through your songwriting process and how you pick what you want to bring to life?
Again, it’s very mysterious to me where inspiration ends up coming from. I wrote this record while on a break in Thailand, on the heels of a short tour in Australia. I hadn’t planned to work on music while there, but on my first day in the country, I found a knockoff Telecaster in a Bangkok shop, and picked it up to sort of mess around with. To my surprise, all of these guitar songs started pouring out of me. I would dream up riffs and wake up early to go out on the beachside balcony of the little island apartment where I was staying and lay down the tracks. By the end of my stay, I had written a full record’s worth of songs on that guitar. Thematically they critique ideas of “Western” supremacy, as I was looking in on the injustices going on in my home country, especially family separations on the southern US border, from the other side of the world. But from a more sublime standpoint, I feel like certain instruments just “have songs in them,” and that Thai guitar was full of them.
At the end of the trip, I ended up giving the guitar to a friend I’d made while on the island, a punk rocker taxi driver. So I like to think he’s found a bunch of songs in that guitar, as well!
How does it feel releasing new music when most of the world is in lockdown/everything feels so uncertain – what do you hope your music will bring?
It’s pretty scary. Touring is probably the biggest and best tool I have for promoting my music and it’s currently off the table. I hope that the music reaches people and that they can find some pleasure and inspiration init.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in 2021?
I kick off my virtual tour on February 25th. I’m shooting a series of cinematic concert films, set in unconventional locations and partnering with a dozen great venues around the US to present them as ticketed livestreams. They’re really going to be spectacular shows. We shot them in some truly stunning locations. The best part is that all of my share of the proceeds will go to an Austin organisation called the DAWA Fund which provides direct aid to people of colour who work in the arts, healthcare, and service industry.