Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: The starry attic
maudlin of the Well on invisibility, watches and more!
maudlin of the Well are an unusual band; they have coined the phrase astral metal to describe their music - an apt label for a sound which has to be heard to be believed. Vague terminology is the only way to categorize such an eclectic mix Ė failing that it would take a minor dissertation to do it justice. Suffice it to say they use many instruments, write songs with unusual structures, skip from mood to mood as if it were the easiest thing in the world, and sound like no other band currently recording.
When I recently had the chance to interview Toby Driver, one of the groupís major creative forces, my immediate question was, with such a varied sound, how does he go about writing music? "I honestly never really agreed with the Ďdiverse soundí tag that we always get." Toby responded. "People constantly misappropriate the words Ďjazzí and Ďfolkí - among others - in regard to us, and itís actually quite annoying when this happens almost invariably. Iíve read many things that say our music Ďgenre hopsí which I completely disagree with as well. I think these are just cop-out terms used by lazy or aphasic persons who perhaps want to express their own diverse tastes by name-dropping possible influences from different specific genres."
Slightly taken aback by this unexpected answer, my next thought is that he must agree Maudlinís music is unusual and borrows elements from many genres. But again, I am surprised "Honestly, the only genre that I hear borrowed from in motWís music is rock." is his reply. While I donít whole-heartedly agree with the diminutive frontman on this, he writes the music, so I concede. One thing I find remarkable about motWís compositions is the cohesion Ė when listening to (undisputed) changes in character they seem the most natural thing in the world. The band skip from aggression to submission, relaxed acoustics with singing to caustic growling and guitars, and time signature to time signature seamlessly. With these changes, how does Toby ensure all his ideas clearly stem from a single creative source? "Well itís not like we write music in parts and glue them together like some other bands seem to (cough Opeth cough)" comes the (controversial) retort. "What happens is that Iíll write the entire song and then we have mapmaking or discussion sessions where everyone as a group decides what colours should be added, where, and how. Then weíll emerge from these sessions with physical maps of the music that each person takes with them and works on what they are good at." Does this come about naturally I wonder? "This is the way we work" he continues "it kind of happened that way initially and we decided to stick to it. It gets everyone involved and doesnít leave anyone out, and I think the positivity and interest of everyone are an important ingredient to this."
UM is in the fortunate position of hosting motWís official internet discussion forum, which made this interview particularly enticing. The groupís board serves as a place for the band members to whittle away their working day through constant spamming; for example, anything posted in capitals is haunted, and if you ever wanted to discuss the most metal vegetable, it is surely the place for you.. When I asked for the board to think of some questions for Toby I was amazed at the wonderous quality of those suggested! Hence I feel compelled to ask what I know is on everyoneís minds at this point; if given the choice, would Toby have a tail or a pouch? "A tail, but only if it was either prehensile or had some kind of dinosaur blades on it" he enthuses.
How stupid of me not to realise. The next burning query on my mind is, of course, why? "I think it would greatly improve my fighting and escaping abilities. Iíve seriously always wanted to be an assassin and what better an advantage, except maybe invisibility or something." This answer starts me thinking, so I challenge Tobias to choose between invisibility and the ability to fly. "I would choose flight, but only if I could also withstand really cold temperatures. I get cold really easily and I canít imagine how awful it would be to have the gift of flight, but as some cruel joke played on you any time you get above 30 feet from the ground you feel miserable because itís so goddamned cold." At this point I come to the conclusion that Toby really does think about the important things in life, so asking more of these vital questions in unnecessary.
Since the bandís formation, only three motW members have remained constant; some have come and gone in years, others months, and some days. Therefore my next inquiry concerns the line-upís constant state of flux Ė doesnít it make life harder? "It does make things difficult, but I think thatís better than trying to force people to stick around because that results in stress, and everyone should agree that stress is bad" ponders the frontman. "motW has always roughly been a collective of musicians who work together to make music and add what theyíre good at when itís needed, as opposed to some rock-star fantasy."
Previous musicians involved with the group have appeared in other projects such as Spoonion, Kwizats, Haderach, Baliset, and Mars Colony, in addition to various independent films and other artistic work. So, I naively wonder which of these contributors the band includes at the moment? "Like I said there is no lineup" is the reply. "Itís not like people officially cut themselves off or add themselves to the name or anything. Weíre in the process of doing an album right now, and on the album appear Greg, Nick, Terran, Byron, Sam, Jason, myself, Sky Cooper, Mia Matsumiya, Alex Nagle, Benjie Messer, and this other dude Sam playing French horn whose last name I donít know. I also donít know how many of us would say weíre Ďin the bandí or Ďnot in the bandí. Those are the people who are on the new record though."
So I ask for the most "members" theyíve ever had. "The most weíve had on stage has been 10, but membersÖ? See, thatís an unanswerable question. I ate an oyster for the first time the other day, and it was pretty watery and salty." I rapidly come to the conclusion this interview - like motWís music, will be an ever-changing journey - so decide to go with the flow. "Itís really easy to get food poisoning from oysters Iíve heard, were you OK afterwards?"
"Definitely. I actually liked it and have been thinking about it ever since. Iíd eat one again now if it was in front of me. Now I can finally understand the true drive behind the ĎWalrus and the Carpenter.í" comes the intriguing answer. Going vaguely back on topic, the next thing I ask is - doesnít the sheer number of members make writing and arranging music a pain in the arse? "Well, one could argue that thatís the fun part. You know, working hard at your passion and all."
With so many contributors, one would imagine the members of Maudlin argue a lot, so "do you get on all the time?" I query. "Not really sure what this means. Is it some kind of British euphemism for something naughty?" chuckles the frontman. "Nope, it means do you guys argue a lot dude. But, now you come to mention it, do you get up to anything naughty?" I respond. "Oh oh. We argue some but not really all that much. It never gets into yelling. As far as the naughty stuffÖ not within the band. I mean, Greg sleeps over sometimes and once we were sleeping over Byronís house and Greg somnambled over to Byronís bed and laid on top of Byron which resulted in some middle-of-the-night screaming but I think thatís the extent of it. This other time we were all swimming naked in my dadís pool together at like 1 am trying to get Greg to remove his underwear and my dad came out and caught us."
Hearing this enlightening information makes me want to change the subject, so getting to know the bandís influences better seems a good idea. Therefore I ask who the main songwriter respects most as musicians? "First of all, Iím glad you didnít ask me why, because then Iíd be kind of searching for words like some kind of 7th grade essay writer." jokes Toby. "Bjork, YoYo Ma, Sky Cooper, Bob Marley, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips. Those are some respectable folks."
motW are currently ensconced recording a new album, and judging from the studio photos theyíre having a lot of fun while doing it! Slated for a late summer 2003 release, it is their fourth official CD since their formation in New England seven years ago. It also stands as the third release to be recorded buy Jim Fogarty at Zing Studio Ė "an extraordinarily talented and under-recognised engineer." Regarding the studio work, how does Toby feel about their progress? "Itís going really well. Making an album is the most fun thing. Also everything sounds amazing, so Iím really psyched to have a final product I can listen to and not be like Ďthis tastes great but it needs more salt hereí or something."
While many bands release similar albums time after time, motW doesnít strike me as such a group, so I wonder how the new effort differs from Bath / LYBM? "Well itís nothing like that album at all" is the response. "Bands always say this about their current project, you know? That this current one is the record Iíve always wanted to make and the others were just preliminaries, blah blah. In this case itís definitely true because on all the other albums there have been compromises (for example, mixing old songs with new, strictly adhering to a non-existent budget or impatience regarding time constraints etc). This time we have enough money to do the album the way we want, there arenít any old songs disrupting the current idea, we donít have a deadline, so all these things together are making this a great experience and what weíre hoping to be a perfect album. Musically weíre taking a different approach on this one Ė whereas on the last opus it was an exploration of the concept of pre-existing creativity and all that. This time itís a very human-originated work, aimed back at the cosmos as opposed to the cosmos aiming at us like on the last one. The compositions are very conscious and thoughtful, and itís not really what the classic idea of Ďmetalí is anymore. Itís very loud and heavy but there are no riffs at all, no palm muting really, and itís composed more like classical music where it starts somewhere, continues, and doesnít repeat in a riffy fashion. Itís 21st century classical music." Noting an obvious ignorance of the rules of metal, I feel forced to correct Toby on this one Ė "I think itís also traditional to say your new album will be your heaviest as well?", then add "anywho, how come you have more money and studio time for this album?"
"I have a hard time qualifying heavinessÖ I mean there are so many different types of heaviness so itís never accurate to say x is heavier than y if theyíre two different types of heaviness. Also we have not been a band that has been known for its aggression really... one could argue that if you want some aggressive music, go listen to a grind band who grinds well. We never aimed to be the heaviest band or the most aggressive band nor the most mellow and lulling band. We kind of have stayed near the beginnings of those extremities because the parts flow better that way. Weíve been like going from vermillion to orange to dandelion, as opposed to green to red to white. Anyway the more money and time just comes from the label being older and more successful and therefore more able to give us these things." Thinking back to the previous reply, and being a great fan of all the bandís work, I ask Toby "have you not been totally happy with your previous efforts?" "Yeah there are always things that bother you later. Initially I was 100% happy with both but you just notice stuff a year down the line."
Regarding the new album, are you finding it easier or harder to write and record, I ask. "Much more difficult because it is more conscious music." Toby says. "The last ones pretty much composed themselves but this one is a man-made effort." On the subject of prospective titles all the information I can extract is "there are a couple of nifty ones, except weíre trying to come up with something that grasps the idea at hand rather than just sounding cool, of course."
In the past, Maudlin have performed concerts in varied festivals and venues. Recently, however, the band have vowed to play only specific types of shows - that is places like museums or churches as opposed to bars and clubs. Toby cites the atmosphere of the performance's environment as pivotal to conveying the music as intended. So, next comes the obvious question Ė "Whatís your obsession with watches all about?" "Haha! Well" chortles Toby. "Iíve always found it hilarious, this complex idea of metal meaning youíre tough and evil or something, so the dudes get on stage with a scowl and spiked gauntlets and lo, they have a huge, huge digital watch around their wrist, often right at the cuff of the gauntlet too. So aside from the ludicrously obvious anachronism there is also the whole association with the gamers or comic book nerds in grade school and high school being the ones with the enormous, black, digital watches." Does Toby live up to this stereotype I hear you say? When I ask him the most heís ever worn on stage the retort comes "I find it completely impossible to play with long sleeves, and I donít much like shorts, so Iím usually wearing the same thing on stage - a t-shirt and pants." When probing Toby about the most watches he has ever worn I discover that the picture I have of him wearing three is "a joke, as I never wear fewer than eight watches live." I stand corrected..
Back to the issue in hand before this interview goes completely out of control, I wonder if the frontman sees his groupís music changing style drastically in the future? "Yes of course. This new one already is a huge change which Iím sure many people will be unhappy about, and then whatever comes after that, well lots of people are leaving. Sam has already left, Josh has left, and Terran is going to graduate school, and people are growing up and figuring out what they want to do with their lives. Greg and Byron and I are still around and Nick is staying around for a while so the next motW thing after the forthcoming one wonít have the input of those guys who left. I have a lot of really good ideas that Iím excited to work on, whether under this nomer or not. Although I can say that currently, the way I feel is that after this record comes out Iím not really interested in working with loud music anymore for a while, unless something amazing happens with this album and restores my faith in the scene. This current album is pretty much what Iíve been wanting to say with the idiom, although I think it would be intensely fun to join a grind or punk band and not have to have so much control over the composition."
Concerning the change in direction, what does Toby see the non-loud recordings sounding like Ė acoustic rock, jazz, or maybe a new boy-band? "The next thing Iím interested in doing is an album of all samples, where the samples will form notes and then groups of samples will form chords. And then all that will be arranged in rhythms which will ultimately lead to singer-songwriter style tunes but instead of instruments, just samples. Like youíd have a chord made out of 3 doors closing or 5 airplanes flying over, with creepy vocals over it all."
Next I feel the urge to ask that classic but dull question, where did the band get its name? "I actually did want to put out records with no project name except this motW thing was one instance where I decided to sacrifice art for practicality. I didnít think it was that big a deal anyway" is only answer I get. With motW often labeled as progressive, I wonder what Tobyís definition of "progressive music" is. "Progressive music is music that takes existing idioms and advances them. It also should act as a springboard for other artists who will take your advancement of music and advance it even further. Itís different from avant-garde music, which builds an idiom from scratch. Avant-garde music arguably doesnít have artistic qualities so much as industrial ones. Avant-garde music invents ideas and presents them as only ideas. Progressive artists get inspired by these avant-garde ideas and use them in their storytelling."
After this, it feels like we have actually been on-topic for quite a time, so I refer back to one of the questions suggested in the bandís forum Ė "Do you compare yourself to other renowned diminutive frontmen/band leaders like Dio, King Diamond, Prince, and Billie Joe Armstrong?". Toby chuckles Ė "Often. We even have a club that we go to once a month in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and talk about the benefits of tininess. Warwick Davisí unsigned band, "The Lurker IMís" actually played last month, too- Meegosh ended up drinking out of an Elk Horn and peed on the trusteesí table."
The logical question following this enlightening piece of information, comes courtesy of a certain Novemberís Doom member Ė if Toby had to name 5 reasons why Sealab 2021 is superior to Three's Company (not including Hesh or the crazy neighbour Larry, who is decidedly annoying) what would they be? "I like this question lots but I have never seen Sealab." the frontman discouragingly responds. "Maybe I can say though, itís superior because 1) itís animated 2) doesnít have John Ritter 3) the upholstery has got to be better than Jack Tripperís couchís. Ick. 4) itís on Cartoon Network and 5) Eric likes it." Which seems fair enough to me!
Considering the copious amounts of time motW members waste on the internet, I wonder if they have any other hobbies. Toby, it transpires, likes to "explore abandoned buildings, haunted places, and stuff like that. Also I like checking out cults and things and seeing if I can get brainwashed, like going to their headquarters or meetings or seminars, pretending I want to join and getting to watch a film strip or something. I can usually talk to their recruiters for an hour or so until they get sick of my questions and make me leave." And so a mind-expanding interview ends, leaving me feeling decidedly bemused, but entertained none-the-less.