While many bands are incorporating electronic music into their sound, only a few are truly embracing it with soul and spirit. In their latest release, the EP One, The Mobius Band gets to the heart of electronica by capturing the essence, reducing it to sounds and rhythms and reconstructing it again into something new. It's a wild mixture of musical styles and genres that never settles into something concrete. They mimic drum sequencers by playing "electronic" rhythms on acoustic drums, they use and abuse their guitars to create dissonance, and they throw in subtle samples as icing on the cake.
From the frantic avant garde fusion of Book Of Love to the fractured indie pop of July 3rd 1995, The Mobius band runs the musical gamut in the course of six songs. They mix droning rhythms with a country-fried melody in 3 or 4 Seasons, then slow it down to a snail's pace on the lathargic Drama In the LBC. They shine the most on the aforementioned July 3rd 1995, easing into a smooth groove on the verse, only to pick up the pace and pump up the volume in the infectiously catchy chorus.
So where does all this inspiration come from? We asked guitarist/vocalist/sampler Ben Sterling to give us the low down on The Mobius Band.
Q: You use traditional instrumentation to create an "electronic" music feel. How did this come about?
Ben Sterling: We've been playing together for over four years now and were much more of a traditional rock band at the beginning. Over the years, our musical interests have turned more and more towards a modern electronic sound, but I think the natural thing for all of us is to PLAY music rather than program it into a machine even though the music we are emulating is all done on sequencers. We've been developing in that way as well, but we are musicians in training and temperment, so it's just natural for us to be playing.
Q:I hear a lot of different things going on---fusion, traditional jazz, rock, folk, dance, etc.... How do all these influences end up in the same place?
A:Yeah, we're pretty all over the place. All I can say is that we are lovers of music, and have trouble NOT drawing influence from everything we hear. Speaking specifically of a song like 3 or 4 seasons, which is in a funny new style I like to call 'country jungle' - an alt-country, Wilco-inspired acoustic guitar & vocal with a jungle rhythm track and a bassline that splits the difference between the two genres. I was up at my friends cabin in Vermont and this just seemed like a good idea.
We have a newer song called "the world is round" that has samples from a ridiculously varied number of sources - a record of wolves howling, stockhausen, hiphop, cat power, a circus music record, sonic youth. and it works. I guess I don't really know why, but it works. genres help you find what you're looking for in a record store. Sound is sound.
Q: Rhythm plays an important part in your music. Is this is key to your songwriting? How does your writing process work?
A: Well I suppose it comes down to rhythm, harmony, and melody. As far as rhythm being important, having a bad ass drummer like Noam (Schatz) doesn't hurt. But we're all very rhythmically minded; we've all studied Ghanian drumming and I've studied the Javanese gamelan. and I think it's hard not to be interested in a musical form like jungle without loving rhythm and rhythmic complexity.
Our writing process varies. I bring a lot of material to the band that is more or less fully formed - 3 or 4 seasons and july 3rd 1995 are examples on #1. Peter (Sax) also writes tunes for us, at least one of which will be on our next ep, #2. We also write a ton of often-instrumental music together, and this is usually a matter of improvising something really well one day, then stopping and frantically writing down all the things we were doing. the first half of butter palace is an example of that approach.
Q: How does your studio work differ from your live show?
A: Our live show varies from studio work in all the usual ways; live we are much looser, louder, and tend to stretch some songs out longer than we might on record. They are such different mediums and are appreciated so differently. Being that we are a trio, I'd say our live sound is a bit less lush and orchestrated since we only have six hands and feet to touch, tap, and otherwise trigger sounds. Though with a sampler and synth, we can get pretty close to the record if we want.
Q: What do you think about the current state of popular music? Which artists are most exciting to you right now?
A: Goings on in the music industry right now seem equal parts good and bad. on one hand you have these 80s-style monolithic pop figures: Britney spears, NSYNC, Destiny's Child, etc. While the production value is pretty amazing in some of that stuff, it's more or less just selling french fries or cologne or idealized versions of men and women.
At the same time, there are mind-numbingly huge advances in music and recording technology that are changing music forever. There is always tons of amazing music, you might just have to look a little harder for some of it. Certainly we are all totally infatuated with Radiohead. Me and Peter have been really into warp records - groups like Autechre, Boards of Canada, Squarepusher. The British "intelligent dance music" thing. As well as American counterparts like Kid606 and Matmos. At the same time, there's nothing like a good song, and the newest Flaming Lips album (The Soft Bulletin) or bands like Wilco and Pavement. We all listen to quite a lot of hiphop as well, and have all played in a Fela Kuti tribute band.
Q: I am really into your song july 3rd 1995---what's the story behind that one?
A: That song is based on a poem I wrote after staying up all night in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a bunch of friends when I was 16. it was a long time ago, i'm not even sure if i have the original poem anymore.
That's an interesting one, we've been playing that song for over three years, and it has changed as we have changed. It started out real slow and slinky and with a really distorted, rocking chorus. Over the years it's evolved into a more uptempo track, and the chorus has stayed loud, but has more of a jungle feel.
Q: Any plans for the next release?
A: We're in the process of recording our next EP. We really like working in this way; recording, mixing, duplicating and doing artwork all ourselves. It lends a really personal touch to the releases that I like a lot. We're really not in a hurry to 'get signed', though when the time comes it will be nice to get some kind of distribution happening. We're working on the grassroots model.
The next EP will just demonstrate continued growth as a recording band, using all the resources around us. One song has the sound of ATM machines, mangled jazz guitar, birds outside our window, and our housemate reading from the phone book.