Spitting on a tissue and wiping your face - it's one of the biggest threats to the secret 'mummy's boy'. A kiss on the cheek in public is not only cripplingly humiliating, but catastrophic for the reputation of the independent lone wolf cub strolling the streets who returns home to be cradled by trust and to wallow in infantile dependency. But as it turns out, not all mums are embarrassing; Brooklyn-based band Mothxr puts the 'cool' in 'cool mom', convincing us while on tour in London that this is the mother we should have been listening to all along.
People say home is where the heart is, so when you’re a band that has toured for months, miles away from home, the heart tends to grow fonder of that bed with the creaky springs, the dusty shoebox of a room, and even the spit-covered tissue. Channelling an easy and honest vibe, Mothxr consists of Penn Badgley (yes, he is the one you fell in love with in "Gossip Girl"), Darren Will, Simon Oscroft and Jimmy Giannopolous (whom you may recognize from the Zoe Kravitz fronted band, Lola Wolf).
The Mothxrship celebrates their last leg of this European tour, by headlining at the appropriately named 'Birthdays' in Dalston. For Londoners looking for a fresh take on electronic music, the type that has slower tempos with a melodic and lyrical focus, Mothxr is for you. Focused and true to their real passion, the band have their heads securely soiled into their music. After soundcheck, darkness blankets the city and Penn sits down with Boys by Girls to share details of how Mothxr formed, his personal dance background, Brooklyn’s correlation to the band’s identity and the album 'Centrefold'.
It’s so nice to finally meet you. How did the band form?
We lived in the same neighbourhood, but Jimmy and I met in 2011 at Williamsburg. The moment we met, we knew we wanted to work together. Darren had been in the neighbourhood for years prior to me and Jimmy, so there was a whole community of people who were working together there. From James Levy of Reputante, who is from Julian Casablancas label Cult Records, Har Mar, Sean and Dev Hynes. Everyone. It just so happened that the three of us could only figure out a time to get together to record on the West Coast after touring. Jimmy and Darren are also with a band called Raaf Born and I knew I was going to be in the West Coast visiting my parents, so we met in LA and we had an Air BnB down the road from Simon’s, who’s the guitarist, and we were like; "Hey man! Do you want to come sit with us and play guitar on some of these tracks?” We knew we were going to make a record, but didn’t know what it was going to sound like exactly; we had ideas, so the second the four of us sat down, it just became a set piece.
What is the story behind the name 'Mothxr'?
It’s really not terribly serious. I mean, it’s kind of a joke, but at the same time it does have a note of truth to it. The sacred feminine, a feminine that is forgotten and abused in this day and age. It sort of stuck.
What is your earliest memory of music?
Making music. Loving music. Being moved by it far more than film or any other medium. I danced and sang obsessively as a very small kid. I did hip hop, tap and jazz, a bit of swing dance, but even as a three or four year old kid at family weddings I just used to dance. I loved performing. One of the first sentences I spoke was: "I want to be a singer on a dancer’s stage." I’m just one person in the band, but I’d say it probably goes for all of us. We all knew we wanted it, music is the first thing. I mean, as a kid you're not going to be as moved by a movie as much as you are going to be by a sound.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
For me personally, the singular influence of mine is D’Angelo. I've loved him since I was 12, he speaks to me somehow like no other musician, no other artist has in my life. Kendrick is actually getting there, Kendrick is really amazing now. As a kid, it was a lot of Motown; Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Beach Boys. Then for Jimmy, he has a lot of interesting influences, like pop mentality. Darren loves Motown and D’Angelo as well. Simon is influenced by a lot of classic rock, he loves Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Hendrix. We also love really strange Indian electronic music. Jimmy and I really bonded over mid-nineties British electronic music like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher.
What was the process of creating your album, 'Centrefold'?
For this recording, the four of us sat down and it happened quite fast. We recorded a song a day for the first five days. ‘Easy’ was the third song we recorded, and it just came out really naturally. The concept for the album was an unspoken mission statement between me and Jimmy mainly, because we had been developing that sort of sense of one another for a while. Darren and Simon did an amazing job picking up and understanding it intuitively by helping us flush it out in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. That's why the four of us sat down and it was immediately very democratic, organic and reciprocal. In exchange, we are all influencing and directing each other constantly.
Where do you start when creating a song?
It would start from the skeleton of a beat formed by Jimmy. Again, we are all in the room, he’s making the beat wearing his headphones, then takes them off and is like, "right, this is what I have and it might be really simple or it could be full of shit that we have strip away." Darren and Simon would then sit at the keys where we are all playing different chords and are like, “no try that, no maybe warmer, maybe brighter or darker.” Whatever it might be, when you hear something and you're like, "go up, go down, ok not quite there." All of a sudden you have a bed of music; all the while I’m writing lyrics and just thinking of melodies and singing things. Then it’s happening and other than that I’m improvising melodies, sounds and shapes, then we record that scratch. Something will stick and we will repeat that or just try it out. We're all just doing rough kind of things which you start to really refine in the end. Does that make sense?
Yes it does. You experiment before you refine what you like as a band, seems important to compromise.
Yes, as opposed to sitting down with a guitar or a piano. The difficulty depends on if you ever have a clear idea of the song. At the same time you know you might not benefit from it as much. It just depends on the type of music, for us it happened really fast, it was great. I'd say it’s easier, because it's not just pressure all on you.
As a band that emphasizes the fact that you are from Brooklyn, how do you think you fit into its music scene?
We do live in Brooklyn and it’s a thing, isn’t there a scene in every major city? I think every place has something different to offer. What Brooklyn has is a lot of hip hop influences. If I think of the million other people like Har Mar Superstar, Dev Hynes and all these projects like Lonewolf, Sean and James Levy of Reputante, it’s just a place for people who like making.
What is the story behind your album art?
There was no story, you can create your own. We don’t know who she is, but we all love the image. I love that it’s kind of a warm, inviting sweet image and it’s not overly sexualized. Our music is already dark enough, so I didn’t want to play into that any further.
I see that she has her headphones in...
Yes, it’s funny! I didn’t notice that until way after.
Do you think your music is specifically made more for live performances, or to listen in with headphones?
Well, the record is for listening. I would not want to listen to a recording that's live at all, I'd much rather just listen to the record on my own. Seeing us live is heavier, more expansive probably, the record feels kind of compressed and more intimate. The live shows hit harder too, so they both serve their purpose.
How would you describe your image as a band? Obviously everyone recognizes you as the character Dan from 'Gossip Girl'.
Honestly, I can’t say how other people see us. I wonder and suppose, I’m kind of curious. I think we have created something authentic, we never forced it, and were not created by a label. We’ve done everything we wanted to do, so if anything, it would be encouraging to know that people are actually able to perceive that authenticity.
What are you looking forward to in the near future?
We go home tomorrow, but are mostly looking forward to keep creating music. We have a lot of videos that have yet to come out and a record coming out next year. We are going to keep touring, and obviously play some festivals.
What do you miss most about home?
I miss a lot of things like my girlfriend, dog and a predictable bed. Oh, and good toothpaste.
Photography by MAUD MAILLARD.
Interview and words by Nicole Chui.