By Poppy Tohill
Interviewing Jol Mulholland proved a bit of a fun adventure, getting to head along to the Lab Recording Studios, where his musical space and humble abode he calls ‘The Oven' (due to being excruciatingly hot in the summer, because there's no windows) is located. After receiving a grand tour of the studios, Mulholland and I sat down in ‘the oven' for a chat about his last few years in New York touring with Liam Finn and his second album, ‘Stop & Start Again,' which was released on September 5, which I am very excited about!
Not only being extremely musically talented himself, Mulholland's three older brothers are also exceptionally talented in the music department with their dad being the main inspiration, as Mulholland began telling me. "Dad is an amazing amazing guitarist who was in lots of bands, so he was my inspiration really," he began. "Then my older brother Sam, who is the oldest of us all, started playing guitar and he got really good quick, so I picked it up to compete with him. But dad was always playing too, so I was just self taught after watching those guys and being so surrounded by music in general," he exclaimed. "My uncle and his kids were all muso's too though, and mum could play piano and write songs, she was a writer and a poet," Mulholland went on. "So music was always just a very natural thing for me."
"I reckon that might have been when I was a teenager playing in my first band," Mulholland responded when asked about the time he realised he wanted to pursue music as a career. "When I began performing for people and just getting a buzz from that you just get hooked and I thought if you could do this somehow for the rest of your life, that'd be really awesome."
Moving on to the toughest question of all, being ‘what do you think you'd be doing now, if you weren't a musician,' Mulholland proved that he is in fact a born musician. "Hmm, what else have I tried," was his initial response to the question. " Well my first ever job was working in an Internet cafe, and it was pretty funny actually," he remarked. "It was right in the middle of the square in Christchurch so you'd get all the tourists and you'd have all these language barriers and so forth. It was when the internet was just sort of getting going and I had an old lady come up and she didn't know how to send an email and I said ‘just point the mouse there' and she grabbed the mouse and was putting it on the screen," he paused for a chuckle. "So that was my first job and I kind of liked it," he exclaimed.
"Then I think, if I wasn't a musician I'd be into the engineering side of it, because my favourite job down there was working at RDU, the radio station," he continued. "I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but I did it, and my job was to make ads, on really old equipment. So you're chopping up 30-second commercials and stuff like that. But maybe if that was eliminated, like I didn't even have anything to do with music," he paused. "God, this is a really good question, what would I be? Like what would someone do if they weren't doing what they were doing? Because you become who you are by doing that," he truthfully reflected.
"Yeah I feel like that's true," he continued again. "If I wasn't doing the actual playing of music, I'd still be involved in it in someway I reckon, because I've always been listening to it and it has just always been a part of me," he eventually concluded.
Before becoming the solo artist ‘Mulholland' he's had a fair number of different musical persona's performing in numerous bands, such as The Mots, and Gasoline Cowboy. Slipping a mention of those bands into conversation Mulholland informed me of when the idea for his solo project originated. "I guess it had stopped being as much of a collaborative approach," he began. "Like I've always done it. I've always sort of recorded versions of these songs by myself, playing everything and it just got more and more refined. I think the first Mulholland album, ‘Eugene Told Me You Were Dead,' was actually going to be a Mots album, but I talked myself into coming up with a name for a solo project," he continued. "I'd pained over it, like it was this big thing and it shouldn't have been," he chuckled. "I think it's just because it is a reflection of what the material is. I've made it all, but it was hard because what I know best is bands and having your posse and your mates with you, and calling it a solo project freaked me out because I thought I was going to be forever pinned, as ‘the dude who became a solo artist.' But still, as it turns out, second album in, I've got a really good band together and we're all really good mates and we're hitting the road in October, so it definitely still feels like I'm in a band, in a way," Mulholland declared. "Just because the music on the album is made for a band too. You couldn't just get up and press play on the CD and do that kind of set live, the band gives the album new life with different people too which I really enjoy."
While on the topic of bands, Mulholland went on to fill me in on his two years in New York, and travelling the world, playing alongside Liam Finn. "It was amazing!!" he gleefully replied, as most would expect. "We travelled a lot, I got to see a lot of the world and we played hundreds of shows and just had an absolutely awesome time," he exclaimed. "I was really lucky and did quite a few support slots as well throughout different places in the world," he added. " Then we hunkered down the year after that and wrote an album as a band, so me, Liam, Elroy & Ej, all did that whole collaborative process which was fun because I hadn't done much of that for a while and it was an amazing time."
"I joined another band while I was in New York, called Pure Love," Mulholland continued. "They've just broken up but they were a UK band, so we did a lot of touring in the UK, Europe and the US with them too which was awesome. But yeah, New York to me was actually like this weird blur of every other country but New York," he humorously admits.
"I think it has to," Mulholland replied when asked if he believes his time spent in New York influenced his music and sound in anyway with the new record, ‘Stop & Start Again.' "I feel like I didn't write a hell of a lot in New York at the time I was there or around all the other places, but I had a chance when I came home to NZ and it suddenly just all came out," he explained. "I was at my mum's farms for a few days just with my guitar a few other pieces of equipment and suddenly all of these ideas were right there. I think those experiences like spending two years visiting lots of countries just filter through you and even if you're not writing music there, it's in you. So yeah, I reckon its directly related to New York and England and so fourth, definitely," he remarked.
When asked if he believes his sound has evolved a lot since his debut album ‘Eugene Told Me You Were Dead?' and whether he thinks ‘Stop & Start Again' is a fairly different record from his previous release, Mulholland smartly replied, "Yeah I do! I listened to Eugene again recently and in its own weird way I think it's quite a dense, layered, electronic and more electro sounding album. I've always been a bit of a pigeon for style, so I like The Beatles, Beck and Radiohead and all these sort of different styles, genres or approaches to the music happen in ‘Stop & Start Again' and I think that maybe it's more traditional in its instrumentation."
After asking how he'd best describe the album in one sentence, a great big sigh, followed by a few swear words, before he finally stated, "Shit, you've got some good questions!" was the amusing response I received. After much humming & haring Mulholland concocted, in my opinion, a pretty intriguing answer. "It's a mixture of the melancholic with an element of hope," he eventually revealed.
"Whether it's in the chords or the lyrics it's definitely a positive album which should be taken positively," he went on to explain. "Even though there's a lot of subjects in there that are the classic kind of stuff between couples, family or the people that you love," he concluded.
Remaining on the topic of the album, Mulholland went on to explain a bit about his songwriting process and inspiration behind ‘Stop & Start Again.' "When I'm up at my mum's I just have my guitar, an amp and a mini keyboard which I use for making beats," he explained. "So writing for me is the recording. I'd sit there and have chords, then come up with the lyrics and start jotting down maybe a chorus idea. Then I'd quickly whack that into the computer and see what would happen from there," he continued. "I think about nine out of the eleven songs were written up there at mum's farm, then I came in here to ‘the oven,' and did it with real drums and lots of cool things happened. I was inspired by Jeremy Toy, who is making his new She's So Rad album down stairs and Eddie from Dictaphone blues is always pummelling away next door, so all these different sort of avenues popped up and it was a really quick process actually," Mulholland admit. "It's taken a while to get all the other nuts and bolts together to put it out, but it was finished writing within six months of starting it," he concluded.
"‘Cry If You Want To' which came out as a single a wee while back," was Mulholland's response when asked if there was a song that stood out on the album as the easiest or hardest to write. "It's a funny one, because even though its got the most lyrics- I had to write them out for the album artwork and it's got all these lyrics I was like ‘I can't even remember writing these' "- he added laughing. "It was just about how I felt at the time and the song was effortless, it literally came straight out from the guitar to the computer, with the lyrics and everything. So that was definitely an easy one!" he chimed.
The music video for the single is also pretty awesome, as Mulholland went on to inform me the idea was all "director Brad Rogerson's creative juices," when I asked how much creative he had into the video.
Also mentioning how cool the music video for Mulholland's second single ‘Loneliness For Free,' was, (which was filmed at the Lab Studios) he went on to fill me in on the story and meaning behind the song. "That was written at the time when I'd just come back from New York," he began. "My wife Kate was still over there and I suppose it's about an imaginary situation where you're just going for a ride to a far away city. It's about not stressing about where you live and what you're doing, but just getting in a car and going on a holiday for the hell of it, and not worrying about it," Mulholland explained. "That's sort of the kind of vibe, I guess," he added. "I'm the glass is half full person. So I'm quite optimistic. So it's a very optimistic song."
Not only is Mulholland a musician, but he's a man of many talents, also proving a popular and renowned producer and engineer. Imagining all the time he must spend in the studio amongst these three jobs, he went on to let me know whether it is being in the studio or performing on the stage that he prefers more. "God it changes," he first declared. "I'm in the middle of doing Anika Moa's album at the moment and so I'm putting a lot into that and that's really cool, so if I'm right in the middle of working on a project like that, then the studio is great, but we're also rehearsing for the tour and I just can't wait to get up and perform, so it's sort of whatever the focus is and they're pretty even," he honestly confessed, "I love both of them."
Having not only worked with numerous artists as a producer, but also performing with an array of extremely talented musicians, I asked Mulholland who he'd love to perform with someday, given the chance. "It'd be cool to open for Pavement if they ever got back together," he responded. "Or to have something to do with Steve Malkmus, or Radiohead- although that depends on their new album," he added. "But yeah, It'd be pretty mean to open for Pavement!"
This then led to us chatting about New Zealand artists, where Mulholland filled me in on some of his all time favourites and inspirations. "I listen to my mates stuff, like other musicians I know. I love what Jeremy (Toy) is about to unleash upon the world with She's So Rad," Mulholland declared. "I mean back in the day I was obviously really influenced by Crowded House and I grew up listening to Dave Dobbyn so I'd love to work with him some day because he's just amazing. I think he deserves to be massive. He's definitely the best! So working with him would be absolutely amazing!"
"So the release will entail a tour," he began when asked what the rest of the year has in store for him. "Then there's some commitments with Anika for putting her album out, no set date yet, but that's going to happen at some stage. I've produced it and co-written the whole lot with her so that's been really cool," he added. "Then the plan is to get into some summer action with Mulholland and really push the record, because an album shouldn't just come out and then disappear, so I'll try and keep it alive for as long as possible and then, I've written a couple of new songs, for some new album of mine, or I don't know, I might get into some more writing again," he exclaimed.
"Definitely!" Mulholland responded when I followed on from his last response, asking if another album is something on his cards for the future. "I think I might even do what Matthias Jordan has been doing and put out an EP. Just digitally and try to get a vinyl done of it if there's enough interest," he concluded.
As another journalist arrived for Mulholland's next interview, we drew our chat to an end with two fun and random questions. Where Mulholland went on to admit that Radiohead's ‘Weird Fishes,' is the first song that comes to mind when asked what song he wishes he'd written. Soon after adding, "But then I suddenly thought if I wrote ‘Across The Universe' by The Beatles that'd be even better, but who wouldn't say that," he laughed.
Last but not least, Mulholland went on to let me know who the five famous guests he'd like to invite to his dinner party would be. "Mark Knopfler, definitely," he responded quickly. "Also, Beck Hansen, maybe Richard Dawkins because he'd be good to have for conversation, Quincy Jones, and last of all I'd invite Gordan Ramsey so he could cook us all a nice meal," he joked.