It’s been hard to put any kind of positive spin on the last year or so, especially if your life is in live music. For every ‘nature is healing’ birdsong post this time last year, you could imagine a band, DJ or promoter throwing their laptop at the wall, or at least turning it into a Batman slapping Robin meme.
Montreal’s Mothland ran with it differently. The independent live collective with a side hustle of releasing music pulled together while keeping their distance, and flipped from throwing psych-leaning gigs and festivals to becoming a proper label. They released albums by Atsuko Chiba and UUBBUURRUU, and ended the year with their first compilation mixtape, Sounds From Mothland Vol 1, a DIY mash-up of psych-rock, lo-fi garage, weirdo pop, noisy new wave and experimental electronics.
Mothland formed around the first DISTORSION Psych Fest in Montreal in 2016, and have morphed into a loose collective of like-minded souls — as bookers and agents organising underground gigs and city showcase festivals, and a DIY label in 2020 when they could no longer rub shoulders in jam spaces and venues in the Mont-Royal district.
They say Mothland “is an extra-dimensional space, a frame of mind, but even more so a tight-knit family sharing new sounds, colours and textures through multiple art forms and unique events”. The two most recent albums on the label are at opposite ends of the sonic spectrum — the Warren Zevon-meets-Sparks wry art-pop of Kristian North’s Passion Play, and Yoo Doo Right’s cosmic heavy psych explorations on their spectacular new album Don’t Think You Can Escape Your Purpose.
Moo Kid caught up with Mothland’s Philippe Larocque and Maxime Hebert for a deep dive into the collective, to talk psychedelia, DIY scenes, weirdo pop, the resilience of the underground, and a wide range of moth metaphors. They’ve included a primer as well, as a stepping stone into the Moth cave…
How did the Mothland crew meet and start working together? Are you all from Montreal?
Philippe Larocque: Yes, we are all from Montreal, we started to work together when we started the festival DISTORSION back in 2015. JP was promoting punk shows with his Analogue Addiction booking agency and we would always collaborate with him, he joined the team in 2019.
Maxime Hebert: We did the first few meetings for the festival at Esco, and it has since become our second living-room when not occupying the Mothcave during DISTORSION.
It seems like an intense 5-6 years or so, from that festival, to Mothland the label and agency. How did it evolve from this one event into the current collective?
P: We started a new festival, wanting to curate arts around psychedelia, and a lot of lost ‘moths’ out there were attracted by its ‘light’. After a while, we realised there were a lot of people gravitating around the festival doing things so we needed to build them a home that we called Mothland. We are now doing a lot of things, we became a label and who knows what else we will do, it’s always evolving. It evolved out of necessity and I guess for me to kill boredom and be part of something meaningful.
M: I guess DISTORSION was initially more of a beacon, and Mothland is more of a transmitter.
There’s a real DIY punk vibe around your first compilation tape Sounds From Mothland Vol 1, with a bunch of artists “not shying away from putting out rough demos or making spontaneous recordings”. Has this been a thread through all of your shows and releases?
P: I always try to filter everything I do through that state of mind. I see punk more as an idea more than an aesthetic, It’s mostly about being free and doing what you want. That’s always been a constant thing in what we do. Sounds From Mothland was inspired by homemade mixtapes that are part of punk culture but we didn’t push the artists to be like that. It was raw and DIY because that’s the reality of the people around us, it wasn’t pushed on any of them as a restriction. We wanted artists to be able share ideas, even if they weren’t polished yet.
M: We also turned to Paul Jacobs, Elie Chap at Rouli Roulant, who provided the project with unique visuals and a handmade cassette, aiming for something of a collectible in this era of fast consumption.
Was there much of a scene for psychedelic-leaning music in Montreal when you launched DISTORSION?
P: For sure, we just lit a beacon but the moths were all there, flying around, sometimes confused , but could rarely enjoy a ‘good lamp’ where to chill. Now it’s everywhere and sometimes I feel like the psychedelic thing is becoming a kind of brand and I don’t personally like it. We were even talking about dropping the psychedelic tag on the festival and just calling it DISTORSION.
M: We all listen to a bunch of different genres and styles, and art takes many forms. So does psychedelia, so over the years we were able to mix and match artists from Montreal and abroad that played anything from experimental electronica to psychedelic jazz. We like to think of psychedelia as a subversive conduit for artistic expression.
Do you think psychedelic is a loose term? The Sounds of Mothland Vol 1 veers between psych-rock, lo-fi, punk etc — even industrial/EBM with the Le Prince Harry track, and Distorsion has had loads of noise, drone and electronic acts over the years.
P: Yes, really loose! For me, anything that blows my mind is psychedelic. I’m more into no wave, hip-hop, french yéyé, early folk and country artists, electronic music or even jazz now. It’s more interesting and trippy than half these fuzzy garage psych bands. I mean, Bob Dylan didn’t need a fuzz war pedal on his harmonica to make Mr Tambourine Man a psychedelic track, you know.
The two most recent Mothland albums are at opposite ends of the spectrum, music-wise — is this a hint for going forward, no strict music policy?
P: No restriction, it’s gonna get even more pop but also weirder. We just put out music we like and we have taste for weird, subversive art in the team, but we also like fun and groovy music. It comes back to this whole punk thing of doing what we want and freedom. With DISTORSION, we had the psychedelic tag and it kept us on a path. We are playing with it and trying to reinvent it or push it, but we have people who come to these events and you don’t want to alienate the public too much, we want to alienate them just a little bit…
With Mothland, we are more open to go with different sounds and we actually don’t really want bands that sound too similar. I’m actively looking to sign an experimental hip hop act to work with. Send us your mixtapes please! Thank you.
M: Sometimes, it’s also about the concept behind the piece or work, or how one relays to it… Pop can be really subversive and challenging. By the same token, some of the best experimental works out there are soothing, and truly uplifting. There’s no straight line, only “strings” vibrating in a most chaotic way.
How do you go about working with artists, inviting them into the Mothland family?
P: We love to say that Mothland is an actual place. If they find it that’s a good start to join the family. There are a lot of loud noises coming from it so it isn’t really hard to find. Once they get there we’ll try to have fun and if they want to live in this place and make it better, make it their own and improve it, that’s all it takes.
M: Funny thing is, the whole “Mothland” appellation started when for its 2017 edition, DISTORSION’s initial venue got into trouble with “l’Escouade de la Moralité”, a governmental office that literally translates to “The Morality Squad”. We had to come up with a fictional venue name as we looked into other options where to gather with the other moths. When trying to explain what we were referring to, we realised it was actually real in an odd way, and it eventually became more than a location, as more and more people gathered and we all became a close-knit family.
Mothland is built on close collaboration, live, one-off events and chance meetings. How did the pandemic reshape your thoughts about the collective when this wasn’t possible?
P: The Sounds From Mothland compilation was actually an initiative to keep the community active during the pandemic. Though we were initially more of a booking agency, the pandemic and the fact that we couldn’t book shows gave us an opportunity to put out more music.
Did you always have plans for Mothland as a label? Was the pandemic just a catalyst?
P: We started putting out music before the pandemic but it was just a side project, a little treat for ourselves. The pandemic forced us to make it a priority. We learned a lot in a short time and we are grateful that we were given this opportunity.. We’ll come out of it stronger than ever. It gave us time to focus on what Mothland was and I’m glad we evolved in that direction. I always wanted to have a record label since I was really young. I have a huge collection of records at home and having a Mothland section in it makes me so proud. It’s a lot of work but I’m glad we did this all together during the hardest year of our lives.
M: I think we all openly said at one point or another that we’d love to be part of a label or start a label, or something to that effect. And though our first few releases were more ‘touch and go’, we all hoped we’d be putting out more music. With our backs against the wall, we just took it way more seriously and looked into it from a different perspective. All of a sudden, being a label seemed like the best thing to be doing as music lovers and we just went for it.
Is it difficult to recreate an indie DIY vibe on a platform like Bandcamp? On the one hand, distributing independent music online is as DIY as it gets, but you’re missing that tangible interaction you’d get from, say, selling tapes or merch at gigs.
P: It’s all I ever knew, I’m from the internet era, I’ve always downloaded music so I didn’t live in a ‘’real’’ pre-internet underground. I kinda romanticised this pre-internet era. Maybe one day I’ll spend a week on a roadtrip selling records from a car trunk just for the thrill of doing it. The others in the team are a bit older and would know better about the difference between both.
M: Since I’m “older”, I remember touring before GPS technology and smartphones… It was quite different, but the interactions were the same, I would think. I also don’t think we sold more merch back then, really, but I could be wrong on this. Maybe I’m a romantic, but I truly believe music aficionados still prefer buying a vinyl straight from the band, no? But yeah, it’s changed quite a bit. Now, with the internet and all the tools readily available to music aficionados, music just travels a little more and a little faster. I do miss getting lost in a random city, though.
How has Montreal’s independent musicians and artists been coping over the last year or so? Is there a resilient scene in the city?
P: We are really resilient, some venues have fallen and that’s really sad, but we had some shows when there weren’t any in the rest of Canada. We did a little DISTORSION event at La Société des Arts et Technologie. We also attended ‘Covid versions’ of the festivals Pop Montreal, MUTEK and FME. There were even some guerrilla-style outdoor gigs and I was so happy to be there. Max and I went to the first full band TDA show during one of these guerrilla gigs. It was safe and respectful, and it made me proud of everybody in the scene working so hard to keep on going.
M: I think we’re in for an incredible influx of Montreal-made music over the next few months, heck it’s already started with amazing music being released every week. For sure, the pandemic sucked big time, but it seems to me that artists took it as an opportunity to refine their craft, and I think I speak for everyone in the team when I say we can’t wait to hear more from all the great artists from Montreal and abroad.
When live music is properly resurrected will you still keep up the momentum behind the label? Any acts or releases you can talk about?
P: For sure, we have like a million albums coming out so that’s exciting. Not only Montrealers, though, amongst our upcoming releases, we are working with artists from Toronto, as well as from the United States, and we are also looking across the pond, but I can’t say more at this time.
As for Montreal-based artists, we are releasing the first EP of this really wild band. They have this furious and raw energy, but are also silly and really fun people to work with. We also have an experimental electronic album in the works which we can’t wait to put out. We’re also thinking about concepts for Sounds From Mothland Volume 2 and 3. We’ll see…
PHILIPPE & MAXIME’S MOTHLAND PRIMER
YOO DOO RIGHT — Don’t Think You Can Escape Your Purpose
Philippe: This track is so heavy and beautiful. I can relate to its lyrics as I woke up one too many mornings looking for my mind too. I’m proud to say we have signed the loudest band in Montreal, they have a vision and are really committed to it.
KRISTIAN NORTH — Tilted
Philippe: The last track on Passion Play is my favorite. Kristian once again channels Lou Reed on this one and it just makes me feel great. The type of songs that makes you feel like you are a movie star in dirty ol’ New York.There’s something about this album that takes you places, travelling through its songs.
GLADYS LAZER — ONN
Philippe: When Gal sent me this song, I knew it was the perfect opening track for Sounds From Mothland Volume I. Every time I listen to it, It has this dissociative effect on me, like your spirit is leaving your body to drift away into the land of the moths. I do believe Gal is from another planet, he’s the craziest drummer I’ve seen play. I saw him literally destroy his drums, playing with Yonatan Gat, but his solo stuff is more fragile and dreamy. I was pleasantly surprised by his new direction, but I guess it makes a lot of sense.
PAUL JACOBS — Thanks
Philippe: Paul is the first artist I started working with back in the days. I kinda learned how to navigate show business by working with him, finding gigs for him, etc.. He’s a multidisciplinary artist and has created a whole world of his own with his drawings so I asked him to share a bit of it for the cover of the compilation. We asked him to draw what Mothland meant to him and he came up with something really sweet. As for the music, he is so prolific that when we asked him for a song, he sent us enough material for a whole album.
SPACEFACE — Chemical Sea (Wash Me Away)
Philippe: This track is the perfect ending to the side A of the compilation. It feels like watching the Sun rise after a wild night out. I’ve been a Flaming Lips fan since my day as a young pothead, living in the suburbs, discovering 90’s grunge & indie bands. I’m happy that we are gravitating around them these days, they are really inspiring. Jake and the rest of the Spaceface dudes really understood what we were doing with DISTORSION & Mothland. They instantly became part of the family, and were really psyched to be part of the compilation project.
YOO DOO RIGHT & JASMINE TRAILS – Marché Pt. 3
Philippe: Another song for me from the Sounds From Mothland Volume I mixtape would be the collaboration between Jasmine Trails & Yoo Doo Right. We suggested the artists get out of their comfort zone and that song was a prime example. It feels like they’ve been playing together forever but it was a spontaneous collaboration made remotely because of the pandemic.
RED MASS – Sharp ft Mac DeMarco
Philippe: This is the track that made me fall in love with the band years ago. The video came out a couple years ago. It’s just fucking weird and absolutely badass, it goes in all directions and that’s what I like about it, you can’t really put a label on it, it won’t let you. Also, to add another layer of weirdness, there is a pre -fame Mac Demarco doing sleazy vocals on it.
ATSUKO CHIBA — Captain Colair
Maxime: I remember meeting Marilyne at the old office on a late sunny afternoon. Everyone else had left, so we decided to put on new demos from Atsuko Chiba, basically songs that can now be found on Trace, the first album ever put out by Mothland. I was instantly mesmerised by their new direction and this specific piece stuck with me ever since. Definitely a great deep cut from their second album.
UUBBUURRUU — Fell Alright In Hell
Maxime: UUBBUURRUU is actually one of my musical projects. Initially, it was just a bunch of lo-fi psychedelic songs made available on Soundcloud that Joey and I had recorded for fun. It became somewhat real when we were asked to open for Atsuko Chiba (small world!) at Escogriffe in Montreal and so added a couple musicians to the mix. After releasing a first EP, we eventually recorded an album with our guitarist Sam who owns Gamma Recording Studio in Montreal. We really took our time (almost to a fault), but the album was finally finished in 2019. In the meantime, different versions of the songs had leaked within the team, and eventually Marilyne and Phil were like: “Why don’t we release it on Mothland?”. I chose “Feel Alright In Hell” because it’s Marilyne, Phil and Dave from Atsuko Chiba’s favorite song. Hehe!
ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE & THE MELTING PARAISO U.F.O. — Silver Points and Lines
Maxime: We’ve long been a fans of Acid Mothers Temple and their many denominators, and as we were discussing the release of Don’t Think You Can Escape Your Purpose with Yoo Doo Right, they mentioned they also had been secretly working on this super cool split project with AMT, following touring North America together in 2018. It was cool to be able to jump onboard and help spread the word about this epic little gem.
BLACK LEGARY — Progenburger
Maxime: When Phil first started thinking about which direction to take for the curation of Sounds From Mothland Volume I, he mentioned how eclectic our booking roster was, and one of his main goals was to connect the different genres. He eventually settled on “Wonderful vs Frightening” as his main enchor. I feel like Black Legary’s input, “Propenburger”, bridges the gap really well between the two concepts. It’s also very catchy, beware!
SUNWATCHERS — Herd Of Creeps
Maxime: When Marilyne first introduced me to Sunwatchers, it literally melted my brains… and their live shows just disintegrated what was left of them. “Herd Of Creeps” has everything I look for when it comes to experimental/psychedelic music. Its mantra-like melody, its relentless rhythmical beatdown, its fuzzy and waily tones, and its uplifting, yet anxiogeneous chord progressions make for a unique listening experience.
YONATAN GAT — Cue The Machines
Maxime: Yonatan has been a part of the Mothland family for as long as I can remember, and is probably the artist we booked most often as a promoter with DISTORSION. Yet, I can honestly say that he never played the same show twice. He always challenges audiences with new concepts and/or approaches to his unique craft. I chose to share “Cue The Machines” because it is not only a great introduction to his music, but it also encompasses many of its facets.