NSW Central Coast songwriter Mark Moldre has come along way since his early releases with his band Hitchcock’s Regret in the early 2000s. Now four albums deep into his solo career, he continues to refine and develop his craft of songwriting, arranging and playing, and on the new album Nambucca Fables he dives deep into highly personal material that will resonate on a deep humanistic and relatable level with his audience. Whether that’s those that have experienced loss and grief or those who need a gentle guide through the inevitable experiences we all must face.
Mark’s blend of fractured, hallucinatory sounds, cosmic Americana and more traditional indie rock forms add up to a wondrous mix, placing this Antipodean music in the same realm as The Felice Brothers, Sparklehorse and Wilco.
Mark was kind enough to sit down for our PTW Six Strings Q&A and reveal some influential artists, albums and experiences in his musical life.
What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of Americana music?
My Dad had an 8 track cassette player in his car circa 1977 – and only one cassette. Neil Young’s Harvest. So I listened to that album over and over as a little kid. I think it had a huge impact on me – especially the way that Neil attacks his acoustic guitar rhythms. The other album that I listened to a lot around the same period was Highway 61 Revisited. Thankfully my parents had some good stuff hidden in their collection amongst the Hooked On Classics and Demis Roussos albums.
Describe your latest release…
The writing was challenging, I knew I wanted to make an album that was centred around memories of my Mum…but at first nothing came easy. Lyrics felt overly precious and too sentimental and I went through endless rewrites. It took about a year until I loosened up enough to let a flow of stream of consciousness begin. I think the result was a much dreamier and more considered album, lyrically, than it would have been if I’d forced it. The recording process was different from my last two which were recorded live to tape. This one was recorded between lockdowns and bouts of Covid, some parts of it were recorded at our homes and parts were emailed from one band member to another. It was the first time I tried to produce the creation of an album and make executive decisions myself…but, I second guess everything and thankfully my band and engineer/mixer Tim Kevin threw in loads of great ideas that helped shaped the sound of the collection. It’s quirky, dreamy, occasionally clattering and noisy – it’s definitely the personal collection I’ve recorded.
What’s been the most memorable gig you’ve played?
There’s no doubt in mind that it was at the Binic Folks Blues Festival in France, 2019. It was a largest crowd I’ve ever played to – but that wasn’t what made it memorable. There was something in the air, an indescribable connection between band and audience that I’d never felt before. I’ve played plenty of shows on my home turf – but nothing has ever come close to this. This sounds corny I guess – but I felt like I was playing to family. Totally at home in a place I’d never been before. I still dream about that small seaside French town.
How did you learn to play your instrument?
At first by listening. Recording songs off the radio and trying to work them out. Then buying sheet music and music books by Australian bands like Midnight Oil and Spy Vs Spy. Eventually I started lessons – I had three main teachers. My first was an older chap who lived up the road from my parents house, Mr McGowan. Next was an Australian guitar legend named Don Andrews – he’d written loads of music books that I already had in my collection…and I’d previously learnt arrangements of a few old standards from his books. Lastly I studied for a few years with a jazz guitarist – Carl Orr – I saw him playing with Jackie Orszaczky at The Strawberry Hills Hotel (or possibly The Harbourside Brasserie) and approached him after the set. He eventually moved to the UK and went off on tour with Billy Cobham and more recently played guitar in Sting’s musical The Last Ship. I haven’t seen him now for a couple of decades.
Do you have a preference – recording in the studio or performing on stage?
I would definitely say recording in the studio. Those days always go by too fast. There’s so much work leading up to the recording, writing, learning and rehearsing. Then recording is an incredible few days of intense creativity. I always really look forward to them and it’s over all too quickly.
What do you consider the finest song you’ve written?
I never really think of my songs that way. I write them, record them and just about forget them. Sometimes, after you’ve written a song, it’s hard to transport yourself back to the place you were in when you wrote it…you can’t recapture the emotional essence. I think the songs that have endured for me are the ones where I can immediately hit that sweet spot – a song I wrote years ago called ‘Milkwood Moon’ is a good example of one I can still connect with after all these years.
If you could sit-in with one other musician (living or dead) who would it be?
I reckon having a jam session with any of my musical heroes would be a stilted and uncomfortable situation – and probably nothing great would happen. I’d just be all awkward and would likely play terribly. So as much as I’d love to jam with Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot or Neil Young – I’d probably make much better music and have a better time sitting with my band or my friends….
Do you feel there is a strong folk/country music community in Australia/NZ and if so, what does it need to keep growing?
Maybe there is – but to be honest, if it exists I don’t feel I’ve ever been a part of it. I may be more of a musical outsider than I realise, I don’t fit comfortably into the boxed genres. I see there are certain “cliques” in the folk/country community – groups of drinking buddies. The same group of artists appear over and over on festival line ups. I wrote something a few years ago after my shows in Binic – a place where I did feel a sense of community – and I think it still reads true today. “I fall between the cracks in the musical pavement – where the weeds grow and the dust collects, where insects hide and the unsuspecting trip” I believe the boxes that we’ve created, the lines that we’re supposed to follow if we’re a “folk” or “country” artist are restrictive – not when it comes to creating music – but when it comes to marketing, festivals and getting on line ups. I don’t want the above to read as a bitter ramble – it’s not meant to be at all. It’s just the view from where I sit and perhaps I’ve created that sense of “standing on the outside looking in” myself. I do really admire someone like Fanny Lumsden for all her hard work in creating her own community – it’s really paid off for her in dividends and she’s obviously put in loads of hours behind the scenes in building something herself from the ground up.
What’s been your favourite Americana release over the last year?
Bill Callahan’s YTILAER without a doubt. Lyrical genius.
What are your musical plans over the next 12 months?
I’m hoping to play a handful of shows – a rarity for me. I get a lot of satisfaction creating video clips for the songs on my albums – so I’ll make a few more of those. And I enjoyed the strange recording process of recording songs from our homes and sending the parts back and forth amongst band members – I’ve got a weird feeling that if there’s to be another album after this that I might enjoy exploring that process a little more.