by Kathy Sands-Boehmer
Goodnight Moonshine is a very cool pairing of two very talented members of two very popular bands: Molly Venter of Red Molly and Eben Pariser of Roosevelt Dime. Their new self-titled CD is a potpourri of music stylings ranging from country to Americana to a pop/psychedelic mashup that is an instant classic. Well worth the listen. You’ll be hooked.
Noise: I’m always interested in the creative process, especially when musicians collaborate with each other. Tell me about how you write together.
Molly: The key to collaboration for me is trust — trust in the other person’s creative spark and also trust in the relationship so that you can tell each other what’s working and what’s not. Eben and I found it surprisingly easy to finish each other’s songs. He helped me finish “All Our Friends” in about 20 minutes. Our first true co-write was “Willow Tree.” Eben had written this great chorus — he’s got a knack for chorus-writing — but didn’t have any idea what the rest of the song was about. It took me about a dozen verses and three storylines to find the one that resonated strongly for both of us.
Eben: It was not our original intention to write an entire album together, but we knew early on we wanted to play together, and as Molly says, the writing came easy. We complement each other in a way that contributes a certain ease to the process. Molly is sensitive to storyline, the sounds of words and the melodic and verbal phrasing of lines, whereas I tend to be more interested in the composition, harmony, arrangement, and especially the juxtaposition of the lyrics to the music. Because of this, we can both work on songs without getting in each other’s way much. It took about a year, and the pressure of performing, to come up with a crop of songs to record, and they are a mix of MV originals, varying degrees of co-writes, and EP originals. For a long time we weren’t sure if we wanted to start a “New Project” or if I should just contribute to a new Molly Venter solo record in some way. I think the answer made itself clear with the number of co-writes we ended up with.
Noise: Your bio says that you were both influenced by ’90s alternative music. Was that a common bond that helped cement the working relationship? Who did you enjoy listening to when you were kids?
Eben: I wouldn’t say that was the central bond. I think our collaborative bond has more to d:o with a respect for where the other one is coming from as a writer and a performer/singer. I don’t think we knew we were going to reference ’90s alternative when we started out. But listening back, and you can clearly hear it in there. The music that you grow up on, in some ways is a zero point or a default. Both Molly and I play in bands regularly (Roosevelt Dime, and Red Molly), that are much much more traditional and rootsy. Goodnight Moonshine clearly has more of a pop element to it, and I guess as soon as we started to arrange and play the music, a lot of that ’90s alternative sound started to rear its head in the arrangements and guitar parts. I listened to so much Radiohead, U2, Tom Petty during that time it would be crazy if it wasn’t in there.
Molly: I was shaped a lot by the edge and rawness of ’90s music, and I gravitate towards a more atmospheric production style – I just never knew how to get that sound. In the past it was always stressful for me in the studio because I didn’t know how to take my folk songs and build a soundscape around them that supported them but didn’t swallow them up. That’s a huge skill of Eben’s. As a teenager I was hooked on Tracy Chapman, REM and Ani Difranco. Certain singers like Cyndi Lauper and Lauryn Hill come on the radio now and still transport me to that high-school happy place.
Noise: I find the music on this record to be pretty diverse. You’ve got some songs that sound rootsy and some others that sound old-timey and of course the “one” that is as psychedelic as you can get in this genre. Tell me how you managed to morph “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with Pink Floyd’s “Time.” Did you both sync up your Wizard of Oz DVDs with Dark Side of the Moon as inspiration?
Eben: This mash-up is something I’ve been waiting for years to properly record. I once presented it to my jazz guitar instructor at Oberlin, for an assignment he gave me to “reharmonize” a standard, and that was over 10 years ago. Urban legend about syncing Wizard of Oz to Darkside of the Moon was really going around when I was in high school. Apparently the whole thing got started in 1997 when a Boston DJ made the claim on the air, and the fad had hit full swing in Camden, Maine, when I was a teenager. I remember syncing the film and music and thinking it was pretty cool. I can’t really explain how I figured out the reharmonization of “Time” with “Over the Rainbow,” but I think it just sort of clicked months later while listening to “Time.” I sung it with the record for my mom and brother, and they were convinced. It took me a long time to find the right project to record it with, but I think Goodnight Moonshine was PERFECT. My brother has been bugging me to do this for years, and now he’s still bugging me to make the video – more on that to come.
Noise: Speaking of super covers, your version of “Walkin’ After Midnight” is such a tribute to Patsy Cline. How did Patsy’s music make its way into your listening and playing repertoire? It’s fathoms away from Pink Floyd and show tunes.
Molly: I’d heard Patsy Cline’s version of “Walking After Midnight,” of course, but years ago. It got stuck way back in my head until one morning last year my hands started looking for the chords and it suddenly felt really good to sing. Great songs still feel relevant and true years after they’ve been written — the genre of the song isn’t that important. Didn’t Louis Armstrong say “All music is folk music.”
Noise: One thing that hits me about your original songs is how atmospheric they are. They evoke certain moods and paint pictures of characters and scenes. They’re little short stories or novellas. Have either of you written fiction? If not, maybe you should consider it.
Molly: That’s a big compliment. I wish I had a longer attention span for writing works of fiction. I’ve written memoir-style and occasionally a short fictionalization essays. But when it comes to writing songs, they generally don’t come story-first for me. They always start in a feeling or a sound, then I’ll start singing nonsensical words until some actual words or a phrase comes out that catches my attention. Then a story emerges — or maybe just a moment and a sentiment. The songs reveal themselves, in a sense. Which is maybe how it works for fiction writers too, but for me words have to come out of my mouth, when I’m singing. I try – but songs don’t seem to want to be squeezed out of my pen.
Eben: I think I could write short stories, but writing a novel is really intimidating. I love prose, and can get totally lost in it, but dealing with a big plot stretching on over hundreds of pages? My hats off to those folks. What really impresses me is the guys who can do both prose and plots, Jonathan Franzen comes to mind. I’m not counting it out as a future career but it seems even harder than music.
Noise: Molly, you’ve had your songs placed in movies and ads. Is that a recent development? And how cool is it to hear your music in that manner?
Molly: My earliest film placement came about eight years ago – but more recently there have been TV placements and what IS fun is when a friend is watching and then they hear your voice come on and send excited messages.
Noise: As a married couple with a child, do you have to tackle your weekly schedules in a different way than you did before you became parents? Or are you blessed and your son enjoys the sound of your playing after bedtime?
Molly: We do have a stricter schedule these days… which is actually good for creativity. We tag-team our baby care so that each of us gets time to practice or write, and do a little business. Though we are pretty beat at the end of each day and usually pass out right after we put Otis down.
Noise: Do you travel with your child? If so, how does that work out?
Molly: So far we do travel with Otis! There is actually a lot of down time while touring so we get to spend a lot of time as a family. We try to schedule naps for the drives, and make interesting stops along the way. We find more adventures together this way !
Noise: Do you have plans to do another CD anytime soon?
Molly: We are recording our second album right now. With songs tackling post-honeymoon relationships, birth and death and friendship. We are really excited about the songs and will be performing many of them at Me & Thee!
Goodnight Moonshine website: www.goodnightmoonshine.com
Goodnight Moonshine will be playing on March 10 at the me&thee coffeehouse, 28 Mugford Street, Marblehead, MA www.meandthee.org