Updated: Jul 22, 2018
Mogerlaine have just released a shiny new single that takes the listener on a musical and lyrical journey through time and space - Amateur Radio! I've had the great pleasure of working with frontman Nick Pipe and the boys from Mogerlaine a few times over the last couple years in the studio.
Mogerlaine are such a great example of a band that have put in the effort prior to coming into the studio to make sure that their songs are polished, their parts are well rehearsed, their instruments are in prime condition and their attitudes are great!
I had a quick chat to Nick after finishing the single to learn a little more about where the inspiration for it came from as well as to learn some more about Mogerlaine. Read on to get an insight into the band's songwriting, inspiration and tricks in the studio to get killer guitar tones.
Hi Nick, firstly for those who haven't heard Mogerlaine play before, how would you describe your musical style?
These days I feel like it’s a cliche to say you’re influenced by lots of different styles, but it’s true for me! I usually describe Mogerlaine as a mixture of new wave and power pop, with a bit of grunginess and dark atmospheric stuff thrown in... the formula varies from song to song, so our live set can be pretty dynamic. But the guitar is central to everything we do, and that’s what ties it all together.
I'm always interested in hearing how the songwriting process works for different artists as there's such variance in how bands put their songs together. How does the song writing process normally work for you?
I always start with a guitar riff. I noodle around on millions of them at home - the ones that stand out I’ll take to the band, and we’ll go from there. Usually I’ll have a structure in mind, and rough ideas for what I’d like the drums and bass to do, so it becomes about fleshing that out as a band. I’m not a dictator though; part of the process of refining songs is listening to the opinions the other guys have on tempos, repetitions and any little bits they want to add to the song, and the finished product is always stronger for that.
When Mogerlaine started it was a solo project for you, Nick. Since that time though you've gathered a few other great musos to play with you to make Mogerlaine what it is today. How has that influenced your songwriting and the process?
In reality it was only a solo project for about a month! Linking up with Ash and hearing how hard he’d worked on my demos straight after I sent them to him meant that we were a team in my mind. And given I still hadn’t sung a note at that point, his enthusiasm gave me the confidence to follow it all through. Ash is such a solid drummer and has the knack of coming up with really interesting grooves that sound just right for your song, which is gold - especially whenever you can’t decide on a rhythmic direction yourself.
Jordan joined on bass after we finished the debut EP. He has a strong sense of melody from his experience as a trumpet player and a guitarist, but he never overplays, so you can rely on him to underpin a song really effectively. I think his bassline on Rarity is a fantastic example of that. He also has the awareness to sit nicely in a mix so you’re never fighting against the low end.
We’ve been fortunate to have a few really good guitarists in the band. The latest is Matteo, and he’s a great technical player. He’s really into jazz and funk - we’re often dicking around on Nile Rodgers riffs at rehearsals - and he has an ear for pop music too. He comes up with some really catchy parts, and I’ve been inspired to write a few proper two-guitar songs where our parts are like a 50/50 counterpoint to each other through the song. I’m looking forward to putting those down on record soon!
Amateur Radio takes the listener on quite a journey musically, texturally and lyrically. When you started writing this song did you envisage it being such a musical journey? Do you often have the end vision in your head as you’re starting out writing songs?
I usually have the end vision in my head - particularly in terms of song structure like I talked about a couple of questions ago - but sometimes the songwriting process is more of a free-for-all, and Amateur Radio was one of those songs that only started to take shape after we’d really worked together a bit in the rehearsal room. Jordan developed the verse bass riff through jamming on a groove with Ash, while our previous guitarist Henry came up with a couple of guitar licks which became part of the arrangement. The outro grew from a little two-bar loop he had on guitar. I felt like it was going to be something quite epic, but even then I didn’t anticipate how long the song would grow out to! It felt natural though, and I like that the movement from the main section to the outro makes it almost two pieces of music rolled into one. The final touch was adding a piano riff to the recording - the idea popped up in my head when I heard the initial mix of the outro, and I was excited to try it because it was a first for Mogerlaine. It’s subtle, but I think it really adds to the ethereal texture that runs through the whole thing. Sometimes you think a song is finished and then it tells you you’re wrong!
The lyrics stand out to me in this song as having more than one layer of meaning, or at least a slightly deeper meaning than they may appear to on the surface. Is there something else that inspired them?
There is a complex meaning to this one, yeah. I’d read something about amateur radio operators which fascinated me, and I imagined this caricature of someone sitting in their shed at home listening to ships, planes, or whatever else is broadcasting just for fun. Around the same time, I’d also stopped to think about how real this idea of space colonialism has become - in that we are now actually sending probes to Mars and seriously thinking about where to settle the human race, in case we do indeed drive climate change to an irreversible point and drain the Earth’s resources with the way we live. So I put the two ideas together… a slightly reclusive amateur radio operator, who has lost faith in society for its continued stalling on climate change, happens to tune in to an extraterrestrial frequency one night in his shed and unloads his feelings onto some alien out there.
He wonders how earthly privilege works in space; if you used a position of power to run the earth into oblivion, and you survive whatever happens in the end, should you be trusted with the keys to humanity’s new home? The question “what have you done to deserve a share?” isn’t meant to be barbaric - the protagonist isn’t suggesting anyone has to earn their place on a lifeboat - but it is meant to make people (especially those with significant power) think about which side of history they’re going to be on. It might be cynical of the protagonist to suggest humanity is more interested in social narcissism and identity politics than unanimous action on climate change, but his point is that at this rate, it won’t be too long before we don’t even have a planet to be narcissistic on.
Also, if you’re wondering why the protagonist is male - I wouldn’t say this song is autobiographical, but I do like to channel the characters in my songs as if they’re an exaggerated or alternate version of me, so I felt that was appropriate. It’s weird, but I put more passion into a performance if I really act the character!
I always love getting great guitar tones with you in the studio, Nick. The Mogerlaine guitar sound is quite distinctive - even Australian Guitar Magazine commented on how much they like the Mogerlaine guitars! Is this a sound that you’ve developed over the years? Has it evolved/changed in time?
The feeling is mutual! Equipment-wise, it hasn’t developed much… I know plenty of players who are always experimenting with new effects and sounds, but although I love new gear conversations, I rarely add to them because my setup hasn’t really changed in the past five years or more. The thing that’s developed most is my playing - I keep working on picking my way more fluidly through different chord shapes, trying to get as much feeling and melody into solos as I can, and making a habit of adding some subtle flourishes here and there (like with the tremolo bar, which used to confound me as a teenager but feels instinctive to me now). My gear choice supports the creative approach, rather than the other way around, and when I’m an old man qualified to give advice that’s probably what I’ll recommend to people. I use a Fender Jazzmaster through a Fender amp (like the Super-Sonic I currently use) because the rich twanginess they provide without ripping anyone’s ears off is the ideal blank canvas for my playing in Mogerlaine. A couple of years ago I also started using a Diamond Compressor, which I leave on all the time because it gently rounds off the sound and helps bring out all the intricacies in my playing that I want people to hear.
There’s no shortage of great guitar tones in Amateur Radio. From a gentle Spanish sounding guitar line in the second verse to the wailing solo at the end. But one I particularly enjoy is the post chorus one solo that has a really cool synthy sound. What pedal/s did you use to achieve that crazy sound? Thank you! There’s another shout out to Henry actually - that Spanish line was his idea. I’ll take credit for the wailing solo though, ha!
The lead line after the first chorus comes from my MXR Micro Chorus pedal. It only has one knob, and when you turn it all the way up it gives you this really fast wobbly sound. I put it together with my Walrus Thunder Horse distortion pedal, which makes the tone super thick and full of sustain - great for emulating a synthesiser as you suggest. I’ll also mention the guitar again here... one of the things I love about the Fender Jazzmaster is that you can use it to get an ultra-smooth, hi-fi sound from the pickups, unlike other single-coil guitars. I once played a washed-out line with the neck pickup for a producer who told me it could pass for a piano! So it’s perfect for parts like this where I’m trying to capture a synthy, un-guitar sound.
What’s next for Mogerlaine?
Even more recording… I’d like to get 4 or 5 songs down and release one of them as a single in a couple of months, then launch the whole lot as an EP towards the end of this year. We’ll do a little tour around that as well - we had a lot of fun with the interstate shows for The Divorcee, so it’ll be nice to go again in the summer. Keep an eye on our website/social media to see what happens!