The day I interview Melle Dielesen, singer of the formidable band Mozes and the Firstborn, it is sunny and a soft breeze rolls over the street as we sit down at a quaint cafè in the middle of Berlin. The waiter has a Russian accent and smiles amused when I mispronounce my order – a “Cortado” – and then leaves us to our conversation. We are both relaxed and in a good mood. As I ask my first question, Melle suddenly points behind me. “Oh fuck no”, he says and leans down to get a magnum out of his backpack. I turn around and my heart drops. “Not again”, I sigh and pick up the sharp samurai sword that leans against my chair. “I thought this was a day off!”, a woman screams as the hordes of the undead start to appear, limbs swaying, the stench of decay already wafting towards us. Reluctantly, I turn off my audio recorder and put it in my backpack before I run towards the rotting corpses that want for my flesh. “Let’s better do this via mail!” I shout and Melle nods, already aiming at a giant bluish zombie who has already reached the first table of the cafè…*
*Story might have been changed slightly for dramatic purposes.
Ok, so Mozes and the Firstborn blew me away when they played at the White Trash a couple of weeks ago and because I failed to arrange an actual interview, I asked their manager Remy Meijer whether there is a possibility for a mailer and after some nudging on his behalf, I got it, the first mail-interview I prepared that actually got returned with answers and all. I always thought it’s a tale of magic and wonder that this kind of interview works but it does!
It’s their freaking debut! aka a small-ish review first
But first, let me say a few words about the band (if you really don’t want to read that and get to the darn interview already, just scroll down). I already gushed over their ability to write music that has a certain feeling of youthful nostalgia to it, something that can turn all the awkward and horrid memories of puberty-ridden high school into something quite romantic. On their record, they also show a neck for quite brilliant laid-back pieces like “Seasons” and the gorgeous “Heaven” which prove my point that movies like “Dazed and Confused” might be a great companion to their garage sound that drifts in and out of the 60s and 70s without getting stuck in them.
Although there is no real theme (spoiler alert for the interview), I feel that the overall songwriting has a nice arc and Melle’s songwriting, which is quite personal, leads to an album that in the end might not have a topical theme but seems to sum up a certain time of his life and – considering that his songs are very relatable – the listener’s life (aka late teens/early twenties). It will be interesting to see whether he changes his focus for the next album but it would be awesome to just go along with him and his experiences, especially now that Mozes and the Firstborn are pretty heavy on touring and probably go on adventures, ghost-hunts and after pirates all the time.
One of the reasons why this album stays with me is the attention to detail in those songs. The broad genre of garage music can very easily turn into a batch of songs that work as whole but don’t stick around individually. You like to listen to that record but you don’t really wake up and have this one specific song in your head. Mozes and the Firstborn have a “Wait, I LOVE that part”-moment in every single song, whether it hides in the backing vocals, a genius line or a little guitar ditty in the middle of a song. There is also this huge amount of wit in the lyrics that turns songs like “Skinny Girl” or “Pete Jr.” into incredibly smart pop songs that remind of The Kinks or early The Who songs.
Ok, enough swooning over this exquisite debut. Behold some pretty standard questions and some pretty interesting answers in the interview. I’ll put it in there as I sent it, so you also have my incredibly charming introduction to the actual interview to read, now isn’t that nice?
Interview with Melle Dielesen
Hello Guys or “Hoi” as the Dutch greet each other (a dubious website told me). Another one said “Hi” which is not really that different to what people say in English or German, so I went with “Hoi” instead.
You can answer as many or few questions as you want, although at least one would be appreciated. You can answer long, short, in essay form, in song, with cartoons or collages and if you want to skip an especially stupid question, feel free. My expectations for mailer interviews are not very high because usually they never ever come back, so even in replying, you would be the top of the class.
1. You founded the band in 2010, how much did the initial sound of the band change throughout the years?
When you listen to our very first recordings and the album (which will be released on Siluh Records coming fall) there’s definitely a change. I guess, it sounds more mature; you can hear that we’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or two. Also Ernst (guitar) was not in the lineup from the beginning. His typical way of playing guitar and layering sounds is something that is missing on our earlier work. The introduction of the acoustic guitar on the EP and the album also makes a difference.
On the other hand: Raven (drummer) and I always recorded at home so there’s a DIY-feel to all our recordings. The album, for instance, was made in my mom’s basement. From the moment we started the band we just liked the freedom to experiment with different sounds in other places than conventional studios.
2. Can you remember your first gig?
Haha! Definitely! It was in my mom’s living room just a couple of hours before my 21st birthday (that was on 10-10-10). We only existed for two months and we really made an effort to impress. We all had on these robes so we kind of looked like figures from the Old Testament. It was fun and we had a big, slightly tipsy and enthusiastic crowd in front of us. It wasn’t like one of those horror stories you read about in biographies, actually. By the way, we dropped the idea of the robes quite soon after that. It might have been a little bit too much (it was my idea)!
3. I call this my “Spinal Tap”Question: What was the worst/weird/embarrassing thing that happened to you on or off stage as a band?
Well, we have this song called ‘Stonehenge’ and we wanted to use a prop on stage…
Just kidding. I can only speak for myself now. Almost a year ago we played at an important festival in the Netherlands. We did a support for another band in a small venue the night before. There were almost no people whatsoever. And those who were there didn’t seem to be waiting for us. But I was determined to be as professional as I could. To be prepared for the festival the day after, you know? So when we had to get on stage I walked as confidently towards it as I possibly could. As if I was David Bowie himself. But I didn’t wear my glasses (which I never do on stage because I’m too vain probably) and I also didn’t see it was a little bit higher than I thought. So there I was with my face flat on the ground and my band mates laughing at me from afar… I didn’t look at the crowd the whole show.
4. How important do you think is a name for a band? Did you have close calls for alternative bandnames and if, please name a few.
Well, it goes hand in hand with the music. There are a lot of cool bands with crappy band names and the other way around. But if you make cool music it helps when you’ve got a cool band name. It would have taken me longer to listen to the Velvet Underground if they were called the Silk Overground. I guess.
Mozes and the Firstborn was something that stuck in my head for a long time. As a child I’d seen “The Prince Of Egypt” a thousand times. The moment when God/Moses kills all the firstborn Egyptian children made a huge impression on me as a child. And later on that name was just there. I recorded demos under that alias and everybody kind of accepted that this was our band name.
5. In your bio it says you usually lay the groundwork for the songs. How much has your approach to songwriting changed over time, how does each member come in to build a song?
That’s correct. Usually I write a song and then record a demo on my own. Then I send it out to the rest of the band. But that recording is not sacred. Later on in our rehearsal space we try out different things. Everybody’s got their own ideas and their own way of playing.
When we were looking for a producer for the album we stumbled upon Michel Schoots, ex-drummer of Urban Dance Squad. He was crazy about our sound and the way we recorded ourselves. He wanted to work with us on the songs, with all four of us, as a band. He really got everybody tuned in to the process. Everybody got to add their own gravy to the meat, you know what I mean? And also Michel encouraged us to record ourselves at home instead of in a normal studio.
6. How harmonious is this process? (if you write this mail together and don’t want to start a fight, you can also mail me your answers separately)
Haha, well, of course there’s been conflict in the creative process. Sometimes that’s hard and sometimes it takes you to something you’d never have thought of on your own. Especially Raven (drummer) and I have had our disagreements. There’s actually one song on the album about this exact dilemma: how do you balance your creative relationship and the friendship that started it all?
I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Corto (bass) for being positive throughout the whole process. Here’s a man you can build on! (And he’s very handsome, too!)
7. What comes first for you, the music or the lyrics?
Music comes first. Usually a melody pops up into my head when I’m riding my bike or I’m doing groceries or whatever. The trick is to always catch that first idea. So when I’m in public I get out my telephone and I just pretend to hum a song while I’m waiting for somebody to pick up. What I really do is just record the melody so I can work it on later at home with a guitar.
There’s only one song on the album for which I wrote the lyrics first. I don’t know why I approached it differently that time but I just did. Lyrics and melody are equally important to me: the two of them are supposed to combine and become more than just the sum of two unities. For me the music usually just comes first. And sometimes there’s a lyric that just sticks with it.
8. When it comes to the lyrics, how do you work? Do you have very clear ideas in your head or do you collect fragments and later put them together?
Well, the music is there first and then I think about a subject that could fit the mood. There’s always a sentence that seems right and I work around it. The sentence doesn’t really have to mean something. It just has to sound right, you know? It should fit the amount of syllables.
But I also wrote a couple of songs that had a certain subject from the beginning. There’s a song on the album that I wrote for a girl I hold dear and I just wanted the song to be hers. To make her feel good. It turned out to be a nice pop tune so it made its way onto the album.
I put a lot of effort into making the melody and lyrics work together as tightly as possible. It has to sound like something that just came at once. And that’s actually quite hard to generate.
9. You have quite a timeless feel to your music, are there certain eras, genres and/or bands you especially get inspired by? Or let’s turn this question around, what does inspire you in general; are there songs that started with a very specific experience, artistic or otherwise?
The first time I heard Nirvana as a 13-year old I was prone to pick up a guitar. From there on I went to bands like Pixies and Sonic Youth. After that came the Classic Stuff from the 60’s. Digging deeper into other artists’ influences. It’s not like we want to sound exactly like either of them. We like to mold these new and old inspirations into something that’s refreshing. I mean, Nirvana would never have existed without the Pixies OR the Beatles. You see? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to compare us to Nirvana. It’s just an example. Man, it’s hard not to sound pretentious when you talk about your influences!
10. Do you have a certain vision for your overall sound or does it come together organically?
Before we record a song we all bring in examples of other artists, you know, just to draw a certain mood. They can be all sorts of music. Classical music, rock ‘n roll, hip hop, etc. We take whatever we think would fit our song. Not literally of course. So there’s definitely a vision for each song. Now I’ve heard the recorded album a couple of times I can also hear there is a vision throughout the whole. When you’re in the process there are certain things you know you should do but you don’t really think about them. Now it’s easier to take a step back and see it as one piece. We’re all very proud of the album. It’s something all four of us have lived for, for a couple of months.
11. Bonus Question! What is the one thing one should NEVER bring to a festival?
This might sound strange: beer!
A couple of friends of mine went to the terrain of a festival we were going to a month earlier and buried a helluva lot of beer. Just dug a hole in the ground near a tree. When we arrived at the festival a month later they just dug it up and we had as much as we could possibly dream of.
Thank you very much for your time and effort, you are not only excellent musicians but also excellent human beings and there will hopefully be a time when we can do something like this in real life and flesh.