Interview: Five minutes with MOGAN
Cardiff musician MOGAN has shared their debut single ‘What Happens Next?’, directly off of their forthcoming EP release titled Gutter (24th April 2020). MOGAN challenges topics like politics, divorce, sexual identity, and finding comfort in one’s quirks. They have performed at events including The Forte Project, Safe Gigs For Women and at The Swansea Fringe Festival as part of the LGBT+ line up called The Demimonde. MOGAN has also shared a stage with DIY punk group Hotel De Mari.
We find out more about the avant-garde and electro-pop composer in this exclusive interview with them.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
I’ve always written lyrics since I can remember. I went to a Catholic primary school and as a little queer kid with divorced parents and an earring, I guess Catholic guilt played a huge part in forming my identity. Music and arts were a form of escapism from order and tradition. But MOGAN really came to life when I bought an old loop pedal about two years ago and started live-looping microphone feedback, and ambient noise through an FX pedal and singing along to it. I enjoy interpreting life experiences and traumas through noise and music, bringing it to the fore rather than burying it in the back of my head.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
There’s never any set method. I often like to create an atmosphere through a noise first and then start constructing the idea. But sometimes an idea or lyric will spark up the right sound.
Does your material feature any collaborations?
There are no collaborations on this release but I have been lucky enough to have the EP mixed and mastered by Minas. He’s been incredible at pulling the songs in directions I never thought would be possible. He definitely had his work cut out for him because I can be very particular and fussy at times, but it was really great to hear how he lifted certain elements. He’s like Goldfinger but has the Minas touch instead of the Midas touch.
What’s on your current playlist?
I’m heading to Japan later this year, so I’ve been listening to lots of Miharu Koshi and Yoko Ono. When I was a child I was pretty much spoon-fed The Beatles because my family are all from Liverpool, so it’s been fascinating to step out of that familiar territory and delve into Yoko’s world.
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
Engaging with the audience is hugely important to me. When I record I spend a lot of time alone locked away in my room, fixating on different noises and it can become quite isolating. A lot of my decisions can be reactive, so I want to replicate and share that energy on stage. The audience should be a part of that impulsiveness, whether they get the music or not, it’s good to work with that energy.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
I’m always recording noises day-to-day, a lot of time just on my phone. It could be as simple as a train’s screeching brakes or the neighbor’s cat. I love manipulating those industrial or naturally occurring noises to make something new. It’s like digitalising the mundanity of every day life and then composing it to suit your own mood.
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
When I write I can be quite impulsive and work within the heat of the moment. Sometimes I’ll start with something on a loop and just build, and build, and build to create a huge noise. Then I’ll gradually start to peel it away and reflect. I kind of use this method with lyrics too, and will revisit old poems that I’ve hastily written in the past. I’ve always kept notebooks and scrawled lines here and there that I’ll let lie for a month, a year or even longer before picking it up again to use within a recording.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
It’s always been there. When I was a kid I used to idolize performers like Bjork, Skin and Shirley Mansun smashing around on stage and just owning the place. I looked at them and thought… I could do that. That’s what I want to do.
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
I’ll always keep a beer close by. Sometimes a little too close. I’ve nearly killed pedals because I’ve stomped around too much and knocked them over. I’ve learned that the adequate distance between me and the beer is about six paces.
Any emerging artists on your radar?
Cardiff has a hell of a lot going on – we’re massively spoilt for choice. Minas, who mixed and mastered my EP has an album coming out this year which is well worth a listen. My label mates, Larch have an album in the pipeline, which is going to destroy everything you think you know about experimental electronic music… Across the water in Bristol, you’ve got E B U, Sarahsson and Jackson Veil Panther doing great things… It’s a good time for experimental music.
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Seeking out and highlighting nuances within discomfort, awkwardness or even devastation. I always find that there is romance, entertainment, and humour within these human interactions with hurtful situations. Hurt is instant and can hit hard, but it is a precursor to relief. I like to apply that to my method of writing, by being impulsive and in the moment, but allowing the dust to settle before deconstructing and forming a narrative.
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
I’m a lyricist first and an instrumentalist after, so I’m a complete amateur with software. I use Garageband because it does everything I need it to do. Kit-wise I have a Boss ME-50 guitar FX pedal which I love. I use that to manipulate vocals, field recordings, and my Micro-Korg when recording. I’ve also got a Boss Loop Station which is great to perform with because I can kind of live mix with different loops. I’ve also got a little cassette recorder that I play field recordings on. Most of my music has this kind of under layer of noise and ambiance which, when played through the tape player adds this beautiful rawness to it.
Any side projects you’re working on?
I’m providing guest vocals on a couple of artist’s tracks this year which I’m really looking forward to. I’m also remixing and producing for some artists too. Up until recently, I’d only ever really considered myself a singer/songwriter, so to now have people asking me to remix and produce their tracks is hugely humbling.
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
The structure of my songs has definitely been refined since I started using editing software. I used to just muck around with a little loop pedal, layering up feedback loops over and over – and that was MOGAN. Now I have the ability to craft and tell a story. I still have some of those old recordings that I listen back to sometimes and just think… what on earth is this?! But I’d love to rehash them at some point and incorporate them somehow. I think I’ll always flit within the realms of lo-fi music and push away from being over-produced, but it’s good for me as a songwriter to be able to craft a narrative.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
My first EP is out in April on Sinc-X records and I’ll be putting out a video or two with that release. I’ll also be gigging a lot more, and hopefully getting out and about on a tour of the UK.
Famous last words?
Don’t pull it out just yet.