Mothé on Soft Sound Press

Interview: Mothé spreads their wings on new project with debut single “Debt Collector”

I’ve been collecting a list of songs that I’m desperately waiting to scream live, whether it’s at a live show or at karaoke. Mothé is right at the top of my list with their debut single “Debt Collector“.

Impossibly catchy, buzzy alt rock is just what I’m going to need when this is all over, especially when I get the chance to scream lines like “how come you only ever want to bring me down?” or “how come it feels like every year is a bad one?” at my adoring audience (read: strangers at the bar). The vocals tones feel authentic and honest, and the brash guitars build up my own anguish until I’m ready to go full force when the chorus hits.

I had a chance to chat with Mothé (off-stage name Spencer Fort) about… a lot, honestly. This single was released through new label Slow Lab Records, which is owned by Spencer, Jonquil Freedman, and Lee Evans of DVG Records. No Mothé tracks have been performed live as of now. The world is changing. Spencer bought a landline phone. You can read all of it below, and be sure to RSVP if you’ll be joining us for our cathartic Phoebe Bridgers screaming session at the next available opportunity.

Thank you so much for making the time for us today, I’m excited to chat with you! “Debt Collector” is so good. I’ve been blasting it since it was sent to me. So first of all, congratulations on the release! How is it going for you so far?

This is definitely the best a song that I’ve been a part of has ever been received, so there’s an element of being like, “wow, this is cool.” It’s crazy to only have the song released on the internet. Normally I can tell if a song is doing well because we go to a show and we play it and people start singing it back or they’re really excited, but we don’t get that this time. When it has to exist in these abstract numbers, in some ways the success of the track exists in mathematics more than person to person response. But I have received more messages of people being excited about it than I ever have in my life. I’m really happy that it reached anyone that way. And I really, really can’t wait to play it and have the real experience of the song that… you know, the reason I write is to interact with other people.

I guess it’s going to be extra exciting, finally getting to play the new music live and being back at shows! And you have a new album on the way, which means more new music to play. I feel like that show will be… the energy’s going to be unmatched.

I hope so. It’s funny, we did one live session but it was a very stripped back version of a few songs off the first EP. When we go to play live again, we’re going to play with the full band. The album will probably be out by then, which means that at our very first show — if we wanted to — we could play an 18 song set list, just because of the way the timing works. We could play for an hour and a half. It’ll be hard to choose which ones to play since we didn’t get to play the last EP either, you know?

Honestly, thinking about that… I’d be down for a 90 minute set from most bands right now. It’s been so long, I see no problem with it. Hearing “Debt Collector” in my headphones, I know it’s a song that I should be jumping around to in person. What can you share with us about the making of the track?

When I first moved to LA, I was writing and co-producing for other artists, like a circuit that I was playing. One of the first people I met was Robert Stevenson, who’s now our producer. When I first met him in a session, we definitely clocked each other. He actually used to be in a band that I liked called A Silent Film. We linked outside of the session and started working together. The next time I saw him after that, he’s been gone from the studio for a while. I’m like, “where have you been?” He’s like, “well, I was on Johnny Depp’s private island. I lived in the Bahamas for however many weeks recording an album for Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck.” He starts having this wild career, but still wanted to work together. We went and recorded the EP, Cindi, together in the studio that he was working out of. Then he introduced me to a friend of his, we got together and we started talking about the album — and this is where “Debt Collector” comes in. We were doing a bunch of stuff and we were going to make a second EP. We did pre-production for about four months… lo and behold, we just keep going and keep going.

Then it’s like, “oh, it’s an eight track EP.” Then we realized, “no, this is an album.” And funny enough, “Debt Collector” was maybe the last addition because I wrote it very close to going to the studio. So there’s this EP we’ve been working on over the course of a year, and then I just laid it down like “hey, I’ve got one more song that I started.” When we sat down, he helped me finish it. Then we all went over to Sonic Ranch. Are you familiar with it?

Not personally, I might be too far away in Canada, but what I read sounds cool.

It’s a studio in El Paso on 1600 acres of pecan forest orchard. It’s this gorgeous studio right on the US/Mexico border with all these rooms that have all these amazing fabrics and eccentric stuff. They feed you the whole time you’re there. It’s the place where Bon Iver recorded his last record, Fiona Apple recorded Fetch The Bolt Cutters there.

OH.

It was just like paradise. “Debt Collector” was tacked on at the last second to get into that studio session. We would do 12 hour recording days. We’d wake up, do 12 hours — every time we’d stop for dinner with the owner of the studio, he’d give us a nice glass of wine, and then we’d go back and finish. It’s a very carefree, wine-induced recording process. And that was how the song went, you know? You would have these intense dinners and they’d just fill you up with a couple glasses of wine, and then it’s like, “okay, now go shout into the microphone.” You’re like, “okay, we’ll do it.”

If this song is what got tacked on at the end. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album. I always find artists announce which song almost didn’t make it in time for a specific release, and that’s always the one where I’m like, “I’m so glad this song exists.” I feel like that’s going to be “Debt Collector” but I guess we’ll see!

Thank you. I didn’t feel like it was tacked on emotionally. Robert, he has a saying — it takes time, money, and talent to make a record. As soon as you run out of one, the record’s done. And we were out of time! So we were getting real close to not having that one on it which, I mean, we would have finished it and put it on the second record. But I’m happy that it was the first single for this album.

It’s a great place to start from, especially with a new project after ending Moth Wings and coming into this. I feel like it’s like a great jumping off point for people to get to know you and your music. And you’ve put it out on Slow Lab Records. Can I ask you more about this record label? I’m so curious.

We signed a deal with DVG Records that we were really excited about. Lee Evans, the owner of DVG, is incredibly nice and incredibly cool. The only problem was that we were the only alternative artists on the label. There was one conversation where we were discussing “what are we going to do with Mothé on DVG?” Lee got really excited, and gave me and Jon, who co-owns the label with me, a lot of creative control. He said, “why don’t you go make the label you would want to be on and we’ll transfer your record contract to that label?” It started as me signing a deal and being on an independent label, to now having the opportunity to own an independent label with two other people who I absolutely adore working with. Owning a label and being a space for collective creativity has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

It was more on my “in 10 years” checklist than immediately, but it turned into one of those “are you going to grab the horns?” moments. I caved in a good way and I’m really excited about it. At the moment, Slow Lab Records is a new independent label, and I’m the only one on the roster as it stands. We’re looking into more acts and seeing how we can bring together a more interesting roster. The idea of the label is mostly that we want to take some artists and sounds that might be slightly too alternative to get attention from larger, more mainstream labels and push them. They’d be mainstream artists in the sense of giving them that amount of care and budget, and saying “let’s see what happens when you’re not just looking for the next trend and you’re not just looking to sign 20 people and shelf them.” That’s the approach we’re taking and I’m excited to try it.

That’s amazing. Honestly, it feels like such a risk even signing with a label these days, I find it can be so hit or miss. To be able to take that opportunity and suddenly have your own label, that’s the ultimate power move for an artist right now. Having worked in the industry for a long time myself, you get so jaded to the way labels work. Seeing artists take that power back for themselves and be able to create something good with it is really cool.

I’ve been seeing a lot more artists opening their own labels, and I think that in some ways it’s a response to how fed up we’ve been with the current systems in place. For years, me and my peers were talking about how there’s gotta be a better way to do this. There’s no way that you have to do this sort of stuff to become profitable to a label or as a label, you know? It seems like enough of those conversations went around, and eventually the answer is “it doesn’t have to be that way.” It’s amazing seeing all these people starting their own labels for themselves, treating other artists ethically. We’re finally starting to move back into what I always felt was the true function of the label, which is to support and create a community around a certain type of artist and let it be a place for people to find their new favourite thing. It’s so great to see more of that.

I think you made a really good point there. It’s valuing the ethics of it. I find a lot of places or people just say “Well, this is how it is. If you don’t like it, don’t be part of it.” And now everybody’s saying, “okay, I won’t be part of it.” The ethics should come first, as opposed to just accepting that we’ve been doing it this horrible way for so many years and should just keep suffering. Especially after the year we’ve had, I think everybody’s more fed up. I’m excited to see how this kind of shapeshifts this industry in favour of the artists.

Hopefully it’s plenty in favour of the artists. We’re at a point where everybody can acknowledge the music industry got absolutely fucked. We have to look out for each other and that extends to labels too. As a community of music lovers and as people working in the business side of music, we’re just at a point where when everything opens again, we will have no other option than to take care of each other. I hope that leads to more favourable relationships between labels and artists. I hope that leads to more favourable relationships between artists, and from artists to the people they’re working for. It’s been an argument for a while, but it should be easier for people to live off of music I think it’ll go that way, that’s my hope.

Yeah, me too. I think when we value music and art this much where it’s like… everybody consumes music, whether it’s the radio on your drive to work or actively going to shows and listening to music in your spare time. It’s something that we all place value in through our day-to-day lives. To then say that the people creating that for us don’t deserve to make enough to survive doesn’t compute with me. Hopefully this has brought a bit of a reset or something. Speaking of this equitable balance, a lot of the artists I’ve been speaking to have said that this year, they’ve found a different type of work-life balance, whether it’s having more hobbies or working outside of music, and it’s changed their mindset on things. How has this year been for you in terms of calibrating how you move forward?

One of the huge things that changed was just that I’m home now. I have to spend a lot of time in the same city. When Moth Wings was active, I spent the four years of that band touring, and if I wasn’t touring with Moth Wings, I was doing hire-on tours or I was doing crew tours. So I was getting very comfortable with the idea of packing up, going to the next spot, packing up and doing it again. I was happy doing it, because all of your time is occupied. This year, I was living in an apartment complex and I was like, “god, I hate it here.” I hated it so much. When I had originally gotten the place, I didn’t anticipate how long I was going to have to be there, or how much my home environment was going to affect my mental health and my ability to create. One of the biggest things that I did this year was move to somewhere that I actually wanted to be. Wherever I set up my home studio, that’s my new office. I’m there more than I’m anywhere else. I think I learned a lot about the balance of loving your daily life instead of needing to leave it to go on tour.

I had to find ways to occupy my time because there just wasn’t that much going on. I used to be in sessions all the time, playing shows all the time. I was so busy and then it all kind of collapsed with COVID and I was like, “well, I don’t have that many friends that I can actually hang out with outside of music or talk to outside of work. And I don’t have any hobbies or much of a personality that I’ve had to build up or anything.” I felt like a shell of a person that had just been filled with touring and filled with all this excitement. And then I was like, “oh my god, I have to be a person.”

So I got really into cooking at home, making cocktails, coffees and stuff. I’ve been finding small tasks that remind me of touring in the sense that it’s doing the same thing over and over again. You just get a little better at it every time you do it. I’ve been finding stuff that kind of reflects that and then spent a lot of time skating around the neighborhood. One thing I learned: I’ve been going down to the beach, starting in Venice and skating up to Santa Monica, grabbing a glass of wine, and skating back to Venice. That’s been a nice way to spend the day. I’m trying to do anything to take up more of my time in a domesticated manner. Everything feels very slow at the moment, so I’ve had to find ways to be okay with it being slow, and soak it in and enjoy it. It’ll be interesting to see how overwhelming it is to go back to a fast paced lifestyle. Now I’m settled in a little bit.

I had a very similar experience where once I was home and couldn’t go to shows and do music-related things constantly as my entire personality, I was like, “wait, how much of my personality is music-based because it’s the only thing I care about and how much of it is just because that’s the collective interest of everybody I know?” And then I sat at home and rediscovered all these hobbies I had when I was younger. Maybe I don’t want to go back to being 100% music focused all the time. It’s nice to have other things to balance it.

Totally. Yeah.

But it’s a lot to like take in for one year. We’ve had too many once-in-a-lifetime events all crammed in together.

When I think about that, the political and cultural things that happened in this year, and realized that they didn’t happen outside of the pandemic… that all of that was while we were still in the pandemic. I mean, what a wild time. It’s just absolutely absurd. I’m sure this is a pretty shared experience, but I find myself really romanticizing the idea of an incognito life. No social media. I got a landline. I want to turn my phone off, and if someone really needs to reach me, they can call me on the landline. It really eases my mind.

That’s a good idea.

So I got a fuckin’ landline number. Let’s face it. We all want to get as close as we can to living in the country and talking to nobody without giving up being in the music community. I think we’re going to move towards a world where people value their space. That includes the mental space. It’s too much for any one person to see, consider, form an opinion, and have to present an opinion on every single thing that happened to the world. It’s exhausting. We’re getting towards a time where we need to take care of each other a lot. Just keep being kind of your neighbours. We might might be mentally and emotionally functioning in smaller communities.

We don’t really know when everything’s going to go back, but it’s on the way. We can see like the light at the end of the tunnel, we know it’s there. What are you most excited for when we get back to it?

I think I’m excited for how longwinded the process is going to be. I haven’t had a big project to work on in a while because I finished the album and now we’ve been working on releasing it and… well, the label’s a big project actually. I’ve been working on a lot of big projects. The album was a big project, and then the label was a big project that I’m still working on. After we get that project more stabilized, I’m really excited to start the process of figuring out how to play these songs live. Everything that I’ve made for Mothé has only existed in studio format. Studio and live are so completely different. And I love both of them, you know, but I’m very excited to find other people that play the music with. Luke’s gonna play drums, the drummer of Moth Wings. You couldn’t separate us if you tried. Finding more people to play the songs with us, to arrange all the parts, figure out how which part’s more important… it’s super stressful, but I’m excited for it. And at the end of the day, yeah, I am most excited to play an absolutely banging show again. There’s this feeling of, “we’re all just going to shout together and that’s going to be super fun, because I’m shouting and you’re shouting.”

When you’re in those moments, they don’t feel like, “oh, I’m the singer and that’s the audience.” There are however many people in the room and everybody’s just in that emotional environment. I love being a part of creating an emotional environment for people. That’s really why I love playing live so much. It’s selfish. When I’m doing studio work, I don’t get to physically see the effects of the emotional environment that I’ve created. Obviously we have albums we love, and it’s its own emotional environment, but I want to see it with my own eyes. There’s moments in “Debt Collector” where there’s a bunch of people going “oooohhhh!!” which was me and Luke and Derek who was filming it. It was super fun, but I want to hear someone else do it. I think I’m really excited to play a show in general and try to relearn that process.

It’s going to be weird being in a room with that many people, but it’s going to feel so good to all just scream. I’m definitely going to cry. Have you listened to Phoebe Bridgers’ new album? At the end of “I Know The End” when they all start screaming… I swear to you, I can’t listen to that without sobbing because it just feels good to hear other people yelling. It’s like that scene in Midsommar, just the shared experience of feeling each other’s pain.

That song is going to be monumental live because everyone is going to know that this is the moment that you’re just supposed to scream and we’re all going to scream together. I’m going to be at the show. I’m going to the very first Phoebe Bridgers show in Los Angeles, I’ll be hitting that scream as hard as anything.

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