Multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer/songwriter Eden Mulholland was enjoying the late autumn sunshine at his in-law’s house in Brisbane when Amanda Mills talked with him about his latest recording. Mulholland has been preparing for the release of his second solo album, ‘Feed The Beast’, for some time, having put out a taster EP titled ‘Jesus You Don’t Get My Jokes’ a year ago, to good reviews.
The Mulholland family business is music – Eden and his brothers Jol and Will are all in the industry. Drummer Will is best known for his work in Motocade and The Mots (both essentially family bands), while the prolific Jol is a widely-admired musician, having worked as a producer and instrumentalist with a number of high-profile artists. A respected solo artist in his own right, Jol is also part of Gasoline Cowboy, The Nothing, The Mots and The Reduction Agents.
While he doesn’t feature on Eden’s new album ‘Feed the Beast’, Will’s drumming can be heard on album opener Cry Cry Cry. Motocade guitarist Geordie McCallum (Sin Sin – see NZM Dec/Jan 2012), another part of the Mulhollands’ extended musical family is also present, providing guitars on lead single I Will Echo.
“It’s pretty much is like a big family, anyone can come in if they’ve got time,” Eden laughs.
Maybe so, but those are the only other musician credits across the album’s 12 tracks, which you can rightly take to mean that Eden has taken charge of everything else.
Motocade had a stint in the limelight back in 2010, with the release of their (arguably) most popular single, Holy Moly, which charted highly and enjoyed plenty of airplay.
“It opened a lot of doors, and we… got a taste of what it could be like if you have commercial sounding music. Because that song just sort of happened… we just wrote whatever came out. To have 3000 people at Homegrown singing your song back at you is an amazing experience.”
The taste clearly didn’t lead to an appetite however. Eden says that any such radio success didn’t change the paths he and the band followed.
“I’d have a song that just comes out and I try to follow that as clearly as I can, without designing it too much. Motocade is a band where we are all interested in all of the songs that we are playing. I think if we had to play an entire pop set, it would probably destroy us.
With Eden living in Australia in recent years, Motocade have been on hiatus, though not for much longer. 2014 will see the release a new studio album entitled ‘Science Fiction’.
“It’s been in the can for probably two years now. It’s been all ready to go, we’ve just been having some time off. We’re looking forward to playing next year.”
In 2010, Eden released his first solo album, ‘Music for Dance’, a collection of pieces written specifically for dance. An oddity of outwardly limited appeal, but the experience and responses to the album were positive, as he explains.
“I’m really pleased that I made the effort to get that record together. I’d been writing music for dance shows for over a decade, and people always said… the songs [should] have a longer life than the actual production.”
He followed that in 2012 with the five-track EP ‘Jesus You Don’t Get My Jokes’ in 2012, which served as a sort of tester for ‘Feed the Beast’.
Like his first album, both are inspired by dance composition, as reflected in the sculptural, moving rhythms.
“I don’t really follow the pop format for these songs on the record,” Eden muses. “I really wanted the record to be… free with where it went, and the songs not to follow a specific format. That definitely is a dance thing, having rhythms like that. It’s almost as if the songs are following something else that’s happening.
“Sometimes I do write the music a bit visually. I do a lot of editing and chopping things together, and trying things out, as if it’s like a canvas.”
Eden met his wife through dance and she has featured in several Mulholland videos, including Holy Moly. The couple shifted from Auckland to Melbourne two years ago and are currently in Brisbane, on their way to live in Townsville. Erynne is starting work with Dance North, hence the shift.
“We saw Melbourne as a stepping stone for my career as a musician and the things I wanted to do, and for her to be closer to family.”
Mulholland Sound was started as a business to run all his work though, whether composition for film and television, dance music, music videos, or solo work. Eden considers it an online calling card, a more professional approach to his work. His own dance career began early with ballet. He gave it up as a teenager then returned to the craft, studying contemporary dance at Unitec. Composing has always been significant in his work and he wrote music while dancing. When his dance career stopped, the compositions continued.
“I’d always written songs, so it kind of just happened seamlessly when I stopped dancing… I think I find it the most rewarding work that I do, really, as a songwriter,” he says.
While ‘Jesus You Don’t Get My Jokes’ was put together from various pieces of material he already had, ‘Feed the Beast’ is a different story.
“I managed to get some funding from NZ On Air, so I spent a lot more time in the studio with Neil Baldock at Roundhead Studios, he explains. “We spent a week recording and then we spent a week mixing. So this one is a lot more, ahhh, designed.”
Manipulated sounds, especially vocals are a feature of the recordings.
“I don’t know where that voice came from!” Eden laughs. “I do a lot of falsetto singing, but I’ve been practising vibrato a little bit… I get sick of my own voice sometimes, so I practise singing in a weird opera voice. Maybe that’s like a remnant of practising singing like that.”
Written and mostly performed by Eden, ‘Feed The Beast’ is musically diverse in places, especially on Cry Cry Cry, which uses rock, ska and layered harmony vocals to create varying textures.
“It’s an unusual song, I guess, in that respect. I think that song, when I hear it after I haven’t heard it for a while kind of sounds like it’s ’50s or something. Kind of sounds like some weird lounge song with a ska beat… it’s kind of odd. I wasn’t planning on mashing styles or anything.”
A lovely touch is the piano opening on Where Is My Jealousy, which was done in collaboration.
“I gave it to my friend David Bridie in in Australia – he’s a pianist and an amazing songwriter. I gave it to him to see if he could record it for me, ’cause I couldn’t play it, and he did a version of it. When we went to the studio it was in the wrong register… I ended up having to record it myself in an hour at the studio because we were running out of time. So, that’s the version we got. It’s not one person playing it when you listen to it, it’s about four different parts.”
While Mulholland produced ‘Feed The Beast’, Neil Baldock was significant in the creative choices, and Eden is keen to credit him.
“Neil has a huge hand in how it sounds, he definitely did help me make some creative decisions. He had a huge hand in making it sound that good.
For his part Baldock says he thoroughly enjoyed the recording, and rates the resulting album so highly that it remains on repeat in his car stereo months later. There must have been a good amount of trust between the two because he says Mulholland didn’t give him any brief on how to approach the mixing.
“It was one of those easy, easy projects where not much needed to be said really. He only pulled me up on one track, where I had distorted the bass, which he didn’t want.”
After the week of recording Mulholland returned to Melbourne and selected the takes they’d use, coming back a month later for the mixing and to add unfinished extras like vocal tracks.
“We had seven days booked [at Roundhead’s A Studio] to mix, and after five days we were done,” says Baldock, emphasising the pair’s efficiency. “It was easy to mix because they were played so well, no need for Auto-Tune at all, just pull up the faders.”
Mulholland performed pre-release gigs in Auckland and Wellington in May and will tour ‘Feed The Beast’ after playing a series of release shows in Australia.
“I go on tour with David Bridie in Australia for nine dates over June and July. I come back to NZ at the start of July to tour Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch over a weekend.
He’s hoping to release the album in the States towards the end of 2013, though says he doesn’t see himself signing with a U.S. label.
“I’m so used to being independent these days… I think the only thing that would make me sign would be if they absolutely loved it. You know, absolutely passionate about it. I’m open to anything.”