February/March 2017

by Andrew Witty

A Girl Named Mo: Who They Say You Might Be

by Andrew Witty

A Girl Named Mo: Who They Say You Might Be

Reasonably described as an edgy perspective on neo-soul, the music of A Girl Named Mo is an engaging combo of soulful electronica, hip hop and RnB. Slade Butler on keys and Marcus Gurtner on drums/samples provide a highly coloured, rhythmic but space-full backdrop to the smart lyrics and vocal versatility of Moana Ete. Andrew Witty spoke with Moana about their introductory live album, ‘Platonic\Romantic’, recorded live at a series of Wellington concerts and digitally released at the end of 2016.

Led by singer Moana Ete, Wellington three-piece A Girl Named Mo is going from strength to strength. After selling out five shows at Bats Theatre last October leading them to add a sixth, the electronic neo-soul group has gone on to release a live album, ‘Platonic/Romantic’.

“I like the idea that what you hear was a take. Even though it is electronic there’s that element that it’s very spontaneous. There were moments where me and my band could find places to jam… it really pushed us as performers to open up that process.”

A Girl Named Mo is given structure through the rhythms of Slade Butler and Marcus Gurtner. The trio has stuck together honing their craft, with the gigs at Bats helping to refine the sound. Slade took control of the MIDI controller and bass, while Marcus, with just an 8-pad drum machine, looked after percussion.

“We were trying to make the most of these little machines,” Moana laughs. “He [Marcus] really had to dig into the machine and see what sort of sounds he could find… we were really milking them for what they were worth.”

While the performances were an outlet to showcase and experiment with new songs, there was also a sentimental aspect. The shows allowed them to play to her friends, family, and also a continually growing fan base.

“That was the most exciting part!”

“It makes you think of when I first played and nobody came, or like four people. I really felt the worth of Wellington and my peers.”

Moana is a proud Wellingtonian, which contributes to her musical identity. Although, as she says, her own Wellington style is not street, nor something you’d find in the fast-paced movement of the city.

“It’s more in the suburbs!”

This suburban chic led to an ongoing joke on her recent outings with Fly My Pretties.

“On tour the joke was, ‘It’s Mo from Wellington,’ like it’s the Wellington chick. The joke being that I am the epitome of – so I’d be wearing jandals and socks and just rocking it. They’re like, ‘Oh that’s so Wellington!’”

Moana is bracing her style, hoping to retain her local pride, while setting foundations to reach new audiences. Looking forward to recording a new studio album she’s in flux about her image, and her message. Hot off sold-out shows and a tour with Fly My Pretties, A Girl Named Mo has seemingly transgressed unabashedly the limitations of the local scene. Inspired by other passionate musicians, her grounded demeanour finds a way to make the most of the opportunities she has.

“It’s what’s kept me coming back to music. It’s like people on Soundcloud and bedroom producers would have beats and message, ‘Oh hey, do you want to sing on this? I’ll send you the file.’ I definitely feel like it is now ‘the world is your oyster’ just with how easy it is to share, the idea of virality, of being viral and phenomena on the internet. It’s like a big snowball. Put your songs out there and see how they go.

“And you’ll see on social media, I’ll be like ,‘Oh comments!’ But it’s not really comments. It’s people tagging other people, to be like, ‘Listen to this, listen to this.’ It’s just as cool as someone being like, ‘Hey, I love this!’ Sometimes it’s even more of a compliment really that someone is like, ‘Take the time out of your day to listen to this.’”

Inspired by powerful female RnB singers, Moana stays down to earth by following her own processes when it comes to music making.

She says she’s a stickler for anything that doesn’t sound wholly original, and enjoys the task of finding her own brand of originality.

Embedded in interesting melodies, she hopes to highlight the importance that a potent message in music can make.

“It’s like a whole new level now! What I write about is what’s on my mind, what I’m thinking about a lot.

“Especially for the studio album, I really want to be more conscious of it. I don’t want to be like, ‘I write whatever I want to.’ That’s fun, but

I think I want to be a bit more conscious. It’s getting a little bit political without getting political. It’s more, I have a platform, what am I gonna say? What’s my contribution? As hard as that is, I do want to look back when I’m an old lady and be like, ‘What did I have to say?’”

Sentient about the platform she has earned, she navigates a limbo of a grounded, socks-and-jandals local girl intertwined with a message of female empowerment in the social media age. It’s an interesting juncture she now finds herself in. Freshly established, she’s looking bigger picture about her representation.

“Though I love to write about romantic love there’s never any element of ‘…if you leave me I will die’, or ‘…you are the one and only’.

That idea of ‘there is only one person’ I think can be really harmful, especially with young people. To be fed that and to listen to that now, and then be surprised that our suicide rate is so high…

“It’s a bit more, ‘My body is my body, you can’t tell me what to do with it,’ in a warm, fun, pop music kind of way.”

She admits that politics overseas, however removed from our shores, cause her to reflect on the difference she can make through her music.

“I’m also patriotic about it which is not a very Kiwi thing. I could wave a flag if I wanted, it’s that kind of thing. You see these Trump supporters and they’re just so proud of where they come from and who they are. They’re so proud of bearing arms. It’s horrible to watch but what I take from that is, ‘Do I feel that strongly about anything? What do I feel as strongly about?’”

So, what does Mo feel that strongly about?

“Girl power.”