Artist Interview: MOLTENO

34 mins read

The ambient elemental solo artist, producer and multi-instrumentalist talks about everything from her upcoming track releases and debut album, to the COVID-19 panic and working remotely

Hi there MOLTENO, wonderful to meet you and speak with another human presence during this self isolation period. Are you currently self isolating? How does that affect your musical process if so?

Yeah, I am kind of quarantining myself; I’m based in East London and I’ve come home for two weeks, just in case I spread it. One of the members of my live band actually contracted it a few weeks ago, and the last thing I want to do is pass it on! So yeah, this is two weeks of quarantine, then I can mix with my friends and family again – albeit from a controlled distance! I’ve got bits of food –

It’s quite surreal, I made the snap decision to leave London and I brought a lot of my studio gear with me in case I’m stuck here with London on full lockdown! I can do some writing and recording here.

Is that what your set up is usually then, the home studio?

What I usually do is I have a basic home studio set up, so I write songs and produce them as much as I can at home, but then I collaborate with some really amazing producers, so I go into their studio and they help to execute a more refined version of my vision of the track.

I feel others have skills that make collaborations stronger than being totally solo- I love what they bring to the table and sometimes they will mix the track, or we will take it to another studio. There’s a few steps to it, but it’s great to be able to get home and do the majority of it initially in that small studio set up. I’m involved in every step of the way and execute my vision for the tracks, from producing to vocals.

Tripping Up, your newest single, is due to be released on the 27th of March – are you worried about the lockdowns and restrictions. and how that can impact planned releases?

Promo shoots for Tripping Up, @god.ness, @meisslsimone

It’s definitely making me think about how to best release music, but it’s not necessarily something I am worried about. For example, with this this one (Tripping Up), three weeks ago things were very different; it wasn’t even being called a pandemic and things have changed dramatically.

As an artist you set your plans far ahead; the live side needs to be rethought out given the lockdowns, but with the online side of my work, I would like to carry on as normal. However, after this track (Tripping Up) I think I’ll ask the audience directly – would it be better to delay releases, or do people want new music to listen to?

People’s attention is very much on this pandemic and what we can all do to help the community, so I think it’s quite nice to ask the audience. I’m hoping I can press on as normal as I can, while being sensitive to the challenges ahead.

I think that’s a really good idea with regards to asking your audience, that sort of interaction with fans during this time of self isolation is a good way of reaching out and connecting.

Exactly, especially if it can provide any solace in this time to listen to some new music!

Talking internet – is it a double edged sword as a newer or smaller artist? Do you feel like there’s an oversaturation that makes it harder to get noticed, yet easier to create music?

I think there is definitely a saturation of artists, but in some ways that’s a good thing because it’s much more accessible for people to make music and self release.

That’s definitely something to be celebrated, as in the past you really relied on a record deal to be able to record and distribute music, and the ‘powers that be’ would have more control over your work. It can be harder to get people’s attention but being creative with how you get your music out there is a good way to start, especially with social media.

One has to be creative to get noticed, and we need to focus on that as well as the music; we have to be content creators too essentially.

How would you describe your musical sound for those that haven’t heard your work?

I would describe my work as atmospheric, dreamy art-pop, with folk and trip-hop elements. Vocally, I experiment with layered R’n’B styles, and MOLTENO is all about the elements. I am very inspired by the elements and the moon and the ethereal. Eerie, yet warm.

You’ve a debut album scheduled for around 2021 and are planning to release four tracks over the next few months, starting with Tripping Up; can we expect more of the likes of that sound found in your single releases Dakota, Ocean, 1000 Moons, and Hint?

It’s similar to my previous output, but it’s got a little more of an art-pop, upbeat influence. The first track (Tripping Up) has a bit more of an R’n’B feel to it. There’s a lot I want to explore and I know it sounds eclectic!

I am going for a more upbeat sound, but we’ll see where it goes. I’m sure the atmospheric slower side will still be there, but right now definitely ‘upbeat’ is what I’m going for. I still have to write some of the tracks for the album so the overall tone and genre of each track isn’t totally concrete.

Are the aforementioned tracks on your Spotify, bandcamp, and other music outlets part of a cohesive EP, or do you perceive them as singular works?

Well, I created them with a whole album in mind, so they are individual tracks as far as release goes, but so far I’ve been focusing on single releases; it felt right as a new artist, to put my work out there once completed.

I felt it was easier to connect to people one song at a time. That’s what felt right, but of course I want to have a collection of works as I build up. The debut album will showcase more of a collection.

So you’ve planned your release of your first of four single tracks Tripping Up for the 27th March, available for digital download is that still all on schedule?

Oh yes, I finished and submitted it almost a month ago, and it was quite a different world then [RE: coronavirus] so I’m going to press on as normal with my scheduled release.

I have a music video coming out for the track, my first official music video, working with a good friend, Daisy Moseley, who directed it. I’m really excited to see what everyone thinks, and I’m so happy with what she’s done with the video.

How exciting! Did you find that side of things to be as enjoyable to work on as the music itself? Do you take creative control over the accompanying media surrounding your music?

It was actually a really natural process – she got the aesthetic I was going for, she just got it.

The colours, mood, the feeling – it’s quite surreal, but there are more real experiences and grounded imagery as well. I would say I was involved of course, but she really took the lead in executing my vision for the track; it felt very much like a visual version of my ideas for the song.

It must be great having people around you that understand your aesthetic and ideas and can collaborate with as you mentioned previously.

Do you feel you have a good team of people you can rely on for different aspects of the process of getting a track out there?

Yes, definitely. It’s enhanced what I do so much. It’s been amazing to find such invaluable team members; from the visual side, I work with some amazing art directors, fashion labels and photographers.

On the music end, I work with some amazing producers like Chris Xylo who produced Tripping Up and co-wrote with two of my live band members, Sarah Barton-Keeley and Declan Carrier.

It’s great having such a wonderful team around me and I’m fortunate to have found people that just get what I’m doing and are amazingly talented.

Tripping Up promo shot, @god.ness, photography, @meisslsimone, stylist

How does it feel not being able to get out and do the live performance side of things at the moment? Do you love gigging and touring and that side of the music?

Yeah I love the live side, I’ve got a brilliant live band, there’s a core three including myself, and a cellist we have recently started working with.

The live side, I’m just really excited about the direction we are going. We were going to have a launch party in the summer to celebrate the releases in London, and then looking to perform around the UK and Europe – that was the plan anyway!

But at the same time, given what’s going on, I’m not feeling sad about not getting out to play live, it’s clear to me that it’s the right thing to do, for people not to gather right now. Stopping the spread and the burden on the NHS is really important and so I’m not sad about it, we just need to think about ways we can connect with our audience during this time.

So what sort of ways are you looking at being able to still interact with fans during all this isolation and lockdown?

Well I’ve thought about doing some livestream gigs, right now it would have to be solo but when I’m back in London myself and my live band could get together, maybe wearing masks, who knows?

Also we recorded a live show just prior to lockdown so we want to release that as well, so at least people can experience the live side.

Well fingers crossed the live launch party might still go ahead, from minute to minute there are so many changes regarding advice from the government and shut downs.

The livestreaming sounds like a great idea to uplift your fans that again, might be experiencing worry or boredom due to isolation.

Yeah exactly, having things in your calendar that you can look forward to, a show, even if it’s not got the physical location.

I think now our social lives, given the lockdowns will be very different, so things like that are really important to give people that sense of schedule or plans. I can imagine it just being a nice thing to have in the diary with all this is the backdrop.

Going back to your debut album, was there a singular inspiration for the work? What is at the heart of your creativity, if anything in particular?

The album is still in the early stages at the moment, with the planned four track release starting March 27 with Tripping Up, but for my earlier releases I was very much inspired by the moon, the elements, the stars etc.

I’m also inspired by the issues around us in the world and the problems we are all facing. A lot of it is very extrospective, with my work being influenced by what is going on externally. Tripping Up is a bit more introspective and personal; exploring self destruction and personally putting yourself in toxic environments.

It’s a bit of an outlier, the rest of the album, I’m hoping, will have an equal number of songs addressing each element, with each song inspired by one of them. So that’s really my vision for the album at the moment. Out of the next four tracks I’m releasing, two are inspired by water, and one is inspired by the stars. Tripping Up is a little different and introspective as I said.

How is the process of writing your album actually going?

The main concern that I have is that the songs I have gotten to a level I’m happy with where the next stage is then collaborating with other producers. I don’t know exactly how thats’s going to work given the lockdowns and the idea of being in the same room.

We’ll have to see, so much of it can be done remotely, so it might just be the case we have to do Skype or similar. We will have to adapt, and in the meantime I can keep creating and writing songs in my isolation, as the album is not quite finished.

How important is it to you for artists to be able to swing between both conceptual tracks often far removed from their personal self, and being able to release your emotions and create a personal outlet for your expression?

I think it’s important, for me it is critical to have some kind of personal connection to what I’m writing about. Even if that’s something I’m just observing in the world. For example, my track Dakota was written after watching the Dakota pipeline protests and how the government treated the Native American population – I was taken aback by their treatment, it angered me, so I was inspired to write a song about access to water.

I think it’s important to have a personal connection. It’s a great outlet for things that are happening in your personal life too, whether that’s relationships, work problems etc.

Molteno ‘Dakota’ Press shot

So, realistically we could expect something related to the problems we are facing now in light of the pandemic; could that be an inspiration for the yet unwritten tracks on the debut album?

Definitely, who knows what music could come out of this time period? I could be inspired by various aspects of the lockdowns etc.

You mentioned Dakota and the inspiration for that track, the focus on water elementally. Is your other release, Ocean also presumably part of that water focus? What was your inspiration for that track?

Ocean is actually about jumping into something – for me it was about jumping into a relationship, getting rid of all that backchat in your head, the negative voices. It is related to water, but more metaphorically, that jumping in.

Definitely, and metaphor is a way to stay on elemental theme there while exploring more introspective topics. Do you feel most connected to water then out of all the elements?

I’m a water sign, I’m a Cancer, and I’ve always just felt this connection with the ocean and water. I don’t know if that affects it! For some reason I’m just very drawn to water.

When doing a little bit of research, I noticed a lot of comparisons to other artists. Do you resent the comparisons to other artists, or do you perceive it positively?

I think it’s really helpful! I was described as a fictional Bjork and Bat for Lashes love child and I was really pleased about that as I love those artists. I also think it’s helpful for describing your music to someone who hasn’t heard it, so they can place it somewhere and feel it’s in a category.

Every artist is unique, but I find it helpful certainly to have it be narrowed down, and it helps I’ve always been pleased with the artists I’ve been compared to!

Tying into Bjork, an artists I also love: I was surprised and saddened to read a few years back that even she has had such negative experienced within the music industry as a woman and despite her obvious success.

How do you feel your experiences have been within the music industry as a female artist, can you echo that sentiment or do you find your own experiences contrary to that?

I think it’s hard for everyone – for myself it’s about struggling with confidence, the confidence to call myself a music producer because it is still quite male dominated.

Earlier in my life, I performed in a rock/grunge band and used to play guitar and I recall a lot of people saying “Oh you should just sing and leave the guitars to the boys”, so I think that it is difficult, but I would reiterate I think it is still difficult for everyone with regards to the industry, regardless of their gender identification, there’s different challenges that accompany different artists.

I think there’s also been so many steps to address the gender imbalance of big festivals or lineups in general, and I feel quite supported as a female artist, especially in very recent years. I know someone is making a database called the ‘F-List’ which is just a database full of female artists so the festival organisers have no excuses to say we don’t exist in enough numbers!

Exactly, no excuses or promoters ‘unable to find’ female musicians. I think a lot of people have issues with the term ‘female fronted’ as a genre within itself, as artists just want to be respected as an artist and taken seriously, not given their own category of female identifying artists. How do you feel about this?

Completely, the message shouldn’t be 50% female artists at all times and 50% male artists, we want to leave room for curation and for discussion. I think we just need to eliminate any barriers for people to get into music, of all persuasions and identities, but not as extreme as say, this demand for exactly 50/50. It’s not as simple as that.

Returning to you as an artist MOLTENO, is there anything in particular that inspired you to get into music and start your creative career?

My mum is a singer, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact point I wanted to get into music- it was just always there in our lives growing up!

My siblings are also musical too, so my mum had us harmonising in the car to Portishead and Joni Mitchell! There’s no singular point, it was just always part of my life. I think when I was about 13, I began writing songs and loved it as an outlet for expression; from then all I wanted to do was learn guitar and write songs! It was inevitable!

MOLTENO, by @god.ness, @meisslsimone

With regards to your process, are you a structured worker or a procrastinator?

Generally I work well with structure, and I do a lot of freelance work alongside my own music, so definitely having a schedule considering it’s such a process from writing it to having it ready to be uploaded.

At the same time, inspiration will strike at the most random times, like with a lot of creatives. I wrote some of my second track to be released, after Tripping Up, called Waves while I was on the bus so it’s great to have a home studio set up where you can just go from that public setting right back home and get started when inspiration strikes.

A combination of being responsive to strike when inspiration hits, and being structured. I have so many unreleased songs, so I try to be more disciplined to finish them these days!

You mentioned there that your second track release, after Tripping Up, is called Waves; do you have names for all 4 tracks you plan to release over the next few months?

Yeah so first we have Triping Up; Waves, Moonlight, and Treading Water will then be released, in that order. Subject to change but that is the plan!

Are you thinking about tour dates for next year potentially, or is that just the last thing on your mind given the situation we are facing on a global scale with the COVID-19 pandemic? It is hard to envision what the next few months will be like, let alone next year?

I would really like to, but it’s too early to put anything in motion now. We need to see how this pans out. Touring is critical, but it’s not the biggest priority right now.

As echoed by many, the biggest challenge is to avoid the spread of the virus so I’d rather we have a long break from touring and the pressure on the NHS is lessened through the social isolation. It’s just too early to say right now. If things settle down a bit, I’ll see about putting the feelers out for a headline tour or support tour in the UK first probably.

So we can expect live dates, but given the scope of what is happening of course it’s impossible to really put a month on things, possibly even a year! Your intentions are to get gigging throughout the UK if and when we have the all clear though, but that’s not a priority.

Yes, exactly, it’s just too in flux to tell, and my priority is reducing the spread of the virus.

Are you tearing your hair out with the album yet?

Not quite, a lot of my freelance work is on hiatus so in actuality I have even more time now to get down to writing. I can utilise the time with the self isolation to really try and make some progress.

Would you say you are a perfectionist about your work?

Yeah definitely, I would call myself a perfectionist; there are positives and negatives with it for sure. You can be overly critical, but I have to work with it. I try to not put anything out I’m not happy with, but that can have negative consequences of putting nothing out there. It’s about the balance for sure! I’m working on it!

Do you have any advice for anyone struggling with perfectionism or procrastination who wants to put work out there in a creative sense? Perhaps individuals who just never get anything out into the world because of fear of criticism or judgement?

I do have a tip for dealing with perfectionism when doing collabs – it used to give me anxiety to communicate my vision without stepping on anyone’s toes.

If you do’t speak up, you may have to make sacrifices or compromises on your work that as an artist, don’t reflect what you wanted as your end product. Always try to speak up for your vision.

At the same time, be sensitive to the feelings of others in the industry! I’m lucky to have a great team I feel I can communicate these things to without compromising on what I want as an artist. Also, try not to be too critical of yourself!

Do you think it’s imperative to just go for it and put your work out there? How do you personally deal with negativity on social media platforms or criticism?

Yeah, absolutely; not everyone is going to like what you do and it’s important to be open to that and aware of that. You put something out into the world and that’s it, as long as you are happy with it, that is the main thing.

Ideally, not being too affected by the opinions of others is preferable, but it’s easier said than done. With regards to social media, I am quite active, so I really appreciate the platform it provides. I try not to let the opinions of others affect me, or carry it in my head. I don’t know how at times, but the pros of having social media certainly outweigh the cons.

So you’ve got thick skin with it then?

It depends on being what is written obviously, but generally you are provoking a response regardless, it’s often said it’s worse to not be spoken about at all!

Do you have planned release dates for the four aforementioned new tracks you are releasing, aside from Tripping Up which is of course getting released on March 27?

The plan is that Waves will be in May, then six weeks later we will have Moonlight, and a further six weeks later we will release Treading Water.

All subject to change aside from Tripping Up, especially given the scenarios we are facing with meeting with collaborators face to face.

When do you anticipate your debut album will be finished for all your fans out there, and any new ones possibly reading this?

Likely the end of 2020, so ready to go hopefully for early 2021; that’s the plan anyway!

With the self isolation, it is giving me more time to write the tracks that are still in progress for the album, so who knows really specifically date wise, but early 2021 is the general plan!

Single Tripping Up, out 27th March

Feature image credit to Laura Viana, @god.ness with styling by Simone Meissl @meisslsimone

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Aspiring writer, loves visual art.

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