By Lucy Harte
If Moulettes’ sound could be described in one word, it would be ‘intricate.’ Constantly challenging themselves, each song is vividly elaborate, from the detailed meaning behind every lyric to their harmonic, polished sound. Though previously compared to artists like Pink Floyd and Pentangle, the Brighton-based band encompass elements of folk, progressive rock and pop with their own unique style. All five members multi-task with multiple instruments: cello, bassoon, autoharp, electric guitar, drums, double bass and synth all feature, accentuated by a three part female harmony. Preternatural, their latest creation, is no exception to this intricacy; joined by Raevennan Husbandes on electric guitar and vocals, Moulettes’ Hannah Miller, Ruth Skipper, Oliver Austin and Jim Mortimore return with an excellent fourth album all about the strange creatures that inhabit our earth. We talked to lead singer and cellist Hannah Miller about their new album, politics, and their recent performance at York’s The Duchess.
Every song on Preternatural features a specific creature or natural phenomenon, with an aim to “explore and celebrate the often surreal and miraculous wealth of fascinating diversity that exists in the natural world.” Opening with the larger-than-life BEHEMOOTH, based on a loud low frequency sound of unknown origin picked up by underwater radars, and finishing with Silk, which details the way spiders communicate to each other by plucking their webs in certain frequencies, everything in between is just as weird and wonderful. But what sort of research went into the album? “Lots of David Attenborough documentaries, articles in the New Scientist, some scientific journals, internet rabbit holes,” says Hannah. Each song began as a few words and themes that came to her from the research, creating what she describes as a “scientific distance.” “They still inhabit quite emotional worlds,” she explains. Fifth track Pufferfish Love comes to mind especially, which features the concentric circles pufferfish will spend days alone creating to attract mates, a metaphor for the lonely artist. Writing many of the first demos herself in a solitary two week stint, the rest was redeveloped in the studio with the band in the following months.
Preternatural has a new sound as well. The addition of Raevennan Husbandes’ electric guitar is an addition Moulettes haven’t played with in a while, and her brilliant vocals add to the harmony too. Hannah herself has a new electric cello built by her dad, with five strings instead of four. She likens the effect of the extra E string as “somewhere between a violin, a viola and something more strange. [sic]” Jim has new bass synthesisers, and drummer Ollie has a whole new library of sounds on top of conventional drum kit sounds; effects pedals feature a lot on the new album, too.
Another way Moulettes have departed from their previous work is the lack of featured artists on the album, though this certainly does not detract from its quality. While the third album, Constellations, had an overarching theme of collaboration with a wide range of artists – the eccentric Arthur Brown, folk group The Unthanks and Herbie Flowers to name a few – just the five play on Preternatural. Despite loving the different styles that guests bring to them, Hannah says “we wanted to consolidate the sound of the touring band… to make something quite dense and powerful.”
She promises their elaborate arrangements are still present in Preternatural, and their decision to play the album in full for their live show was a testament to this. Of course, performing an album start to finish for a set is not unheard of, but a set consisting of an unreleased record is extremely unusual. Moulettes are constantly up for challenging themselves and their audience, however. For Hannah, the difference between an album and a collection of songs is the former should tell a story. “Preternatural is a cohesive album – so it makes sense to play it as it was designed to be heard… We love a good concept to get into. It creates a language in which everything can fall into and informs the creative process. Moulettes to us means the little world each song [or] album gives birth to.” Even among The Duchess’ crowd, who seemed unfamiliar with their music, Preternatural’s complex composition and narrative was met with positive response.
If performing their as-yet released record was already a bold move, Moulettes have also taken to pausing their shows half-way through to talk politics. Bassoonist Ruth Skipper, a junior doctor herself, expressed her feelings about the new contract proposals. Alongside the environmentalist undertones of Preternatural, have Moulettes become more politically driven? Hannah does not hesitate to express her own views, “Moulettes have always been political, but perhaps more subtly through a more fantastical, narrative platform. Preternatural is a bit more literal – but only just.” Against the notion that music should not cross over with politics, they want to use their songs as a platform to start a conversation with people and challenge different perspectives. But it’s also about coming together, reminding people they are not alone: “Come to a gig and let’s rock out and enjoy being alive together.”
It is on this note that the increasing closure of smaller music venues across the country comes up in conversation. “Everywhere you see the pattern happen – I’ve seen it in Brighton – people move there… then it becomes desirable to developers and creative places and people are priced out of the market.” The most recent example in York is of course The Duchess, who hosted Moulettes and is due to close in the summer to make way for apartments and restaurants. Rather than development driven by money, “there needs to be more collaborative thinking and planning – in communities, with councils, with schools, politicians, so that young people can have access to wonderful, mind-changing experiences in their own towns,” she asserts. Though York is lucky to have other venues to host entertainment, it is truly a shame that one of the hubs for local and touring bands is about to disappear. Talking to interesting, talented artists like Hannah Miller and the rest of Moulettes, who are able to come here and spread their music and message to more people because of these smaller venues, reinforces this further.
With Preternatural’s recent release, Moulettes have some exciting times ahead of them. A documentary is in the works about their upcoming tour in Canada this summer, produced by Niamh Murray, who also created the album’s cover art, which is as vivid as the music that accompanies it. We hope that they keep on putting out great, story-telling music and excellent performances.
Preternatural is out now. Available to buy online and at local record shops.