Interview by Julien Barbagallo
Images by Sophie Caby
Video by Rafiki Creative
“The whole individualistic mindset has been taken to excess
to the point where we all feel fucking isolated…
We are meant to be together.
—Nate DaleyI’m not a socialist, but I miss people.” —NATE DALEY
Hailing from Tacoma and Seattle, Washington, Motopony originally began as the creative alter ego of lead member Daniel Blue. The project has evolved into a full band of drummer Forrest Mauvais, lead guitarist Mike Notter, keyboardist Andrew Butler, rhythm guitarist Nate Daley and bassist Terry Mattson. Motopony released their eponymous first album in 2009 and Idle Beauty EP in 2013. Their second album, Welcome You, was released by eOne Music.
Julien Barbagallo has been drummer and vocalist for Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala since 2012. That year, the group’s sophomore album Lonerism reached platinum status, receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Album. Their 2015 follow-up album, Currents, was recently released to acclaim. Barbagallo released his debut solo album Amor de Lonh in 2014, and his project Aquaserge released their fourth album À l’amitié earlier that year.
I’m always amazed at the chain reactions in life. This present interview with Motopony finds its roots in a random encounter on a sidewalk in LA a while ago, as I enjoyed my 28th order of eggs benedict on that Tame Impala US tour. It reminds me of meeting Kevin [Parker of Tame Impala] for the first time in a bar in Paris, and next thing I knew, I was in a basement in Perth practicing with an Aussie band. Or that time when I went for a drink after a show in Melbourne because I couldn’t sleep and ended up marrying the girl at the end of the bar.
Such is life, hey? At least the one I dig.
Julien Barbagallo: Just to be clear, I’ve never interviewed anybody—I guess there’s something to be said for saying yes to the unknown. Can you tell me something to break the ice?
Mike Notter: I’ve had three double espressos and two delicious Northwest IPAs today. I also bought life insurance this afternoon—because you never know.
Forrest Mauvais: Today is looking promising with the potential to get interesting. I’m going to try to haggle someone down for an 1989 Toyota Camry I found on Craigslist. I’m looking for pure functionality in my near future vehicle!
Nate Daley: Sometimes I think I was meant to be some sort of sea creature instead of a human.
Daniel Blue: I like to break ice with harder metal things that have good heft and vibration-proof handles.
JB: When was the last time you said yes to the unknown? Has it ever happened to you on a musical level? P.S. This interview is G-rated. Actually, I don’t know.
MN: That’s the beauty of improvisation—why everyone pays attention when a player jumps into a solo—no one knows what’s going to happen. It’s as thrilling to watch someone crash and burn as it is to see them catch the mystic unicorn by his golden horn and fly.
FM: Joining Motopony was definitely me saying “yes” to the musical unknown. Through a sequence of coincidences, I left my parents’ house in the Sacramento suburbs at 18, moved in with our ex-keyboard player in Seattle and toured across the country. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity at that age.
ND: I have been thinking a lot about the musical unknown lately. I’m experiencing “sonic wanderlust,” but I’m not sure how to navigate outside this toy-town of generic sounds. Fuck man, I’m desperate for the unknown.
“It’s always a good time to make art. As
long as there are at least two people on earth,
they’ll be trying to show each other
what it’s like to be alive.”
— Mike Notter
JB: Let’s break it to the readers: this is a Q&A rather than a chat, which is fine because I’m more comfortable writing than talking. What about you guys? Do you feel better in the protected environment of the studio or out on stage?
MN: To me it’s like two different phases in the farming process: You plant the seeds and foster them in the studio where you have time and space to explore. Once your crop is ready for harvest, you reap what you’ve created, take it to the stage and offer it to the audience who makes a nice fresh salad out of it.
ND: Man, I really love recording. I like the idea of creating something lasting. Sometimes on stage I feel like an ape on display in a zoo. I’ve been wanting to change the experience of live shows and make it more of a psychedelic-ocean-muse incantation. To make it about everyone.
JB: What was the vibe after finishing Welcome You? Was it “never again” or “can’t wait for the next one”?
MN: This record has been a long time in the making and has been tweaked and tossed around by a whole cast. We love what we came out with, but I can’t wait to dream up the next one.
ND: It was like, “Cool, let’s take a break to tour, then make another.” I love recording. I guess I’m wanting to make that unknown record where I can say, “Yes, this is what I was trying to imagine.” My “white whale.”
JB: Blue, I gather you write most of the songs. Tell me about the balance between you guys when it came to recording them in the studio.
DB: I wrote most of the melodies and lyrics of the first album. However, Welcome You was a six-part democratic endeavor. All equal voice. It was taped using one-takes with the full band, vocals and overdubs.
JB: From one drummer to another, I have to ask Forrest—has your surname Mauvais ever been an obstacle in your career? You know it means “terrible” in French.
FM: Surprisingly, very few people know what it means. The most complication is having it terribly mispronounced—“Mau-vis” is a common attempt. My neighbor’s son forgot my first name and called me Woods. We have an ongoing joke about a character named Woods Mauvis, a zealous, overconfident tag-along who’ll tell you what’s what.
JB: Seattle is one of the biggest music cities in the USA. What is it like being such a young band in Seattle with the weight of that history?
MN: As a band trying to carve its own path, it fuels the desire to create something honest and bright. That’s probably what the legends were trying to do before they became legendary. That and trying to impress girls.
FM: Inspiration is the responsibility to create, and Seattle is brimming with it. I imagine the spirits of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain looking down at me thinking, “Don’t waste your precious time on this planet because if you are, let’s trade places. I’d love to make another record.”
“Inspiration is the responsibility
to create, and Seattle is brimming with it.”
— Forrest Mauvais
ND: I feel more a part of it as opposed to it weighing me down. Sometimes though, I feel like we are living in a big shadow of grunge. The grunge movement centered on being very raw and honest about feeling pissed off. For me, though, I’m bored of being depressed.
JB: Give me a good reason to make a record in 2015. I need one. I’m currently working on mine.
MN: How about: It’s always a good time to make art. As long as there are at least two people on earth, they’ll be trying to show each other what it’s like to be alive.
DB: 2015 is the year of the wooden sheep. This year is about finding pasture, being safe in a herd, eating a shit ton of grass and growing your golden fleece. Write that damn record, you wizard. You must!
JB: Last night, my futsal team lost 10-3—pretty brutal—without mentioning that my favorite soccer team, Toulouse Football Club, came close to being relegated this season. As artists, how do you deal with the idea of failure? Is it in the back of your mind when you write or record?
MN: Ever since Elvis and the Beatles, rock’n’roll and the concept of stardom have been thickly intertwined. But in the end, I’ll take the inspired weirdo kook at the street fair any day over the manicured pop star who’s sold a billion decidedly mediocre records.
DB: By many of my standards—even those set by our first record—our second full length is a full-on failure. I’m delighted that I get to try again.
JB: In some Motopony lyrics, there’s something about the ideal woman—the ideal meeting. At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice that there are a lot of triangles in your visuals. So I have to ask, at the end of the day do you still believe in the concept of couple?
MN: Everyone in this band recognizes the crazy power and magic in a relationship. One of my favorite things about Motopony is that everybody loves connecting with people, romantic or not. As far as the idea of couples, I am married to one person, and it’s quite nice.
DB: My wife had a triangle dream early on in our relationship and the evolution of the band. She dreamed she was in the back of the room at a show, and I was on the stage. A line formed between us made of pure light, and there was a third being—a source of energy above and between us so the three of us created a perfect triangle of light. A couple is an agreement. I do not believe this is possible or sustainable without love, thereby forming a trine.
JB: The bio on your website insists on the sum being greater than the parts. This doesn’t seem to be the motto of the global community these days. Do you think there’s still a place for the social-minded musician in the music industry?
MN: Immediately, I see flashes of “We are the World,” and I’m not sure how exactly to answer the question. But then I hear Bob Dylan in my head singing “It’s Alright, Ma.” So I think yes, a pure message sung from the heart will always cut through the din and resonate no matter what the cultural climate. At least I hope so.
ND: Yes, in the States the whole individualistic mindset has been taken to excess to the point where we all feel fucking isolated. That’s kind of what “1971” is about in an abstract way. We are meant to be together. I’m not a socialist, but I miss people.
“A faith crisis is good!
It’s the best thing that can happen
to a conscious being in the history
of that conscious being.”
— Daniel Blue
JB: There are a few references to God in your lyrics. I have to say that in French songs, unless you’re in a Christian rock band, it’s very rare to hear about Him. Anglo-Saxon artists seem to be more at ease with that. Where do you guys stand on this? P.S. I hear His right hand is taken.
MN: Honestly, I feel like people include concepts of metaphysical forces and universal truths in their writing all the time. I think they just shy away from using words like “God” for fear of being lumped into ideological groups they’re not stoked on. But it’s nice to lighten up a little bit and say what you feel like saying, and the listener can come along if they like.
DB: I stand in great favor with God… I am guided by a still small voice that led me to music, my wife, my name, and every precious thing.
JB: Do you think we’re going through a major faith crisis these days? What role does music have to play in this case?
DB: A faith crisis is good! It’s the best thing that can happen to a conscious being in the history of that conscious being. I lost faith in music in my youth, and Sigur Ros actually restored it. It’s all a wave. People will gain faith in what is worthy of faith.
JB: The elections are coming up. Do you find it hard to keep rocking in a gluten free world?
MN: I love gluten almost as much as I love a bucket of popcorn during the presidential debates. It’s like going to see a medieval joust.
DB: Vote for Coal Powered Genetically Modified Uranium Processed Corn Food! KOCH 2016—the world’s finest tyranny to date.