Interview w/ Chris & Mollie

Earlier this summer while perusing through Coke Machine Glow’s Halfstravaganza I came across an album by a band with about as straightforward a name as you’ll find. Chris & Mollie’s second self-released album, The Palm Tree, had completely escaped my radar until its inclusion on that website’s favorite 31 albums so far in 2007. The music of these two (Chris Donlon and Mollie Hagar, no relation to Sammy) sounds like a free form take on folk-rock, as songs are constantly turning traditional structures on their head. The Palm Tree is a warm, inviting record - a mix of cool California harmonies and lo-fi indie-rock charm - full of beauty, grandeur, and chaos.

After hearing a handful of songs via CMG and the band’s website I caught up with Chris through email and we set up an interview, which is below, and gives plenty of insight into the creative process of this exciting young band. First though, check out a few songs from one of my new favorite records of the year:

MP3 :: Slow Sunrise
MP3 :: Transition Trade
MP3 :: Waltz
(from The Palm Tree. Buy here)

The vast majority of The Palm Tree was written and performed by youand Mollie. Did you two really start playing together when you werekids - you whistling and her playing drums like the song says?

Sadly, no - we didn't meet until college. I was in my dorm room withthe door open playing some Weezer covers (this was back when Weezercould still do no wrong) and Mollie overheard, came in, and startedsinging along. The next year we decided to live together off-campus andwhen a friend needed a place to store his old squeaky drumset we offeredour apartment up - of course with the hidden agenda of starting a band.Also, I REALLY REALLY CAN'T WHISTLE and am cursed with entirelyun-musical lips.

Are you and Mollie in the Jack & Meg White camp of personalrelationship disclosure? Are you husband/wife, brother/sister, acouple, internet friends, bitter enemies, etc.?

Mollie: I wish we could be that mysterious – we’re brother and sister.
Chris: What Mollie is trying to say is that since our divorce we FEELlike brother and sister.

I read online somewhere that there is an over-arching story on thealbum - any truth to that?

Yeah, there is a story, but hopefully there are some things still opento interpretation. There is a way I tend to think of it - "The PalmTree" (the song) is like a dream sequence, and the end of "The SerratedLullaby" leads you into it with that bit of noise at the endrepresenting falling asleep - all the elements of what you last heardspinning around in your mind. There is a baby and a relationship incrises, and the songs are ordered from morning to night references. Mostimportant and personal to me though was creating the emotionallandscape. The characters here are alienated and disaffected yet stillsearching for their humanity and that ineffable feeling of connectionwith others and the world around them - something I've had some experience with.

Where do the title The Palm Tree and the cover art come from?

To answer the second part first, I got the cover photo from a goodfriend and brilliant photographer - Courtney Nimura( I traced the photo, added the mountainsand title, and manipulated it in photoshop.As for the title, there are references to Palm Trees within the album,and it has significance for the characters in the songs, but also PalmTrees are associated with desert islands, and I sometimes think of thisalbum as something washed ashore from a desert island - isolated, alienand fragile. One of my original ideas for the packaging was to have itlook literally water-damaged and warped. Once I saw Courtney'sphotograph I decided against that, though. I like the idea of "The PalmTree" being a motel in the middle of this urban environment. It's a kindof false, imagined oasis, but maybe it's better to have this imagined,imperfect oasis than no oasis at all? and maybe every oasis is imagined in a way?

This is a family mp3 blog, so I'm not going to repeat some of the moreperverse lyrics from the album, but what inspired some of those reallyblunt lines?

The difference between imagined realities and lived realities.

The songs on The Palm Tree almost have a haphazard, disjointed soundto them, but I bet they were very carefully arranged, weren't they?

I spent two years on and off recording and arranging this so hopefullythere's some evidence of thought going into the album, as potentiallylo-fi as it is. Also, organized chaos has always been something I'mreally attracted to - the combination of the spontaneous andmeticulously planned - which this album definitely is.

What music inspires Chris & Mollie?
Chris: The personal, the indulgent, the music that HAS to be made . . .regardless of if there are any listeners out there... I'm thinking MountEerie's "No Flashlight," Of Montreal's "A Petite Bedside Drama,"Sparklehorse's "Good Morning Spider," Weezer's "Pinkerton," Daniel get the idea . . . it's how I feel about "The Palm Tree"- it's something I had to make, and if nobody else listens, that's okay(or so I tell myself).
Mollie: I just saw a documentary on Sublime (who I have recentlyrediscovered) and I’ve got 40 oz. playing on loop. The drumming isfantastic.I’ve got The Band on my turntable – I am in love with Levon. Really – Chris writes the songs and I just drop the beat…so in a way, I am inspired by him.
Right now as independent artists you're very generous with your music- plenty of readily available mp3s on your website. But would yourattitude/business plan change with future releases if you were to signto a label?
I hope not. I think some free MP3's can only help your band. We wouldlike to release our next CD through a label though - it's mostly alreadywritten, just waiting to be recorded. If we do sign, we'd like to sign with an open-minded, progressive label.
What are your feelings about the way the internet is affecting howpeople hear and purchase music?
I can tell you that without the internet no one would even know who weare and this interview wouldn't be happening. It's still amazing to methat we've been able to achieve even this small amount of success,almost solely through on-line promotion. Even the downloading doesn'tbother me - my first reaction to discovering our music being pirated wasa rush of excitement! Right now is probably the best it's ever been for small bands out there trying to get heard with limited resources.


Chris & Mollie - myspace

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