An interview with Modwheelmood
On Pearls to Pigs v2
By Tony Randazzo for The NIN Hotline on March 1, 2008
The end of February and beginning of March for the year 2008 will go down as a memorable one for NIN fans. A three pack of NIN songs was released for the growingly popular Rock Band video game during that last week in February while March 2nd, 2008 caused a gigantic rumble throughout the web as Trent Reznor secretly uploaded his latest collection of tunes, "Ghosts I-IV" without any advance press whatsoever with fans operating on Reznor's teases on nin.com.
However, the end of February also saw another release that many others, including myself, had been looking forward to since the end of last year - the release of Modwheelmood's latest EP, "Pearls to Pigs, Vol. 2." Available online only (first on Amazon, second on iTunes), Vol. 2 is the follow-up to "Pearls to Pigs, Vol. 1," which was released on Christmas Day of last year.
Comprising of current NIN programmer, Alessandro Cortini and guitarist Pelle Hillström, Modwheelmood began as a project between the two friends from Europe who met in the States six years ago that has slowly but surely blossomed into one of the bands to watch if you have an appreciation for Electronica but are wanting to experience something a bit more organic. Modwheelmood's first release, ··· was released in 2003 and was followed up by "Enemies & Immigrants" in 2006.
My sister initially made me aware of Modwheelmood after she ordered "Enemies and Immigrants" directly from Buddyhead (Aaron North's record label who release the EP in CD form), and made me listen to it during a trip home from college. I was hooked almost instantly. I'm a fan of Telefon Tel Aviv, Massive Attack and Radiohead and this EP sounded like an amalgamation of the three that had been squeezed and compressed into six memorable songs.
I had the opportunity to chat with Alessandro and Pelle to talk about Vol. 2, Ghosts I-IV, and a few other things. Enjoy.
Tony: Probably what I've enjoyed the most is the organic electronic sound you guys have been able to achieve and by organic, I mean that it doesn't feel processed but that it's almost natural. Musically, what are we in store for with Pearls to Pigs, Vol. 2?
Alessandro: I'll let Pelle answer this one. I am only saying that Vol. 2 is what we felt was the perfect follow up to Vol. 2. Maybe more song oriented than Vol. 1.
Concise, almost lazy answer, if you want. But it's true!
Pelle: Vol. 2 is gonna sound a bit different but still doesn't stray too far away from Vol. 1. It showcases a few recently written songs and a few that have been around for a while that we dusted off and provided botox treatments and brow-lifts.
The initiating track "Crumble" was conceived by sending ideas/files over the Atlantic between each other and it came together rather quickly.
Was kept in the vault until now. We revisited it and finally created a version that works in the context of this EP. One of our most up-tempo songs thats makes you wanna rent an old convertible and drive to Vegas.
"If I was you"
Same thing with that one. Been around for a while and we like to think its rather timeless and it provides with Vol. 2 with a bit more of a conventional "full band" sound compared to the electronica-sounding tracks.
A bit of a departure and genre-blending song. We're just gonna let people discover that one without further pre-notions. Ya man.
Finishes up the EP and to us had that kind of an epic feeling that you wanna leave people with until the next release. Somehow sums up and signs off Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.
Your voice as a musician and person in general like anything changes and hopefully develops over the years so the final result of these two EP's expresses a combination of who we were then and where we are now in our life. We're really excited about the end result and hope people can relate to the music.
Tony: Are both volumes meant to be played back to back or are they meant to exist as their own individual releases?
Pelle: They are meant to work as a full length album but also stand their own ground as individual releases.
Alessandro: Yeah, both. I think they do work as stand alone releases, but they are released in order to make sense, if listened back to back.
I really like the fact that we kept what we did with Vol. 1 in mind, while working on Vol. 2. We didn't quite write Vol. 2 after Vol. 1 , but I think there is a certain continuity.
Tony: After Vol. 2 is released, what looms ahead? Are you guys planning on releasing a full-length album or is the EP going to remain the format of choice?
Alessando: Pearls To Pigs was planned to be an album, in our minds.
The fact that we are both busy with other projects most of the time, and also that it always take a while for us to be happy with a song, the 5 song volume format seemed a great alternative to the full album, especially for a non signed act like us.
Also, I kind of get tired of everything I write the moment I am done with it as soon as it's mastered, so this way I can work on new music right after the previous volume gets released.
Short answer: Pearls to Pigs, Vol. 3 is coming. After that, we'll see.
Pelle: We definitely want to find a way to reach out to people. How that's gonna be achieved is a different story. The EP concept just seemed to make more sense to us up until now. Give people a block of songs that we have yet to get sick of and allowing it to be properly digested and leave the listener wanting more. We feel that by releasing these two EPs shortly after each other and with them together forming a full-length album ,we get the best of both worlds.
Tony: Are there any plans for a Pearls to Pigs remix collection?
Alessandro: No plans yet, but we would like to be able to do something similar to "Things Will Change." We were lucky to have some of the artists we respect the most (Mellowdrone, Kangding Ray, TRS80, Alva Noto, Roger O'Donnell, etc) , who offered to remix our songs, for a good cause. All the money that comes from the sales of that album are going to charity(createnow.org), which makes it even more exciting.
Tony: When did you guys first meet and how did Modwheelmood come about?
Alessandro: Oh man. It was a while ago, and i don't remember exactly how it went. However I do recall Pelle dressed up as a woman....the rest is really blurred...I refuse to remember.
Tony: Your last three releases have been online only whereas Enemies & Immigrants & ? were released on CD. Did you guys decide that CD was too restrictive in terms of expanding your audience or was it just something different to try? Also, are you satisified with the results of the switch?
Alessandro: The lack of a record label switched the main priority to making sure we get the music out there as soon as possible. I like the fact that six weeks after the songs are mastered they can be found online, ready to be purchased.
What I don't like is that we are still learning how to do it, and that I am doing everything on my own, so it's definitely a process that involves a lot of trials and errors.
Tony: We're now in the early stages of artists abandoning their record labels to release albums online, thus cutting out the middle man. Recently, Radiohead, Saul Williams &, of course, Nine Inch Nails have done this while others like The Smashing Pumpkins and even Paul McCartney started laying the groundwork for this whole thing. Do you think this is where album releases are heading or is it doomed to die like other formats i.e. Super Audio CD and DVD-A?
Alessandro: I think it's a great time for artists and it's good that the bigger ones are experimenting with the tools available or come up with inventive alternatives to the tried and true distribution channels. I think that no matter what, since the music is not unlike any other kind of digital data nowadays, it's a lot more difficult for people to justify spending money on it, especially when bands like Radiohead introduced the "pay as much as you want" concept.
It was innovative and revolutionary, but bands of that caliber are ALWAYS going to be able to sell or end up selling records in stores, in the end. (or Starbucks....)
The smaller artists are the ones who need to be able to take advantage of the revolution these artists have started while trying to fight the complications that it brought.
I believe that especially now it's important to find a new medium to sell your music on, or with: a limited edition, vinyl, a book, or something. the "pay what you want" concept made it really hard for people to understand the value of music: the time and money the artists spend on writing, recording and releasing their music is hardly ever considered by the consumer, when they buy/steal it.
Having an alternative medium associated to the digital release can be the solution. To be honest, I think it's a little early to see where it'll go, and, just like any other small artist out there, I am learning as it happens.
Tony: Do you see yourselves ever doing anything like a direct release like Radiohead and Saul Williams did through their websites?
Alessandro: Yes, definitely. It's a matter of finding the time, budget and right people to work with.
For now, Modwheelmood is working from my basement, from the songwriting process to the release online. We don't even have management, at this point.
We are in the process of learning what to do next and slowly building a working team that knows what to do.
As far as the present goes, we'll keep it rolling as smoothly as we can, trying to offer both a digital and physical release, when possible.
Pearls To Pigs will be released on self burned, limited and self assembled copies, and sold at shows, for the time being, then online.
It'll be limited since I think my burner will eventually die.
It also will be less of a basement activity, as the printer is upstairs in the living room...so there you have it...we're expanding.
Tony: What are your current touring plans for now?
Alessandro: One show at this time: May 30th in Los Angeles, opening for Ladytron.
Tony: How did your remix of NIN's The Great Destroyer come about?
Alessandro: Trent asked me to pick a song off Year Zero and to give it a try while we were on tour in Europe.
The Great Destroyer is probably my favorite song off YZ, so I borrowed a bass and an acoustic guitar from Aaron and reconstructed the song in my hotel room in Amsterdam.
I also used my Buchla 200e music box, which I love to death.
I think I added a couple of tracks when I got back home, then mixed it and sent it in.
To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that TR liked it.
I thought he would hate it since I changed the melody and chords around...
Tony: Alessandro, obviously most of us know you from Nine Inch Nails but you've also done some work for Maynard James Keenan's project, Puscifer. Is there anything else that you're working on at the moment or will be working on in the near future?
Alessandro: I just finished working on about half a dozen tracks with Ladytron.
It was a new experience for me, since I mostly produced myself in the past, and haven't really interacted with other artists that much.
The guys and girls in Ladytron really liked what I came up with so I kept on sending tracks.
I hope I can do more production work in the future: This was the perfect introduction to this kind of thing... they sent files and I kept on working the same way and in the environment I usually do. There was no pressure whatsoever and they obviously had the freedom to use or not use any of the tracks that I sent over.
I am currently working on a remix for their first single.
I am also finally putting together a "blindoldfreak" record.
It's music i have been working on for a while now, but never had the time to finish until now.
Tony: Pelle, what other projects are you working on right now?
Pelle: Apart from working on MWM I've been recording and touring with the band Forever Like Red in the UK last year. Right now we're working on new MWM material and I just got back from N.Y where I recorded guitar for an album with producer Brad Wood (Smashing Pumpkins, Sunny Day Real Estate, Pete Yorn etc).
Tony: Looking through the Ghosts I-IV .pdf Alessandro, we see your name under some writing credits. Were you involved solely with those songs or did you work on everything in more of a production capacity?
Alessandro: I became a part of the process two weeks into the sessions, I believe, first recording some extra parts to some tracks, then the whole process evolved to a collaboration on those tracks noted in the booklet. Essentially I am doing something where my name appears, not everywhere.
Tony: Aside from Ghosts I-IV, were you guys doing anything else?
Alessandro: We spent most of that period perfecting our skills at Rock Band. I do suck at the drums, so it was a struggle .I had to take lessons from Josh Freese in exchange for Garageband tips and feedback for his YouTube creations.
Tony: What music influenced you guys growing up and when did you decide that music-making was something that you were really going to pursue?
Alessandro: A lot of Beatles, Cat Stevens, 70s music form my parents. A lot of Depeche Mode from friends, and a lot of GNR too.
I always wanted to make music, and I feel really lucky to be able to do it for a living.
It wasn't always like that, obviously.
I kind of understood early that to go from A to B most of the time you have to adapt and go through Z, Y etc. so I have always tried to learn as much as I could from every situation.
Also, I think I was able to make a living out of it because I do music a lot better than answering questions, as you can all see.
Pelle: A variety of stuff. My uncle that tragically passed away a few years back was a huge influence on me with his guitar playing. He was an incredible player from Sweden and he shaped me in my early years and even today sitting down with the guitar I get reminded of him a lot through my own playing.
My home area has a great jazz tradition so I started out playing saxophone in ensembles/orchestras as a kid. That was never my thing but it was great to discover music and play with other musicians.
I soon joined the dark side and listened to a lot of guitar driven rock exploring bands like Iron Maiden, Guns n' Roses, Metallica, & The Cult to mention a few, and my brother force fed me moodier stuff like Depeche Mode, The Cure, U2, Radiohead and so on which I'm thankful for since that's closer to the music I like making these days. A few Swedish bands were in the mix as well like "KENT" who never quite made it over the Atlantic.
I never knew in my earlier years that music would be a full time job for me although I was heavily obsessed with it and couldn't take my hands off the guitar. Alessandro and I decided to stick around and somehow, some way pursue our music and I have never looked back since.
Tony: Pelle, along with Abandoned Pools, what else have you worked on?
Pelle: I've been playing in a lot of different bands & projects in LA. I played with a band called ONCE with drummer Kelli Scott (Failure, Veruca Salt) and got a record deal with Forever Like Red in 2005. I have done a lot of session work for various stuff. Played /recorded with producer Patrick Leonard (Madonna, Elton John, Roger Waters, Rod Stewart etc) for a period. I have a publishing deal as a writer for Chrysalis Music so I'm trying to stay busy writing as much as I can.
Tony: What guitar brand screams your name and what kind of amps and other gear do you use to establish the right sound for you?
Pelle:I keep coming back to my 62' reissue Strat. A love/hate relationship. You have a falling out for a while and then find each other again. :) I've been collecting Hagstrom guitars and I love them. Aaron North and I share that passion and he's jealous of my old ones. :) I play mostly vintage amps such as late 60's Fender super reverb's, super tremolo's. Definitely a fender guy although I've used a lot of other brands over the years.
Tony: And to close things out, Cliff from the hotline wanted me to ask you this - "Is Mhz about Trent?"
Alessandro: Sometimes, yes.