Herald: Who, exactly, is Mothra?
Hugh Allan: We are essentially an instrumental post-metal band incorporating elements of progressive rock, post-rock, sludge, math metal, drone, psychedelic rock and other genres. We've been a band since 2008 when James Armstrong (our drummer) and myself began jamming out a bunch of demos I had made. We met back at school and had played in bands together before Mothra. In search of a bass player I talked Reuben (Saffer) into having ago, lent him a bass and introduced him and James. Up until then Reuben was more of a guitarist but after the three of us began jamming his role in the band was quickly cemented. We clicked pretty well socially as well as creatively and it's worked pretty well ever since. We are based on the North Shore in Auckland. We don't tour all that often but have been lucky enough to open for some of our favourite bands like the Dillinger Escape Plan, Helmet, Russian Circles, and Jakob. Now that the album is finally out we played Wellington for the first time last weekend and we're playing Mt Maunganui.
Was it an easy album to make?
Decision Process was not easy to make, and it took a long time to complete. With a small budget and no funding we tracked the album in various studio locations when opportunities came up and when time afforded itself. Certain people played important roles in helping us get the initial tracking done - Connor Mesa, Rob Christie, Tom Anderson, and Lance Powell to name a few. I mixed and produced the album myself and did some extra recording on it. Getting the production right was a long and difficult process but equally rewarding. The album art and layout was also important, and we were lucky enough to be able to use some work we really liked by NZ artists and friends Emma Thomsen and Paul Walsh.
Did you capture the sound, the feeling you were going for?
Yes I think so. There was alot to capture and the album is nearly 80 minutes long. The overall production represents our sound well and does justice to the songs. We had them all mapped out from playing them live for a couple of years, but they were molded and experimented with more during the mixing phase to turn the album into what it is now. We have another 15 songs all ready to record for our second album. Hopefully it won't take so long this time!
Was getting the right tone for the songs difficult?
It was a huge learning process for me, in terms of production and mixing. Up until then I was only confident mixing demos, so it took a while to learn how to get what I wanted out of the recordings. We initially began working with Aaron Harris (drummer from ISIS, drum tech for Tool and Deftones) and although his mixing was excellent, the process of emailing back and forth to get things right wasn't really ideal. We also got Brandon Curtis (Russian Circles) to mix a track but in the end I took on the mixing and production duties myself, in my modest bedroom setup. I hacked away at it for about a year (mostly at night) when I wasn't teaching guitar lessons, trying to get into that ballpark of my favourite sounding albums as well as keeping our own sound. I added guitar layers with Aaron Turner's (ISIS) mesa amp that he used on ISIS albums like Panopticon and Oceanic, which really added to the guitar tone. I also recorded cello parts for two songs by my friend Emily Giles, and violins by Felix Lun, as well as some acoustic guitars. After we were happy with the mixes we took them to Chris Chetland at Kog mastering studio in Titirangi and fed the tracks through his analogue gear which added a lot of life and warmth to the sound. He also mastered the album, and did an amazing job.
How do you describe the band's sound to people?
Ambient, heavy, progressive, experimental, psychedelic. To people who aren't familiar with this kind of music, referencing well known bands like Pink Floyd and Tool can help to give them a general idea. I could reel off a long list of bands who have influenced us - Neurosis, ISIS, Porcupine Tree, and Intronaut - but it seems the longer we are a band the more it just sounds like Mothra. We also often use a projector when we play live so there is that whole visual element as well, and it hopefully becomes more of an actual experience for the audience. Our friend Shaun Leyden from Mintamatics over in the Netherlands also makes our music videos, his work is awesome and worth checking out.
How did the songs come together?
There are a few songs on this album that were written entirely by me as demos, but the band works best when we all work together. The writing process is probably the most enjoyable part of being in a band for us, and we have alot of fun working out new songs together. We'll experiment with different ideas, discuss different ways to take the song, or let the songs evolve naturally themselves. Alot of them are meticulously structured with many complex parts, but others, especially some of our newer material are more minimal and ambient, pieces that evolve and keep building on one kind of vibe or idea, kind of the opposite of being immensely complex.
Do the riffs come first?
Yeah the riffs or guitar parts usually comes first and we build from there. Not that it wouldn't be cool to start from a drum beat or bass line, but that's just where everything seems to stem from usually, the guitar idea. Often it's about just doing justice to the vibe of the song and pushing our sound into new places we haven't explored before.