Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

How this Kiwi guitarist formed a band with Gossip Girl star

Simon Oscroft (far left) has formed a band with Gossip Girl star Penn Badgely (far right).
Simon Oscroft (far left) has formed a band with Gossip Girl star Penn Badgely (far right).

A Chicago beatmaker/producer, a New York bassist, a global TV star, and a Kiwi guitarist - they didn't entirely mean to form a band, but the music they made while hanging out as friends was too exciting to leave alone.

The four musicians in Brooklyn-based band Mothxr originally became mates through Jimmy Giannopolous, a musician about town in New York, who's also the producer for Zoe Kravitz' electropop trio Lolawolf.

Kiwi Simon Oscroft, who was the guitarist for Midnight Youth, moved to the US in 2013, and met Giannopolous while he was working casually at a bar in Williamsburg. At that point in time Oscroft was looking to make friends far more than meet new bandmates, and slowly became acquainted with Giannopolous and another friend of his, Penn Badgley.

Yes, Badgley is the guy who played Dan Humphrey for six seasons of hit show Gossip Girl, but also recently revealed his musical skills playing Jeff Buckley in Greetings From Tim Buckley.

"I remember his hair" Badgley says about their first encounter.

"To be honest, I don't think either of us thought in any way that we'd be working together in the future. Simon was going to LA, I don't remember what I was doing, I'm generally transient. Jimmy introduced us, so I trusted that, but we initially spent only a few hours together one evening."

The first time they did anything musical together was in Los Angeles. Oscroft was out there, working as the guitarist in NO (the band started by fellow Kiwi Brad Carter of Steriogram), and Badgley and Giannopolous were over there staying in an Air BnB and thinking about recording some music together, with Darren Will, another friend from New York.

"They actually just came over to borrow a microphone, and some stuff, and they were like, 'Do you want to come and hang out too?' very casual, you know that's the way American musicians are. They're like 'Yeah just come over, maybe throw some guitar on something, just whatever'" Oscroft explains.

"There were no boundaries or any intentions that we made clear to him, but the moment all four of us sat down, our working dynamic was instantaneous" Badgley says.

"We recorded an entire song that we didn't even start until like 5pm.

"Simon has an effortless understanding of theory, and he's very technical, which is a massive boon. He treats songwriting like math, actually, which can simplify things.

Imagine trying to build a boat without an understanding of geometry and physics. Ancient people did it brilliantly, but ya know, sometimes it's easier with more knowledge, and in fact you're going to end up with something better for it. Given any musicality we do have, Jimmy and I have a shocking lack of theoretical knowledge. So we all balance each other in an exceptional way."

It was a totally new process for Oscroft, who put down his guitar and got into playing with synths, and the four-piece found themselves coming up with songs in the room as they were recording.

"Penn would be sitting there working out melodies and lyrics while Darren and I were writing chords along to Jimmy's beats - Jimmy's been making beats for years, and he has a whole library of them, and he's kind of a hip hop producer really so that's where that element comes from, and it was awesome to really embrace that way of doing things.

"It was totally collaborative, just fiddling around with sounds and ideas, and it was all really exciting for me, to be working in a way where the music is not traditionally structured, and doesn't have any rules or typical banger choruses or whatever."

They all enjoyed the experience so much that Oscroft decided to move back to New York, and they kept recording, before doing the final session in Chicago - Giannopolous' home city.

If that all sounds like quite the jet-setting, high flying lifestyle, let's be clear - at this point the band had no name, no label, no money, on income, and they were simply figuring out ways to make music together on the smell of the proverbial oily rag.

"I remember in Chicago, we were literally sleeping on airbeds in the corner of a dusty hall where they were doing some construction. The surroundings were pretty shitty, and it was like minus 20 degrees outside, and it was blanketed in snow, but it was still amazing. It was like urban camping or something. And each place gave the songs a different vibe.

"It's also funny because we're a bunch of grown ass men and we're sleeping on air beds for weeks, recording on a laptop in a dusty hall. I don't think that's where my parents expected me to be at 28 years old, but I'm pretty happy with it" laughs Oscroft.

Whatever the circumstances, the sound they came up with seemed to impress - they loaded their first single Easy onto Soundcloud, with no information, and immediately got some traction. The more songs they loaded, the more blogs wrote about them, and slowly, they had labels start knocking.

And while the band acknowledge that having a TV/movie star in their midst may help push things along, Oscroft is adamant that Badgley's only involved because he's a great musician and great frontman.

"I understand it's a bit of a weird paradox - a famous actor fronting an indie band. And of course I had no idea what it would be like to make music with him. But as soon as he started singing, and playing the keys - he can play the piano better than any of us, and he plays guitar like a demon - it was obvious. He's got an amazing RnB kind of voice. I've never seen someone be that impressive, on the spot.

"Obviously people are going to look at him as this actor or character first, but it really only takes 30 seconds I think, of listening to the music, to bash down whatever those ideas are. He's very expressive and experimentational and unpretentious, and he's really putting himself out there."

Penn Badgley, Jimmy Giannopolous, Simon Oscroft, and Darren Will of New York band Mothxr.
Penn Badgley, Jimmy Giannopolous, Simon Oscroft, and Darren Will of New York band Mothxr.

Fast forward 12 months and Mothxr are signed with two labels - Kitsune in Europe and Washington Square Music in the US - they've released music videos, put out their debut album Centerfold, and just finished off a big European tour, before heading out on an 18 date tour of the US with Polica, and organising a headline tour of their own for later in the year.

Oscroft is very keen for them to come to New Zealand, although it's not yet on the tour schedule - but he is doing his best to makes his fellow band members excited about the idea.

"From what Simon says, it sounds like Avatar. Apparently, if you dig a hole anywhere in New Zealand at sunset, hot water comes out of the ground and girls appear out of thin air to bro down with you, and twilight lasts for six hours, and you've got a chilly-bin, and it's always warm out, unless you're snowboarding" Badgley says

"I do spend most of my time telling them all how fucking awesome New Zealand is, specially touring there" Oscroft laughs. "And I hate that. I hate listening to other Kiwis in New York wanking on about how good it is back home. But I can't help it with the band. They think I'm lying too. They don't believe it. But seriously, we're very keen so we keep working on how we can make it happen."

Lowdown
Who: Simon Oscroft and Penn Badgley from New York band Mothxr
What: Debut album Centerfold out now

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 02 Oct 2016 11:28:03 Processing Time: 450ms