MoonMot is made up of six musicians from the UK and Switzerland who all thrive on the energy of free improvisation and melodic deconstruction. Their music has been described by singer Elina Duni as “refreshingly radical jazz with a large portion of punk attitude”. Saxophonist and composer Dee Byrne talks to Leah Williams about their debut album, Going Down the Well, and the upcoming international tour that includes an official album launch The Vortex in London on 18 February 2020.
LondonJazz News: How did this new international collective come into being?
Dee Byrne: It’s been quite a long and organic development. It all started a few years back at JazzAhead when Cath Roberts and I met the artistic directors of the Jazzwerkstatt Bern festival (Marc Stucki and Benedikt Reising) who invited us there to collaborate with some local musicians. We headed over with Seth Bennett and Johnny Hunter, had a couple of intensive rehearsal days together with the guys from Bern and then performed a gig. We then invited them over to London and performed together at the London Jazz Fest in 2017; the idea of doing a tour and recording an album grew from there.
LJN: There must have been great chemistry for this musical ‘blind date’ to go so well?
DB: There was good chemistry, but I think the most important factor was that we were all really open to collaborating and learning from one another. We also have similar musical interests, all into mixing free improv with composed material.
LJN: Is this idea of international collaboration important to you?
DB: Definitely. And not just internationally but across the UK too. With the collective LUME that Cath and I founded, one of our biggest aims has been to reach out to and play with musicians from outside of London as well as locally. It’s just really creative and musically stimulating to play with people who come from different places and have different experiences.
LJN: So how did the MoonMot collaboration work?
DB: For the first gig, Cath and I brought compositions with us that we’d already been working on with our quartet with Seth and Jonny, and then we all workshopped it together in rehearsals. The thing I really enjoy about working like this is that nothing’s set and everyone’s ideas and contributions help to shape the final piece.
LJN: And for the album?
DB: We all composed a couple of tunes and then worked on and refined them over the course of the Swiss tour we did last March. It’s the first time I’ve ever done an album that was so collaborative, where everyone has to lead at points and everyone has to follow. It’s a really different process but so much fun and brings a really great dynamic to the band.
LJN: A lot of your own albums have tended to have quite a specific theme; does this one?
DB: There isn’t an overarching concept in the same way. The focus or theme really is the approach to the music itself. It’s got an attitude we all share, which is wanting to experiment and deconstruct and just go for it. There are some really melodic and tuneful parts but in every piece at some point that gets slightly destroyed. Even though there are various musical voices and feels to the tracks, this approach is what really ties them all together.
LJN: Which tracks on the album are your compositions?
DB: The title track, Going Down the Well, and The Impossible Made Possible. Both were developments of short compositional sketches derived from tone rows, which I really like composing with as you get some weird and wonderful melodies coming out. Going Down the Well was born from an image of descending into darkness and then looking back up at the light from down in the depths. The Impossible Made Possible is a more through-composed musical journey that just keeps moving forwards, reflecting a state of mind of believing that nothing is ever impossible. It starts off quite serenely then goes a bit mental towards the end with a really cathartic, punk vibe.
LJN: You use some effects on your sax in Going Down the Well and others are used across the album. Is the inclusion of effects and electronics important to your music?
DB: It’s just really fun and creative and means you can do more things. It opens up this whole other sound world to explore. But it can be quite unpredictable! You never know how your instrument is going to react to the pedals and I’ve had so many moments where it’s just gone completely wrong. It’s been a somewhat painful learning curve but I’m totally hooked.
LJN: The album was recorded at the end of the tour you did in Switzerland; is it a live recording?
DB: The final album is a composite of three full takes we did at BeJazz in Bern; the first was the live gig and then the following day we ran through the album twice more. So it’s not completely recorded live but it still has that same feeling of spontaneity and I think it’s perfectly captured the vibe of the music.
MoonMot is made up of Dee Byrne (alto saxophone/electronics), Cath Roberts (baritone saxophone), Johnny Hunter (drums), Seth Bennett (double bass), Simon Petermann (trombone/electronics) and Oli Kuster (Fender Rhodes/electronics).
Going Down the Well is released on 14 February on Unit Records and is currently available to pre-order from moonmot.bandcamp.com.
LINKS: Moonmot on bandcamp