BY MARY LYNN DOMINGUEZ Andy Moholt does a good job of bringing all of the good weirdness Philly has to offer to light. Once a Philly suburbanite intended to become a violin-playing child prodigy, Moholt is now the brains behind Laser Background, which was only made possible by strapping those snobby child prodigy brains to a rocket and sending them into oblivion. These days, Moholt spends his time honing in on his unique brand of psychedelic pop music, crediting early Pink Floyd for sonic inspiration and probably for making attending laser light shows something that’s socially acceptable. At some point in his music-making career, Moholt accepted Philly as the only home base that makes sense, made it a mission to collaborate with other local artists and became well versed in Animorphs. Laser Background’s newest album, Correct (La Société Expéditionnaire), shares a lot of common ground with Pink Floydian weirdness, but with a dancey groove that’s more likely to provoke good vibrations than existential crises. Laser Background are currently touring the United States of America.
PHAWKER: Where are you from?
ANDY MOHOLT: I was born in Philadelphia, and I grew up about 40 minutes away from Philly.
PHAWKER: In the suburbs?
ANDY MOHOLT: Yeah, I’m from a small town called Hatfield.
PHAWKER: Why do you live here now?
ANDY MOHOLT: I moved to Philly about nine years ago to start a band. I started my old band there. I stayed ever since because I love the city. I love Philadelphia, it’s great. I’ve been tempted to move to other places, like New York. I know a lot of people who live there, but it kind of doesn’t make any sense to move there. I like visiting there a lot but the cost of living in Philly is low, and there’s a lot of great artists. There’s a great scene in general. I really have no reason to leave. I have a lot of friends that I’ve made over the years here, and I love it.
PHAWKER: Is there anyone in the Philly music scene who’s blowing your mind right now?
ANDY MOHOLT: Yeah, I would say so. I have a couple of people that I think are really great. I really like that band Sheer Mag a lot. I really like the band Palm. They live in Philly. You could also mention Circadian Rhythms. They’ve been around for a really long time, and I really like them a lot to.
PHAWKER: Cool. You have a pretty specific weirdo/psych rock sound that’s consistent throughout your music. What were your technical skills like before you started making music and what made you want to start making music?
ANDY MOHOLT: Well, I’ve been playing music since I was a kid. I started playing violin when I was like seven or something. I wouldn’t say I was classically trained, but I studied classical music in school growing up, and music was always a hobby for me. I was writing songs back then as total hobby. That’s what music was for me for a long time, it was a hobby. When I was about 19, I decided to start doing it more seriously. As far as my technical skills go, a lot of the stuff I do is self-taught. So I think a lot of my style has developed that way from just teaching myself to do things my own way.
PHAWKER: What inspired you to get to the sound you have now? I definitely don’t hear any violin training, and the style of music you play sounds very purposeful.
ANDY MOHOLT: It definitely is. I definitely have been trying to hone in on a specific sound for a while. Violin doesn’t really factor in there, you’re right. I don’t know. I think it has to do with a lot of the music I was influenced by, like Syd Barrett, he was the original Pink Floyd songwriter. The early stuff is very sing-songy, with kind of like playful quality to it. There’s a bunch of stuff that I got into when I was in my early twenties, I got into the Velvet Underground records, and the early Kinks stuff. I feel like that’s what most people do. I think they kind of regurgitate
their influences in a way that’s specific to them. That’s sort of what I find myself doing. I do like to try to push the envelope. I like to excite myself as an artist. That hopefully can excite other people, that’s the idea behind what I’m trying to do with my stuff.
PHAWKER: Right. So, I saw the video for “Jawbreaker,” and it was pretty terrifying. I thought that it really clashed with the dreamy-synthy-bass-driven music of the song and with the rest of the album, which I wasn’t expecting. Is that contrast meant supposed to be an overarching theme for the rest of the album, or was it just specific to that song?
ANDY MOHOLT: I would say it’s probably just specific to that song, because the other videos that I have being made aren’t quite so jarringly intense. What I’ve been doing for the videos specifically, and I’m pretty happy about this vision, is I’ve been basically picking visual artists that I really like, and sort of just letting them run free with it. For that song, my friend Ross Brubeck is a pretty awesome Philadelphia artist. I approached him about doing a video, and he was just really into that song. I said, “You know what, man? I respect you. I like what you do. So just do whatever you want.” I didn’t see any of that video until it was done already, and I definitely like how weird it is. I think it’s equal parts terrifying and absurd. I like that. I like shaking people up a little bit, so I’m happy about the way it came out. I think that the other videos being made are not so intense, you know? Or at least they’re intense in a different way.
PHAWKER: Your music is well known for being… I’m just going to throw out a bunch of adjectives that have been used to describe it: ‘weird,’ ‘trippy,’ ‘lo-fi’ ‘sci-fi’ and ‘cosmic,’ whatever all of that means. Is it easier for you to write music about personal experiences and anecdotes or to make songs about other universes entirely?
ANDY MOHOLT: Good question. I think I kind of split the difference and do a little bit of both, or try to incorporate both into each other. You know what I mean? A lot of my stuff is about my personal life, or stuff that has happened to me. But a challenge that I’ve been running with lately is trying to write songs that have no pronouns in them. A lot of times in pop songs, there’s a perspective that’s like, “he” or “she” or “you” or “me” or “I.” That kind of stuff. That’s great, because it puts the audience into a perspective like, “Oh, this person is singing to me.” Or it makes them think of the perspective of the singer like, “Oh, this song is about me.” Right? But I’ve been writing these imagistic songs, and there’s a couple on the record that have no pronouns in them. It’s just these imagistic poetry things, and I think that’s an interesting contrast. I’m not sure which one’s easier for me to do, but I like trying to approach it from a few different angles like that.
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