Name: Jessica Molteno Murray aka Molteno
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer
Recent release: Molteno's new single "Moonlight" is out via 1000 Moons.
Recommendations: Album: Sevdaliza – The Calling (2018); Book: Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things (1997)
If you enjoyed this interview with Molteno and would like to find out more about her work or check out her music, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I was very young when I started singing. My Mum was a session singer in the 80s and 90s and she had me and my siblings singing all the time. We sang along to Portishead and Joni Mitchell on tape on the way to primary school.
I started writing at around 13, at that point I was writing songs on my acoustic guitar inspired by artists and bands like Jeff Buckley, Radiohead and Portishead. I was drawn to layered vocals, a singer/songwriter style topline but with an electronic sound.
I started producing around 16 and also performed in a grunge rock band in Stroud, close to where I grew up. I loved performing! Moved to London at 17 and started collaborating with more electronic producers and honing my sound.
I like the scope of sounds and how experimental you can be with trip hop, dream pop, alt pop etc.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you’re listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I get moved by music more than any other art form, so it makes me feel emotions strongly. I see a lot of imagery with music, and I like to use that to help dictate the lyrics and concept of a song.
So these days, I start with a melody and some synth pads and look at what the music makes me see and feel, and then start writing.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I found it pretty effortless to make and perform music at school, in a small town.
When I moved to London, I loved it instantly, but it took some time to establish a new network of musicians and develop my sound. I was fearful of releasing my first few tracks, and it felt intimidating to start out as a new independent artist. Moving to London at a young age brought challenges but led me to meet so many incredible people, and I now feel in the swing of things!!
Being an independent artist isn't easy, you have to hustle hard, and I feel like I’m always working. I love it though, and have always felt a strong drive to make music and put myself out there.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I would describe my style as ‘future ethereal’ - I love wearing experimental designers, futuristic, often transparent fabrics, and I also love a 70s vintage find.
I generally like to be challenged in some way when I consume art. I like to see or hear things being done a bit differently. Being exposed to inspiring art forms definitely feeds my creativity.
In terms of genre, I feel I can appreciate a good song regardless of the style, and listen to an eclectic mix from trip hop to folk to alternative R&B.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
The idea that nature and our planet are sacred. That self expression is extremely important. I want my music to be an escape from reality or mundanity.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I like to use some traditional or nostalgic elements in my music, like old school sounding vocal harmonies and retro synths. Mostly though I’m interested in creating music of the future.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
My voice has always been my main instrument. After that I learned guitar with which I wrote my first few songs.
Playing keys has been really helpful for my production and songwriting and I love working with Logic for writing and producing. Ableton has been great for incorporating some recorded elements in live shows, and TC Helicon for recreating the vocal production live.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I get up around 7am and always have tea first thing, that’s a non-negotiable. On a good day I’ll do some yoga but usually I’m rushing to get ready to start work for 8am.
As well as music, I run my marketing and PR company called Blume-Studio, so I usually have client and team meetings in the morning. For lunch, I might take a quick walk in a local East London park or along Regents Canal.
I’m often in studio sessions in the afternoon, so I travel to the studio for 2ish and then work on recording, production or mixing depending on where we’re at. Defo more tea involved.
Mid to late week, I spend my evenings working on new song ideas in my bedroom studio. Otherwise I’ll go to a gig, night or meet friends for dinner.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live erformance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I started writing “Our house is on fire” in the first UK lockdown.
I was staying at my Mum’s place and set up a makeshift studio overlooking the even quieter than usual valley I grew up in. After sketching out some ideas, one of my co-writers, Sarah Barton-Keeley, and I wrote the top line over a zoom call, inspired by the isolation and stifling feeling of being locked up as well as the beauty and eerie quietness of there being no planes in the sky. With this song I enjoyed experimenting with changing up the phrasing in the verses.
Once we were happy with the topline and vocals, I gave them to a producer called Saint Amour who mapped out the drums and synths – I loved his approach with the track! I then had a session with my guitarist friend called Tuval Schneerson and we recorded guitar ideas back in London. Amour then mixed the track, and it was mastered by John Davis at Metropolis.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I initially usually work alone on song ideas when they’re super fresh – I find I can be more vulnerable and feel free to make mistakes. Striving for perfection at this stage is the enemy.
Once I have a catalyst and a sketch of the song and production ideas, I love to collaborate on the lyrics and the production.
I enjoy listening to a lot of music on my own, often on headphones but nothing beats listening collectively live.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I think music should make us think but also serve as a way to enhance emotion, whether that’s having fun or feeling like someone else relates to what you’re going through and therefore feeling connected.
Of course, art can also hold a mirror up to a society and can be a powerful catalyst for change.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
I think music massively shaped my understanding of love as a teenager – at that age everything was so intense and new.
Artists like Jeff Buckley, Portishead, Neneh Cherry and Silverchair were shaping my understanding of life, loss and pain.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I’m curious to learn more about the connection between music and psychology as well as the impact listening to classical music can have on learning. It’s clear to me that music affects our moods and for me at least, listening to music while working increases productivity, I swear!
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn’t or wouldn’t in more mundane tasks?
I feel the main difference is the emotional charge behind each of these tasks, with writing or performing music more emotionally charged than mundane tasks.
It’s also more expressive as in my opinion there are more variations in execution than say, making a cup of tea!
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
For me, it's the combination of either lyrics, vocals and an emotionally charged melody, or melody and harmony alone that can evoke strong emotions and a deep message. Somehow it takes over the brain in a way that other art forms don’t!