Pete Molinari, folk-rock modernist – Something Else! Interview

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Something Else! caught up with UK singer-songwriter Pete Molinari, who has a new album called Theosophy out on Cherry Red Records, to discuss the conundrum of originality, some of his best earlier songs, and how his terrific 2008 effort A Virtual Landslide keyed this new career phase. As with that most recent album, Molinari recorded Theosophy with producer Liam Watson, a key figure in this radical modernization of Molinari’s timeless folk-rock sound …

STEVE ELLIOTT: With 2008’s A Virtual Landslide, you presented folk rock in a new, fresh way which I haven’t heard since Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and Bringing It All Back Home. What did you have in mind when you went into Toe Rag Studios to record the album?
PETE MOLINARI: I didn’t have a great deal in mind, apart from the songs that were written and the way I wanted to sing them. I guess, the rest unfolded as we went along — which was the way it needed to be, I think.

STEVE ELLIOTT: This new music represents a dramatic turn in your career, considering your 2006 debut Walking Off the Map was a modest, lo-fi all-acoustic folk album. How was it, starting out?
PETE MOLINARI: The experience was a little different of course, in that it was only me, guitar and harmonica, and that I recorded it the way I did with Billy Childish. But, really, it was the same principle — recording live and performance-based around the voice and the songs. The second one was obviously more commercial sounding, because of the way it was made and working with someone as great as Liam Watson.

STEVE ELLIOTT: I’d like to get your thoughts on a few of your songs, if I could, beginning with “Adelaine,” a very catchy, finger snappin,’ almost rockabilly.
PETE MOLINARI: Well, I love rock ‘n’ roll as it was, made pure in the 1950s — so that was the idea, and it was quickly put on to tape.

STEVE ELLIOTT: “One Stolen Moment” is another moody song that speaks to the soul.
PETE MOLINARI: This is a favorite of mine that started as a poem and ended as a song, which I don’t usually do. I like that it ended up having Hammond organ on it and that bass part at the start. Yeah, I like that song.

STEVE ELLIOTT: “It Came Out of the Wilderness” was a rollicking, Highway 61-ish type road song.
PETE MOLINARI: I was glad this one opened the album [2008’s A Virtual Landslide], to be honest. It was one of the first we recorded, and kind of set the standard for the rest of it. The slide guitar is great and I guess it’s a little Highway 61, but the singing and other things sets it apart. I think it goes way more down the road to gospel roots.

STEVE ELLIOTT: A number of songs off the first album had this high, lonesome feel to them, to use the old musical expression — including “Love Lies Bleeding.”
PETE MOLINARI: Thank you. Yes, I agree. I like to show my strong influences, but even then I think this thing called originality that everyone is hung up about a lot of the time is not very important. A thing can not really be original today in its subject matter. I mean, more than one person has been in love, and more than one person has been angry and bitter and whatever we may be trying to express but, it is in the treatment and the performance of the subject that makes something original. The way it is sung and the way it is expressed. The emotion and conviction that makes the content of the material come alive. That’s what I would say is the substance.

STEVE ELLIOTT: There there’s “Sweet Louise,” a very haunting, timeless track.
PETE MOLINARI: This song was written on the piano, and then I played it on the guitar in a demo to Liam and then, we recorded it mainly with piano. It’s one of those natural songs that just came out and I like it when that happens. I think it was a first take on that one. Quite magical, I guess.

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