How much noise can you wring out of an e-drum kit and a fat ol´ archtop guitar? Plenty, if you are Swedish power duo Molosser CRUDE, an extremely electric offshoot from acoustic guitar duo Molosser that launched its trademark, downtuned sound on their debut album Appear last year. CRUDE is anything but acoustic, though; the guitar (still downtuned, played by Jahn) is run through two guitar amps and a bass preamp, and the e-drums get whacked just as hard as any “real” kit by singer and drummer Tess.
Molosser CRUDE debut with a live-in-the-studio video of their own original Bye Bye Grace, where they combine a stoner vibe with the flowing rhythms and riffing of heavy sixties rock. The result is pure Molosser CRUDE, and the sound is so dense that it would be hard to shoehorn in another instrument. Over this massive musical onslaught, Tess lays down her melodic yet powerful vocals.
The branching out into this hard-riffing territory from an acoustic combo might sound a bit surprising, but those who are familiar with Molosser’s work know that there’s always been an undercurrent of heavier music beneath their dynamic guitar interplay. On their debut album, the duo made a very idiosyncratic cover of Soundgarden’s “4th of July”, and last October they released a just as eccentric version of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” in collaboration with Australian Happy Mag to raise funds for Australian wildlife preservation. The influence of gnarly blues rock and bands like Kyuss can be traced in their own songs as well.
“We’ve been aching to dust off the electric stuff for a while now”, says Tess. “The acoustic format is great for the dynamic possibilities and as a challenge if you want to do something different from what’s usually connected with that sound, but we both come from a louder, noisier background and CRUDE is a way to use what we’ve learned from the guitar duo but with another kind of energy.”
One thing that Tess and Jahn have learned from all the hours of playing together is an almost telepathic musical communication that translates well into the new format, too.
“We didn’t really know what to expect when we finally warmed up the amps and plugged in the electric gear again, but it just fell into place and roared off at full speed”, says Jahn. “Tess is such a great drummer, she plays in a jazzy way that’s a bit similar to Mitch Mitchell or Keith Moon rather than just laying down a beat, and it’s pure joy to let the riffs and licks bounce against her fills and rhythms. And using a fat hollowbody guitar I get access to an organic feedback that can be used almost as a third instrument.”
Considering that the drumming is anything but the old “Boom-chak-boomboom-chak” it’s all the more impressing that Tess can perform with flying colours as a singer at the same time. “Actually, I was a bit surprised myself at how well that turned out”, she says. “I have been drumming and singing since forever, so in a way I guess I have it in my bones, but I don’t think this would have worked without playing all those Molosser songs on guitar, where the guitar plays something totally different than what the vocals do.”
The duo format comes naturally to Tess and Jahn, who share a life outside as well as inside the music. And it has its upsides. “What you hear on the video is just what happens there and then, with those two instruments and the vocals”, Jahn says. “It’s a mighty feeling to get something that sounds so full with just two people, and actually the music can get a bit too busy if you put more instruments in there. Which doesn’t mean we’ll not try some overdubs when it’s time for the ‘real’ studio recordings, though. We’ll see what’s needed and what’s not.”
Those who have come to love Molosser’s trademark acoustic sound will be happy to hear that Tess and Jahn will not abandon the guitar duo format – on the contrary, there’s new acoustic stuff waiting to come out as well.
Get a taste of Molosser CRUDE on YouTube – and stay tuned, ‘cause there’s plenty more where this one came from!
THE MOLOSSER STORY
- extended version -
When Molosser started with their concept of two downtuned acoustic guitars, it was originally as a convenient way to make songs for what was supposed to be an electrical project. It soon turned out, though, that the tonal and dynamic spectrum offered by the acoustic instruments made way for a new way to use the riffs and licks. It also became obvious that there really wasn’t any need for a bass guitar, since the two guitars could share that role between them. Instead of using the acoustic guitars in the traditional way, by strumming or fingerpicking chords, Molosser build their music by weaving together riffs, basslines and melodies, at times in a way similar to how piano players use their left and right hands.
As this new way of making music started to find its feet, Tess went on with crafting lyrics and vocal melodies to fit the emerging songs, adding a third voice to the sound. An important aspect of Molosser’s music is that each of these voices – the two guitars and the vocals – tell their own story in an ongoing conversation with each other. You can enjoy the songs just like any other music, but to get the full experience you might want to pay attention to what’s going on behind and around the vocals.
When Tess and Jahn realized they had an interesting thing going with the acoustic guitars, they started recording the songs on a Zoom 16-track portastudio. It turned out that, using multiple microphones on each guitar, playing around with the panning for the different tracks and adding drums to the mix – Tess is an experienced drummer – it was possible to create a full, vivid tonal landscape without adding any more instruments. In the final production, there are a few overdubbed (acoustic) guitars, but mostly it is the minimalistic, dynamic interplay of the two original guitar takes that build the base of the music.
Molosser made extensive pre-production using the portastudio, so when they finally went into the studio to record the album, they had a pretty clear picture of what they were trying to achieve. It goes without saying that it’s a challenging prospect to make two acoustic guitars – that often don’t play more than one or two notes each – sound like a full band, but considering, we must say that it went pretty well in the end. The result is a unique sound that might take a little while to get used to, but when you do, you want to come back for more.
For those who are curious about how much of Appear that is pure playing power and how much is studio magic, it will be enlightening to listen to the Barebones series, where we seated Molosser in a cozy corner of Evil Ear Studio to record raw, gritty versions of the songs straight into the microphones, live without overdubs. These takes are certainly enjoyable in their own right and gives a hint of in which direction Molosser are moving now.
One thing that might set Molosser apart from many other examples of acoustic guitar music is that the vocals often have a nerve and intensity that you associate more with electric rock and a freedom of phrasing that’s inspired by jazz and soul. This is no wonder, since Tess and Jahn have a background more in these worlds than in folk, Americana or similar genres. Not to say that this is obvious at all times, but it makes it hard to put the duo squarely into any one genre.
If you bear this in mind, you’ll hopefully be ready to enter the word of Molosser and make yourself at home there!