Double-Teaming Bill & Hilary with the Mobius Band
The Mobius Band make the Perfect Soundtrack for the Sweetest Moments of Your 20something Angst!
By Scott Wood
All three members of the Mobius Band crunch into the back seat of their weathered tour van on a cold autumn night. They have just finished their set and Ghostly Records labelmate Matthew Dear has just taken the stage at Richard's on Richards. Now that their gear is loaded in the back, the van is all that more claustrophobic.You'd be absolutely amazed when you plug your Barbie karaoke machine through a good sounding speaker at the crazy sounds that come out of it when you totally fuck it up inside. You can buy a Speak 'n' Spell for $5 or less and the local Salvation Army. You can open it up, and get it to start spouting Satanic gibberish!" Noam's circuiting-bending hobby provides the band with tons of strange samples to work into their songs.
I sit in the middle row of three bench seats. Noam Schatz (drums), Ben Sterling (sing and guitar) and Peter Sax (bass, keyboards and sampler) all squish into the backseat and get comfortable. Most bands get drained by putting on a great show, but these guys are in good spirits.
The Mobius Band is a very interesting name. A Mobuis Band, more commonly called a Mobius Strip, is defined by dictionary.com as “a continuous, one-sided surface formed by twisting one end of a rectangular strip through 180° about the longitudinal axis of the strip and attaching this end to the other.” I wonder how that connects to music, so I ask them what is the weirdest question they've been asked about it.
Peter: “We only get asked one question about the name and that is, ‘What is the origin of the name?' And the answer to that question is… uhm… that it's been grandfathered in. I don't even remember why we are called that. It's been a while. So, now it just is what it is…”
Noam: “The most common question is ‘What does it mean?' Which is a hard thing to answer in a quick way. So I have thought about that a lot. I have decided that my answer would be that 'The Mobius Band represents a situation where you have two things that are seemingly different or opposite from each other, but in fact are the same thing, such as life and death.' Right? If you think about it, there is no life without death, and vice versa. And they seem like totally different things. And when you're alive you're like, ‘Oh! I'm scared to die!' But, without death, you would not be alive, etcetera, etcetera. But, meanwhile they are both two sides of the same coin.”
I smile and say, “You mean like having electronic and indie rock elements in your sound?”
Noam: “Our fist EP for Ghostly was called City vs. Country, which sort of empathized the fact that we had recently had a relocation. I was living out in the country and these guys were moving to New York and that sort of resonated with the electronic, acoustic, rock—all the different elements that we put together—and yet it all blends together into one thing, which is in and of itself multifaceted, yet still a unity.”
As Noam finishes his long run-on sentence, Peter and Ben laugh.
The Mobius Band make a very accessible electronic-indie rock hybrid. I think a Details magazine music critic described them best by saying the guys are “rewriting pop songs through washes of electronica, furious shoegaze guitar, and Krautrock repetition, this Brooklyn-by-way-of-Shutesbury-Mass trio have made an album every bit as endlessly playable as their moniker would indicate.”
The band's unique sound is often attributed to Noam's ‘circuit-bending' hobby. So I ask him to explain the term.
Noam: “Yes. All of you listeners, I would like you to now open a new browser window and type into your Google search engine ‘circuit bending' and you will find out a world of people out there who are co-opting the generation of keyboards in the 80s that were kinda like half toy, half sorta geared towards musicians and also lots of other musical toys. You open them up and you start poking around inside. It's kind of an experimental thing. It's a lot of fun.”This reminds me of my job interview, you are getting me to all this stuff I didn't ever wanna talk about. Peter when being asked to offer his bandmates some unsolicited advice
“I sit up in my attic for many hours and listen to the strange sounds you can create be short-circuiting electronic circuits that were meant to be Furbys or Casios or whatever it is. You'd be absolutely amazed when you plug your Barbie karaoke machine through a good sounding at the crazy sounds that come out of it when you totally fuck it up inside. So, I basically when nuts on eBay and bought a bunch of stuff. I still go to yard sales. You can buy a Speak ‘n' Spell for $5 or less and the local Salvation Army. You can open it up, and get it to start spouting Satanic gibberish and…”
Noam gets carried away, so Peter brings it back to the music.
Peter: “And so you would bring those back down to us, from Massachusetts where he lives, and we would use those to help us write songs and sample that stuff. Cuz we don't actually have them on stage, they come out of samplers. So we sampled them and it's a huge part of the writing process for this album, all these things that Noam built—and it was really cool.”
The band's album Heaven is the perfect music for the latest critically-acclaimed 20something angst film. Something starring Shia LaBeouf and Natalie Portman and directed by Cameron Crowe. A burnout 20something guy has an unsatisfying job and takes it out on his girlfriend. She dumps him and it becomes the catalyst for him to quit his deadend job take a life-altering, epiphanies-in-the-rain type road trip.
And the Mobius Band know this kind of drama. Songs like “Hallie” and “Friends Like These” on their album Heaven reference a break up that still haunts the band to this day.
Ben is agreeable, but reluctantly starts. “Well, I broke up with my girlfriend. It was very messy and an ugly situation involving a very old friend of all of ours. It fucked up my life for a very long time.”
Noam and Peter start to laugh.
Ben continuing seriously despite the chuckles: “And thus, a lot of the songs on this record are a direct response to that situation.”
The Mobius Band: Behind the Music. Ben's girlfriend
was stolen by a good friend of the band. But Peter is
still close with that diabolical friend, even though Ben
has no time for him. How long can Noam diffuse the
tension with his crack sense of humour? I can't believe
these guys are still together! But all that drama made
for a great album.
Peter is softer: “Coming at it from different angles ‘n' stuff… yeah.”
Things get a little awkward and I tell the guys I don't mean to get so personal, however this stuff is in their bio. They assure me it's cool to talk about it. So I ask them about an interview they did where they talked about still maintaining contact with that ‘friend.'
Noam: “Ben has thoroughly rejected the friend!”
Ben: “I have no use for him in my life.
However, Peter is still friends with the guy.
“Yeah…” Peter laughs nervously. “We don't talk about it.”
Ben: “I wouldn't expect anyone to back me up like some medieval court thing. We can all make our own decisions.”
Peter: “I didn't talk to him for like a year. And we sort of met to talk about it a couple of times. It just got a point where I was like, ‘ Do I wanna kick this person out of my life for doing something fucked up, or do I want be forgiving and move on?' And I chose the latter…”
Peter's voice trails off. The van goes silent with just the rain tapping on the hull. I tell the band that we can shift gears and ask some lighter questions.
Peter: “They're serious songs man. You might as well as ask about what they're about, cuz that's what they're about, right?”
Noam jumps in again to cut the tension: “Fun… serious… Mobius Band!”Well, I broke up with my girlfriend. It was very messy and an ugly situation involving a very old friend of all of ours. It fucked up my life for a very long time. Ben on what inspired their current record.
Since the band's music is perfectly suited for some modern day John Hughes epic, I to try to do a conceptual interview and give each of the band members their own 20something-coming-of-age movie question.
First up, Ben. I told him to imagine that he is in one of those Zack Braff-type movies. In the first act, he's just been dumped by his longtime shrewish girlfriend. In the middle of the second act he meets the unexpected whacky girl who will turn it all around for him. (Imagine: The checkout girl who is played by a supermodel with glasses on. Susan Sarandon as the motherly stripper with a heart of gold.)
Peter: “I think it would be the unexpected band member that helps turn things it around romantically.”
Ben: “It's a long tour, you know…”
They start to chuckle, so I ask the band to name names and tell me that story. This catches them off guard. But it is Noam's turn for his movie-question.
Here is Noam's movie scenario. His mom wants him to take over the family business, a butcher's shop. Cutting meat is no life path for Noam; he would rather be holed up in the attic creating his crazy circuiting-bending inventions. And his girlfriend is upset that he is spending so much time at the family business and his inventions that there is none left for her! So how would he resolve his movie?
There is a pause. None of them were expecting such an involved question. Then Ben laughs.
Peter: “So there is a girl and what—?”
I prompt them. He's got a girl friend who's upset because he's satisfying his mom with the business. And in his spare time, he's working on his inventions instead of her.
Noam: “First of all, for the record, I have never satisfied my mom with the business.
Noam: “Secondly, I am married, so actually she'd be more upset than my girlfriend, who doesn't actually exist, if you're listening honey. And third of all, so I am trying to balance the family butcher shop and the late night circuit-bending sonic excursions. Well there's a lot of hours in the day when you are taking high doses of pharmaceutical stimulants; you just find time for everybody. I know they say if you try to please everybody, then you please no one. But if you try to please yourself then at least you know that is taken care of. So I would just please myself.
So the films' climax would be one long wank scene?
Noam: “If by wanking scene you mean soldering iron in one hand and cleaver in the other, then yes.”
Now it is Peter's turn. In his scenario, Peter gets the Peter Sarsgaard role in GardenState. He is the manchild idiot savant who offers poignant advice to our films' conflicted hero. And what advice would he give his bandmates?
Peter: “Wow that's a really deep ass question.”
Ben and Noam chuckle.
Peter: “Ben… I would probably say… Have a hamburger.”
Peter: “Oh he's just really skinny, that's all. Man I have to give these guys advice? I am totally deer in headlights now. Take your vitamins! Eat your fiber cereal in the morning…”
I remind him that right now we are packed in this tiny tour van. The band are spending a lot of time together so I am sure each of them has annoying little habits that he would like to let them know about.
Peter: “This reminds me of my job interview, you are getting me to all this stuff I didn't ever wanna talk about. Uhm… Ok, if you wanna do this. Noam, I would say, ‘Let it chill out a little bit.' You get upset sometimes. You gotta go with the flow. You're like I used to be. Ben, I would say… ‘Have a hamburger!'”
More nervous laughter fills the van. I can't ask a question like that without allowing his bandmates to weight in. So I ask them, if Peter was gonna have the Peter Sarsgaard role in Kinsey and he had romance a husband and wife team, who would they choose for him?
Peter: “Ok so this is an easy one. You just have to a husband and wife for me to double-team. Please, I mean there are plenty…”
Noam interrupts: “Can I tell a story? He's actually tried this with my wife and I in the past. It' didn't go anywhere, but…”
Peter: “It didn't go anywhere once you woke up!”
Noam ignores the chucking of his bandmates: “We were living together in a communal band house and, like many evenings, Peter stumbled home late, late or I guess early, early. Maybe he had had a drink or two?
Peter: “Don't combine alcohol and Klonopin kids.”
Noam: “My wife and I, we were sleeping in one room. We weren't married at the time; we were just boyfriend and girlfriend. Peter had woken up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and not really actually woken up. On his way back to his room, he decided to come into our room instead. He had to walk around our bed to get in the other side. And he got in next to me on the far side of the bed. He kinda of woke me up as he started spooning me.”
Peter protests: “No. No. This isn't right. All I know is, I woke up after being fast asleep. And I woke up spooning you, on the far side of the bed from the door, with Sarah close to the door. Thank God I wasn't spooning her. I dunno, probably would have been better for me…
Noam: I dunno. He woke me up and I said, ‘What the fuck are you doing?!' And the look of surprise on his face—and he was fast asleep before I woke him—was unbelievably humorous in hindsight.
Peter: “They were actually moving out soon, him and his future wife. And they also said, as I was walking back to my bedroom, they said, ‘I'm so fucking glad we're moving!'”
Noam: “And that's why we don't live together anymore.”
As the van erupts in guffaws. I remember that Ben has not answered which couple Peter should double-team.
Ben: “Maybe whoever Kid Rock is married to… I dunno.”
Peter: “Oh god! You know I hate fake tits!”
Noam: “Bill and Hilary Clinton, I think would be appropriate. Because Peter has always been a bit of a political junkie.”
An interesting choice.
Peter: “Can I go on record saying, ‘Gross!'”
Noam: No seriously, Bill. Hilary. If you are listening, call him.
Tune in to the interview show with host Scott Wood, every Monday @4:30pm on CJSF 90.1FM www.cjsf.ca for more interviews with your favorite indie acts. You can also listen to and download both new and old shows at www.winniecooper.net.