With an EP that is more “long player” than mere “extended play”, and having performed at the inaugural Off The Radar festival earlier this month, Auckland band Mice on Stilts may not be making an immediate impact on the local music scene, but they are making a very strong impression – winning over audiences with their orchestral sound as found on their debut An Ocean Held Me which some peg as “doom folk”. The fourteen-legged unit are quietly creating a buzz, and with a quiet buzz usually comes a devout cult following…. Mice on Stilts founder Benjamin Morley answers.
What was the nucleus that led you to take Mice on Stilts from a passion (bedroom) project to the fully formed seven piece orchestra it is today?
At the time when this whole thing started, I wasn’t in the best way. I had just come out of a relationship that wasn’t healthy; I was drinking far too much and I didn’t have anything to do with my time. Starting Mice on Stilts was only meant to be something to fill my days until I got my shit together. Originally it was just Tim (Burrows, producer of An Ocean Held Me) and I; I would write the songs and he would record them and add bass to them after that. The only one that made it to Bandcamp was ‘Monkey’.
Some of my friends really like it and suggested I started a live band. Originally I was thinking of a quartet with violin, cello, piano and guitar. That was going well until I met Rob (Sanders, drums). From there it was a constant flow of people coming in and out of the band until we found the right ones.
What happened during the two year period from the start of the band through to the release of the An Ocean Held Me?
It was a journey of the unknown. I knew I wanted it to sound dark and massive; kind of like an epic horror movie soundtrack. We ended up with something a bit more subtle (at points). The songs have change so much over those two years, they started out with a very ‘everything all of the time’ approach, but we have learned to be aware of each other and give space where needed. For example, when we first started I was playing guitar from the start of the song until the end. Now I don’t play that much at all! I also learned that starting a band was very hard – this was the second time around for me but I don’t remember it being this much effort. Worth every moment of course – through this whole set of events I’ve met some of my best friends.
Musicians sometimes are set in their ways how something should sound or how things should work – did you allow for some compromise from your initial ideas in the bedroom?
Because this was a bit of an experiment I tried to be as open as possible to everything from the start. From there you can start editing and saying no to things. I did have a pretty good idea of the kind of sound I was interested in, eventually. But so much of it was trying everything that anyone suggested; some of it worked, a lot of it didn’t. By the time I bring a song to the band it’s already been edited heaps, and then again when we jam it, and once again when we record it.
“Doom folk” – how did you come to term your music as such?
When we first started we tried to play heaps of shows (which we are still trying to do, hint!) and to get as much attention as possible. One of the things we did was go on 95bFM’s Freak the Sheep. I remember Silke (Hartung, presenter) asked “what would you call your genre?” Or something to that effect. Tim was next me to and just whispered “Doom Folk”. So we just ran with it. I like the word doom heaps. It’s just a tongue and cheek term.
I actually do love metal though. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over that.
An Ocean Held Me gets cited as an album more often than not, despite being labelled an EP. Was there a conscious decision creating something that’s almost a full-length work or was it a happy accident?
My intention was that an EP seemed more digestible from a band that hasn’t released anything. It made sense because it was only five songs but I guess it is almost album length.
Listening to the record, it would seem lyrically and melodically Mice on Stilts are crafting a five-act play… another happy accident perchance?
It’s cool that you picked up on that. Although I could say that was intentional, it’s not. Having said that, with the order the songs are in, I can’t see them running in any other way.
It seems like a labour of love, “culturing” the sounds as you put it. Is this the definitive Mice on Stilts sound or is it something that will evolve over time?
It’s the definitive sound right now. I am positive it will change. Fingers crossed we’ll start recording again mid this year. We already have a lot of songs.