The Innovators

60s Today Speaks to Mohai Experiment

As their name suggests, the Italian instrumental group Mohai Experiment are all about musical experimentation. Their sound is unique and hard to define, but it could be best described as an eclectic blend of progressive rock and post-rock with a modern feel and an often psychedelic atmosphere. Their latest record ‘The Brightest Darkness’ came out last year.

Although the trio are no longer working on new compositions, their music is still very much alive, and they are in the process of releasing several more albums of tracks written and recorded years ago. The band consisted of guitarist Peter Hamer, bassist Maury Wake and drummer D. Frank.

Hamer is planning a new Mohai Experiment LP for 2018. 60s Today spoke to him about the band’s past and this ongoing project.

Mohai Experiment are a “band from the past” in two senses: most of your musical inspiration seems to come from the past, and you’re not playing together as a group anymore, but releasing old material. Tell us a little bit about the band’s history. 

Mohai Experiment were a very strange and unique band. We had our live performances and writing activity between 1996 and 2005 in the Turin region of Italy. The band was an instrumental trio (guitar, bass and drums), but we’d experimented with some different combinations and additions (our 4th element) during the live shows. Mohai Experiment can actually be labelled in the post-rock area, but in 1996 we barely knew that genre. The band didn’t really break up in a bad way, we simply decided to take different roads because each member was wanting more of a leading role in creating material and there were fewer common ideas after a long period together. We’re still friends and I think we made the right decision.

What made you work on your past recordings and put them out years after the band had broken up?

We’d released a couple of low quality EPs, mainly due to the high cost of the recording and mixing studios. Four years ago, randomly listening to some old Mohai tunes during a hard disk cleaning session, I realized how much material we’d written and recorded, and how unfair it was not to put it out on the market. So I decided to revive it and work on it again with the help of new technologies.

Tell us about the albums you’ve released. Over what time period were they written and recorded, and how do they compare to each other musically and conceptually?

So far we’ve released two albums: ‘The Finite Infinity’ in 2015 and ‘The Brightest Darkness’ in 2016. ‘The Finite Infinity’ represents the very first period of the band, and we decided to put it out in two parts. ‘Part I’ has five tracks that have just been remastered, while keeping the original mix. The tracks come from a cassette EP from 1998 and are probably the most experimental compositions we recorded. ‘Part II’ has four tracks from the same period, but I had to do a whole new mix and mastering. These four tracks are also experimental but a bit less complicated and have more of a regular flow. ‘The Brightest Darkness’ is a mixture of old and new Mohai Experiment tracks. For this album I had to redo the recordings and work on some arrangements in order to create a similar ensemble. This album has more of a post-rock imprint, with room for cinematic passages and ethereal atmospheres, rather than raw guitar riffs and chords.

Are you planning on releasing any more records? 

Sure. I have a deep passion for the digital recording world, so I’d started to make home recordings since the beginning of the bands history. This let us build a “big tracks” repository that I’ve kept meticulously over the years. Now I’m able to access all of the songs, even if they were recorded using very old DAW or software. We have material for two or three more albums, and I’m planning a new release for 2018. I’m very busy with my own label, Peter Hamer Productions, so it’s a matter of setting priorities… I could release a new Mohai album in two or three months, but I have other things scheduled as well so I have to wait until next year. The next album will be more guitar driven because I want to emphasize the character the band had in the last period of our activity, mixed with ambient sounds and experimental parts.

Who are the band’s biggest musical influences?

The biggest influences come from the 70s; artists like Brian Eno, King Crimson and The Alan Parson’s Project gave us a lot of inspiration. The madness in composition, the ability to drive the listener into another dimension, the breaking of the music rules, the ongoing experimentation are some of the reasons we so deeply enjoyed listening to those bands. They gave us the famous spark to start writing on our own. Some other artists joined the list of influencers over the years: Living Colour, Jeff Buckley, Portishead, just to name a few. These artists were able to leave a unique footprint without the necessity of being commercial or in the “easy listening” sea.

Apart from other musicians, where did you take inspiration from when composing music for Mohai Experiment? Please give us some insight into this creative process.

We had two types of composition approaches: the individual composition (eventually sharing it with the rest of the band) and the rehearsal composition. While the latter was the main road in the first years, the individual composition became the golden rule over the following years. All the band members were composing music in different ways: the drummer writing loops on the computer, the bassist as well as myself writing guitar and bass riffs or synth lines. The band went through big leadership problems because neither of us was the official band leader, and all three of us wanted to have the last word on the arrangement of songs, and, unfortunately, this kind of democracy never works in bands… We did a great job in the first period, recording the rehearsals onto cassettes and then sorting through all the material, keeping and fixing the best. We did even better over the following years, recording all tracks with a computer. We had tons of ideas stored on hard disk, but we finalized only a few tracks compared to the huge volume of the raw tunes. Where did the inspiration came from? Just anywhere: the drummer listening to the sounds of nature or the noise of the industrial machines at his work place; the bassist playing all day in his empty attic with just an amplifier and some guitars; me experimenting with all kinds of effects in an obsessive loop…

How often did you perform live and what were your gigs like?

We had a very rewarding time doing many live performances in Italy. We played in all kinds of little to medium venues, festivals, parties, art meetings and exhibitions. We incorporated the idea of playing together with other bands, so we took part in a lot of festivals being the “outsider” band playing very different music compared to the others. We also participated in some competitions and had quite a few collaborations, playing live with a singer for some tunes or with another bassist.

Are you planning any live reunions?

I’m still in contact with the other members of the band but, for now, there’s no plan for a reunion or a tour. My main goal is to work on the remaining material and put out as many albums as I’m able to. Anyway, if the “never say never” principle still works, I would be more than happy to resume the band, put a couple of staples in my backpack and fly wherever for a tour!

What are the band members up to these days?

Well, they are full-time dads and hard workers. We see each other from time to time but not very often. I’m a full-time musician and composer, so I’m the only one who can actually take care of the project, and I can’t really ask the others to add more to their already busy lives. I don’t know what they would say if, one day, I asked them: “Hey guys, are you ready to leave your families and jobs for a while and go on a tour with the old band?” Sounds like another Blues Brothers story…

60s Today is all about innovation in music. Do you believe that bands can still be innovative in the 21st century? Or has everything already been done before?

I’m asking myself this question every 10 years more or less. And every time my answer is the same: yes, bands can always be innovative. It’s natural for a band to sound like or be similar to someone else, but it doesn’t mean they can’t come up with a unique sound or a unique ensemble. In my opinion, the problem is that in the 21st century we’re living the “always connected” modality, where endless inputs are bombarding us all day long. And the daily mantra is always the same: be like this or like that, dress like this or like that, sound like this or like that. This is a creativity-massacre in my personal opinion. But innovation means being different and unique in some way. It means taking a different road, often alone. It means caring less for how many “likes” you have and caring more about what you’re creating. It means staying focused for hours or days just to refine the sound of a single note and avoid the “it’s more easy” trap of a pre-boiled song that you’re able to cook in 5 minutes with a plug and play software. Innovation also means sacrifice and renunciation – to not listen to the masses.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share?

Well, just an interesting note about the band. We had a crazy period in which we tried to substitute the lack of a singer with some recorded voices taken from famous artists, mainly from “voice-only” recorded songs. It was an interesting and fun experiment because we composed the instrumental part and cut the vocal line in order to fit the music. It was just a home experiment, of course due to the copyright rules, but we enjoyed it so much!

 

 

Listen to Mohai Experiment on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSntJNlBKK51DdDNj9P61kw

‘The Finite Infitinity’ and ‘The Brightest Darkness’ can be purchased on iTunes and Amazon:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/mohai-experiment/id984422097

https://www.amazon.com/Finite-Infinity-Mohai-Experiment/dp/B00W1A85I6

https://www.amazon.com/Brightest-Darkness-Mohai-Experiment/dp/B01FT5UUVE

For more information, see Mohai Experiment’s and Peter Hamer’s website:

http://mohaiexperiment.bandcamp.com

https://www.peterhamerproductions.com

 

 

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