“My goal as a human being is to live my life as an authentic person,” Molly Dean says, leaning back in her chair and contemplating her role in the electro-pop band Moon and Pollution.
Dean has just spent the previous 45 minutes discussing her musical history, her approach to songwriting, and her appreciation of her partner in Moon and Pollution, Graham O’Brien, and if there’s one theme that’s emerged above all others during our interview it’s this idea of authenticity: How to find it, how to mine it, and how to use it as a guiding light in the journey of artistic discovery when all others go out.
Having listened to Moon and Pollution’s portentous, enthralling debut album, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to learn that Dean takes her artistic endeavors so seriously; The Box Borealis (F I X) sounds like an exploration of the depths of human emotions here on earth and love letter to the vast expanses of darkness that stretch out between the stars in outer space. But despite the celestial and otherworldy elements of her music, I was surprised at just how thoughtful and down-to-earth Dean is about her artistry and her prolific contributions to the Twin Cities music scene.
In anticipation of this weekend’s big Box Borealis release show, I asked Molly to share her story. See her at Icehouse tomorrow night when Moon and Pollution perform songs off the new album with support from Damage Controller and DJing from F I X label co-founder Joe Horton.
Andrea Swensson: You’re known for dabbling in a variety of genres; you have one acoustic solo album to your name, and also play piano in addition to this Moon and Pollution project. What first drew you to electronic music?
Molly Dean: I lived and studied abroad for about a year and a half in college, brought my guitar over there and did some busking in the streets, and fell in love with electronic music—that’s kind of where that seed was planted. I lived in London for a year, and I lived in Amsterdam for six months.
Do you remember any of the specific bands that you heard that you found interesting?
Yes. Lamb is a really big influence of mine. I just love her voice and her writing, and their collaboration and their expression of it. I really fell in love with it there. Sneaker Pimps, DJ Sneak, Paul Oakenfold—and that’s when Moby’s Play came out, which was a great CD. And that’s really where I fell in love with that, and I was like, “I want to do that.” I love writing acoustic music, but it was like a totally different way to express yourself, and I liked the idea a lot. So that happened.
Then I moved home, I graduated, and then I went to MCTC for their Sound Arts program. I wanted to be more well versed in the language of this business, and learn more about recording and production and sort of the business end of it. There’s challenges in being a woman in any role in the music business, but I wanted to learn how to articulate myself in a way that was—not really to impress anybody, but just to be like, actually, I’ve got me feet on the ground here, and I don’t want to have to prove it to you. And I loved it. I loved going to school.
How did you find Graham O’Brien?
I heard a song Graham had done with Alicia Wiley on SoundCloud, and I was like, that’s the sound I’m looking for. And he is an amazing producer. I can’t wait for the world to know more about what he does, because he’s really talented. And really easy to get along with; a super no-drama, mellow guy.
How long did it take you to write the songs on The Box Borealis?
Well, the motivation for the album came pretty quickly when we got the invitation to play the Atmosphere and Trampled by Turtles show [at Duluth’s Bayfront Park in June 2013]. Because we had been going pretty slowly, steadily along, both doing our other things too, and then the invitation to play came and we had just a couple of months to put a 30-minute set together.
So that was your first show?
How did that come about?
We just sent Slug some tracks.
Literally just, “Hey Slug, here’s our music.”
Yeah. We sent him “Solace Sandwich,” which was the first one we sent you, and Moon and Pollution. And he just said, I want to put forth something different and offer this up, if you think you’re ready to do this. And we were. We had enough going that we could figure it out and finish it. And the show was so much fun. Just to have that—whatever it may be, it was just great to do that.
How many shows have you played now?
We’ve probably played 10 shows, and most of them in Duluth. We got good feedback from people in Duluth, and we just kind of kept that fire going for a while. We would like to be playing a lot more, and I think that opportunity will kind of hopefully keep presenting itself. But yeah, it hasn’t been a lot of shows.
There has been such a rise in electro-pop lately, especially around the Twin Cities. Do you ever think about how you’re going to stand out?
I think if we do, it’s just a natural thing. I think that the music sort of just determines that, and people’s reaction to it. If we stand out, then that’s great. But if we don’t, we’ll just keep creating anyway. I think that authenticity stands out, and I think that when people really enjoy what they’re doing and you’re putting out that vibe, that’s what makes you stand out.
You’ve mentioned that you’re currently working on a more piano-driven album, and also on an acoustic album with Dave Simonett producing. What are your plans with all of these different records?
Mostly I want to just keep getting it out. And always networking and always meeting new people, and making new relationships with people, playing music with new people. Because you never know where it’s going to take you. I like the idea of just focusing on the creation, and working out the details as they take shape. And I have goals, but I don’t really attach myself too much to expectation, because it never ends up that way and you only become very self-judgmental. And who needs that? I’m not in my 20s anymore. I’m done with that.
That seems very healthy.
Well, it’s a process. I don’t always feel like that. But I strive for that. For me, the goal is always to just be in a place where I want to be creating, and then find a way to get it out there. Just fostering that—because it’s my favorite thing to do. I love it. I love writing. And I love sound. I love instrumentation, I love orchestration. I love music! I love people’s tone of voice and their timbre. So it’s absorbing that and maneuvering it and getting it out.
At the beginning of our conversation you mentioned that you went to school at MCTC in part so you could hold your own among men in the industry who might think they know better. I’m curious, as a female artist who is surrounded by a lot of male energy on stage and in the studio, is that been something you’ve encountered a lot in your career?
There’s definitely been personal challenges for me. Just because I feel like I can communicate differently with women than I can with men. But I would say that it’s been extremely easy to work with all of these men. There’s no ego involved. And I like working with people that I feel like I can be myself wit, and that they can be themselves with me. If something feels off or wrong or a waste of time, see ya.
I think it’s so cool that you went to school to learn the inner workings of everything, too, and set out to understand the production side just as deeply as the songwriting side.
Well why not, you know? It was a great opportunity, and it’s just such a great program. It just happened to fit me like a glove. I was in the right place mentally, and as far as being driven and wanting to do well. I can record myself, I can set up my own rig; I’m very confident with talking to people about what I want. I’m a smart girl. I’m not going to misrepresent myself just because you need to be comfortable.
Moon and Pollution play an album-release show for The Box Borealis on Saturday, January 31, at Icehouse. With Damage Controller (Jeremy Ylvisaker, Martin Dosh, and Mike Lewis) and DJ Joe Horton. 11 p.m. $8 adv./$10 door. 21+. More info on F I X’s website.