Not your wishy-washy pop band - an interview with Moke front man Felix Maginn
Ever listened to Britpop made in The Netherlands? Well, you better!
In this interview songwriter, vocalist and guitar player Felix Maginn from Dutch band Moke talks about crossing borders in several ways.
Anna Brandt: What is special about Moke?
Felix Maginn: It is difficult to have a guitar based band that sounds completely different to everything else that you’ve heard before. We have found a little niche, because of our keyboard player. He understands guitars very well. So the integration of what he plays and what we others do works excellent.
We use our shows to progress our sound. The venues that we played in Germany were big halls. That was the sound we wanted to take with us for the next album. But even if we play in a little record store for example, we make sure that the sound of the band will still stay together. So we are quite a big sounding guitar band without sounding like a stadium thing.
Where have you been playing so far?
We played in Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, England and we’ve also played in America. We really enjoy doing live shows and if it’s possible to get our band elsewhere to play, we will do it.
We haven’t played in Germany this year but when the last album came out we went all over the place – Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and Leipzig. We also played in Bocholt in an old factory when we were on tour with Amy MacDonald. I went high up on the roof of the building and could see right over the whole city. They had kept all the vintage equipment there in this little complex – cranes for moving objects, old tramlines. Where I come from a lot of these buildings are being destroyed to build new city centres, which is terrible. If this was London or somewhere else in Europe nobody would be allowed to touch this building.
Did you find varying audience reaction in different places?
Yes, for instance we found that in Germany, Austria, Switzerland the crowd was really responsive. People would turn up very early to see the support shows. Italian and Spanish crowds used to be a little reserved at first, but they warmed up to us during our performances. So after the shows the reactions were always very positive. In Holland we’re really popular so our shows are always sold out and the crowd goes crazy.
Do you think that coming from the Netherlands is a factor for the audience being a little reserved sometimes?
To be honest, it doesn’t make things any easier. If we had a big Dutch scene across Europe, that would be different. The last Dutch band people may recall is Golden Earring from the 1970s. But most bands from Holland never get across the border due to the fact that Dutch singers often have a weird accent, especially to native English speakers. Our advantage is that I am from Ireland. So we don’t have this problem. But in general Holland does not mean much on the map regarding music.
Have you found the Dutch Talent Exchange Program (DTEP) helpful for extending your international fan base?
Initiatives like DTEP are important for bands that would otherwise never have the chance to play outside of their own country to get to do shows abroad. And they also help to bring in foreign bands to Holland. There should be far more exchange, particularly between close countries like Germany and The Netherlands. Holland is a small country but you can find numerous clubs and many festivals in the summer to play. So it’s definitely worth getting your foot in the door.
Does DTEP bring about financial advantages for you as a band as well?
Not directly. Festivals just about cover the cost for a band to play. So for the short term it’s not really earning that much. But we like to play as much as we can in Germany to get more people interested in us. Everything is investment. We even financed the album ourselves, because we wanted to keep the ownership.
After all a band works as a small business. Fortunately we have people to do the finances and so forth. I try to stay away from these things as much as possible to focus on creative work. But you have to keep an eye on everything and make sure you know what you spend your money on.
Does it affect your creativity having to think of these business aspects?
No, even though my colleagues tend to worry about our expenses, they do not want to put a hold on my creativity. Everyone said we’re crazy for planning to record the new album with an entire orchestra. But if we want to do something, we do it no matter the cost. Still we make sure we can get it done as cheaply as possible.
So we looked at options of maybe recording in Moscow, where you can hire the Moscow Philharmonics in a studio for about 1.000 Euros a day. That sounded like a good offer. The question was how much time the learning and recording process would require. In addition we would need special permits and of course transportation back and forth. So in the end we decided to record in Holland with a handpicked orchestra of people we know and appreciate. This was less cheap but worth the cost. We are very pleased with the big, lavish sound we have created together.
What are you musical influences?
I grew up listening to mostly British music. New Wave bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, Japan and The Cure were my favourites. I also really liked British beat bands from the 1950s and 60s. In addition I have a traditional music background as part of the Irish culture.
What is your new album “The Long & Dangerous Sea” about?
The album in general is reflective yet positive. That means it’s about looking back at what you’ve done and seeing that, even if you may want to change things on the way and getting from A to B may have been a little bit difficult, everything turned out ok and you can sleep soundly at night not having to worry about things that have happened in the past.
Famous Anton Corbijn shot the cover for your new album in Stuttgart and Karl Lagerfeld himself provided you with his collection of handsome gentlemen’s wear. How are music, photography and fashion connected for your band?
When you release an album, you need a cover, usually a photograph. And of course we want to make sure we look good in it as well as on stage. On the other hand photographers and designers put on some music to set the right mood for their artwork. Karl said he always listens to music because it gives him new ideas. So everyone feeds off each other.
What are you working on at the moment?
Recently we have been working on a song for a Dutch government program. Students who choose to be teachers will be given a an educational album on CD as a means to teach kids about the Second World War in connection with conflicts around the world in general. Twelve Dutch artists with all sorts of styles contribute to this album for the occasion of the annual Remembrance Day and Liberation Day at the beginning of May. The goal is to open up discussions and create awareness among young people as our future leaders.
Your band seems to be predestined to address such issues since your title track on the second album has a historical and political background, too.
We never wanted to be a political band. But growing up in a conflict situation I feel very affectionate about Ireland. So the title track of “A Long & Dangerous Sea” is a song about the Irish who had to leave their country during the Great Famine in the 1800s to go to America. People had the choice to either stay and die or to get on these overcrowded ships. Hunger, sickness and death were omnipresent.
This deeply moves me, so I write about it. We are not a wishy-washy pop band. In the first place I hope the audience likes our music, but when they take it home they may find that there is more to it.
What are you looking forward to in the near future?
In a couple of weeks time we will play at Pinkpop Festival in Holland in front of about 70.000 listeners with a 60 piece orchestra. That’s never been done before. For me as a songwriter it is extremely satisfying to see a song that started out on a small piece of paper grow into something as huge as this.
After the numerous summer festivals we will probably do a club tour in Germany starting September.
Photos Moke: (c) Universal Music 2010
Links in the Lab:
- Recorded and mixed / episode 1 – rock.2010
- Music in the City - The New Earth Group
- Ready for world domination!
- Music in the city: Elle Bandita.
- In search of the ultimate party
- Endeavours to feed creativity
German links in the Lab: