Originally published on Swizzle-Stick.com (October 2000)
How does a former member of a British shoegazer band (Slowdive) wind up writing an album that sounds as though it was cultivated from a farm somewhere in Nebraska? That’s a good question and we wanted to know the answer so we went straight to the source, Mojave 3 singer/guitarist Neil Halstead.
Do you remember when it was that you fell in love with music?
I really got into music when I was 14 or 15. The first bands I was really into were bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Smiths. Then I sort of got into a lot of American bands like Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., and Sonic Youth. Also My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins. Around 16 and 17, that was the music I was really into.
Your influences seem pretty diverse, from Mudhoney to My Bloody Valentine.
I suppose. But the common factor was really loud guitars, just noisy fucked-up guitars. Stuff like Loop and Spacemen 3 were around at the same time and I was into them. I grew up in Reading and it’s close enough to London to have a lot of bands come through and play gigs. For a period of two years, we just seemed to have really good bands come through all the time. When I was 15 and 16 I remember seeing Mudhoney play there, Sonic Youth played there, Dinosaur Jr. played there as well. We saw all these really good American bands.
The way that you played guitar, did it change quite a bit as you got into new bands and/or new styles of music?
It changed as soon as you went out and saw a band. You’d come back home and change your style. I remember the first time I saw My Bloody Valentine, I was completely blown away by how aggressive and loud and noisy it was. It was just the way Kevin Shields played the guitar.
So how did you fall in love with the style of music you play now?
I guess a band like the Byrds were always an influence and the Velvet Underground. I remember getting into Neil Young because I read in NME that Dinosaur Jr. sounded a bit like Neil Young. I remember going out and buying “Harvest.” My first reaction was “It doesn’t sound anything like Dinosaur Jr.” But I really got into it. I suppose stuff like Neil Young and the Byrds, and getting into Dylan through the Byrds, that’s the sort of thing that influenced me. I think we started Mojave 3 because we wanted to do something that was song based; we were trying to do something different that Slowdive, which was more about … we got to the point where we were all about sounds and ambiance. It wasn’t really about songs particularly. The first Mojave record we did, we did quickly. It was basically just demos and we recorded it with acoustic piano and acoustic guitar. There were some drums, but they were fairly light.
I read somewhere where you said that Mojave 3 was not all that original.
I don’t really think it is. I think there is an originality to it that comes from having six people play in the band. It’s not like we sound like we make original records. In Slowdive, we created sounds and just made completely different sounding records, I know that Mojave 3 isn’t really extending ourselves in that area. We are trying to make sounds that suit the songs. I don’t know if that’s failing in some respects.
While you may not think it’s all that original, you seem to get really great press.
Yeah, I think we’ve had our ups and downs. When we first started the band, Brit-pop was what was big in England and we got virtually ignored for the first two years because we didn’t really fit in with what was happening in England.
Do you think you fit in better in America than you do in England?
I think we’re kind of an anomaly. We’re an English band that sounds more American but not really American enough. I don’t know where we fit in. To be honest, that doesn’t really bother me. In some ways, the way the band has developed has been quite good. We haven’t really had too much tension. You just kind of make records for yourself. You don’t really worry about whether you’re fitting into anyone’s idea of what you should be about.
How do you measure your own success?
I think if we measured it by how many records we sold, we wouldn’t be too happy (laughs). You just make each record as it comes. If it feels good, you’ve made a record that you’re proud of, that’s great. It’s also about how the band feels, how you all get along. There’s nothing worse than being in a band that is dysfunctional, even if you’re selling a shitload of records, it can’t be a pleasant experience.
I don’t think you can prevent it from happening, but you are more aware of it happening if it’s happened once. You can take steps to avoid it. Mojave 3 started off as a three piece and now we’re a six piece. With every record there has been these people that have come on. In some ways that keeps it quite fresh.
So six people in a tour bus together. How is that?
(laughs) It’s fun because we all have other jobs. In some ways, when we go on tour, it’s like a little holiday. It’s nice to get away from reality and pretend to be a pop star for a little while.
When you tour in America, do you do much sightseeing? Have you seen Graceland?
No. In some ways, that’s the only bad thing about touring. Unless you’re a super organized person … I remember when we toured with Lisa Germano, the whole band was super organized. They would get up really early in the morning — this was when we were touring in Europe — and they would go see the museums and go do all the sightseeing stuff, then come back and do the soundcheck, and go back out and do some more sightseeing before doing the gig. We never seem to be able to do that. We do try and get some sort of cultural exchange but it’s more like “Groundhog Day”, especially if you’re in a bus.
What kind of person would you like to sit down and play your record for? Do you think a 15-year-old Limp Bizkit fan would get anything out of a Mojave 3 record?
(laughs) No. No. I have friends who don’t even like the music I make. I can see why a lot of the times. It’s fairly miserable and if I was 15, I would probably want to listen to something that had loud guitars and was exciting and dynamic.
But it all comes down to the songs at the end, doesn’t it?
In some ways it does. But for me, I really didn’t start appreciating country music until I was 23 or 24. There’s a certain age you get to where it starts making more sense.
Seeing as how you contributed a song to the Tim Buckley tribute CD, I was wondering what bands you’d like to see on a Mojave 3 tribute record?
(laughs) Bryan Adams. Phil Collins. We just want the cool people to play on it.
My mom would buy it. I think that would be so weird if you got Bryan Adams to cover one of your songs.
I don’t know if you know the band Superstar — they are from Glasgow. Rod Stewart put out a record of covers and he covered one of their songs. Rod Stewart is fairly cool and has always been one of the boys. But I think they were really freaked out by it. It sounded odd.
I think Phil Collins would be good on ours. Maybe get Cher to do a song with that vocoder thing she uses.
One last question. Does the name of the band mean anything more to you now than it did when you started the band?
I think the name seems more inappropriate now than at the beginning. I think when we named the band, it was after we had recorded the first record. We were basically at a point where 4AD wanted to put it out and we didn’t have a name for the record or the band. A friend of ours suggested we call ourselves Mojave. It kind of made sense at the time because there is sort of the feel of the desert to the record, I suppose. There was a lot of slide guitar. You just sort of grow into a name. I don’t know how appropriate any name ever is. In the end we went with Mojave 3 because we liked the idea of Spacemen 3 quite a lot, and there were 3 of us.
Mojave 3’s third release, Excuses for Travelers, was released last month on Beggar’s Banquet Records in America and 4AD in Europe. If you’ve read that it sounds like a nice cross between Nick Drake and Gram Parsons, we won’t disagree. Full of acoustic and pedal steel guitars, Excuse for Travelers is an immediate attention grabber and will definitely wind up on at least one Swizzle-Stick staff member’s “Best of 2000” list.