Interview: Mt Desolation

Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin have teamed up to create a wonderful new side-project, Mt Desolation. They formed the idea in Dublin last year, and since then, the project has grown and grown. I got the chance to talk to Tim Rice-Oxley about the band’s inspiration, working with such a diverse crowd of musicians, and their upcoming live tour and album.

What made you decide to do this project?
Jesse and I were sitting in a bar in Dublin late at night, and after a few Guinnesses the conversation turned to country music. Suddenly it seemed like a good idea to try making our own country album….don’t ask me why! Of course, what we ended up with isn’t strictly country, but we’re really proud of it all the same.

How did you round-up all the members for the recording of the Mt. Desolation record?
Part of the main motivation for making the record was to have a chance to get a few friends together who we’d always wanted to play music with. It was really very loose – we got a core band together for the basics (drums, bass, etc) and then it was a case of asking anyone else who we fell into conversation with in the couple of weeks before going into the studio. Or if anyone was in town and dropped by the recording session, they tended to get roped in to do some singing, foot-stamping, or whatever.

Does the term supergroup add to the pressure of making a good record?
We never thought of it as a supergroup. It was always very much Jesse and myself at the middle of things, and that meant that there wasn’t a whole quagmire of band politics to negotiate. There’s a pretty wide range of people involved, but there was never the slightest hint of one ego being bigger than the next or anything. It was just fun and enthusiasm all the way.

Working with so many other musicians, is it hard to agree on things?
Again, Jesse and I definitely did any worrying that was required when it came to that sort of thing. I’m sure we didn’t agree on everything, but since we recorded so much of the album live, if there were conflicting ideas kicking around we could just try it though both ways a couple of times and see what stuck.

A lot of musicians appear on the album, who will make it to final bootcamp stages – or the live tour next month, as it’s better known?
Well, inevitably quite a few people are busy with their other bands – Tom is making a Noah record, Winston is touring with Mumford and Sons, Pete Roe tours with Laura Marling, John and Ronnie both live in America which is most unhelpful of them…and so on. But we’ve got a gang of brilliant musicians on the road. Fimbo, who did the drums on the record, is taking a break of ploughing fields and bringing in the harvest to come on tour; John-William Scott is playing bass – J-W played a fantastic guitar solo on a song that didn’t make the cut, so it’s great to still have him involved; the wondrous Jessica Staveley-Taylor, whose vocals are a big part of the record, is with us to remind us what a proper singer sounds like; and the annoyingly handsome Phil Renna is trying to play Tom Hobden’s fiddle parts and Pete Roe’s organ parts at the same time, which is a lot to ask of any man.

What songs or artists inspired Mt. Desolation?
Hmmm. Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, The Band, Bruce Springsteen, Gillian Welch. Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Dharma Bums’ was a big one, not least for the band name. Probably a load of others. We didn’t set out to emulate anyone in particular, but there are definitely a few influences in there.

How was it different working with Mt. Desolation than with Keane?
It was refreshing not to have the pressure of making an album that you know people are going to hear and pass judgement on all over the world – not that I’m complaining about that! But to able to make a record not even knowing whether it would get heard by anyone outside the studio was refreshing. I learned a lot from it too.

Did you try anything totally new on this album that you never would have done with Keane?
Keane is a pretty open-minded and experimental band, so I don’t think I’d ever rule anything out for us. One big thing I’ve learned from doing Mt Desolation is that I find it easier to write when I don’t think anyone’s going to pay much attention to the results. It was also pretty inspiring to work with such talented musicians. No one has more faith in Keane’s ability to make great music than I do, but we’ve never claimed to be technically amazing musicians. Playing with the Mt D gang definitely made me feel I needed to improve my piano chops pretty sharpish! I think I just about held my own in the end.

Your blog is updated frequently, how important is it to interact with your fans?
It’s vital, and brings us a lot of pleasure. People have been so good to us, which you can never take for granted. The whole record has been so much fun to make, the few shows we’ve done so far have been totally joyous…and I think people respond to that enthusiasm with enthusiasm of their own.

Mt. Desolation started life in Dublin, are you excited to return to the scene of the crime in September?
Oh yes. Dublin is undoubtedly the spiritual home of this band. Keep us away from the black stuff though..

Is this a one-album project, or should we expect more from Mt. Desolation in the future?
I think we’ll find it hard to resist getting everyone together again for another record. But who knows? It has to be fast and fun and be about the joy of being together in a room and making music. We don’t want anything more than that.

The band’s self-titled debut album comes out October 18th on Island Records, and they’ll play Whelan’s in Dublin on September 10th.

Related posts:

  1. Live: Mt. Desolation at Whelan’s
  2. Interview: Amy MacDonald
  3. Interview: The Dutchess and the Duke
  4. Interview: James Vincent McMorrow
  5. Interview: O Emperor

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