BY MARY LYNN DOMINGUEZ Andy Moholt does a good job of bringing all of the good weirdness Philly has to offer to light. Once a Philly suburbanite intended to become a violin-playing child prodigy, Moholt is now the brains behind Laser Background, which was only made possible by strapping those snobby child prodigy brains to a rocket and sending them into oblivion. These days, Moholt spends his time honing in on his unique brand of psychedelic pop music, crediting early Pink Floyd for sonic inspiration and probably for making attending laser light shows something that’s socially acceptable. At some point in his music-making career, Moholt accepted Philly as the only home base that makes sense, made it a mission to collaborate with other local artists and became well versed in Animorphs. Laser Background’s newest album, Correct (La Société Expéditionnaire), shares a lot of common ground with Pink Floydian weirdness, but with a dancey groove that’s more likely to provoke good vibrations than existential crises. Laser Background are currently touring the United States of America.
PHAWKER: Where are you from?
ANDY MOHOLT: I was born in Philadelphia, and I grew up about 40 minutes away from Philly.
PHAWKER: In the suburbs?
ANDY MOHOLT: Yeah, I’m from a small town called Hatfield.
PHAWKER: Why do you live here now?
ANDY MOHOLT: I moved to Philly about nine years ago to start a band. I started my old band there. I stayed ever since because I love the city. I love Philadelphia, it’s great. I’ve been tempted to move to other places, like New York. I know a lot of people who live there, but it kind of doesn’t make any sense to move there. I like visiting there a lot but the cost of living in Philly is low, and there’s a lot of great artists. There’s a great scene in general. I really have no reason to leave. I have a lot of friends that I’ve made over the years here, and I love it.
PHAWKER: Is there anyone in the Philly music scene who’s blowing your mind right now?
ANDY MOHOLT: Yeah, I would say so. I have a couple of people that I think are really great. I really like that band Sheer Mag a lot. I really like the band Palm. They live in Philly. You could also mention Circadian Rhythms. They’ve been around for a really long time, and I really like them a lot to.
PHAWKER: Cool. You have a pretty specific weirdo/psych rock sound that’s consistent throughout your music. What were your technical skills like before you started making music and what made you want to start making music?
ANDY MOHOLT: Well, I’ve been playing music since I was a kid. I started playing violin when I was like seven or something. I wouldn’t say I was classically trained, but I studied classical music in school growing up, and music was always a hobby for me. I was writing songs back then as total hobby. That’s what music was for me for a long time, it was a hobby. When I was about 19, I decided to start doing it more seriously. As far as my technical skills go, a lot of the stuff I do is self-taught. So I think a lot of my style has developed that way from just teaching myself to do things my own way.
PHAWKER: What inspired you to get to the sound you have now? I definitely don’t hear any violin training, and the style of music you play sounds very purposeful.
ANDY MOHOLT: It definitely is. I definitely have been trying to hone in on a specific sound for a while. Violin doesn’t really factor in there, you’re right. I don’t know. I think it has to do with a lot of the music I was influenced by, like Syd Barrett, he was the original Pink Floyd songwriter. The early stuff is very sing-songy, with kind of like playful quality to it. There’s a bunch of stuff that I got into when I was in my early twenties, I got into the Velvet Underground records, and the early Kinks stuff. I feel like that’s what most people do. I think they kind of regurgitate
their influences in a way that’s specific to them. That’s sort of what I find myself doing. I do like to try to push the envelope. I like to excite myself as an artist. That hopefully can excite other people, that’s the idea behind what I’m trying to do with my stuff.
PHAWKER: Right. So, I saw the video for “Jawbreaker,” and it was pretty terrifying. I thought that it really clashed with the dreamy-synthy-bass-driven music of the song and with the rest of the album, which I wasn’t expecting. Is that contrast meant supposed to be an overarching theme for the rest of the album, or was it just specific to that song?
ANDY MOHOLT: I would say it’s probably just specific to that song, because the other videos that I have being made aren’t quite so jarringly intense. What I’ve been doing for the videos specifically, and I’m pretty happy about this vision, is I’ve been basically picking visual artists that I really like, and sort of just letting them run free with it. For that song, my friend Ross Brubeck is a pretty awesome Philadelphia artist. I approached him about doing a video, and he was just really into that song. I said, “You know what, man? I respect you. I like what you do. So just do whatever you want.” I didn’t see any of that video until it was done already, and I definitely like how weird it is. I think it’s equal parts terrifying and absurd. I like that. I like shaking people up a little bit, so I’m happy about the way it came out. I think that the other videos being made are not so intense, you know? Or at least they’re intense in a different way.
PHAWKER: Your music is well known for being… I’m just going to throw out a bunch of adjectives that have been used to describe it: ‘weird,’ ‘trippy,’ ‘lo-fi’ ‘sci-fi’ and ‘cosmic,’ whatever all of that means. Is it easier for you to write music about personal experiences and anecdotes or to make songs about other universes entirely?
ANDY MOHOLT: Good question. I think I kind of split the difference and do a little bit of both, or try to incorporate both into each other. You know what I mean? A lot of my stuff is about my personal life, or stuff that has happened to me. But a challenge that I’ve been running with lately is trying to write songs that have no pronouns in them. A lot of times in pop songs, there’s a perspective that’s like, “he” or “she” or “you” or “me” or “I.” That kind of stuff. That’s great, because it puts the audience into a perspective like, “Oh, this person is singing to me.” Or it makes them think of the perspective of the singer like, “Oh, this song is about me.” Right? But I’ve been writing these imagistic songs, and there’s a couple on the record that have no pronouns in them. It’s just these imagistic poetry things, and I think that’s an interesting contrast. I’m not sure which one’s easier for me to do, but I like trying to approach it from a few different angles like that.
PHAWKER: Do you know any musicians who do that pretty well?
ANDY MOHOLT: I don’t know. I’m sure other people do it. It’s just an idea that I had myself. I was just sort of thinking about it. I won’t go as far to say that it’s a crutch, necessarily, but I do think that it’s easy sometimes to get lazy with lyrics, so I like to challenge myself. I think it’s important to always vary things, and that’s why I try to do it. I don’t know if I’ve noticed other people doing it or not, or if there are any other examples. I’m sure there has to be, but I couldn’t tell you.
PHAWKER: What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you on tour?
ANDY MOHOLT: I can answer that question for sure. So, there’s this venue in Houston, Texas called Super Happy Fun Land that is none of those things.
PHAWKER: I like where this is going already.
ANDY MOHOLT: I guess maybe it’s a land, but it’s not super, happy or fun. It’s really, really weird. It’s like a big warehouse full of dirty stuffed animals, and huge puppets and stuff. And everybody there is either constantly tripping on psychedelic drugs, or on some kind of spectrum, or both. The first time I ever went there was with my old band, The Armchairs, and the guy who runs sound there says his name is Lorac, which is Carol backwards. Perfectly nice guy, so fucking weird. He kept showing us all of these videos of him performing. He was like, “Do you want to see a video of me performing?” And we were like, “Sure, man.” And it was him wearing a crucifix and covered in either fake blood, or real blood, I don’t know. He had a dulcimer or an autoharp or something, and it was some weird ass shit. He was doing that, and he kept looking at us and being like, “I was promised hash.” We were like, “Dude, none of us promised you hash.” So anyway, that happened, right? And that was like in 2010. For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to play there again. So I brought Laser Background there on our EP release tour last year for when we released Kelly Wisdom, and it was the same guy who was still there. Now his shtick was like, “When you see the little bunny, it means it’s your second to last song. And he had a little hand puppet with a bunny. We were like, “OK…” And then he went to our bass player, and was like, “When you see my rabbit, you can put money in my rabbit hole.” And he had a little cup on the front of his mixing console, and he was like “It’s for tips. It’s for tips, so I can go into town and buy myself new underwear.” It’s a total fucking freak show at this place. Luckily, I think we’re playing Houston again, but we’re not playing such a crazy place. I’m thankful for these psychedelic experiences we had, but I’m probably never gonna play that place ever again. That’s probably the legitimately weirdest thing.
PHAWKER: That’s amazing. I’m so glad I got to hear that story. I’m sorry if recalling it gives you nightmares. What would your Animorph be?
ANDY MOHOLT: My Animorph? I love that question. Oh my god, I’ve thought about this before. Do I have to just pick an animal that I would get trapped in for the rest of my life? You know how that happened to the hawk one and shit? Is it that, or is it just that I can change into whatever I want?
PHAWKER: I don’t know, is that how Animorphs worked? Did you have to be the same animal for the rest of your life?
ANDY MOHOLT: No, no, no. What it was, was if you good at it or whatever, you could pick animals, and once you acquired that animal, you could keep changing to that animal whenever. They could pick any animal they wanted. But the one kid stayed as a hawk for too long, because he liked it, and if you stay as an animal for too long, you get trapped in that animal forever, and you could never change back. So I kind of think that I should answer that question.
PHAWKER: OK, yeah. Your true Animorph. One you’d be fine with being stuck in forever.
ANDY MOHOLT: Yeah, OK. My friend just said dolphin, but I don’t know. Dolphins are cool, but I kind of want to be something completely different than a human. I kind of want to be like an insect or something. I kind of want to be something really small, because I’m really fascinated by size. Or something really big. I think I would either want to be a whale, or an ant. Or something smaller than an ant. Being an ant would suck, because you would be a mindless creature. I think I would want to be a spider. Is that weird? I don’t care if it’s weird.
PHAWKER: No, that’s awesome.
ANDY MOHOLT: I think I would want to be a spider, because I would want to experience what being small would be like. But I wouldn’t want to be another insect, because I would just get eaten by a spider. You know what I mean?
PHAWKER: Yeah, you could totally be at the top of the insect food chain.
ANDY MOHOLT: Exactly. I think I would want to be a spider, because I wouldn’t die right away, but I could experience what it would be like to be a tiny creature.
PHAWKER: That’s a good answer. I wouldn’t want to finally be able to become an Animorph, and then immediately be killed.
ANDY MOHOLT: Yeah! I think spiders are kind of creepy, and it’s not necessarily cute or whatever, but if I had to pick one, I would want to be as different as possible.
PHAWKER: What is the one record that you would save from your collection in the event of a house catching on fire?
ANDY MOHOLT: This record from the late sixties. It’s this guy Antônio Carlos Jobim, and it’s called Wave. My friend recently told me that the way he judges good music or not, is basically by if you listen to it by yourself, or if you put it on at a party, and it passes both tests, then it means it’s great, which I think is awesome. This record is totally that. Jobim kind of, I don’t know if he invented or pioneered, or whatever, Bossa nova, but it’s got that quality to it. I put it on while I’m driving, I put it on at a party, I put it on by myself. It just makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m in a movie, and it’s like everything is a little tinted purple and it’s like, I don’t know. It makes me feel really calm and excited at the same time somehow. That’s one of my favorite albums, that’s definitely the one for me.
Laser Background’s Correction? is out now on La Société Expéditionnaire