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DIGITAL interview: Mountain of Leopards Records – a new breed of greatness

I understand Gangnam Style; I know what it’s meant for and how it’s meant to work.

It’s aimed at my young daughters and I have to listen to it in the car! Damn those new-fangled CD players …

However, it leaves me a little … empty. Like my soul has been removed by some musical specter who steals people’s spirits in a moment of unprotected weakness; leaving nothing but a barren musical wasteland within my memory banks …

Alright, a little dramatic I know, but finding new music to listen to is damn hard work. It’s a bloody battle and frequently it’s nothing short of an unrewarding task.

Sometimes though, just sometimes, you stumble upon something edible within the bubbling cauldron of factory built pop soup, something that reignites your faith in music.

And sometimes, if you’re very lucky, there’ll be a whole bunch of it.

Welcome to Mountain of Leopards Records and their artists.

Katie Schecter

Katie Schecter

Mike Greenstein

Mike Greenstein

Saul Conrad

Saul Conrad

Kevin Haugh

Kevin Haugh

MOL Records say their aim is to “discover and cultivate artists who infuse all aspects of their music with the emotion that motivates them.”

Mountain of Leopards are “drawn to artists who fit the complexities of jazz, classical and other music into traditional styles; lyrics that reflect a serious poetic commitment and voices & playing styles that are deeply expressive and completely original”.

It was Saul Conrad that initially reignited my simmering musical embers, a guy with a distinct voice carrying melodic gems and radiating something quite special. I don’t know about you, but on discovery of the first of Saul’s lyrical offerings, my next step was to dig around his album hoping this wasn’t just a one-off discovery. Well “Blow me down Captain!”; there’s not just the one belter but several … all really quite good indeed. On further investigation I discovered MOL Records … and so this love story really begins …

I don’t know about you, but usually, when I discover treasure, I keep it to myself. Right? Oh no no no no no, not on this occasion, that would be silly behaviour. Here at DIGITAL bungalow we want as many of you as possible to know about MOL Records and their collection of artists Katie Scechter, Saul Conrad, Mike Greenstein and Kevin Haugh.

In order to make that happen I’ve been working with the lovely (and very patient!) Rachel Ament at MOL records for sometime; thankfully, we were lucky enough to put some questions to Katie, Saul and Mike …

Mountain of Leopards Records

Mountain of Leopards Records

There’s a common thread that runs through each of MOL’s artists; distinct voices, natural production and songs that are driven by big melodies. Was it an easy decision signing with MOL?

Katie: There was no question in my mind that I wanted to work with Eli Schwartz and the Mountain of Leopards team. Eli has been a dear friend and collaborator of mine for years. His musical integrity is, and always has been, a force to be reckoned with.

Saul: Yes! It’s not many labels who are deeply passionate about songs that reflect the ideals, struggles, loves and terrors, mixed and impossible emotions of their writers without being tamed for audience accessibility and commercial viability, and who will really commit and invest in work that is really motivated by artistic concerns and vision.

Mike: I found it to be a very easy decision to sign with MOL records because I had never before been offered a record deal and considered it highly unlikely that another opportunity like this would ever happen again for me.

Do you think independent labels are becoming an increasingly dominant force seeing how the music business has taken a spiral downward with regards to earning money from album sales.

Katie: I don’t think there’s any way to determine that for sure. What I do know, with one hundred percent certainty, is that good music dominates. Small or major label, quality always prevails.

Saul: I always have grim faith that the big corporations and interests will find a way to continually profit and dominate the financial rewards of most enterprises, whether or not begun by independent smaller outfits – but this is a mixed bag – big labels will use their muscle to expose valuable work to wider audiences if they can see the financial gains in doing so.

Mike: Personally I think the whole idea of “record label” is in some state of transition or hopefully evolution. I’m not sure of the benefits vs. drawbacks of “indie” labels vesus the big names. That whole part of the business eludes and mystifies me.

As an artist signed to an independent label, do feel more loyalty, support and commitment from a recording career POV.

Katie: I like to think of the expression: “Big fish in a small pond.” Working with a smaller label is inevitably a more concentrated and supportive environment for the artist.

Saul: I’m sure it all depends on the situation—they are certainly more prone to see artists they believe in through rougher times.

Mike: I would assume that a smaller label has the ability to give specialized attention to their artists more so than a larger label with many artists to represent. I am just making assumptions. I dont know very much about the record business. This is still new to me and i might have more insight after the album is released.

What’s your song writing process? Lyrics/melody first, or does it simply come from playing around with a few chords.

Katie: It is always different, and always a pleasant surprise. Sometimes I’ll think of a phrase that sounds cool and it will perpetuate an entire song in my head. Other times, I’ll deliberately sit down with the guitar, come up with a chord progression, write the melody over it, and lyrics will be the last component. I am constantly jotting things down that I read or hear, it is the one constant in my song writing process; my journals are my songs in book form.

Saul: I write songs with scratch lyrics sort of—whatever comes out as I play with music and melody–and then at the last second before recording final vocals I re-write all the lyrics. Although sometimes I’ll have a lyric in my mind that I build a song around.

Mike: Usually I find chords and then a melody. After I will fit lyrics in to it. Sometimes it all comes together with divine inspiration. Other times I will rework an intrumental that has been kicking around for possibly years. Sometimes I just hit record and scramble out the first chord changes that fall from my hands. Trying too hard to write a song can pull a mental muscle for better or for worse.

Do your songs change much from conception to becoming the finished recorded version?

Katie: In my recording experience thus far, certainly not, but I don’t know how I’ll feel three records from now.

Saul: They’re unrecognizable! Even to me…

Mike: The songs definitely took on a more radio friendly and crafted sound when recorded at a real studio with real production and engineering as oposed to me recording on my lap top with the internal mic and garage band.

Between writing, recording and touring, what brings you most satisfaction?

Katie: It’s all a complete fucking dream… I have the best job in the world. While all three give me satisfaction, recording provides the most inner peace because it is the least fleeting and most tangible.

Mike: I like writing songs when inspiration is flowing. Recording at home can have it’s fun times but recording in world class studio with skilled production/engineering people and world class studio musicians helping out was one of the greatest experiences of my life so far. I have yet to tour but i anticipate it to be very exciting and rigorous.

What song do you wish you’d have written?

Katie: “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” – Bob Dylan

Saul: Hickory Winds. Purple Rain. The Adagio in Mahler’s 10th Symphony.

Mike: I wish I wrote nice old tune called “I didn’t know what time it was”….I wish I wrote all the tunes of my musical heroes … the list goes forever

What’s been the biggest influence on the direction you’ve taken?

Katie: Probably, God.

Saul: Different artists at different times. Writers like Blake and Joyce, musicians like Elliott Smith, Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons, and Mahler.

Mike: The biggest influence is to find ways to fuse rock music with other styles without losing grounding in that rock ‘n roll vibe…..if you know what I mean (I don’t)

What song from your album means the most to you?

Katie: They all mean the most and nothing at all. The song that means the most to me is the one that means the most to you.

Saul: Loopy Su. It really reminds me in a deep way how I truly feel about someone I really care about, feelings I can’t always see in all the depth that exists deeper in my mind, but sometimes do.

Mike: Squirrel zoo has optimism so it will hopefully generate positivity in the world. Sonny’s surfin’ has an instrumental inspiration unfettered by lyrics and neurosis

Best lyric of all time and why?

Katie: It is literally hurting my brain trying to answer this question. I’ll just go with Abbey Road, The Beatles: “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” It’s one of those lines that will
give you goose-bumps time and time again. But seriously, answering this question is like asking a parent if they have a favourite child…

Saul: Townes Van Zandt’s “Highway Kind.” With perfect use of reality, and common words as a complete, whole, re-purposed system, a metaphor, for an incredibly delicate, deep, strong, but tenuous, majesty of feelings that seem almost like they exist here on earth as a shadow from their true self in another place. [Editor’s note: we didn’t want to mention to Saul that, technically, he didn’t actually answer the question – he seemed so wrapped up in the music we didn’t want to disturb him!]

Mike: Jimi Hendrix “We are all bold as love”…. why? LOVE silly

Unfortunately Kevin Haugh was away and unable to answer our questions but be sure to check out his work too.

Hope to see you over in the UK sometime.

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