8 Aug 2012

An Interview With The Hare & The Moon

I'm going to take a break from my holiday record shopping posts today to share an interview I recently conducted via e-mail with Grey Malkin from the Hare & the Moon.

Here at the Active Listener we're big fans of the mysterious folk outfit the Hare and the Moon. We've reviewed their albums and featured them in our Desert Island Discs and Active Listener Radio sections, but up until now we haven't had the chance to dig in a bit deeper and find out a little more about them.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : The Hare And The Moon are a mysterious bunch. There are some lovely female voices on your tracks that obviously aren't yours, but apart from that the music could be the work of anywhere from one to a hundred people. What are you willing to divulge about the Hare And The Moon, and why the anonymity?

GREY MALKIN : We do prefer to be anonymous for a number of reasons; not least that we think it does add a certain degree of mystery and romance to the band which can be sadly missing in a great deal of music today. Given the amount of social media (and ‘celebrity’ media in general) we tend to know every last detail about each other’s lives and this prevents us from having to use our imagination. I remember when I was younger looking at album sleeves for hours wondering and wondering what the singer or band must be like; this added something special to the music. We need to dream!
In terms of whom The Hare and The Moon are there is just the two of us. I write and record the music and our singer then adds the texts I have chosen, which reflect my interest in traditional ballads and folklore. There is no ‘major’ label or industry aspect to what we do; it’s very much a homemade operation. Even the CD labels and sleeves at Reverb Worship are made individually and by hand.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : How many people know who you really are?

GREY MALKIN : Very few actually. And most of them I’ve never met face to face. It doesn’t feel necessary and to some extent I think detracts from the music. There is a freedom in anonymity; I can make The Hare And The Moon anything I want, unburdened by image or expectation. The downside is you don’t get to see how lovely we look.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : I understand that the Hare And The Moon don't perform live. Is this down to the logistics of putting a live group together or is it to retain your anonymity?

GREY MALKIN : This is mainly due to my overwhelming stage fright and the complexity of reproducing the fearful racket I manage to make on record in a live setting. As the sole musician this would provide me with some immediate practical difficulties and I’ve never been good at working in a band with others. I am not musically trained and, although I know where the notes are on the various instruments I couldn’t tell you or anyone what they are called. If we did perform live there is always the option of masks in terms of anonymity, however I cannot see this happening in the near future. Perhaps I’ll send someone in my place. Who’d know?

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : When did you start writing and recording and what sort of material were you working on at the time? Was it folk material or did your Black Sabbath influences get more of a look-in?

GREY MALKIN : I started recording a few years back, mostly simple, repetitive folk based tunes. So no change there then! The Black Sabbath influences came through later when I realised that there didn’t have to be any rules to what the Hare And The Moon could do, we could be electronic, rock, whatever. Generally though, The Hare And The Moon was the first music I wrote and recorded. I am literally making this up as I go along. 

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : The self-titled Hare and the Moon album from 2009 is very well produced for a self-produced first release (assuming you produced it yourself). Can you tell us a bit about your recording setup and how long you had spent experimenting with the recording software to come up with such a professional result?

GREY MALKIN : Thank you. I would really like to go back and tidy some of it up, for example the ‘interesting’ timing on some tracks and the odd additional unplanned noise, such as the scrapyard near my flat which crops up on ‘The Rolling Of The Stones’. Recording-wise I use a Boss 8 track digital studio. I should probably be using software but I can never figure it out and I like pressing buttons. Most of our vocals are recorded in our singer’s kitchen.
Again, many of the songs were produced as I was learning how to work the technology. I am not one for reading the instructions first I’m afraid. It’s a bit ‘I wonder what happens if I press this...? I actually wouldn’t want the sound too glossy, mistakes are interesting and I like the human aspect of not having a recording studio to iron out all the imperfections. The listeners may disagree.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : "The Grey Malkin" is an even better album (in my opinion). Did you learn things during the recording of the first album that led to this, or is it just a case of greater confidence and more experience?

GREY MALKIN : Thank you again. I learnt a lot about the recording process and became a bit more of a perfectionist, which is both of benefit and makes everything take 10 times longer. I learned more about studio effects which meant things could get closer to the sound I had in my head, namely by turning the reverb up to 10. Some tracks were recorded around the same time as the first album and tidied up with any new discoveries and with the extra time I had, hence the 2010 versions of Rolling of The Stones and Lyke Wake Dirge on ‘The Grey Malkin’. They had always felt unfinished on the first album.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Roger from Reverb Worship has stated that your material represents the best selling items in his catalogue so far. How did you get involved with Roger and how is he to work with?

GREY MALKIN : Roger got in touch shortly after we first posted a few songs to MySpace. He was very encouraging and has done a superb job on our albums and the sleeve work. I feel very loyal to Reverb Worship, Roger is an extremely nice chap and we often recommend albums or bands to each other. He keeps us involved every step of the way.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : What's your mission statement as the Hare and the Moon?

GREY MALKIN : To attempt to do some justice to the old ballads and to provide a background that is sympathetic to the subject matter, which tends to be fairly dark. I don’t want to hear twee versions of these ballads; they are not pretty tales.
Also, to not have self- imposed rules about what The Hare And The Moon can be; we don’t need to be solely a folk band, we can do anything that we want style-wise (cue sound of small fan base disappearing). Our hip-hop folk fusion album will probably remain unreleased, don’t worry.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : What do you see as the definitive Hare And The Moon track up to this point?

GREY MALKIN : I am fond of The Willows and the newer ‘Black Moon’ version of Lyke Wake Dirge. I think they sum up our modus operandi.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : A lot of your material has a very cinematic feeling to it. What film soundtracks have made the deepest impression on you?

GREY MALKIN : In no particular order Lubis Fiser’s ‘Valerie and Her Week of Wonders’, Marc Wilkinson’s ‘Blood on Satan’s Claw’, Popol Vuh’s Werner Herzog soundtracks, The Wicker Man, Goblin’s Susperia, Philip Glass’s Mishima, the Psychomania soundtrack and many, many more.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : We seem to have very similar tastes in film and TV series. A lot of your original material seems to be influenced by or written as a tribute to various cult 60s / 70s films and shows. Which tracks in particular would you say are influenced by certain films / shows?

GREY MALKIN : It is a very deliberate tribute. I love arcane 1970’s children’s TV like Children of the Stones (a snippet from which opens our version of ‘Crazy Man Michael’), Raven, The Owl Service and The Tomorrow People, as well as some of the more adult TV of the time such as The Stone Tape, Penda’s Fen and the BBC’s Ghost Story for Christmas collection. Also, I noticed recently that the theme from the TV series of Dick Turpin (The Richard O’Sullivan version) has a distinct Hare And The Moon feel about it, so probably unwittingly that too. The 1970s just seems to be a creepy time looking back on it, which I must admit appeals to me. Maybe it’s all the browns and oranges in the colour schemes that are unnerving.
Generally the influence of my favourite TV, films and books filters into most of the songs. The film The Innocents influenced our track ‘The Willows’ (hence the steal from the melody) and JM Barrie’s story Mary Rose influenced our song of the same name. MR James influences much of our music as does the writing of Arthur Machen, HR Wakefield, Robert Aickman and Algernon Blackwood. Films such as the Quatermass trilogy, The Haunting and Valerie and her Week of Wonders also permeate much of what we do.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Haute Magie have released a Ltd Ed. cassette version of "The Grey Malkin" which looks beautiful. How did that come about, and what are your thoughts on the recent return to cassettes as collectables?

GREY MALKIN : Haute Magie had said hello on Facebook and I like what they do as a label, their ethos. When I approached Amanda and Silas about releasing a cassette both were enthusiastic and they have done a splendid job, I’m really pleased with how things turned out. I do love the idea of cassettes being around again; I used to buy most of my favourite albums on cassette and have a certain fondness for them.
I would be keen to work with Haute Magie again, they are lovely people.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : You're working on the third Hare and the Moon album at the moment. What can you tell us about it so far? Any finished tracks yet? Any surprises?

GREY MALKIN : Thus far there is more of an emphasis on piano and drones and the songs seem to have got a lot longer, so you can look forward to my one fingered piano playing going on forever and ever. Most tracks are now in the final stages of completion, I shall be posting some soon. I think the mood is particularly melancholy and haunted, more like The Grey Malkin than the first album. There is also a greater range of instrumentation with clarinet, flute and cello. We are getting rather ambitious.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : I'm a vinyl fiend. Have you given any thought to a vinyl release in the future, whether it be a full album or a 7"?

GREY MALKIN : I’d love to release something on vinyl, if there are any kind people willing to facilitate this. Gatefold sleeve included perhaps?

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : Who would you like to collaborate with, given the chance?

GREY MALKIN : Johnny from God’s Little Eskimo has kindly sung on a track on the forthcoming album. I also hope to be working with Amanda Votta of The Floating World. Both have been very kind about The Hare and The Moon and I was delighted when they agreed to contribute.

THE ACTIVE LISTENER : What does the more long term future hold for the Hare and the Moon?

GREY MALKIN : We might just get another album finished before the decade is out! I also have plans for a side project of instrumental music to accompany the reading of Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories.