The ever-evolving Brighton-based Moulettes have been pushing the limits of folk rock since their debut album in 2010. There’s one thing they’ve always retained, and that’s raw ambition. Constantly the band are moving onwards, exploring new sounds and developing new methods of working.
Now their fourth album, [Preternatural], has just been released. It examines the symbiotic relationship we have with nature, yet to society’s detriment this is a bond we so often choose to ignore. Although they have retained many familiar reference points from previous work, they’re now deploying a broader and more urgent sound. “We learned a lot from previous albums, so some stuff was done in a different way,” The band’s drummer, Ollie Austin, tells me. “I think we’ve learnt from this one as well.” Lush triple vocal harmonies, rich strings and a range of unusual instruments are still key components of any Moulettes track. But now an increased focus on intricate arrangements has given the band’s work a distinctive and broad feel.
There’s even some flirtation with electronica elements amongst the twisting splendor of [Preternatural]. But the band has also learnt when to hold back, capably parting the layers to allow key phrases shine through. Where there is exuberance exists restraint in equal measure. “Some of the arrangements are really cinematic now. Everything’s a lot bigger. I think it’s closer to what we sound like live.” It’s an album packed with ingenious melodies, orchestral flourishes and the occasional discordance, but it manages to remain cohesive throughout. There might be dalliances with progressive rock, not least due to its sonic embracing of the majesty of nature, but this a work that can distinguish between indulgence and mystery.
With Austin also taking on guitar and vocal duties, the core trio of the band is completed by Hannah Miller on vocals, cello and guitar, and Ruth Skipper on vocals, bassoon and autoharp. Their numbers swell every time they head out on tour, with artists also drifting in and out for every album release. “We all come from very different musical disciplines. Whilst a couple are classically trained, Jim and I are both self-taught and from a rock background. Hannah brings her great sense of wordplay and melody,” Austin says. For this album they’ve been joined by Raevennan Husbandes, who has augmented their sound with some otherworldly guitar work.
Meeting at school in Glastonbury (Mumford & Sons’ Ted Dwane being a founder member), Moulettes have recently graced the stages of Glastonbury Festival, Bestival, Cambridge Folk, End Of The Road and Green Man. The way Austin speaks about it, the band seem to spend most of their time on the road, playing to both traditional folk crowds and more mainstream audiences. A conservative estimate would put them as entertaining around 30 festivals this year, with as many indoor shows. Their graft is paying off, as their profile and reputation is stronger than ever.
We’ve met in Brighton’s Rose Hill Tavern on the very day Moulettes leave for another lengthy tour, just one part of this tireless live schedule. The bar area around us is stacked with flight cases and equipment, waiting for the rest of the band to arrive and start loading. Enthusiastically he shows the spaces in the venue they’ll be using for rehearsing and eventually recording. Lying empty for several years, this beautiful pub has been given new purpose. After plans to turn the building into a block of luxury flats were almost unanimously rejected by local residents, it’s finally been put to use serving the local arts community.
A renegade art label and collective, Brighton’s Beatabet are now converting the space into a multi-purpose creative hub. For all its love of the arts, the city has been remarkably lacking in venues which truly embrace the leftfield or avant-garde. A collective of over 60 European musicians and multi-media artists, Beatabet have already launched a spring/summer multidisciplinary season at The Rose Hill. It brought the space back to life with an idiosyncratic mash of installations, performances, dance and live music. These range from their own in-house chat show to an automaton glass harmonica built from hi-fi turntables, to experimental improvisation and an art show in their toilets by local artist Jim Sanders. The venue has become a social hub for the city’s wider creative network, whilst also offering affordable access to space and equipment. It’s a fitting new home to a band bursting with talent and inspiration like the Moulettes.
Over the coming months Beatabet will convert the cellars into artist and recording studios, keeping the ground floor as a flexible creative space and occasional venue. The Moulettes themselves are planning to take over a part of this lower level, which should provide an excellent base for rehearsing and recording. Of course they need to return from their mammoth bout of touring this summer before they can fully realise it’s potential. Austin is pragmatic about all the hard work though. “It is fun. But it’s also a necessary thing. If I had to be honest I’d prefer to be writing and recording. That’s when we get to hang out with our friends and be creative.”
The Moulettes’ album [Preternatural] is out now, via C.R.A.F.T. Pop.