Revisiting Myths and Memories of Nambucca Heads with Mark Moldre

Image: Mark Moldre by Jared Harrison – supplied.

Author: Bradley Cork

Within music, the waveforms that penetrate through our speakers to our very being are often inextricably linked with our emotions. This can be centred around times of strife in the day-to-day, in times of joy, or one of the most affecting feelings of all, grief and loss. Mark Moldre’s music draws on his own experiences of these mutable emotions, transforming the personal into the universal.

Mark Moldre is an Australian singer-songwriter who has been playing the kind of folk-rock musings that have likened him to Eels’ Mark Oliver Everett, Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous and even mid-80’s Tom Waits due in part to the junkyard percussion that works so well within his finely tuned songs. His music is well-crafted and delivered but there is also something left of centre about his approach. Mark’s new record Nambucca Fables deals with both the relatable reflections of when a loved one passes away, in Mark’s case his mother, interspersed with the sweet memories that take place within the history you have with someone dear to you.

The developing themes of Nambucca Fables inconspicuously began with the release of Mark’s previous record Fever Dreams. Released in 2019, a promotional rollout and gigs were set to follow the record. Unfortunately, tour plans with frequent collaborator and childhood friend Jamie Hutchings were placed on hold when Mark got the news of his mother’s cancer diagnosis. ‘When Fever Dreams came out – I think it had only been out for maybe four months when mum got diagnosed. When that record came out, I was starting to do interviews, I had a few shows booked, [and] I had to just can the lot and deal with the fact that mum was in hospital.’

Mark was devastated when his mother was diagnosed and subsequently passed away. In the midst of grief and the pandemic, songwriting became a challenging process. ‘I wrote a lot of songs that I chucked and a lot of lyrics that I threw out. When everything is too close, you need a little bit of distance in the beginning to take things in and for it to come back out again.’ Mark described this as a process of taking time to gather differing elements for this record as the grief he was feeling was still too close to the surface. ‘In the beginning it feels like you’re doing gathering work. You’re writing things in a notebook; I was reading lots of mum’s letters and papers. Mum had written these pages of childhood memories, you read and keep those things and along with my own notes, it was like 6 months of where I just gathered.’

The writer’s block seemed to pass with a change of scenery with Mark leaving his usual room where he writes, opting for the beach with a pen and notepad. This is how ‘Every Waking Hour’ was written.

‘[‘Every Waking Hour’] came out fully formed in about 10 minutes. I just wrote all those lyrics in one big stream. It’s maybe the first time I’ve written a song in a conversational manner like that. It felt a bit different to me compared to anything I’d written before and the dam felt like it just broke a little bit.’

This is where the combination of the subconscious meets the humanity of the songs. With lines like ‘I left all your voice mails here on my phone so I can hear you speak when I’m alone’, one can’t help but empathise with such a sentiment. ‘That’s what ended up happening, I think. There are little lines like that where I hope everybody gets it and then there are others that are just my own little dreamy remembrances, once I became more stream of consciousness and less me trying to be precious about it.’

Mark’s relationship with this album hasn’t been easy with the release and promotional rollout feeling too close to the bone at times. Ultimately though it has been refreshing for an artist to be so open and personable with their audience. Many have reached out to Mark following the release of the video for ‘New Suit’ which features Mark’s father in the video. ‘It was sort of off the cuff. My wife and I were driving around in a borrowed Volvo around the country side, filming bits and pieces in the car…and then I just rang my dad and said ‘hey, we’re just coming past, can you just chuck a suit on and grab your accordion, we’re going to drive past, could you just sit on a chair in the driveway and dad was like ‘that’s a bit strange mate!’’ This openness has been something that has made the themes of the record that much more relatable despite Mark’s initial hesitation. ‘I nearly didn’t put it in. I thought ‘is anybody else going to get this or is this only something that I’ll kind of understand?’ but even with people knowing that it was my dad, it seemed to really hit a spot with people which was really nice.’

The compiling of memories and pieces of his mother’s writing took him to the memories of Nambucca Heads, a holiday destination during his childhood and where his mother initially grew up in a family with nine other siblings. ‘It’s become a place where all my childhood memories sit, especially when it comes to grandparents, when you get a long way away from memories and you get older, they start to take on a bit more of a mythical quality. You try and remember things and they become quite fleeting or pixelated before you can grasp it…the memories of Nambucca Heads started to come together.’

When recording this set of songs, Mark enlisted his childhood mates in brothers Jamie and Scott Hutchings as well as Adam Lang and Reuben Wills, friendships that go back nearly 20 years. While the help of dear friends was necessary with completing such a personal set of songs, outside of the emotional framework came practical challenges. ‘It was really good fun but it was convoluted as we were stopping and starting and stopping and starting, and in-between, band members getting Covid and going into lockdowns, the stuff everyone went through. It meant that we did things really differently, we recorded to computer this time around, although we tried to make it sound as organic as possible, we still tried to get as much stuff down live as we could. When it came to getting down to doing little extra bits and pieces and overdubs, we all did that from our homes and we were all sending tracks through of things we recorded to each other.’

A new collaborator to the band was producer Tim Kevin on engineering and additional production duties, whose resume has been stacking up over the past couple of years with local releases. Mark had heard some of Tim’s work and knew he was the right person to collaborate with. ‘It was my first time working with Tim – I hadn’t met him before…I heard The Electorate album and the Restless Leg album and that sealed the deal for me. I thought ‘yep let’s go and do it’ and he’s such a lovely guy.’

With everything that Mark has been through in the ensuing years and continues to go through (Mark’s daughter Bronte, aged 22, was recently diagnosed with a rare type of breast cancer) he seems both resigned to the chaos that life can throw in your direction but also willing to work with it and ultimately through it. ‘I’ve gone the whole hog with this record, mum’s on the cover, mum and dad’s engagement picture on the inside of the record on the lyric sheet; it just felt like the next step to making it a whole personal journey.’ An inspired way of being able to embrace life’s ups and downs can often lead to art that defines how we operate with those in our orbit.

Mark Moldre will play at Petersham Bowling Club on Friday May 26th for ‘Bronte’s Fight – A Fundraiser’ alongside The Finalists, Joeys Coop, The Gin Palace and Infinity Broke. You can contribute to the GoFundMe page for Bronte here.

Additional shows:

Saturday June 24th – Mark Moldre + Restless Leg @ Golden Barley Hotel, Enmore, NSW – Free entry

Sunday July 9th – Mark Moldre & The Finalists @ Link & Pin, Woy Woy, NSW – Free entry

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