INTERVIEW: Laser Background

Kelly Kirwan

Andy Molholt’s brand of psych-pop is unexpected and infectious. Taking the name Laser Background for his solo ventures, Molholt’s recent single “Jawbreaker” intertwines lingering, space-age synths with lilting choruses that’ll turn your world into a dreamscape. Turns out Molholt, the man, is just as intriguing and mind-bending as Molholt, the musician. Answering the phone for our interview he said, “I just got really deep and heavy with my landlord, especially on what’s going to happen this century.” What came next were questions of eternal consciousness, kick-ass bands and influences, and his approach to music and the Laser Background platform. It was both trippy and timely—words that I expect could be used for his upcoming EP, Correct. Dive in below and get to know Laser Background’s vibe and philosophy.

ThrdCoast: When did you first become interested in music?

Andy Moholt: That’s a really good question. I was actually really into acting for the beginning half of my life, and thats what I thought I wanted to do, but my dad got me this shitty Yamaha keyboard from the '90s—and I actually use great Yamaha keyboards now from the '80s—but this had a four track recorder built in to it, and I was just curious and fucking around. I guess the first instrument I played was violin in school, and, I don’t know why, if I thought it was lame or I wasn’t into it but I tried to quit immediately.

But I didn’t really take [music] seriously at all until I was like 21, it was just a hobby that I enjoyed, and I think I actually got cast in musicals because I was musically inclined, but then ultimately I exited from acting. Actually, this is pretty cool, my family is from Hungary, and my mom’s half brother who died before I was born, I never got to meet him, but I’m named after him—my middle name is Balazs—I was gifted upon his death his guitar, and you know, my sister’s boyfriend taught me some chords. Also of note is that I recently inherited another of his guitars! This one was hiding in Paris at a family friend's house, and I discovered upon bring it back to the States that it is a seven string Russian guitar. My friend is currently fixing it up for me.

TC: That’s so cool! And how has your musical style changed?

AM: I guess in a weird way it's reverted back to my original state. I’m really influenced by video game music, I loved playing video games, and sometimes, you know, I wonder what my life would be like if I grew up in the forest, just away from pop culture [laughs]. But, like Super Mario/Super Nintendo—Koji Condo is incredibly clever I think, and just those songs you can hear again and again on a loop. But, my dad’s a scientist and my mom’s a veterinarian and they didn’t really play other music for me, it was like Koji Condo and John Lennon [laughs]. Like, I would hear Bruce Springsteen if I went to Kmart or something, but I didn’t have a computer until I was 12 and I didn’t have cable either actually—and maybe this is just the romantic part of me realizing this, but we’re literally the last generation to have that.

TC: Absolutely. We kind of touched on this earlier, but where did you come up with Laser Background? What’s the story and concept behind it?

AM: Well, I guess my original stoned concept for Laser Background was that we are all influenced, for better or worse, by our early childhood. You know, “the sponge of our youth,” and obviously we’re affected by nature vs. nurture but I think nurture has a really big fucking part of it.

TC: When did you move to Philadelphia?

AM: I moved to Philly the summer of 2006, and I moved here specifically to start a band, with Michael Chadwick, who is absolutely to this day my musical soulmate. It was a band called The Armchairs.

TC: Has living in Philly affected you as an artist at all?

AM: Philly influenced me pretty much only in the good friends that I’ve made here. The scene has been kind of transient, and that’s not me dissing it, because it’s actually pretty diverse. But you had Dr. Dog, who sort of paved the way for psych-revival, there were all these bands that were psych-pop and they’re kind of gone now. I actually kind of feel like I’m an outlier in the city almost.

TC: How is writing and performing independently different for you as an artist?

AM: I love collaborating with people and I do it pretty often. I really like playing the songwriter or the conceptual person or just being a player in someone else’s machine, but it’s a little lonelier, I would say, which is not necessarily a bad thing. When I first started writing songs I was sort of terrified of being a songwriter. I didn’t feel comfortable writing drum parts and bass parts and, essentially, I would rely on other people to do those. And it was important for me to grow as an artist in that way.

TC: Who influences you as an artist?

AM: Andy Kaufman—one of my biggest influences, and I’ll say The Kinks or the The Velvet Underground. More contemporarily The Unicorns from Montreal, and Brian Eno, his early stuff like Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain, that stuff’s my shit. Oh, and Ween—one of the best bands ever.

TC: From perusing your Facebook page I saw you listed Ray Bradbury as one of your influences, is that true?

AM: Oh, very true. Specifically because that book [Something Wicked This Way Comes] is crazy. The concept behind Laser Background originally was mixing childhood with the psychedelic, and figuring out existence, that sort of thing—which actually had a lot to do with this album. And that book is basically about crazy immortal carnival people that use a carousel to play backwards music and brainwash everyone. So I had read that book and it kind of ties in with this idea, “time dictates all humanity,” and I think we’re really bound by time in a way that we don’t understand. Like, you and I having a conversation that started 20 minutes ago that we cant undo, and time being on a linear spectrum for humans... I’m going on a tangent here, but, we’re the same people that we were when we were children, just our bodies have changed.

 photo: Gerard Marcus

photo: Gerard Marcus

TC: How would you describe your sound?

AM: People ask me that all the time, whenever you’re in a band or make art in general. And with the visual it’s a little easier, because you can look at it, and I kind of want to say, I don’t know what do you think I sound like? Not to you, of course, just in general. But, hmm, “what do I sound like?” Here’s my answer: I hope that I sound like something vaguely reminiscent but also new. I want to give people a little piece of something they can hold on to and then yank it away from them. I think people are actually really lazy and it pisses me off. I don’t sit down and say, I’m going to make this type of song, I actually never do that. And a genre is necessary I guess, I actually had to write my own bio, which I really didn’t want to do, but I said “lo-fi sci-fi” which I thought was kind of funny. I mean, it is what is.

But, you know, there are so many options right now and technology is so crazy and I think it’s interesting to fuck with that. So Carlos and Julian from Ava Luna, who I’m serendipitously very good friends with, we worked together—and I’m always trying to be one step ahead of myself—and we recorded in Georgia in a cabin, and I wanted to intentionally limit myself, and give us a framework and work within that.

TC: That’s interesting, because I feel like so many people are trying to add as much as they can and cross over, and you’re being creative by working within a limited structure.

AM: Yeah, I think that’s the problem with our culture, constantly being rewarded for bullshit—like, you put out a tweet and say four people like it, and you think, oh cool! But it means absolutely nothing! And that’s the problem with the internet, it’s amazing and it exists but I feel like it’s Pringles, “once you pop the fun don’t stop.” And we see everything as being fixed, but... everything is this flickering candle you have to appreciate while its there, and I think that makes the best art.

Thats my philosophy in life. I’m not a nihilist but I’m definitely like, “fuck it” [laughs]. Being nihilistic is a problem because its like, no rules, and you should be a good person but at the end of the day you’re just going to die. Sorry, I’m a dark person [laughs].

TC: What was the inspiration for "Jawbreaker?"

AM: The impetus behind "Jawbreaker" is—well, it’s an existential song about a really shitty situation I witnessed with a roommate of mine, that was dear friend, in a horribly toxic relationship with someone who was taking advantage of them. And when you’re in a relationship you make compromises in ways that you don’t even understand, which ties into what I’m saying about time. Life is too short. If you’re in a miserable situation you’ve got to be the one to change it. And I went through an intense relationship, the person was awesome but... if you’re violating aspects of your personality that are detrimental to your life you have to change it and you have to change it for the better. You know, eternity is a human invention, and eternal love we’re sold on since youth, and I think people experience it sometimes but it’s one in a billion. I don’t know, I’ll probably fall in love in the next three years [laughs].

TC: It’s true though, because when you’re in a relationship with anyone—platonically or romantically—you see them through a filter.

AM: Yeah, absolutely, it’s any kind of relationship. It’s funny, maybe in a way that's what being in a relationship is—even friendship or a working relationship.

TC: Were you involved in the music video at all?

AM: Oh, you know, that video was my friend Ross Brubeck, and I basically just said I trust you as an artist to do whatever you want. I like picking artists that I already know and trust and saying okay, you’re going to make something cool, why don’t you take it and run with it. Like, my friend Greg O’Connell directed my new video called "Tropic of Cancer". That is fucking crazy, it's like a 3D full immersion on your iPhone, its going to come out sometime in the next few weeks.

TC: So what did you think of the video after you saw it?

AM: It’s fucking weird, but I like it. I like weird stuff, and on the one hand it’s really serious seeming, especially in the beginning with the girl, and that hand reaching up towards her mouth, but then you have this guy spitting toothpaste into a ghost cup, and okay, that’s absolutely ridiculous [laughs]. But I’m a ridiculous person and I like art imbued with a sense of humor sometimes—art that understands life is frivolous.

TC: Do you have a favorite venue?

AM: There are so many factors, but to be honest, Johnny Brenda’s. I’ve played there more than anywhere else, I’ve played with a bunch of my other friends there, and it’s a home away from home. I’d be remiss not to say it, they’ve just been so good to me. I feel lucky to play there, it’s the best place. And maybe the old warehouse space we lived at in Philly back in like 2009 called The Ox.

TC: What are your goals for the future?

AM: My goals for the future are to do the things that will make me happy and bring me ultimate fruition as a human while helping as many people I can. I care about people. I care about my neighbors, my friends... and you know, my dad was really involved in environmental science and Toms River, and what happened in Toms River, New Jersey, was all these chemicals leaking into the water and everyone got crazy brain cancer and my father was one of the leading people that went in there and said, "this is fucked up." But then I weirdly rationalize it, like everyone needs music—not that everyone needs my music, of course, that’s super pretentious—but like, I make very specific shit that maybe people aren't going to like at all. But if I can succeed in doing my thing and having fun while simultaneously helping people as an artist... yeah, that would be it.