Words by Peter Tanski
Following up 2020’s sonically shamanic “As If”, Kathryn Mohr challenged the very nature of the instruments at her disposal. Challenging them to become something more, something other. At times a stark, near Coldwave style is beaten back by organic guitars that are distorted by sheer volume alone (or so it would seem). Trauma, found objects, the ephemeral nature of being, and the marriage of the synthetic with the organic are captured starkly, with an assist from Madeline Johnston of Midwife. That is a slight glimpse of Holly.
Off Shelf: Holly begins with a truly off kilter one minute instrumental that slyly burrows beneath the skin. An apt choice. Was the intention to forewarn the listener in any manner?
Kathryn Mohr: The opener has some strange stuff going on in it microtonally, something I never intended to synthesize. I think that gives it an uncanniness that I was drawn to. My intention is always to take the listener somewhere else.
OS: This EP is more experimental than As If. The Indie/ Dream Pop elements you had worked with in the past are present, but focused through a prism of a new context. What spurned on this next wave?
KM: I am constantly experimenting with different methods of songwriting. I spent more time with my guitar for this EP. I like when releases are distinct and explore new territory, so I let myself go wherever my mood takes me, no rules, no limits.
OS: The song “Holly” is the most sparse on the EP. Was that choice based upon the lyrical content?
KM: The guitar part of “Holly” was written months before the lyrics/vocals. I had to set the song aside and not listen to it for a time. It was a strange song to write and made very little sense to me until the lyrics were added, then something clicked.
OS: I am ultimately left feeling a massive sense of loneliness and desperation for a spiritual center by the entire collection of songs. Was this the spirit in which it was written?
KM: Most of the songs were written in 2021. I was feeling pretty disoriented and far away at the time.
OS: “Glare Valley” has captivated my subconscious. There is a singular grit to that lithe, distorted guitar and deeply modulated vocals. Also a spare track. I am stirred by a sense of Belly, The Breeders, and 7 Year Bitch writing music together.
KM: I haven’t listened to any of those bands. A lot of the music I listen to is pretty different than the music I make.
OS: The dichotomy of the overdriven guitar bombast and the pulsing, dark ambient swirls feel, often, as lyrical as the vocals. What inspired these choices?
KM: Music technology moves incredibly fast. There are so many sounds and expressions that can come from modern synthesizers that have not been discovered. I like to stop and stretch an instrument to make sounds it would not obviously make, in the way great musicians have extracted otherworldly, endless sounds from the electric guitar. The sounds of any instrument can be infinitely warped, you just have to spend a lot of time with it, and work with it in ways that are not obvious or expected.
OS: What, do you feel, are the main strengths of Holly?
KM: Holly is an expression; for some it will be effective and for others not. My view of my own music is incredibly muddled, so I try not to dwell. Analyzing strengths and weaknesses feels irrelevant to my process. Finding my next medium of expression and creating more is always my focus.
OS: How had Madeline Johnston [of Midwife] helped guide the execution of this recording?
KM: She could hear so many things in these songs that I could not with my own ear. Her sense of creative direction was contagious and led us into wonderful sessions of experimenting with radios and pedals laying around her studio. She brought another dimension to the songs. It was a dream to work with her and I am infinitely excited about her music, production and recording work. She is a force of nature.