The Molochs: Seeing the Light of Day
By Chris Camargo
“Tumultuous.” said Lucas with the tape recorder rolling on the patio of Xioa on Sunset Blvd across from The Echo. Its post sound check, but pre doors of The Molochs last show of their residency and I sit with Lucas Fitzsimons at a small table with the rest of the band just across from us (except Ryan Foster, the tall guy on the cover of the album America’s Velvet Glory). We were talking about the origin of the band’s name.
“It comes from the middle section of [Allen] Ginsberg’s poem Howl…I remember reading it and the name and the idea stuck out for me,” said Lucas.
There was also no deep moment of self-reflection or acceptance over what he would have to give up pursuing music, as one myth maintains. “It wasn’t something I thought about. It’s a cool idea after the fact, I didn’t know what I would have to sacrifice. I was just doing it.”
The only thing Lucas anticipated was the esoteric quality of the name, “I wasn’t that happy about it because I knew it would be a name that people would always ask about…It’s a thing you forget. A month later and you don’t think about it. It’s something you have to do and once you’re done you’re ready to move on.” So let the guys move on. It’s just a really cool, deep literary reference, stick-in-your-brain kind of name.
But when the conversation turned to the album and amid everything being said, it was the word, ‘tumultuous’ that hit with real significance. This sentiment was coming from a man who was finishing up a monthly residency at The Echo, seeing a new album receive four stars from Rolling Stone Australia, starting a US tour at SXSW, and then heading off to tour Europe in the spring. You see, the thing is, up until early summer 2016, a realization had come over the band, especially Lucas, that America’s Velvet Glory might never see the light of day.
The Molochs first album, Forgetter Blues came out in 2013 and despite its quality, didn’t garner the attention it deserved. This being an unfortunate, and all too common story about LA’s music industry. It also left the band in a state of transition and rearrangement. One guitarist left for London and another, Ryan Foster, joined (Note: Mateo, who left for London came back to the US and is back in the band). Lucas finished college and had to decide which path he was going to commit himself toward: Graduate school or music. “If I’m not going to actually try and do a band than there’s no point in doing it and I should go to school, but I didn’t want to go to school, so it had to be the band.”
Still the problem of being independent artists remained. They had to invest in themselves and ask others to invest in the album. This lead to time crunches during recording sessions where, as Ryan described, “We recorded 15 songs total in four days…not enough money and it got hectic.” He, like Lucas, summed the experience of recording in one word: “Bleak.” Which compiled alongside this three year period described by Lucas as, “Mostly just writing songs and making demos and shit like that, but not really progressing any other way,” the fact that they are still a band is in itself a small miracle.
In a real way, the record became its own accomplishment. “It felt good to finish but we weren’t signed yet so that‘s when the work began of shopping the album. So at that point, for all we knew, no one would ever pick it up. We didn’t know if it was going to come out. We just needed to do it. Because before that we were – instead of making the album – waiting to get signed so that we could have a label pay for it.” It was a time that could be summed up by altering a lyric to one of Lucas’ favorite songwriters, Townes Van Zandt, ‘They were just waitin around to get signed.’
The change came when a member of the Crystal Antlers, who recorded the album, gave a heads up to their label’s [Innovative Leisure] higher-ups about The Molochs’ new album and that they should give it a listen. It was then that The Molochs found a home.
Cut back to the patio at Xioa in Echo Park – which, by the way, if you’re in need of a snack before a show the small fries ($3.85) are enough for two people and good as fuck with the curry mayo – and the doors have opened and the last night of the residency is about begin. I find I still need to remind myself that this is the first time these guys have done anything like this. The tour that they are going on after SXSW is the first one as a band. The newness of the whole Molochs universe is seen in the newest member, Jose, who plays acoustic guitar, meeting the band manager on the patio just that night. Lucas put it, “It’s still so new to us that we’re still trying it out. It’s harder to tame that kind of sound and if it’s gonna sound shitty we don’t want to do it. It’s something we’re just slowly putting in and seeing how it works.” Lucas continued on the change and newness of the band, “[we] keep changing things and that keeps it fun. When I [Lucas] stopped playing guitar it felt like a new band.”
But the imprint of that three year endurance trial remained up until the first night of the residency. When I told Lucas that, if it was my show, I’m such a pessimist that I would think no one would come to something like this, he responded, “That’s exactly where I was at. Before the first night we were kind of like we’ve never done this before. We were like, fuck, let’s hope the other bands show.” It should be clearly stated that Lucas’ particular brand of pessimism is not a self-doubting kind but a product of being an introvert. It is a kind that he and I share. Neither of us doubt the quality of our work or our ability, but we’ve been through the world and have seen it not give a shit about things we’ve put a whole hell of a lot into. “I think some people don’t like my voice,” Lucas said not caring about the superficial criticism, “They think it’s lazy.” When I asked him if he felt any pressure with the recent success of the album, he said, “Back of my head I always thought it was in the cards and everything just feels like its falling into place.” Maybe it’s a sign of an arrogant bastard to think that he should have hit the target on the first try, but I’m the same way. Also, there has to be something in that attitude which kept the band moving through the dark times toward this point.
Its with that same attitude, that there is understanding there is more to learn and be open to in creating music. “There’s the writing which is a private thing – that’s why it was always easy for me with my introverted aspect – but then the live aspect, especially since I stopped playing on stage, is a part that involves everyone…just make people feel some inspiration to do something.”
It’s the honest desire to give something to the listener that initially made me interested in The Molochs. The lyrics, all written by Lucas, come with an authenticity which Lucas nicely phrased as, “It’s the only way I can feel like I’m not bullshitting people.” And that is a major stamp on the whole Moloch sound.
When asked about the comparison to bands like The Kinks or The Byrds he admitted the influence, but stood firm on being a modern band. Mostly it is the clarity of the music that The Molochs found in these older bands (and some more recent ones like Violent Femmes, Gun Club, and Jacobities) that has proved to be most impactful. “Transparent…the songs are really revealed. Other stuff is too muddled, too varied and you can’t hear the words –you get at the core. Those bands did the rock thing while conveying the song clearly, without having a bunch of instrument killing the song.” Their style is based around the importance placed on having their lyrics heard. “You can’t get away with lyrics that you don’t really try on because with our style they’re not going to be buried.” Lucas finished on songwriting with, “There are times when I try to write about something external…it doesn’t feel the same. If feels like I’m writing a term paper, or arguing something. It doesn’t feel the same.”
At this point, we’re about forty-five minutes from show time and the recording gets hazy when a bucket of ice gets poured onto a case of PBR and people show up for free beer. I’m also out of questions. Before getting up from the large white faux leather couch I ask, as a joke, if Lucas had anything to say to Trump and unconsciously he quotes Bob Dylan, “I hope that he dies.” The rest of the lyric is, “and your death with come soon.”
CHECK OUT THE MOLOCHS HERE: https://themolochs.bandcamp.com/