Listen to this track embedded below by British singer songwriter Molony. It’s an ode to the love-hate relationship to one’s hometown, “Northern Town” as taken from his eponymous album, Molony, an 11-track record you can download for FREE.
Getting out of a dead end town is a huge theme in pop music, and is a part of the Hero’s Quest as demonstrated in myth and literature, too. It’s certainly been lived by some of our greatest musical acts, from any number of depressed towns and lifeless suburbs in the United States, to the industrial corners of Europe.
There is a certain inertia which can come about when one stays too long in one’s home town. The longer you stay, the harder it is to leave. When it comes to the matter of hometowns, you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate that. And that’s what this tune is about; succumbing to the familiar, while still experiencing a curiosity for the wider world at the same time. But, when it comes to this theme, getting out of the place you’re from is often a tricky pursuit. “I love you but I hate you” sums up the complexities of this quite nicely.
I spoke with Molony about this song, about hometowns, about singer-songwriters, and about making his record for the sheer joy of turning on new listeners.
The Delete Bin: This song, “Northern Town” sounds like it could be autobiographical. But, it seems to me that you’re talking about a human tendency to stick to what’s familiar. What’s the ratio here between the personal and the observational in this song?
Molony: Most of my songs have some relevance to my feelings or events in my life. I was born in Ashington, Northumberland. Ashington is a dying town in the North East of England. It only existed because of a [mining] pit, that was closed down in the late 1980s and now it has nothing to sustain it. It is a place of high unemployment and the social ills that come with deprivation.
At the time of writing ‘Northern Town’ (and it was written over a decade ago), I was teaching at a school in Ashington. As a result of going away and then coming back again, I was able to see it with a sense of perspective that had been missing during my childhood. The children in the school were restricted and blighted by unemployment, low expectations, and mental illness. So, I was writing it for them as well.
The song also expresses my contradictory feelings about my home town. Ashington, like so many places in northern England, was laid low by the decimation of manufacturing in the 80s. It has never recovered, and I do feel anger that it probably never will. I think it’s a song suitable for anyone who understands that small-town feeling and that’s why I wrote ‘the name escapes me/ It don’t matter anyhow’. I also think that working-class kids tend to lack the self-confidence of their middle-class peers.
DB: You recorded this song, and the album on your own and made it available on your own, too. In the light of the themes in the song, how much does the Internet change this need to leave one’s hometown, in an age of free uploads, and creating music in bedrooms, rather than in the Big City?
M: I love the fact that I can write and record a song and make it available for anyone interested within minutes. Geographical location is less important in that respect I suppose. I was always recording though, and I have dozens of 4-track tapes from the pre-Internet/digital recording era. They sound muddy and loose in comparison, but they retain a certain charm.
I write these songs primarily as diary entries or little ‘markers’ of a time and place. It is always great if someone shows an interest in listening to them, even if they dislike what they hear. There’s so much small-scale music on the Internet now that it’s hard to draw attention to what you’re doing.
DB: Your music seems to evoke a certain period in musical history that celebrated the singer-songwriter, the individual musical point of view, arguably more so than today. Do you agree that there was a golden age when it comes to singer-songwriters?
M: The music that I always return to is largely melancholy and melodic. I’m thinking The Beatles (and McCartney in particular), Leonard Cohen, Neil Finn. I have a sweet tooth, though, and I’m a sucker for well-written, catchy, lightweight pop. In some respects, there probably was a ‘golden age’ when songwriters produced something fresh and new, but it’s harder to do something original in that form now. I don’t think that I can do anything massively original, but I hope that I can catch a moment in a melody or turn of phrase.
DB: You learned to play guitar when you were 16, and started writing songs right away. When did you start playing live?
M: I don’t play live, but did do for a year or so in 2007/2008. Ultimately, I became disillusioned with the indifference that all musicians were getting in the places I was playing. I now write and play for myself.
DB: Tell Me about your other project, The Kessler Boy.
M: The Kessler Boy is used for my experimental sounds. These are less conventional ‘songs’ based on loops and fragments. I created an album of these experimental tracks called Trees. I do experiment with sounds under the name The Kessler Boy, but ultimately I look to express emotion and thoughts rather than produce music that is removed from personal experience. Melody is important. Whatever the genre or structure of a song, I think that I look for a hook or melodic drift that resonates with me.
DB: You’ve written and recorded this song and the album just for the sheer joy of doing it. Have you ever considered selling your music?
M: I still buy CDs and records, and I belong to a generation used to a physical product. Perhaps one day I will package up my songs for posterity. Right now, I just want people to listen to what I write. I understand the argument that putting a price on something gives it value, but the thrill for me lies in the thought that maybe someone will download these songs and one day when they press shuffle a Molony song will come up. I’d love it if one of my songs could prompt them to lift the iPod from their pocket to check who the artist is on the screen.
For more information about, and to hear more music from, Molony, be sure to check out Molony on MySpace.
Also, investigate the Kessler Boy on MySpace.
And of course – download songs by Molony for free at Soundcloud.com.