The quiet world of Moomin

Feature by Daniel Jones | 03 Feb 2016
  • Moomin

Moomin releases his long-awaited second album, A Minor Thought, this month – nets at the ready

It feels wrong to big up Sebastian Genz too much. Here's a guy whose inherently modest approach to making music now extends as far as the name of his second album as Moomin, landing on Smallville this month.

That approach makes A Minor Thought much less a focus on the black keys and much more a quiet expression of ideas. "I like to keep things low-key," says Genz through poor signal on an outbound train from Berlin. "I like to share my ideas, but I don't like to shout them. I've never been the type of person who relies on endless praise, recognition or massive amounts of attention around what I do. Everybody expresses themselves in a different way, of course, and music is the core of my expression. I feel most comfortable when quietly working away and that's why I consider this record to be a minor thought."

Starting to get a feel for the personality behind Moomin, it comes as no surprise that both this album and his last effort, The Story About You, were never planned by the man himself. Having met Julius Steinhoff and Just von Ahlefeld at various events in Hamburg around 2008, Genz started plying them with all manner of tracks with no real intention of shaping them together into a collection. 

"You have to trust your own handwriting"

"Smallville really came up with the idea for both albums," he explains. "Basically, I just make music. As long as I'm being honest with myself, that's the most important thing; you have to trust your own handwriting. This has never changed for me, and it never will. I don't work with deadlines or with a concept of how something should sound at all. I passed the guys a collection of tracks that I felt comfortable with and they picked their favourites before helping to put them all in some sort of logical order."

In terms of "handwriting", one of the clearest signatures of the Moomin sound is certainly deft, twinkling piano lines, found frequently throughout his back catalogue. When gently pressed for an answer on the spot, Genz cites jazz composer Bill Evans as a key source of inspiration. "I love his work more than many other pianists'," he says. "Not even for sampling, it just inspires my approach.

"All the tracks for A Minor Thought were recorded in my studio. I'd love to be able to work while on the road, but it's not possible for me to get the same effect using just a computer. I need my gear. As well as the samplers – this time around I've been getting a lot of use out of my TR drum machines. In particular, I love the 909 kick, the 808 toms and the 606 hats. Recently, I have to admit I've fallen in love with the Elektron Rytm. Also never underestimate – which is where I pulled the opening seaside shore sample from."

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There's no doubt plenty of the tracks on A Minor Thought will be played out to dancefloors the world over, but part of the beauty of Moomin's compositions is that they are also innately sofa-ready. More than that, he has a knack of generating hooks that sound so familiar on first listen, you swear you've heard them in a previous life  it's an uncanny feeling that not many have the skill and sensibility to pull off.

It's worth mentioning at this point that Genz's modest approach to doing his own thing is most likely the reason he's only been releasing music since 2010. In fact, he's been plugging away at his own productions since the end of the 90s, originally based in his hometown of Kiel, in northern Germany. "I started off with a DOS program called FastTracker, and a little bit of Cubase," he remembers, "but at that time I was more of a music lover, collector and DJ, and didn't take my production seriously until much further down the line.

"Eventually I got myself a sampler  the legendary SP-1200. The sampling time was very, very limited, so I was mainly using it to sample drums. I actually remember working with it on one of my first serious projects early on, which eventually turned into Watermelon. There's also a really nice, old Three Dog Night riff in that track. It must have been one of my first solo releases. After that, I'm pretty sure I used the same sampler for Sunday Moon and You.

"I also used [the SP-1200] on the new album. For the song Loop No. 1, the drums and the piano (high pass) are programmed and sequenced with the SP, and I used the S900 for the piano (low pass). Woman to Woman is a live jam with the MPC1000, the TR-707 and TR-606. I really like to combine different samplers and drum machines. The Elektron Rytm is a more recent addition – I used that for Morning Groove. Everything besides the low pass and the sax sample was arranged and sequenced with it."

Stefan Marx's artwork

As for the artwork this time around, Smallville's Stefan Marx has outdone himself yet again. Considering Moomin's previous covers, it's easy to think of his music largely in terms of black and white, so it's nice to have some warm pastels to drool over. "The cover was created out of a series of crayon drawings,” says Genz. “They were inspired by a trip Stefan took to the South Pacific in 2013, to a very small village called Munda in the Solomon Islands. He saw these patterns on a shirt an old woman was wearing during a Sunday morning church service."

Thanks and praise to that lady, then. Before ending our transmission, Genz reveals he's moving into a new studio over the next month or two, and that there's some good stuff to follow A Minor Thought this year. This includes a few quiet remixes, an October live date in Manchester and the tantalising prospect of an upcoming record with Jules and Just (Smallpeople). Again, there's nothing in his disposition to suggest that these releases will be anything out of the ordinary. It's refreshing to hear such a stone-cold pro seem so carefree in adventure  still exactly as his nickname suggests.

A Minor Thought is out via Smallville on 5 Feb – available here