The Right Ingredients: Makeness on Loud Patterns
We catch up with Kyle Molleson, aka Makeness, to talk Scottish heritage, recording in a 200 year old barn, and his debut record Loud Patterns
Kyle Molleson's debut record Loud Patterns is an album of contrasts. The Scottish electronic-pop soloist has crafted an album of eleven tracks that traverse Molleson's varied and disparate influences, using the 4/4 rhythms of house and techno as a foundation and layering in experimental sounds and pop melodies. It's no surprise, given the divergent nature of the music he makes, that Molleson's own background reflects a similar pattern of juxtaposition.
Molleson grew up on the Isle of Harris in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides where he was immersed in a world of Gaelic culture and Scottish folk music. “I lived there until I was like, 11," he explains. "My grandmother’s from the Isle of Harris, I went to primary school up there until my mum decided to retrain as an art teacher, so we ended up moving to south-west England, and I swiftly lost my accent,” he adds with a laugh.
“My grandad plays bagpipes, that was quite a big thing when I was growing up,” he says. “I was definitely – well, not forced into lessons, but my dad and all his brothers are really quite involved in folk music in Scotland. When I was growing up my dad was in a band called Peatbog Faeries. They’re from the Isle of Skye, and it’s kind of Celtic dance music, with bagpipes. So there were always lots of instruments around at home.”
Molleson started playing in bands as a teenager, but it was in Leeds where he became interested in recording, production, and exploratory electronic music. He moved to Leeds to study electronics at university, describing the course as a hybrid electronical engineering/music degree that combined “digital signal processing, music on the web and stuff like that." Having always been interested in the more experimental side of indie music, his time in Leeds exposed him to the city's thriving electronic music scene, and this confluence of influences underscores the Makeness sound – that, and Caribou's 2010 release Swim, he explains.
“I was always into [electronic music] but didn’t really understand it, or hadn’t really been around a lot of it. I definitely come from a live music background, playing with a band [or] playing with other people, and I think that when I was getting more into club music – electronic music – I was still coming at it as 'how do you make this stuff?'" he laughs. “I remember that album Swim, being really into that, because I could understand it, I guess, coming from a live music background.”
Though Loud Patterns is Molleson's debut LP, he has a series of EP releases behind him that have established his distinctive, left-of-centre approach to dance music, including two EPs on Manchester/London label Handsome Dad Records and the self-released Temple Works EP. Written and recorded over the space of about a year-and-a-half – following Molleson's move to London in 2015 – Loud Patterns stems from Molleson's desire to create a cohesive long-format album from a host of seemingly incongruous elements. “I was definitely aware of trying to make it a piece, rather than a collection of ideas. Which was actually a really difficult thing to do!
“From the outside it looks like it crosses lots of genres, or crosses lots of disparate influences, but I never really listen to music within its genres," he explains. "I respect really good songwriting and really good pop – some of it can be quite bad, but some of it’s amazing – so I really wanted to touch on that [with the album]. I’m also really into the energy and physicality of techno and more industrial sounding stuff. I wanted to try and see if I could make something that had all of those ingredients but still had a voice, and I think part of putting my own voice on it was to try and tie all those things together.”
As well as lending his own vocals to the project, Loud Patterns has further physical ties to Molleson's family and heritage. "My dad lives just south of Edinburgh, in the Borders sort of, and [Makeness] is the name of a ridge, a series of hills near his house," he explains. "We have a studio there, so I made a lot of the music there and it seems like quite a musical place – and I guess when you’re looking for a name for a project, I always find it quite hard. That just popped out: Makeness. I think it’s quite a positive sounding word, and it has a connection to where I’m from.”
The studio Molleson refers to is The Black Byre, a 200-year-old barn that he and his dad renovated and converted into a recording studio. “It’s basically in the middle of nowhere, the nearest neighbours are a mile and a half away. It’s quite easy to lose sense of time there and very quickly get into making grungy techno,” he laughs.
Of the songwriting process for Loud Patterns, Molleson says, “to be honest, I usually start on a laptop. A lot of the tracks [began] in a café on my lunch break from work,” he laughs. “So a lot of the ideas came from that, and then I had to take them home and start putting ideas through different synthesisers." According to Molleson, The Black Byre studio played an integral part in transforming these rough sketches into fully-formed songs.
"It’s just an amazing place to be able to make really loud sounds, which you’re not able to do in London unless you pay loads of money," he explains. “To try and give the album a space, and a bit of reality, I’d re-amp a lot of the sounds that I’d make through guitar and bass amps and then record them in the room. I think it gives it a really special character when you do that rather than using digital plug-ins and stuff to recreate things.”
Molleson describes a point in the recording process where two car batteries were wired together "for the right voltage needed for a spring reverb to work." Elsewhere, the album's final track Motorcycle Idling sounds exactly like what the name implies (albeit with an industrial techno undertone). These more experimental aspects of Loud Patterns, though, are balanced elsewhere on the record by Molleson's gentle vocals and knack for a pop hook. At the other end of the spectrum, tracks Rough Moss and Gold Star are proper dancefloor bangers. Who Am I to Follow Love is another standout, a sweet pop ballad with vocals courtesy of Babeheaven's Nancy Andersen.
"I did a remix for one of their first releases (Heaven)," Molleson explains. "I had this idea that I wanted one track on the album to have a guest vocalist and I really like Nancy’s vibe on that track. We ended up doing that track in three hours. It just seemed to work.” This was at odds with the more challenging moments of producing his first record, Molleson adds. “You’re your own worst nightmare, your own worst enemy, when you record and produce your own work. I’ve been in bands quite a lot, but with all those projects I’ve never been the front person in the band, or the main songwriter or anything like that, so it was [about] exploring that – a lot of firsts,” he laughs.
With an album launch planned at London's Corsica Studios, followed by a period of travel across the US, Canada and Europe where Makeness will support Unknown Mortal Orchestra's upcoming tour, Loud Patterns is set to reach audiences across the globe. We close out the chat by asking if there's a track from the debut that he's particularly fond of? “I’m proud of the whole thing, really, but there’s a track called Day Old Death on there... a lot of the ones with vocals on them, I was just like OK, I’m going to put a vocal melody on it and replace it with a synth line… but with that one everything came together. There’s something about the mood of it, that I think sums up the kind of music I make at the moment.”
Loud Patterns is released on 6 Apr via Secretly Canadian; Makeness plays Hidden Door, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, 31 May