Mojave 3’s Neil Halstead is arguably one of the most accomplished songwriters of the post-shoegazer mold. In fact he is one of the few to survive and expand on the scene that produced such sonic luminaries as My Bloody Valentine. After releasing three albums of lush drone with the early 90s band Slowdive and touring with contemporaries Ride and Catherine Wheel, Halstead reached much further back than Jesus and Mary Chain for new inspiration. Mid-era Dylan and Nick Drake supplied the seeds for where Halstead would take his new group, a pared-down acoustic trio with Rachel Goswell (vocals) and Ian McCutcheon (drums), both fellow Slowdive members. They christened themselves Mojave 3.
Ask Me Tomorrow, their first album, was actually nothing more than a demo with some newly recorded tracks, much in the same vein of their label mates, Red House Painters’ first album. Even still, the album took many listeners’ breath away with its subtle beauty. 1998’s Out of Tune saw the band completely reinvent their sound with the addition of two members: Chapterhouse’s Simon Rowe on lead guitar and Alan Forrester on piano/organ. The new sound was pure early 70s Americana. But the songs proved more substantial than the sound.
“I always thought of it as Slowdive with everything stripped away,” Halstead said of Mojave 3’s sound. A consistent growth in songwriting can be traced through each of Halstead albums, culminating with “My Life in Art” and “Anyday will be Fine,” two of the strongest songs on their newest record, Excuses for Travellers (out now on 4AD).
The making of Excuses also differed from past albums. First, the band spent less time recording, opting to document the songs over three succinct sessions.
“This time we tried to keep the soul of the songs,” Halstead said. The record features a band in touch with the songs and letting loose a bit, be it through longer song lengths or with odd instrumentation provided by banjo, flugelhorn and trombone.
Excuses also features the first non-Halstead penned songs to appear on a Mojave 3 album. Bassist/vocalist Rachel Goswell contributes the chamber-pop “Bringin’ Me Home” while Ian McCutcheon penned “Got My Sunshine,” an inspiring tune which features the obligatory (but still awesome) gospel backing vocals. Pleased with the results, Halstead predicts the next album will have more equally distributed songwriting credits.
Over the course of three albums, Mojave 3 have established themselves as one of the UK’s most consistent acts. Their songs touch on the simplest human emotions and are artistic in both their composition and execution.
According to Halstead the best part of being in Mojave 3 is “travelling and seeing different people.” Do yourself a favor and show your face at their North Star show this Tuesday.
Mojave 3 will perform Tuesday, February 13 at the North Star on 27th and Poplar St. Doors are at 9pm. Tickets are $10. Call 215-922-LIVE for more info.