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Stereoboard Talks To Daniel O’Sullivan (Mothlite, Ulver & More) About His Many Projects

Tuesday, 28 August 2012 Written by Ben Bland
Stereoboard Talks To Daniel O’Sullivan (Mothlite, Ulver & More) About His Many Projects

Someone really doesn’t want me to talk to Daniel O’Sullivan. I’ve tried to get him on the phone three times now and each time the signal has cut out. Fourth time lucky, the 32-year-old multi-instrumentalist calls me back and everything seems to be going according to plan. “Let’s keep our fingers crossed”, O’Sullivan suggests before we begin talking about his most recent released venture, the new album by his Mothlite project.

ImageHe admits that he isn’t really sure what it is that defines his output under the Mothlite name. “I guess I’d describe it as some kind of ethereal pop music really…with an experimental curiosity nestled within it. I think those are the two factors that really make the project what it is. It’s a musical vehicle that I don’t have to argue with anyone else about as well; it is my thing which is obviously nice for me”. Unlike some of his contemporaries in the world of the avant-garde, O’Sullivan willingly admits that the pop influence on new album ‘Dark Age’ was very much intentional. “It’s something that I sort of flirted with on the first Mothlite album and explored a bit with Miracle (O’Sullivan’s project with American musician Steve Moore) but I suppose ‘Dark Age’ does take that to a new level. It’s also nostalgic in that the synthpop or new age records or whatever that largely inspired that pop sound were first heard by me in my parent’s record collection!”

It’s clear, all the same, that there is far more to ‘Dark Age’ than some kind of synthpop revival. “It was very much intentional for there to be that contrast between the darkness and the hooky side of the record. The record is full of paradoxes, within the lyrics, the music and of course the relation between the two. Having said that I suppose it only became obvious that it had been intentional when I looked back and saw how it had turned out, so maybe I shouldn’t give myself too much credit there”. One thing O’Sullivan is sure about is his desire to take Mothlite on the road with his talented live band. “It’s quite unnerving in a way for me playing live with Mothlite because I am so much so the focus of attention, but I really do want to go on tour. I want to perform this music live. It means a lot to me to be able to do so”. He also admits though that live performance of such intricate, atmospheric music can present problems. “Yeah, sometimes the sound is not always spot on. We’ve had once or twice with Ulver for example. You can feel intuitively when a gig is not going to work though, and unless you try and transcend the situation then you have no chance so it is still worthwhile to do your best with whatever situation you’re given, whether the massive amplifier is working or not!”

Of course, much as Mothlite is arguably O’Sullivan’s primary concern right now, he has recently become best known for his involvement with the aforementioned Ulver, the Norwegian black metallers turned experimentalists. How does he cope with switching between projects entirely under his creative direction to more collaborative efforts? “It’s been difficult, but also quite necessary. I think I really needed Ulver. I was going through such a time of personal turmoil that I needed a release of some sort that wasn’t all about me. It became quite convenient. I’m obviously also really proud of ‘Wars of the Roses’ (incidentally one of this writer’s favourite records of the last decade) and the live shows and everything. It was certainly an interesting place to be given where I was at that point in my life”.

To just look at O’Sullivan’s career from the point of view of Mothlite and Ulver would be doing him a real disservice. If you are a fan of experimental modern music then the chances are that you have some records featuring him without even knowing it. “Ah, you’ve heard the new Alexander Tucker record?” Daniel chuckles, I like to think in a slightly impressed manner, “I’m glad you like it. Well, yes, I did produce that and played on it as well - of course producing something is more like proper work in a way, but still when working with people on music I like I can hardly complain” he confesses when I broach the subject that the guy is clearly a workaholic and seemingly with his fingers in a huge amount of delicious musical pies. “Sometimes it can be difficult balancing my time between all these different projects. I mean, Mothlite is not the only thing I have on at the moment. Me and Alex have the new Grumbling Fur album going on as well, for example. I think a lot of it is, simply, dependent on what it is that I find myself immersed in. Sometimes other things just fall very naturally by the wayside. What can be frustrating is when people pick a project I was involved in some time ago and suddenly say they want more of it. I get people saying things about wanting a new Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses record, for example, but at the time nobody seemed interested, and now it is not really where I am anyway. It’s frustrating when things are like that. Overall, though, I am more content than ever with balancing my work and my creative energies. I mean, I no longer worry about bad reviews and things like that. Everything I do I feel is of some interest, or I wouldn’t do it”.

Despite the immense catalogue of work he has already to his name, O’Sullivan freely admits that he sees new possibilities for his music “all the time” and that the possibilities of sound creation continue to fascinate him. “I think my music defines who I am, and as a musician I am fluid and have the desire to move on to ever new fields of eclecticism. Even with Mothlite, the new stuff has more world music influences from example - that’s new for me. ‘Dark Age’ may be very interior in some ways but it is also drawing from an ever increasing wideness of influences. I’ve been writing for solo piano recently, for example, and I may want to do something like that at some point - maybe as Mothlite because I think Mothlite can be anything I want it to be in a way from now on. I live in a really good world at the moment. I feel more fearless than ever about the music I present, and that is a very good place. Yoga and meditation really help…and having a child, grounding things…”

If only someone had told Pink Floyd that, I muse, as our conversation draws to a close. “They wouldn’t have fired Syd Barrett…” O’Sullivan laughs, “…they would probably have been better than we can even imagine them being…”

‘Dark Age’, the new Mothlite album, is out now on Kscope, as is ‘Wars of the Roses’, the fantastic 2011 album by Ulver. Keep up to date with all Daniel’s news at mothlite.blogspot.co.uk

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Mothlite - Dark Age (Album Review)
Fri 11 May 2012
Daniel O’Sullivan, the man behind Mothlite, is nothing if not varied in his musical travails. His work with Ulver is notable for its dark ambience and, often breath-taking, sonic experimentation. 'Dark Age' meanwhile is more like a pop record trying desperately to claw its way out of an experimental electronic record. There are hooks galore here but O’Sullivan seems determined to hide them as well as he possibly can.
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