Debut: Newcastle Americana singer Melody Moko has released her first album, The Wreckage, produced by Michael Muchow and Catherine Britt. Picture: Simone De PeakIt never stops for Melody Moko. During this interview about her debut album, an optimistic mix of pop and Americana called The Wreckage, she tends to her young son, Miller, and helps her husband, Michael Muchow, make coffees at their business, The Peppertown Coffee Barin Mayfield.
Moko’s album has been in the making for more than two years, but it’s a not case of her getting stuck in a rut at all. She has been touring with Muchow, who is an extraordinary guitarist constantly in work, and they have been raisinga young family and sparking life into their Newcastle cafe project.
Moko has been touring as of late as the opener for Fanny Lumsden, who has been touring extensively. Muchow backs up Moko, and plays in Lumsden’s band.
The album project, prompted by Moko’s need to have product at her shows, began two-and-a-half years ago, with Muchow and Catherine Britt as co-producers. Catherine Britt’s bout with cancer interrupted the process, but in the end, the extra time allowed more editing and the addition of more music to the album.
“I wanted to makean Americana record that pushed the boundaries with the mood,” Moko says. “Ifind a lot of Americana music thesedays is sad, kind ofdown, mellow. But Idon’t think that is what Americana is really about. And that isn’t what Iwanted to present, because that is not who I am.
For Moko, the Americana sound driven by the likes of Tift Merritt and Lucinda Williams in the early 2000s got hijacked by a change of tone, with the music being driven by sadness. She and her producers only half-jokingly blame the hipsters in Australia who took to the genre, saying the US never ended up down the rabbit hole of sadness.
“Americans arestill making it upbeat, with body and beat,” she says, with Britt chiming in “like Jason Isbell,” who is one of the hottest properties in American music today, even though his music doesn’t neatly fit into country or rock’n’roll.
“I wanted to focus on happier songs thathad that Americana instrumentation and Americana feel to them,” she says.
While both Muchow and Britt cut their teeth in country music, they bring diverse talents to the table. For Moko, it was the best of both.
“It was easier than Ithought,” she says. “Mike is placid, Catherineis fiery. Both were really reasonable in the studio.
“It was a nice balance betweenfemale perspective and a male perspective.Often it is male-driven in the studio.”
In Moko’s words, the Muchow influence was “a lot of musical genius, clever licks, programming”.
“Theway it came togetherin the mix is all Michael,” she says. “There’s no way Icould envision how a song would sound in the final product, all Ihear is an acoustic guitar and a voice.”
Teamwork: Michael Muchow, Melody Moko and Catherine Britt at Peppertown Cafe. Picture: Simone De Peak
The Britt factor: “so much experience, so clever at vocal parts, how a harmony should sound. She doesn’t mind doing it in 10 goes. She’s a perfectionist.”
Britt, now 32, is beginning to produce more young music artists. She and husband James Beverley are currently building a studio at their home and have plans to increase her production work.
Her ethos is simple: “The best thing to do is get out of the way and let it happen.”
There’s plenty of work to be done, alright, with musicians, recording, harmonies and more. But her point is: the album belongs to the performer at the end of the day.
The first single on the album is The Wreckage, with Moko’s clear, strong vocals backed by a wall of orchestration. It’s not too optimistic, as she sings, “the man that I knew is nothing like you”. The second single releaseis likely to be Second-Hand Heart, a catchy pop-driven tune.
For mine, the hot song is Truth About It, a bluesy soul number with Kevin Bennett backing up Moko’s vocals.
The Wreckage is released September 1. Moko plays 48 Watt Street on Sunday, September 3, with Fanny Lumsden and Natalie Henry.