mOck band, mOck CMJ, mOck Berlin

mOck is a trio from Berlin that plays the kind of highly technical yet emotional post-ish-rock pioneered by Chicago musicians Tim Kinsella and Victor Villarreal through bands like Cap’n Jazz, Joan Of Arc and Owls. While the noodling guitars and lopsided time signatures will sound familiar to any fans of this sound, mOck has developed something unique with this template, a distinctly European take on the genre that is clean and sophisticated, while still rough around the edges.

CMJ got a chance last week to talk with Conrad Rodenberg, the band’s drummer, who shared with us the nuts and bolts behind the group and its eponymous debut full-length, streaming below.

How long have you guys been playing together?
The mark that I always have in mind is early March 2009, but that’s just because we had our first show then. Before that, it’s kind of hard to say. We spent one and a half or maybe even two years just in our rehearsal space, which is mainly because this was the first time I had played drums in a band.

What did you play before?
Oh this and that. I’m in this other band Ampl:tude where we all play synths and keyboards, and I also have a solo project where I sing and play guitar. Felix [Zimmermann], our frontman, always had guitar as his main instrument. He and Freddie [Knop], the bassist, used to be in this other band called lin., which had been broken up for a while before the formation of mOck. Freddie had just finished his studies in musicology but hadn’t been very active in making music himself after lin. disbanded, so for all those reasons it kind of took us a while to figure out just what we wanted to do.

What’s your background in Berlin’s hardcore scene?

Well, Freddie and Felix’s old band were definitely playing shows with a lot of local hardcore bands here. It’s funny talking about them for me because I, well, always really, really liked their music. But they were, at that point, already playing some form of, let’s say, alternative hardcore, something different from the rest of the scene. But lin. was definitely louder, rougher and screamier than mOck is.

So once you solidified your sound, what was the writing process like?
We wrote most of the songs in our rehearsal space in Berlin and recorded them in Hamburg. It didn’t really work with anyone bringing in material that we would then build upon. It would always just come at rehearsal.

Like you’d jam and see what happened?
Well, I didn’t really experience it as “jamming” in the sense that we would play forever and then say afterwards, “oh let’s keep this or that.” We usually would just start playing something and then immediately try to stick a part, and then give it some shape.

The music’s pretty rhythmically complex. Did you record the instruments live or separately?
We recorded live. On the very first day we tried playing to a click, but it didn’t work out at all [laughs]. So, because of that we didn’t really hold onto the idea of recording the different tracks separately. But that’s the same way we did it on our demo and our split 7″. It’s our flow.

John McEntire of Tortoise mixed the album. Did you get to work with him directly on it?
Well, not really. The whole thing came about when we were touring with Joan Of Arc in 2010. We asked Tim [Kinsella] if he had any recommendations for a producer, and he said that McEntire had done good work on their stuff. And that sounded great to us because we had been following Tortoise since the ’90s, and we had always been a fan of his mixing. So we sent him some demos, and he was into it. But we never really met him during the process. It was nice to get a personal touch from him though. There are these snippet pieces in brackets that sound quite different from the other songs on the record. Most of these were spontaneous takes in the studio in Hamburg, and we told him to just do whatever he wanted on those to make them sound distinct from the other tracks. We’re pretty happy with the results.

You guys definitely sound like a lot of Chicago bands, but has the scene in Berlin influenced your sound directly?
It differently has. At the moment, most of the bands that we’re friends with and we play with have a distinct hardcore sound, but it’s pretty different from what we do. Our sounds fit together well, but I don’t know many other bands that have this post-rockish thing going on. My other band makes music that sounds like it’s off a videogame soundtrack, so that’s totally different, but we were signed to a Berlin-based label called Sinnbus that started releasing records that were in a more technical rock direction, so that was a big influence. There’s another band we’ve played with that’s partially from Berlin called Pete The Pirate Squid that definitely has the mathy, stop-and-go thing going on.

Was jazz an influence for the technicality?
Honestly, none of us really come from a jazz background. Still, as the process has been going on, our songs have been getting a lot more, let’s say, “smoother,” starting quietly, more fragile. I’m looking at my record player now, actually, and The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest is on there. There’s that song “Jazz (We’ve Got).” So I guess if our jazz influence comes from anywhere, then, it’s hip-hop. Anyway, one of the first songs we wrote for the album is “57,” and that has this sort of mosh pit part, which stands out from the rest of the LP. It’s interesting to see that we started out with more hardcore roots you can hear, but now there’s this twist!

I Love To Hate will be hosting a release party for mOck’s LP Thursday, May 17, at the Lamp Post in Jersey City, NJ. DJs will be mixing mOck tracks into their sets, and the vinyl will be available for sale as well. The event starts at 10 p.m.