The hills are alive: how MOLLY made music out of mountains

The lazy description of music as “glacial” is right up there with “a sonic cathedral of sound” in the list of pretentious music journalist clichés, but MOLLY, the duo who hail from the Tyrol in the far west of Austria, are definitely more deserving of it than most. Not only did their local landscape inspire the grandeur of their debut album All That Ever Could Have Been, but it also made its way onto the actual grooves of the double (alpine clover coloured) vinyl masterpiece.

“Like so many things that might inspire you, the landscape around you, or the place you grew up in, or your country, or your region probably influence you more in an unconscious way,” explains singer and guitarist Lars Andersson. “You never know where it comes from or how it might show itself, but it’s there – you hear it and you feel it. That’s the beauty of it, the mystery.”

MOLLY’s Phillip Dornauer (left) and Lars Andersson recording a mountain stream in the summer of 2018

“Any landscape is a condition of the spirit,” wrote Swiss philosopher Henri-Fréderic Amiel, as he attempted to explain this very mystery. A sense of identity and belonging is one of humanity’s deepest needs, and this links to people’s attachment to the natural landscape; it is not just a view or a place that one looks at with their eyes, it is more the way our brain and above all, spirit, interprets what we see. We attach spiritual meaning to landscapes we feel are important and so, in a way, landscape is a cultural construct, a mirror of our memories and myths encoded with meanings that can be read and interpreted. As the historian Simon Schama says in Landscape and Memory: “Before it can ever be the repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock.”

But the Alps are still very much the latter: the place where the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided presented a physical challenge to mankind for many thousands of years. From Hannibal and his herd of elephants until the mountain peaks were conquered one by one during the golden age of alpinism in the 1800s, they stood tall, imposing and inaccessible. It is this wild and untamed Alps that MOLLY are channelling, not the chocolate box version.

“We are very much inspired by the mountains,” explains Lars. “Less in a contemporary sense, and the understanding of our region as some sort of fairytale holiday refuge, but more in the way that Goethe and generations before him used to view them: as a dangerous and scary place of unpredictable weather changes, sharp cliffs, threatening mountain passes and barren wasteland – a place where nature still rules in contrast to men.”

The German poet and philosopher Johan Wolfgang von Goethe famously trekked through the Alps in 1779 and his description of a mountain stream in ‘Spirit Song Over The Waters’ could almost be a pretentious music journalist take on the unstoppable elemental power that the songs on All That Ever Could Have Been possess, with their loud-and-quiet peaks and troughs: “Down from the lofty / Rocky wall / Streams the bright flood / Then / spreadeth gently / In cloudy billows / O’er the smooth rock / And welcomed kindly / Veiling, on roams it / Soft murmuring / Tow’rd the abyss”.

Phillip and Lars the lonely goatherds (OK, they’re Tyrolean sheep)

To underline this link to the wild and untamed, All That Ever Could Have Been also features field recordings made by the duo on a hike into the Alps in the late spring of 2018. There are sounds of thunder and wind and rain, the bells from Tyrolean sheep (who were not such willing participants, chasing the band from their field) and birdsong – echoing the first ever field recording, made not so far away by Ludwig Koch in 1889. In the 130 years since, it has developed into an artform in itself, blurring the line between documenting and creating.

“Music, and especially experimental music, is always a good combination of sounds and noises – noises meaning everything that’s neither harmonic nor rhythmic,” explains Lars of their approach. “That can be the scratching of a drumstick on a guitar, amp feedback, ambient noises from the studio, or field recordings. Listening to Pink Floyd in my teens I realised that something like this could actually be part of a song and create ambience and mood.

“Today I couldn’t imagine certain records without it. White Mountain by Ülfur is one of my all time favourite ambient records and It’s Spooky by Jad Fair and Daniel Johnston is a great record with some spooky sounds.”

Now we can add All That Ever Could Have Been to that list. A record that somehow reflects the awe-inspiring enormity of the Alps, but with an intimacy and lyrical concerns that are much closer to sea level, the whole thing flowing with a slow and stately grandeur. There’s really only one word for it: glacial.

Buy All That Ever Could Have Been and the brand new All That Was EP from the Sonic Cathedral Shop