Checking in with Mocky
In the summer of 1998, I had just graduated from film school. I was bumming around doing random jobs, and I’d just laid down some tracks of my newly formed solo project at a friend’s bedroom studio. That studio’s owner, my longtime friend and collaborator Dominic Salole (now better known as Mocky) announced that he was leaving Toronto to move to London (he would later ramble on to Amsterdam before settling in Berlin).
He and I had known each other as kids in Ottawa—I saw his first band play at basement parties and talent shows. Later, he and my brother were roommates in Toronto, and that’s how I came to meet Chilly Gonzales, Peaches et al. I have a million great stories about all those years, but I’m saving them for the coffee table book.
His move was the catalyst for an exodus to Europe among our group of friends—Gonzo left a year later, Peach and Taylor Savvy the following year, and Feist not long after. Now, after 10 years in Berlin, Mocky has made another dramatic shift, moving to Los Angeles with his wife, fashion designer Desirée Klein, and their two-year-old son.
During his time in Berlin he produced three solo albums including last year’s amazing Saskamodie and too many collaborations to count, but in the wider music world he’s probably best known as a producer—of Jamie Lidell’s Multiply and Jim and as part of the team behind the Feist albums The Reminder and Metals.
When Mocky was in Montreal recently, working in the studio with Bassekou Kouyate (Malian master of the ngoni, an ancestor to the banjo), we caught up and I thought I’d take the opportunity to find out more about his latest move and where it’s taking him. This interview is based on conversations in person with an email follow-up.
WP: Where did you get the idea to move to LA?
Mocky: Jamie brought me out here in 2007 (and I hadn’t been there since the 90s—a much different time) and I saw so many similarities to Berlin in terms of decaying relics of former magnificence.
WP: Was it hard to leave Berlin? Do you miss it?
Mocky: Not really, I am Canadian after all not German. My Wikipedia page says I’m “Somalian-Canadian,” but that is inaccurate and not how I identify. I have a very mixed ethnic background including British, Italian, Somalian, Ethiopian and more, but I was born and raised in Canada and only identify myself as Canadian. However I lived in Berlin for 10 years—I miss my Berlin friends, I miss the parks and my two Canadian friends who still live there, Peaches and Taylor Savvy. But otherwise LA is so fresh and exciting that I don’t miss Berlin much yet.
WP: What’s the atmosphere like in LA?
Mocky: LA today is like Berlin in ’99. The American dream kind of collapsed in on itself, so there is new space there to create—much like Berlin in the 90s after the wall came down… a new space opening up after the “fall of the wall” of American cultural imperialism. There is TONS going on here, and I started skating again, so it’s the perfect climate. I hit sort of a bohemian glass ceiling in Berlin, and LA seemed like the right answer.
WP: I heard that the new Feist album was largely recorded live off the floor. Can you tell me about that decision?
Mocky: It was an incredible experience! We did it live off the floor because we didn’t want to leave anything to chance—we wanted to KNOW we had something as it was going down.
WP: I saw that you did a soundtrack [to Xiaolu Guo’s festival hit UFO In Her Eyes]. Is that your focus these days, or producing/other work/your own music/all of the above?
Mocky: All of the above—I’m starting a new project TBA.
Though he’s been working and hanging out with underground artists such as Juiceboxxx, The Hawnay Troof and Kevin Blechdom (whose album Gentlemania he’d produced in Berlin), Mocky’s most recent coup de coeur was someone seemingly at the opposite end of the music-business spectrum: superstar producer and songwriter Linda Perry, who he had the occasion to see perform at a club.
“She came out wearing clown makeup,” he recalls, “and said ‘I’ve been depressed for two weeks, so this is how I’m dealing with it.’ She had a record player and she was lifting the needle and putting it back down—real Andy Kaufman shit. Then she sat down at the piano and started singing, and it was just AMAZING. Great songs, a voice like Nina Simone, totally heavy shit.”
Since then, Mocky has actually had the chance to work in proximity to Perry—producing one of her protegés at her Studio B and, as he says hopefully, “soaking up her writing skills through osmosis.”
I am officially intrigued. I hope to report directly from Mocky’s new home at some point—in the meantime, I’ll be keeping an eye out on what he’s up to. He has always been one of the most inspiring artists I’ve known, so here’s hoping the move to this cultural hot spot will bring his various projects to more and more ears.