Interview: Silver Moth
This urge to live with no regrets is a motivating force for me in all areas of my life, especially creatively. My advice would be to be courageous and embrace the things and the people you love, because we only get one shot at being our unique selves in this particular timeline.
In late January, a fellow Echoes and Dust writer shared a link to a track titled ‘Mother Tongue’ by a new band called Silver Moth, which included Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai and Elisabeth Elektra. The excitement was palpable! We would soon learn that the new band would be releasing their debut album, Black Bay on April 21st via Bella Union. I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Elisabeth Elektra to find out more about this incredible release.
E&D: Thank you Elisabeth for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. As a follower of your music and Mogwai, I was quite surprised, happy and excited when I learned of Silver Moth and the upcoming album, Black Bay. I know of other fans who have reacted in the same way. On your end of things, have you found that this has been the standard reaction since you’ve announced the album?
Elisabeth: It’s been so wonderful to witness people’s enthusiasm for the project. I’ve personally felt very grateful for the warm response to ‘Mother Tongue’, and to the excitement people have shown for the album, concept and collaboration as a whole. I think I can speak for the whole band when I say that it’s really meaningful to see people are connecting to the music. We are all very grateful to Simon Raymonde and to Bella Union for giving the album a home and a platform for people to hear it.
E&D: The story behind how Silver Moth was born is quite serendipitous. For those who don’t already know, it involved Twitter and a conversation on the subject of the Isle of Lewis, “the largest island of the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides archipelago in Scotland.” Can you tell us more about how things unfolded and led to the seven of you meeting and recording together?
Elisabeth: During lockdown, like many other people I spent a lot of time on Twitter. During this time I connected with musician Matthew Rochford and we formed an online friendship, Matthew also teaches Tai Chi, and Stuart and I did some of his online sessions.
One day my dear friend and long time collaborator Nick Hudson and I were having one of our regular ‘let’s run away somewhere together and get out of this hellhole’ conversations back and forth on Twitter. I can’t remember exactly how it unfolded but Matthew, Nick and I ended up talking about going to the Hebrides to record some music at Black Bay. Matthew is the kind of person who gets things done, and he really made the whole thing happen in practical terms. Matthew had previously had conversations with Evi, Ben and Steven about recording together separately so he brought them in to the conversation on Twitter and we went from there.
Stuart had been wanting to record at Black Bay for a while because he thought it looked like a beautiful studio, and because his mother is from Point on the island of Lewis, so the island is close to his heart. Ash Babb who plays drums in Silver Moth was a friend of mine, Nick and Stuart’s and we thought it would be great if he came too cause he’s an excellent drummer and a wonderful person. Nick Hudson ended up sadly not being able to come because he tested positive for Covid. I am happy to inform you that Nick did in fact get out of this hellhole and is now living in Tbilisi, Georgia.
E&D: It’s amazing that aside from Stewart and yourself, this was the first time you all met and worked together on anything and that it took only 4 days to write and record! It seems like a great meeting of creative minds, each bringing tremendous talent, history and influences to the proverbial table. The writing process can sometimes be a difficult one, even in the usual of circumstances. Can you tell us about how you approached the writing process for this project and how you established the “policy of trust in action”?
Elisabeth: It was definitely strange to meet people for the first time and be immediately thrust in to a very focused musical environment together. Especially during a pandemic. We met at the ferry port at Ullapool and got the ferry over to Lewis together, that was nice as it gave us the chance to get to know each other a bit before arriving at Black Bay. Everyone brought their own magic once we got to the studio, we started out all improvising in a circle in the main room of and got in to a creative rhythm, which evolved as our time together went on. At times it was challenging, which is to be expected given the nature of the project. We had agreed some ground rules before we went to Black Bay which helped us when it got to building some trust and creating music together.
On reflection, each song on the album had its own gestational point, we didn’t make every song in the same way which I think helped create some variety through the album. Pete Fletcher who produced the record and Callum who engineered were vital parts of the project, I don’t think it would have become a cohesive body of work without their input. Aside from ‘The Eternal’ which Ben, Stuart and I wrote together in one sitting – most of the other songs were unstructured. Pete was the glue. He put everything in to the project, the record is a testament to his skill, talent and patience. He’s such a sweet guy too. We love you Pete.
E&D: In Matthew’s journal entry in May 2021, he shared that this was “definitely an experiment, to say the least.” Looking back at each of your musical careers, would you say that this has been the most experimental and daunting experience so far?
Elisabeth: I can only speak for myself here, but I didn’t find it particularly daunting. I was excited, and didn’t really have any expectations beyond getting out of my flat in central Glasgow for a week. My degree was in experimental music and visual art, so I’m used to throwing myself in to strange creative situations and I’ve previously improvised with people I don’t know very well. I think the most daunting part was probably the Covid tests, and getting enough vegan milk and butter for 6 vegans.
Silver Moth has at times felt like a refreshing change from my main project as a solo artist. As a solo artist you’re responsible for everything, it all reflects on you, which is vulnerable. And can be really exhausting. I’ve found the fact there are 7 of us in Silver Moth a nice change, because I’m just one small part of something much bigger than myself.
E&D: If I read correctly, it seems that this started a year into the pandemic. Do you think that the pandemic played a big part in bringing you all together?
Elisabeth: Definitely. I don’t imagine Matthew and I would have connected in the same way if we weren’t in lockdown, so Stuart and I definitely wouldn’t have been a part of it. I don’t think any of Silver Moth would have had the time to go to Black Bay if it hadn’t been mid-pandemic as we would all have been busy with our respective projects. Matthew would also most likely have been too busy to do all the organising necessary to get seven eccentric musicians from all corners of the U.K. up to a remote Hebridean island.
E&D: I’ve seen photos of Black Bay and read about the location. It seems remote and very beautiful. Aside from naming the album after the location, how else did the location play a part in the creative process?
Elisabeth: We went for a lot of walks while recording. The Hebrides are very magical, the land is ancient and elemental. The time we spent amongst such distinctive natural landscapes definitely inspired the music we created. The Island of Lewis also has ancestral ties for some band members which I’m certain will have fed in to the music.
For me personally it was the sea that influenced me the most. My dad was a nautical engineer and spent his life building submarines and diving equipment. I spent a lot of my childhood in Scotland with him by the sea, so I always feel closest to him when I’m near water. The water at black bay is inky black, and feels like it could engulf you at any moment. It’s wild. I love it.
The sea at Black Bay reminded me of myths I feel personally connected to, such as the story of Sedna, the Inuit underworld sea goddess. Sedna ended up acting as inspiration for the lyrics and music of the last song on the record.
E&D: The album artwork is incredible. Can you tell us about who created it and how it came together?
Elisabeth: The beautiful artwork was created by Silver Moth Drummer Ash Babb. His inspirations lay with Lewis, the inky black water I was speaking of earlier, the dramatic landscapes, the spirit of experimentation, and the relationship between darkness and light. He also included the vegvisir – an Icelandic sigil intended to help people find their way through rough weather or storms. It felt like an appropriate symbol.
E&D: I’ve had the opportunity to listen to the album and it’s incredible. I find that the album tracks are like chapters in a story, each stand alone but stay true to the story as a whole. Can fans expect a second instalment from Silver Moth?
Elisabeth: We shall see!
E&D: Are there any plans to tour in support of the release?
Elisabeth: Not at the moment, just because we are all busy. That may change in future.
E&D: Lastly, in the promo for the album, I read something that Evi had shared which is profound and inspiring, “We spend our lives in repetition, surrounded by certainty. It’s important to push aside the things we think we understand, because when we least expect it, change comes and we are lost.” With that in mind, thinking of your experience writing and recording this album, what advice would you give to those who are stuck in the repetition and the illusion of certainty?
Elisabeth: That is indeed a beautiful quote from Evi. She’s hit on an important point, which is that as humans we actually have very little control over our lives, anything could happen at any moment. So we may as well live as passionately as we can. During uncertain times, I think it’s natural to seek certainty, but like Evi’s quote alludes to; certainty is an illusion.
As artists we are fortunate enough to lead lives that constantly shift and change. I personally believe that it’s impossible to create meaningful work without experiencing transformation both in your inner and outer worlds. Change can be uncomfortable, but stasis is the enemy of creativity. I also realise this is a privileged position, the reality of life under late stage capitalism is that many people don’t have much choice but to be stuck in some form of repetition in order to survive.
This might be morose but I often consider my life choices from the perspective of what I would most regret not having done when I’m lying on my deathbed. This urge to live with no regrets is a motivating force for me in all areas of my life, especially creatively. My advice would be to be courageous and embrace the things and the people you love, because we only get one shot at being our unique selves in this particular timeline.