'Those mushrooms on the road to Tennessee cinched it'
Interview Andrew Hartwell
Photography Paul Herbst
Miracle is the offspring of two musical masters of paths less trodden, Daniel O’Sullivan and Steve Moore. Similarly prolific, one supposes it was only a matter of time before these two virtuosos should meet and collaborate. The two have a diverse background in musical experimentation, with sounds that usually err to the heavier or more electronic side of things. So, the fact that Miracle’s synth pop should sound as it does, well, that’s something of a miracle in itself.
Daniel O’Sullivan has been a familiar face on the London music scene since the early ’90s from his work in über prog band Guapo. Weaving enormous sonic tapestries of immense complexity and power, Guapo floored audiences globally. Guapo later spawned the band Miasma & The Carousel of Headless Horses, a Victorian gypsy horror trip featuring Leo Smee, bassist of doom metal gods Cathedral, culminating with the album Perils (Mimicry, 2005). The most recent O’Sullivan offshoot is Mothlite, which saw him beginning to explore new realms, including writing vocals and singing them himself. From bit parts in SUNN O))) and a role in Norway’s Ulver, a further project emerged: Æthenor, which blends jazz improvisation with electronics and the heavy dynamics of metal. Æthenor brought O’Sullivan together with Stephen O’Malley of SUNN O)))), Kris Rygg of Ulver, and UK jazz percussionist Steve Noble of N.E.W. among others. Their album, The Faking Gold & Murder (VHF, 2009), also featured David Tibet of Current 93 on vocals and is typical of Æthenor’s experimental attitude.
Steve Moore, the other half of Miracle, is a founding member of US duo Zombi who turned a whole generation of metal and hardcore kids on to the esoteric delights of analog synths and complex polyrhythms. For Zombi, Steve plays synths and bass and his partner Anthony Perrera plays drums. Their trippy tunes have found homes on extreme metal stalwarts Relapse, who released Cosmos (2004), and HydraHead, who released Surface to Air (2006). The latest Zombi album, Escape Velocity was just released on Relapse this May. Residing now in upstate New York, Steve keeps himself busy scoring films and building his own synths and composing, but only when he’s not producing techno under the guise of Gianni Rossi, pop under the name Lovelock, or just releasing his own solo material.
When these two musical minds shacked up together, one had to wonder what would emerge. There was the possibility that new musical notes would be discovered, that banks of analog synths 50 deep would battle it out with cellos and grand pianos. Literally anything could happen. Who would have guessed that the result would turn out to be glorious, sing-along AOR pop music at its most swooning and beguiling?
I met up with Daniel and Steve to talk about the mysteries of their audio union in February, just as the first Miracle release, the Fluid Window EP (House Anxiety) dropped on an unsuspecting world.
I think it’s interesting, Daniel, how I’ve always thought of you as very much a musician, maybe even a musician’s musician, and I guess that could be applied to Steve, too. With Miracle you are moving further into electronic realms than ever before. Not to mention the fact that you are now singing! Did you have a conscious desire to move away from more organic instruments?
Daniel: I don’t think I’ve necessarily moved away from organic instrumentation, as you put it. I’ve certainly become more interested in programming and production in recent years. The new Mothlite sounds are also indicative of that. However, this is just one of many processes that I like working with. Æthenor is live improvisation using electric keyboards. I play various instruments in Ulver. With Miracle I have a different role, centered mainly around singing and production.
Steve: I’ve corrupted Daniel with my analog synthesizers and drum machines (laughs). I’m basically still working with the same sound palette I use with Zombi. But with Daniel’s vocals these sounds take on a very different form.
Perhaps in a similar way, this has to be your most pop work to date. Is that a result of you mellowing or is it more a desire to work within a different form with new constraints?
Daniel: Yes, I definitely see pop as more of an expressive vehicle than I ever did before. I don’t think I’ve mellowed. I would say quite the contrary, actually. Pop music often has a desperation and a sadness to it that more oblique forms rarely accommodate. I suppose I’m concerned with the language of humans now, whereas before I would probably avoid that for fear OF being cliché. Now I love clichés. (Laughs)
Its really interesting that you are experimenting with pop. Both of you are best known for music that has been much more extreme and certainly allied with what could be called extreme metal labels, like Relapse and Rise Above, for example. I can imagine loads of people being surprised by Miracle. Are you surprised by Miracle?
Steve: (Laughs) I’m definitely surprised. When we started working together I didn’t even know Daniel could sing!
I thought we’d just be making some esoteric electronic/experimental jams.
Daniel: It was like planting a seed without knowing what variety of tree would grow from it. I guess people know not to expect one specific thing from either of us by now. Personally I’ve never played in an extreme metal band, despite the associations. Or maybe I have, I don’t know. (Laughs) Is Sunn O))) extreme metal? I wouldn’t say so.
Steve: Zombi’s on an extreme metal label but we’re neither extreme nor metal. We’re more like new age post rock. And for the record, I’ve never played with the band Earth. [Ed. note: Steve has a namesake that has played with both Sunn O))) and Earth, as well as solo. Confusion abounds over this with press and public alike.]
How did you two meet to collaborate on something? Daniel’s in London, and Steve, you are in the U.S.
Steve: We met on the road actually. Guapo and Zombi did a short tour of the East Coast. All of us piled into the Zombi-mobile, sharing gear, sleeping on floors, cracking jokes for hours every day in the van. Tour friendships are like hyper-accelerated, condensed friendships. You kind of have to open up to people very quickly when you spend so much time together but also know that in a week or two, tour is over and you have no clue when or even if you’ll ever see these people again.
Daniel: Those mushrooms on the road to Tennessee cinched it, I reckon. (Laughs)
I can imagine that would make or break it. Was it always planned that you would spawn a beast such as Miracle?
Daniel: No, the name came after a couple of years of working over the wire, we literally had no big plan for this project. It’s only this last year that it’s gathered real momentum.
Right, so how long have you been working to get to this stage? How much material do you have now?
Steve: I guess it’s been almost four years since we first started trading files? We’ve just started exchanging ideas for a full-length, but as it stands we really only have the five songs from the EP.
Daniel: We’ve had a recent breakthrough with material for the album though, right? I think this material will come thick and fast now.
What’s your most beloved musical instrument or similar musical enabler in this project?
Steve: Probably my Sequential Circuits Pro-One. I think I used it on every track on the EP.
Daniel: I used an Arp Odyssey on a couple of tracks. Although, the most beloved would be this cranky old upright piano in my friend Robbie’s house.
Someone somewhere will understand what those all are when they read this! You got me back at the piano bit. I think musical labels, like ‘witch house’ ugh, are almost utterly obsolete these days. But what would you write on the File Under sticker on your record?
Steve: New age.
Daniel: Yeah. (Laughs) Or maybe ‘flawed idealism’.
I was just reading about some music that was described as ‘non-entertaining’, and that was its selling point. It got me to wondering, what is music for? What do you think your music is for? Do you think different projects that you are involved in are for different things?
Steve: I definitely get the feeling this music is for actual people. Most of the music I make is basically just for me, for my own sanity. My art keeps me sane.
Daniel: It’s a good question, and one that artists don’t ask themselves nearly enough. I think Miracle works on a few different levels, actually. It’s full of paradoxes, both musically and lyrically. Mainly it’s the problem of the transcendental versus the inescapable. Basic human condition stuff. Of course different projects fulfil different needs but there is a wider perspective and pertinence to Miracle that I’m enjoying right now.