Interview: Christopher Mosley (Early Lines, Nouns Group)
Early Lines in St. Louis, MO 2004.
Any music lover can attest to the fact that one of life’s great rewards is the discovery of an artist or sound that takes the wind out of you. For me, my introduction to Early Lines was more like a ceaseless series of kicks to the body. Their 2nd full-length album, 2001’s Hate The Living, Love The Dead possesses an immediacy and intensity that is quite rare when compared to the modern musical landscape. The band’s sounds and messages were inspired by sometimes unsettling true-life stories, and listeners were never given the impression that Early Lines were being anything but absolutely genuine. Pure emotion, no bullshit.
Christopher Mosley e-mailed me in early August to say he enjoyed my blog, and to thank me for sharing some of Early Lines’ songs with my audience. In turn, I asked humbly if he would subject himself to an interview. We have been e-mailing back and forth since then about a few different topics, and his answers are finally ready to be shared today. I think you will soon agree that his honesty and openness about his life and music are something rarely seen in a typical interview. I know I’ve said it to him a few times already, but I am more than grateful that Christopher agreed to speak to me about Early Lines. Going forward, I can only hope that future interview subjects are as honest and caring as he was during this process. Hell, he even sent along a series of photographs of himself and the band to be used in conjunction with the interview. Thank you again, Christopher.
Christopher Mosley, January, 2004 in a funny Plano T-shirt found at Wal-Mart.
CM: Christopher Mosley
EL: How did you and Seth and Dan meet? How long did it take to form Early Lines?
CM: I met Dan in Kindergarten in 1985, and we started talking since we had a shared interest in drawing. We wouldn’t really get to know each other until middle school, as is often the case. I met Seth the first day of ninth grade, in 1994. He was a bully who rode my bus, and he made fun of me for having a Muddy Waters t-shirt. I was kind of a lost classic rock/blues kid at the time, and Seth introduced me to hardcore and some interesting 90’s underground music.
EL: Can you speak a bit about the formation of the group, the decision to evenly split songwriting/instrument duties, and any other early memories you might have of the band’s initial shows/recordings?
CM: Dan and Seth were known around school for being able to play guitar and they both liked hardcore, at least on some level, so I introduced them to each other. Seth was kind of a mentor at the time, because he knew a lot of punk records that weren’t the Some Old Bullshit compilation by The Beastie Boys. He sort of brainwashed us out of our bad 90s alt tendencies or other dubious paths one might have taken in ’94 or ’95, and we all started to gravitate towards similar goals and sounds. So hearing Seth play Black Flag songs in Dan’s garage was really a big deal for Dan especially, and it made him realize that he didn’t have to be the silent guitarist in a band that sounded like Dig or something similarly terrible.
I didn’t think I would ever be able to play music, so I would just keep the beat on an empty acoustic guitar case while the other two tried to write songs. A lot of the early tapes from the summer of ’95 are typical teenage bedroom cassette material; acoustic covers, random noise, and Henry Rollins and Wu-Tang Clan parodies. They started to teach me guitar, and with three guitarists, we realized we had to just make a rhythm section happen somehow. Seth had taught himself to drum on a friend’s kit, so he taught us as well, and we would just borrow a bass. Dan scraped up the money to buy a kit and we all traded off being the drummer. I was learning all three instruments simultaneously, and as a result I was the worst songwriter. I won an essay contest on the Rykodisc website to get a guitar lesson with Roger Miller, from Mission of Burma, who was mainly working on piano music with Binary System at the time. I flew to Boston, and that was the first time I had ever left Texas. Though it was a brief visit, it changed my life and I still think about those lessons often; I actually went back a year later and paid for one. Still I was never much of a guitarist, so I was often on drums, about seventy percent of the time. As time went on, I don’t think anyone felt that there was a hierarchy of song-craft or anything like that, so we decided to split it up evenly. Our initial shows were either at house parties in Plano, or at the local skatepark, called Eisenberg’s. We even played our high school a couple of times, which was terrible, and they once stuck us on the side of the stage. If you didn’t play rap-rock or ska back then, you were very laughable, and we were listening to a lot of melodic music at this point which made things that much worse. So it was either really wimpy pop songs, or this really awkward yelling, and a lot of our peers hated it. We would open with a surf instrumental and drive the Tool fans out of the room. It’s funny because I just saw a band of fifteen year olds called The Fungi Girls do that the other day, and everyone loved it. It’s so safe to be a wimp now. We would eventually start playing out in Deep Ellum, which was once the entertainment hub of Dallas. After playing under several different names and concepts we finally settled on Early Lines after graduating high school. The Early Lines name and six song demo marked a new direction we were headed, more influenced by the bizarre playing of Hampton Grease Band as opposed to the straight-ahead distorted melodic music that we were trying to shake off.
West Coast tour, Las Vegas, 2004. At an anarchist bookstore called Balcony Lights.
EL: What was the music scene like in Plano when you started playing? Were there lots of punk bands in the area, or were you guys outsiders at all?
CM: Plano is not very conducive to being young, or playing music, or hanging out, and especially not to all three of those things together. As far as bands go, there were a lot of “Seattle-sound” bands, and a lot of rap metal, and we tried to avoid that. Playing with punk and hardcore bands was always preferable, even though we still weren’t always well received. There was a certain amount of record collector geekiness, of always trying to find something you can’t quite put your finger on, and then trying to convey that live. We played with a lot of more formulaic pop-punk bands, many from Plano, and some from Allen, which is a neighboring town with similar, or perhaps even worse problems than our city. So we were playing a quirkier style of underground rock, with smart-ass little references to Red Krayola or with a really tacky Moog line out-of-nowhere, and that just wasn’t very fashionable then. A lot of our friends in other bands didn’t understand why we did what we did. I would eventually find better groups that we related to more, though they tended to be much younger, in Fort Worth, Irving, and places referred to as the “Mid-Cities.” I don’t think that we had a lot in common with people our own age as a band then, and I felt that the younger, more enthusiastic DIY crowd was really who we sympathized with.
EL: I have read a lot about the city of Plano in relation to Early Lines, which is quite evident in the lyrical content of your records. Having been quite young in the ’80s, and uninformed in the ’90s, my knowledge of its history is admittedly elementary, but certain events clearly played a huge role in the development of Early Lines. What was it like living there during through those times?
CM: Well, I feel like I’m finally at the point where I want to downplay some of the tragedies in Plano, but I’ll try to think about it from the perspective of that time period. To summarize, the city experienced a population boom in the late 70’s and early 80’s, due to many corporate headquarters moving there, the city’s proximity to Dallas, and a quality public school system. This led to remarkably unnatural growth and sprawl, especially for such a once-quiet community. My family had stumbled upon Plano in the early sixties to work in Collin County’s last cotton gin, so I’m sure this was very surprising for my grandparents in particular. Perhaps due to the new population’s freakishly comfortable environment, a string of suicides surprisingly occurred during this prosperous era, with most of the deaths coming from high schoolers at the same school. In a town that was still fairly small, but growing by the day, this led to unprecedented media attention for the suburb, which the town would just have to live with for the next twenty plus years. In the nineties, suicide was replaced with heroin, which is even more devastatingly contagious, and eventually people I knew started to die. I actually didn’t believe the rumors at first; someone told me that several of the cheerleaders and football players were heroin users and I laughed it off as a social caste system smear tactic by some cartoonish, tongue-pierced, idiot with a chip on his shoulder. But then people I knew actually started to die, and I was forced to take it seriously, along with everyone else. It was a very surreal time. During my senior year, they rounded us up and stuck us in the school theater, where we were forced to hear the popular kids, athletes, cheerleaders etc. tearfully plead with us not to do heroin, like something out an 80’s teen parody. Things really started to flare up when Serena Altschul of MTV News was spotted at the East Plano Denny’s, which was a popular late-night hangout, as I’m sure it is in many suburbs. But when MTV and big network News Magazine shows descended on Plano, that really drove it home that this was a phenomenon, and perhaps one that was ripe for exploitation. The MTV special is legendary here; they filmed part of it at a house party and kids lost their jobs if they were spotted in the documentary, or it was fun to try to pick out who you knew in it. It wasn’t just a media phenomenon though, it also heralded an era in which having your car searched by the police was a weekly occurrence and you just expected it. The FBI eventually did an undercover operation at my high school and busted several students. It just didn’t seem real until the deaths of people I knew were combined with the rather crass juxtaposition of seeing your clueless classmates on MTV talking about it nonchalantly. Obviously it was very depressing.
December, 1999. Steve Albini and the band at the conclusion of the “Are Tired Beasts” sessions.
EL: How long did it take to write/record …Are Tired Beasts? What was the studio experience like?
CM: It took years to write in a way because there are songs on it that were written as far back as 1996. But we were very cocky at the time and thought that maybe our six song demo on a four track should really be a fourteen song album with Steve Albini. I think part of it was that we hated the sound of local records, and wanted to really have something that we weren’t ashamed of. We only played one show as Early Lines before we recorded that album. The studio experience was really hectic; we recorded and mixed it in two days, which was very unfair to Steve, but he was a very good sport about it, which he is known for. We just tore through the songs and avoided Steve’s criticisms like, “You sing like a total fag right here. I LOVE IT.” or “I like his drumming more than yours because there is less hi-hat,” or “What New Order song are you ripping off here?” That kind of thing. It was a really fun experience and I am somewhat ashamed of the record, though it is kind of goofy and charming when I hear it now, especially in the moments where there is an obvious attempt to be taken seriously. It was really important to get something recorded before the end of the ’90’s. and we did it. December 1999. Mission accomplished.
EL: Why release the album, and all successive albums, yourselves on a label of your own creation (Deep East Records)?
CM: I’m sure we would have been on a label if we had really been given the chance, but it’s mostly because I don’t think there was a label that had a lot of use for a band where the songwriting changed so often, and there was no defining personality guiding everything. That was a common criticism. The only label that ever solicited material from us was Secretly Canadian who were tipped off by Skyscraper Magazine. When we sent them, Hate The Living, Love The Dead, they never spoke to us again. I don’t really blame them, and I think it was best for us to get some experience putting out our own records, having to deal with manufacturing issues, putting the artwork together etc. So it was out of the necessity of thinking, “Nobody is going to do this for us. Nobody owes us anything.” And we were much better off with that mentality than getting our hopes up over label attention. We did have one track, “Modern World,” on a Jonathan Richman tribute that was put out by Wampus Records. It’s the only thing we have on Itunes, and the only reason I know that is because it was on Penn Gillette’s “Itunes Celebrity Playlist.” That was very funny to us, since we hadn’t really thought about the comp in years and it makes the band seem like some Pebbles obscurity, which I don’t mind. Feel free to post that mp3, we certainly were never paid for it or anything. Dan and I considered putting out records on Deep East with our new projects, but Seth and Dan live in Austin, so we eventually gave up on the idea.
Early Lines and Bob Weston circa April 2001, Just after wrapping up the first half of the “Hate The Living Love The Dead” sessions.
EL: My personal favorite Early Lines record is Hate The Living, Love The Dead. Without sounding like a complete fanboy jackass — please tell me everything about it. That’s hyperbole, of course, but…there’s so much going on in those songs, I’d love to hear more about it, from song meanings to recording techniques.
CM: Sure, and I really appreciate that very much. After we recorded Are Tired Beasts, we started working on more difficult material, with much trickier prog rhythms and just generally trying to out-weird ourselves. But unfortunately the drug problems that hounded our teenage years became worse in our twenties. We weren’t actually abusing drugs, but some of our friends were, and unfortunately it seemed that every person that died I knew maybe a little more and a little more. It just seemed to be creeping up to my doorstep and there was nothing I could do about it.
A very dear friend of ours named Jennifer became addicted to chiva or black tar heroin, and I started to feel really helpless. I considered Jennifer my best friend; she grew up with Seth, Dan, and I, we had all worked together, our lives were very interconnected. She was a very bright young woman, from a good background, had played in the marching band, was on the track team, in honors courses etc. But more importantly, she was our funny, kind-hearted, sweet friend who liked going to shows as much as we did, was a huge fan of punk and indie music, and had long been one of our biggest supporters. Watching my friend suffer through heroin and eventually methadone addiction was by far the worst and most excruciating experience of my life, and we would all be permanently changed as a result. The things I saw her put herself through during this time period were as bad as the end result in many ways, and caused me to look at my community in a much worse light than I already did. The sleazy underworld of North Texas had revealed itself not as some place to just passively kind of judge or make fun of, but to actively and passionately hate. I was in school at the time, trying to be focused and trying to do what I thought you “should do” when you’ve graduated high school, but that was all derailed. I didn’t know what to do for someone suffering through such horrors at that age, and I just sort of stuck to my responsibilities and hoped the situation would get better. It didn’t. She came to me a couple of times suffering through withdraws, and I just didn’t know how to handle the situation. I would just tell her to chuck her drug kit out the window and take her back to her parents. She tried to find help for her problem, but she subsequently died of a methadone overdose. I actually talked to Jennifer the night before she died; she was living out of a hotel in Grand Prairie, TX and she was trying to convince me to drive out there and see her. I was still stuck in this mindset that it was too late at night, I should be well-behaved, I shouldn’t drive all the way out there, I should be on time to work etc. But then three days went by, and I didn’t hear from her. It was very eerie. Surely three days had passed before without us speaking, but something just set in that this was different. I had lost the number to her hotel room and I was kicking myself for this over the next few days. On Memorial Day of 2000, we were having band practice when I noticed her family’s house number on the caller ID, and I assumed it was her calling from her parent’s home. We decided to finish practicing and call her back afterwards. I called back and her step-dad answered, and I asked for the last time in my life, “Is Jen there?” He very quickly and solemnly replied, “Chris…we are making funeral arrangements for Jennifer.” And at that moment, I felt like a nuclear explosion just went off right inside of my body, like a devastating cloud just swirled in and blacked everything out. At this point Seth and Dan were inside watching me frantically pace around outside before slumping over a bench and sobbing. They later said that they knew someone had died, just judging from my reaction ,and they were nervously trying to figure out who it was as they watched from inside the house. I had to walk inside that house and tell my two friends what had happened, as well as many other people, since her mother put me in charge of telling all of her friends. Dan and I were pallbearers, and each day in this time period I remember nothing other than it just being an unbelievably brutal new test of will.
Eventually, when it was time to think about music again, we scrapped almost all of the music we had been working on, and instead created something that much more accurately reflected what we felt like at this time. It became more about extremes, and all of a sudden, there was nothing too morose, or heavy handed, or ugly, or sorrowful to be expressed. I wanted the record to demonstrate how angry at certain people we had become, along with how much sympathy and affection we felt for Jen. I can’t entirely speak for three songwriters here, and they definitely had their own way of writing or executing a concept, so not every lyric corresponded with the events, but it was definitely put together as tribute ultimately. There are a lot of subjects being covered there, and it’s not exactly a narrative, but I think it’s as close to a theme as were likely to get out of three different lyricists with fairly different takes on making music.
We originally wanted the record to begin with ten minutes of tortured screaming, but found that one minute of screaming is quite long enough, and I actually started gagging during the recording of that intro. In the first record there was a reference to how much I hated guns and knives, so on “Hate The Living,” I wanted to make sure there were references to warning shots, and just a lot more threatening language in general, because I felt catapulted into this incredibly dark situation and wanted to lash out any way that I could. Again, I can’t speak for the entire band, and they had their own way of handling the subjects, but I was addressing things very directly. I was really upset over how Jen spent the last six months or so of her life, at the mercy of a lot of really rotten people, that thought nothing of stepping all over this wilting flower of a person. So that’s basically what I’m singing about, along with my own inabilities when it came to helping her out. I really beat myself up over that. I know that it was hard for people to understand why we would make a tribute to someone so audibly belligerent for the most part, but I think that trying to reconcile that kind of loss at twenty or twenty one years old puts it in perspective.
As far as the recording itself, it was one of the better experiences I’ve had in the studio. We worked with Bob Weston the first couple of days and knocked out half of the album, and Steve did the rest. I still wish Bob recorded bands, and I think it’s a shame that he’s not, though his mastering company is very dependable and does excellent work. It was really fun to see Steve and Bob interact, and especially to hear jokes Steve would make at Bob’s (as well as our) expense. I think they were very kind about dealing with three still inexperienced twenty-one year olds, especially me, as I remember being fairly moody and doing such uncomfortable things as putting a picture of my deceased friend on the lyric sheet when i would record vocals. My voice is going out on this album and I think it sounds better than usual as a result. There is a lot of ambient mic on every song, and Bob thought we had too much “room sound” that was eating up the rest of the music, and that we would regret it in six months. We didn’t. We wanted everything to sound pummeling and huge, and Bob would mark the console with where he thought the mixing levels should be with a china marker. Then he would tell us to re-listen to the song and put the levels where we thought they should be, inevitably much higher than his. He would come back in the room and expertly find a middle ground between our extreme preference and his more subtle opinion. There are little bits of percussion on the album such as a trash-can filled with nuts and bolts, as well as a gamelan kettle gong (kethuk), and a drum machine. We tried to sort of bury these in for the most part, and we were especially influenced by the ugliness of Savage Republic’s music, particularly the “Customs” LP. Steve wasn’t really into the extra percussion and even told us by holding up a little bear hand-puppet that, “I bet you think this is going to make your album sound ‘interesting,'” in a high-pitched cartoon voice. He also said that since we requested he splice the songs back-to-back, we had made “the kind of record nobody listens to all the way through.” Anyways, they seemed to suggest that maybe we were a little nuts, or making bad or extreme decisions regarding mixing, but in the end, they seemed okay with it.
Seth Sherman (left) and Daniel Doyle (right) mixing, while Bob watched TV, in order to come to an agreement about levels.
EL: How did the press in Plano respond to your records? Were they supportive, negative, or indifferent?
CM: Well, we were only mentioned in the proper Plano press once. Plano was tearing down a historic part of downtown to put up these new condos, and a friend of ours had rented out the former Collin County Republican Headquarters, which was now going for cheap rent since it was to be demolished soon. So we put a show together in the headquarters just to demonstrate that we thought it was a shame, not really thinking we could do anything about it. But they interviewed me about that. As far as the proper Dallas press, which normally covers local music, we were mentioned once I suspect only because we were recording with Albini, which I think was a non-story since he records anyone. The little bit of press we did get was usually either from Denton, TX or New York.
EL: Can you speak at all about the choice to end Early Lines?
CM: There was a nearly ten month period where we had all moved down to Austin, which is three hours away, and I had to move back prematurely because my mother became ill. So I had to move back to take her to treatments etc. They tried moving back in the interest of the band and going on tour, but they couldn’t take living here any longer. In fact, Dan could only take it for about a month before he moved back. I don’t blame him, even if I did at the time. I started getting a band together to pass the time and Doyle started a solo project. I was in Austin to see a show, and I found his first solo release at a record store. So I then decided that we were actually not a band anymore, which I think I was in denial about up to that point. So we both started projects; nobody was to blame really. Seth had a solo project as well, but then again, he sort of always existed in his own separate place. He is so talented, I often felt like I was holding him back from doing something else musically. We played our “last show” in Summer of 2005. Sadly enough, our aforementioned late friend Jennifer’s brother died in Iraq almost exactly five years after her death, and I remember playing the last show the day after we all attended his funeral. We still play a show maybe once every two years or so, usually for some specific reason; a benefit, some significant anniversary etc.
EL: What is your favorite memory from the years you spent in the band?
CM: There were some really lovely moments on tour, but I think returning from the West Coast, completely broke and feeling down, and discovering this crowd in Amarillo that we didn’t know existed was probably my favorite moment. It was sort of a moment spread out over a few trips, as the crowd was always really responsive and kind there. One night we played there (the venue was called The Pod), and then you could sleep at the club if you had nowhere to stay. So we start getting comfortable on these couch beds, and a random woman shows up at around three-thirty or four in the morning, says that she “heard we were really good,” and that she’d like to buy us breakfast. We were a pretty sexless band, we weren’t really into random encounters, but we were definitely into free breakfasts. So we decide to squeeze into her old beat-up seventies muscle car, and as she’s speeding up to get on the highway, she says, “Ya’ll are crazy! Getting into a car with me?!” It was then that we realized how drunk she was, but the following meal at “The Kettle” was so simultaneously terrible and entertaining that you wonder why you spend your life doing anything else.
Christopher Mosley on-stage, January, 2004.
EL: Nouns Group, your current musical project, is also based in Plano, correct? How did Nouns Group form? Is the self-titled album you sent me the only recorded output?
CM: Nouns Group just officially ended unfortunately, as our violinist, Megan Carroll, moved to LA to attend USC for graduate school. I formed the group with a couple of other friends that played in bands that I had met through playing in Early Lines; as well as my friend’s little sister, who played violin. That EP is the only thing we recorded. We did it at Key Club Recording in Michigan, which was a great experience. Some of those songs were actually practiced in Early Lines, and they probably would have made it on our third full-length that never was. I told Daniel that I wanted violin on all of my songs on our next record, and he wasn’t crazy about the idea. I am actually working on a new project called Marriage Material.
EL: Have you stayed in Plano your whole life? How is the city different now than it was 10 years ago?
CM: Aside from the brief stint living in Austin, I have in fact lived in Plano my whole life, yes. I would say the city is very much the same. Heroin was eventually replaced by Steroids as the media’s favorite drug, and “cheese heroin” eventually made waves because it had an impact on increasingly younger victims, which was really disturbing. On the back of our last release, “Pure Health,” we are actually all reading different newspapers and magazines covering the various Plano drug trends. Honestly, I still hear about heroin being a problem here all the time. Unfortunately the city is world-famous for it, as I’ve discovered firsthand through traveling.
EL: I’ve only ever driven through Plano while traveling between cities. How would you describe it for people who have never been, or know little about the area?
CM: Oddly enough, I just saw it written up as one of the “Top Ten Places In The US” to raise a child. Though I find that laughable, it is a fairly quiet, safe environment, at least superficially. Though there are many parks and trails, most never walk or bike here, and there tends to be a hostile attitude from motorists towards you if you choose to do so. That’s not surprising since Plano has made it into the top five “most conservative” cities in America on more than one occasion. The city was also named “most affluent city in America” recently, however it should be noted that the middle class, and lower middle class areas, make up a much larger portion of the city than is ever actually reported. Most people assume that the city is nothing but malls and gated communities, and I can certainly understand why they think that, though I don’t think that’s the complete picture. All disadvantages aside, I can say that I have met some of the greatest people I’ve ever known here, and they probably were somehow shaped by growing up here. I think that suffocating conservatism, unspeakable tragedy, and an oppressed adolescence all amongst a serene backdrop is quite the character builder. I do not however, recommend that sort of formative experience to anyone, and I probably won’t live here for much longer. Thank you for your compliments and interest in the group. It means a lot to us.
Leave a Comment