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A Conversation with Andy Molholt of Laser Background | Feature Interview

by Stephen Veith (@quakeroats91)

Andy Molholt is a multi-instrumentalist from Hatfield, PA area, North of Philadelphia. His main project is Laser Background, and he has toured with various bands, currently playing guitar in Speedy Ortiz. He and I sat down for a cup of coffee to discuss Laser Background and his other musical endeavors. We discussed a range of influences on his own music from both films and video games. He shared how he feels about his music, its progression, as well as how he finds peace with the amount of injustice that’s rampant in the world. 


Stephen Veith: How has your family played a factor into your life as a musician? Were they an inspiration or musicians themselves?  

Andy Molholt: Not really at all, my dad was a scientist and my mother is a veterinarian. My dad did have somewhat of a musical background, he would sing to me as a child and had pianos around. My uncle’s name is Balazs, my middle name, which is Hungarian, he was a musician, and unfortunately he died before I was born. The first guitar I ever owned was actually his, it was gifted to me, there is certainly musical background in my family, but no one in my direct family was as into it as I am. 

SV: Is your family originally from Hungary? 

AM: Yeah! My mother was born in Budapest. 

SV: Interesting, my mom was born in Europe as well. In light of the recent election did you ever consider leaving the states? I know I certainly wished I could. 

AM: One of my first thoughts was “I’m out of here” but then as I thought about it further, I realized that staying here, and making things better is more important than leaving. 

SV: I agree, putting your head in the sand can be convenient, but there are certainly problems here that need to be addressed. So if your family was not the driving force in your musical interest, what was? Was there a record when you were young that clicked for you and made you realize this was something you’d be interested in pursuing and putting your time into? 

AM: To be honest, I was not raised with much musical input. My parents listened to The Beatles and classical music, but I did not receive much musical pop culture in my house as a child. I watched a lot of movies, but I think I was majorly influenced by video game music. I played so many video games as a child. 

SV: I actually hear that heavily, especially in the Laser Background track “Francine” – there is a loop that sounds like a mix between Wii menu music and Dots and Loops era Stereolab. 

AM: Hahaha, for sure, I know exactly what part you’re talking about. Koji Kondo, who wrote all the music for Zelda and the Mario games was a huge influence for me when I was young. 

SV: I’ve been listening to your music for a long time. I was going through some of my old tickets and found the ticket from the first time I saw you with Mac Demarco at Underground Arts in Philadelphia from 2014, and I recall listening to Super Future Montage before the show and hearing those influences pretty strongly.

AM: Woah, that was a long time ago, my set back then sounded a lot different from the recordings. Now my live set has progressed to a whole new place. 

SV: Going back to how you first got into music, what albums, if you remember were you listening to in say, middle school or high school? 

AM: Strictly The Beatles, I remember my sister gave me The White Album and I remember getting really ‘emo’ to that in middle school, when I was playing violin in orchestra. I did have a point in middle school, which is definitely the weirdest time of anyone’s life, when I realized I didn’t know about “cool music” that some of my other friends were listening to, so I definitely explored Blink-182 and other popular music at the time.

When it comes to writing and performing music, I went on tour for the first time when I was 19 which was great, but my mom did remember that I have been writing music since I was 8. I had an 80’s Yamaha keyboard with a four-track built into it, and I guess I started experimenting and figuring music out and how to write music then. Another huge thing for me was Radiohead, I found a copy of Ok Computer at my sister’s apartment, and I put that on and it really blew my mind. That’s also when I started playing in bands and getting into more interested in music. Moving to Philly, about 10 years ago, is when I started to listen to Captain Beefhart and The Kinks and really lead to I guess my “musical explosion”. The first real show I went to was actually They Might Be Giants and Afroman, but I was really blown away by a Modest Mouse and Chk Chk Chk (!!!) show I went to after that.

SV: Speaking of progression, I was looking at how you tagged your own music on Bandcamp. On Super Future Montage you tagged yourself as “candy pop” and I understand that, it was very light, and compared to songs on your newer records such as “Drink the Dirt” it sounds like the difference between Sweet Tarts and chocolate. Not to say that your music was unrefined, but it’s definitely become fuller in a sense. 

AM: I like that, I would actually agree that my music was less refined, self-awareness is certainly important, at the time of Super Future Montage I would say that I hadn’t figured everything out yet. It’s funny that you mention Sweet Tarts, I have a “Tongue Splashers” candy jar from childhood, and the color scheme from that is something I wanted my early records to sound like. 

SV: It’s cool to see that your progression is organic, I feel a lot of bands try to intentionally make their new records drastically different to not be grouped into a specific sound different, but I feel that can lead to artists losing touch with what made them accessible to their fans in the first place. 

AM: I actually started a new band with my friend Julian (Fader), Coffee, and collaboration is definitely something that helps with how my sound progresses. I feel collaboration is incredibly important. 

SV: Speaking of collaboration, how has touring with Speedy Ortiz influenced your writing, if at all for Laser Background? How do you mitigate learning someone else’s music while being your own creative agent? Do you have input in the music for Speedy at all? 

AM: Sadie (Dupuis) definitely writes everything, but the rest of the bandmates do have some input, small guitar lines here and there. I’ve been playing in the band since last September, but we’ve only played a few shows. I replaced Devin (McKnight), who plays in Grass is Green and now has a project released by Exploding in Sound called Maneka. I actually worked at a summer camp that Sadie worked at before and she texted me one day asking if I wanted to play a few shows, and I’ve stayed in the band since. I wouldn’t say that it negatively effects my recording process at all. Anytime I play in someone else’s band I always find myself coming out of the experience stronger and a better musician. The process for learning, for example, Speedy Ortiz songs is so different from my own process, it’s almost like learning a different person’s brain and it really helps me develop my own way of how I think about writing my own music. Touring though, puts me in a much different mindset, I focus on that specifically.

SV: Before you focused on music and moved to Philly, did you try anything else? Other work? College? 

AM: I went to community college for a few semesters because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do yet, but then I moved to Chicago to go to Columbia College and I studied acting for a bit. I really thought that was what I was going to do for a while. Improv was something I was really interested in too, but seeing everyone around me think this was their fast track to Saturday Night Live was kind of disheartening. I tried stand-up once, at a show that was strictly first time stand-ups, and it was honestly terrifying. I don’t think that I was made to be an actor or a comedian, and I’m really glad that they didn’t work out. 

SV: Have film scores influenced you at all when you were studying film? 

AM: I’d say Jon Brion’s scores were important to me, and that’s something that I’d love to see myself doing in the future. I’m super excited for the Paul Thomas Anderson, Johnny Greenwood, Daniel Day-Lewis project that’s upcoming. I enjoy going to see movies alone, and sometimes big dumb action movies can be fun. 

SV: I’ll admit that I saw the recent Transformers with Mark Wahlberg in theaters alone, sometimes you need to see robots destroy shit when you’ve had a long week. 

AM: Movies are really important to me, and if you want to see something wild, check out Forbidden Zone – Oingo Boingo’s movie that stars Danny Elfman as the devil, it’s incredible. 

SV: I’ll definitely check that out. Back to music though, what was the last show you went to? 

AM: I saw Palm and Palberta play at PhilaMoca recently and I saw Potted Plant and Sitcom at All Night Diner as well. I’m not sure if that’s the last show I saw. The past two weeks I’ve spent the majority of my time working on a stop-motion animation project, and I honestly feel completely out of my league. Usually when I have time I go to a lot of shows at Everybody Hits since I live super close to there. 

SV: The DIY scene is interesting, it has brought me a lot of happiness and great friends, but I also see it tends to be very cliquey at times which can be kind of toxic. 

AM: I honestly really hate that, I understand what you mean totally, my friends and I refer to it as a verb of “Cool Guy-ing” people, and I think it really hurts the scene and how I feel about it as well. A lot of people have a lot of big egos in the DIY scene and I don’t really understand that. Going to shows has definitely introduced me to more people that I like and have since collaborated with. That’s how I met Carlos and Julian of Ava Luna, when we played a show with them and Krill. 

SV: I think going to a show and it having a positive atmosphere is such a useful way to meet people and make friends, it’s such an expansive scene, you meet so many people, it’s tough to keep track of for sure. 

AM: I’d say I have a freakish face memory, I constantly see people at shows that I’ve seen at other shows but that’s when you can experience that stand-offish “cool guy” shit, and it drives me crazy. Even when you’re a bad mood, you need to be kind to people, but at that points it’s a karma thing. 

SV: So after this tour with Speedy Ortiz what’s your next move? 

AM: I tell people that I’m going to be gone for the majority of the time, but I will be home a few times. I think I’m really going to be focusing on this Coffee project, and I have a Laser Background EP that I could have written before this next tour. 

SV: I think that there are certain musicians who, weirdly sounding, release too much music. 

AM: I definitely don’t want to do that. Speaking to my work with Julian and Coffee, we work really fast together and I feel like we could keep churning songs out, we currently have 26. After this tour with Speedy Ortiz and Tera Melos, I feel like there will be a time after tour, that I’ll be feeling a little down and I’ll write and release that Laser Background EP. I feel like I’m relatively young now, and I’m hustling, I’d like to spend the next five years really working on this, but there are some aspects of my future that I’m not sure about. I’ve been working on my house a lot, and I hope that by the time I’m 40 I won’t have to hustle as much as I do right now.

SV: Ambiguity is certainly important, having definite goals in your life that aren’t reach can be devastating for some people. 

AM: Yeah, I think you have to have ambiguity in your life. That being said, I want to work as hard as I can now so later I can relax. I try to stay ten-steps ahead of myself, but I don’t want to over-inundate people with my music. I could keep cranking stuff out if I wanted to, but I don’t believe it would benefit me or anyone else. After this tour, I’m honestly ready to give it a rest for a second, which I haven’t done since I started working on music full time. Life is kind of like a bucket of paint, you spill it on the ground, and you can’t control how it splatters. I’ve learned not to over-agonize decisions, and I’ve made that mistake in the past, and I feel myself just wasting time being bummed, which is the worst thing you can do.  

SV: It’s cool that you’re happy with music though, I’ve had a lot of jobs that I’ve hated, and I recently quit one. 

AM: Yeah, I’ve had a lot of customer service jobs that are basically you getting paid to be yelled at by customers. Congrats on quitting your job though, that’s the best feeling. 

SV: I’ve thought about going back to school, but the idea of more student debt is nauseating. 

AM: I totally understand that. I pretty intentionally didn’t go back to school. That’s one thing about focusing my life on music that I’ve sort of regretted. Both of my parents have helped tons of people by utilizing their educations. My dad was an environmental consultant who would go to Superfund sites and on the side of the people, would show how a corporations would say, give a whole community cancer and attempt to cover it up. His life’s work was focused on water supply contamination in Toms River, New Jersey and the amount of illness that stemmed from that. It feels somewhat narcissistic to me that I’m spending my life focused on this goal for myself in the music world.

I really want to try to do something in my community. Whether it be volunteering my time, donating money, anything on the communal micro level. I recently purchased property actually, and I want to try to help the Philadelphia community. I can see the argument of “music helps people”, sure, but it feels like you’re just patting yourself on the back at that point. I want to do more. I feel a real desire to make the world a better place. I feel that I’ve been lucky to have privileged life. I’m not impoverished, I’m not worried about my next meal, and because of that, I feel like I need to do as much as I can to help people. 

SV: That is extremely inspiring, I really respect that. This has been a wildly meandering conversation, and I really enjoyed meeting and speaking with you.  

Catch Andy and Laser Background at the following dates in January: