Joshua Moriarty is one of the Australian music industry's finest quiet achievers. For 15 years, the multi-talented songwriter, producer and DJ has toiled away fronting bands like Miami Horror and All The Colours, seeing him perform for huge crowds at Coachella, Big Day Out, Groovin' The Moo and many, many more. Now deep into solo territory, Moriarty has recently released his second full-length effort Romantica: a (mostly) instrumental opus which draws influence from '60s and '70s Italy and France as well as the musical canon of Henry Mancini, AIR, Ennio Morricone & Les Baxter. To celebrate the release of his sonic voyage throughout Mediterranean Europe, we set up a Q&A with Moriarty and producer/engineer Jack Arentz to find out more about the writing, recording and people that informed Romantica.
Q: What inspired the album?
Josh Moriarty: It started when I was in LA working with Chris Cester from Jet and his writing partner Louis Macklin, they have a new band called Mystic Knights Of Amnesia they've been working on for years and I've played guitar on a bunch of the stuff. I think they had just picked up Henry Mancini's Mr Lucky Goes Latin on vinyl which has the song 'Lujon' on it. Most people know the tune but probably don't know it by name, it basically speaks immediately to your soul, every romantic and nostalgic feeling you have ever felt wells up in you when you listen to it, it's one of my favourite pieces of music of all time. I was obviously familiar with it but hadn't gone deep down a Mancini hole, they played that song for me and that was really what sparked it all. The sweeping strings, the french horn, the percussion, the chord changes, it was exactly what I wanted to be doing. I was tired of electronic music and also kinda tired of singing, I wanted to make a record that could be put on beside a pool in a picturesque setting, a soundtrack for when your lover was over, something to arouse the senses in that classic way but that didn't have the ego or sad stories of lyrics and the human voice.
Q: What was the production process? Where was it recorded?
Josh Moriarty: I wrote most of the key songs while I was living in LA over the course of a winter, I had the house and the studio I was sharing with Ben (Plant, Miami Horror) mostly to myself for awhile. Actually after the Lujon incident Ben coincidentally played me a bunch of records by Martin Denny and Les Baxter who are very similar to Henry Mancini, they are excellent composers of instrumental music from the '50s and '60s and they put out a bunch of exotica records and that really just became the template for what I wanted to do. Lots of percussion and horns and strings, I just made demos of everything in Ableton, recording the percussion and acoustic guitar and bits and pieces with these Michael Joly Octava pencil condensers. I had an Apogee Duet and between that and the mics it was enough to get all the ideas down.
I had recently bought one of the cheap Hofner basses and also this reissue Ampeg Jet II and those were my tools for the most part. I took most of those sessions to Jack and bounced everything out and then what we needed to replace we did and what was cool we kept. I used a lot Mellotron samples which we ended up keeping, someone gave them to me somewhere along the way and I would just load them up in Kontakt. I also used the Native Instruments Session Strings Pro samples but they didn't end up making the record, they are great but as Marvin said 'Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing Baby', we got Jenny McCullagh (I Know Leopard) to replay everything, she did a few session at the studio with Jack and I and the rest we either did at my place or at Rec Studios in Sydney.
Q: What is your favourite piece of equipment that you used during the making of the album? How did you come across it?
Josh Moriarty: For me my favourite piece of gear would have to be my cheap Hofner bass, I love that sound! It's the sound on every Beatles record, of so many classic bass tones from the '60s and '70s. Just going direct into my Apogee Duet it had a tone immediately. Obviously when it came to mixing the record Jack did more to it but as a vibe while making the demo's it was sick just compressing it with the Ableton compressor and adding a bit of EQ. Also the Ampeg Jet II guitar amp was rad, the reverb is really unique for electric guitar sounds. While recording the guitar harmonies on the song 'Love In E Major' I just compressed it a lot and let the amp do its thing, instant tone.
Jack Arentz: The album was mixed all ITB (in the box), so I had a few tricks to bring in the vintage tones and mix style. I used a bunch of 'The Vulf' by Goodhertz, which is an amazingly dense compressor. It brings so much character, especially to percussion. I'm also a fan of a quite unknown DSP designer called Airwindows. They have summing and clipping plugins that sound incredible. U-he Satin was another mainstay, really bringing a lot of width and space to the mixes.
Q: Tell us about the studio you are in at the moment...
Josh Moriarty: I'm always in and out of different studios, I have a writing studio at home in Melbourne with a piano and a bunch of guitars and my Ableton setup but when it comes to making records I always like to head somewhere else to get things finished. My band All The Colours did our third record at Vox Studios in Hollywood last year, I also just recently made a record with one of my best friends at George Harrison's studio in England, his son Dhani Harrison just recently had it renovated, that place is incredible! I like to make draft copies of everything in Ableton, using the creativity that program allows to change keys and speed things up etc to get the demo's sounding solid then we go and re-record everything properly with full focus.
Jack Arentz: I've just moved into a room at The Aviary in Melbourne. The crew there are really friendly and there's always someone around the corner working on a record. It's been a great experience so far. I'm sharing my room with a few other producers so there is an abundance of gear and cool suggestions on how to use it. Absolutely loving mixing records in there! The monitoring is saving me a tonne of time and giving me a fresh perspective.
Q: If you could have any one piece of equipment, what would it be?
Josh Moriarty: A this stage I just want a legit Hofner, the $400 one is great but I wanna up my game!
Jack Arentz: I'm in love with Burl summing at the moment. Just started using it and I don't think I could live without it.
Q: What was the hardest song to finish on Romantica?
Josh Moriarty: Jack and I had the hardest time making the song 'Virgin Girl,' it went through a bunch of iterations before finally forming into the version on the record. It was just soo delicate, I don't think either of us had ever made a song so gentle and that needed so much nuance before! I remember every time we tried to put any sort of drums on it they always felt way to heavy and hectic, it was kinda hilarious especially considering the name of the song, ha! The chords and melody and the lyric 'Virgin Girl' actually came to me in a dream, I really don't think I would write something like that consciously. I woke up 5am style with the verse changes and that 'Virgin Girl' melody in my head and I had to grab my acoustic (which I always keep next to my bed for such occasions) and try and capture it without popping the bubble of inspiration. One wrong note and the whole tumbles like a drunk playing Jenga! That song was a real learning curve for the both of us.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
Josh Moriarty: I'm working on my next solo record tentatively titled Melancholia. I want to follow up the romantic vibes with the same feelings but I'm singing more again, I think this record will be half instrumental and half with vocals. I've always been a huge fan of Frank Sinatra and other crooners, I think it's my destiny to head in that direction. Romantica is the beginning of a new musical mission and I'm feeling great about it. I've also got a project called Dick & Mary in the works with one of my besties, that's the record we recorded at the Harrison studio, it's similar to Romantica but with female vocals taking the lead, excited about that. I never stop writing so plenty more coming always!
Jack Arentz: Just wrapped the new Kult Kyss single, which i'm very excited about. I also just finished up some records with London Topaz, Congrats Jamo, Aeora & Nussy. They should all be out soon.
Romantica is out now via Repent Repeat.