Drawing upon both American country and British folk roots for inspiration, Mojave 3 has impressed listeners and critics alike with their moody, atmospheric sound. Formed from the remnants of the British group Slowdive, the band turned away from surging electric pop/rock towards a softer acoustic focus. Mojave 3’s lyrics touch upon themes of thwarted love and loneliness, combining well with the quietly brooding ambiance of their music. Echoes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Gram Parsons are present in their songs, influences that the band proudly acknowledges.
Mojave 3 was launched in 1995, when singer/guitarist Neil Halstead, singer/bassist Rachel Goswell and drummer Ian McCutcheon regrouped afterthe breakup of their previous band, Slowdive. Formed in 1989 in England’s Thames Valley area, Slowdive was part of a wave of British bands that included Ride, Pale Saints, and Swervedriver. Emphasizing feedback and effects-laden electric guitar sounds, these groups were tagged with the “shoegazer” label, a reference to the motionless, trance-like mood of their songs. After several years of popularity in the early 1990s, such groups fell out of favor, and Slowdive suffered from a backlash in the British music press. Following the 1995 release of Slowdive’s third CD, Pygmalion, the band’s three core members disbanded in favor of adopting a new name and musical identity. Regarding his shift in direction, Hal-stead said in a4AD/Sire press biography that he “wanted to do something more with song structure, and something more acoustic-based. We didn’t talk about it much before we recorded, it was just that I’d changed by the time I wrote those songs.”
The music that Halstead and Goswell began creating after leaving Slowdive had a melancholy quality that was suggestive of stark, wide-open landscapes. Appropriately, they decided to name their new band after the Mojave desert, the vast Southern California landscape where one of their musical heroes, country-rock artist Gram Parsons, died in 1973. Adding keyboardist Christopher Andrews and slide guitarist Simon Rowe, Mojave 3 recorded a six-song demo tape over a two-day period and went looking for a recording contract. “Some of the demo recordings ended up on the final release,” Halstead told writer Berett Atwood in an interview for Billboard. “We couldn’t go into the studio to re-create them if we wanted to. There was an atmosphere and soul to the original sessions that can’t be duplicated.”
By the end of 1995, Mojave 3 had joined the roster of 4AD, the British label known for such highly-regarded artists as the Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil. Their debut CD for the label, Ask Me Tomorrow, appeared in January, 1996 to an encouraging reception. In place of the thickly-applied guitar sounds that Slowdive favored, keyboard-based textures highlighted “Love Songs On The Radio” and other tracks. The overall mood of the album was bittersweet and reflective, somewhat suggestive of Mazzy Star, Cowboy Junkies and similar dark-tinged rock units. Halstead and Goswell were quick to point out in interviews that Mojave 3 was a distinct departure from their previous group. “We changed the name because the new songs are so different than the work we had done as Slowdive,” Goswell told Billboard. “We didn’t want to bring any prejudices against Slowdive to the new material.”
Mojave 3 embarked on tours in both Britain and the United States in 1996 before returning to the studio. Chief songwriter Halstead began composing material with a more pronounced American country influence, harkening back to the homespun pathos of Hank Williams and George Jones. The poetic folk/rock of Bob Dylan’s mid-1960s albums was another key reference point. The Dylan influence was underscored in part by newly-recruited member Alan Forester, who had replaced Andrews on keyboards. “Just the instrumentation, just the Hammond organs really adds that element…” Halstead said in an interview with Jack Rabid in The Big Take-Over; “as soon as Alan started in the band, he started whacking out these Hammond riffs, itwasjust great. I like the sound of those [Dylan] records, everything
Members include Christopher Andrews (left group, 1997), keyboards; Alan Forrester (joined group, 1998), keyboards; Rachel Goswell (born May 16, 1971, Hampshire, England), bass, vocals; Neil Hal-stead (born October 7, 1970, Luton, Bedfordshire, England), guitar, vocals; Ian McCutcheon , drums; Simon Rowe , guitar.
Group formed in England in 1995; signed recording contract with 4AD, 1995; released debut album Ask Me Tomorrow in 1996; released second album Out Of Tune in 1999.
Addresses: Record company —4AD/Sire Records Group, 936 Broadway Fifth Floor, New York, NY 10010. Publicist—Sacks & Co., 427 West Fourteenth Street, New York, NY 10014. WebsiteOfficial Mojave 3 World Wide Web Site:www.lysator.liu.se/~chief.mojave3.
sort of going off and you got the Hammond and all these counter melodies.”
Augmented by veteran British pedal-steel guitarist B.J. Cole, Mojave 3 recorded their second album at their home studio in Cornwall, England. The resulting album, Out Of Tune, took the group further into country music terrain while adding some brighter shadings to their sound. One track, “Some Kinda Angel,” demonstrated that the band was capable of delivering an upbeat rock tune when in the mood. More than balancing the lighter moments, though, were such wistful ruminations as “All Your Tears,” “Keep it All Hid” and “To Whom Should I Write.” Halstead sang lead on all tracks, with Goswell providing her trademark harmonies. Reviews of Out Of Tune were generally positive. Rolling Stone reviewer James Hunter called the album “stunning, an unerring collection of floating, giant little moments,” while Spin critic Joshua Clover hailed it as a “campfire micromasterpiece.” A dissenting voice came from Eric Broome in Allstar, who wrote that Out Of Tune’s tracks “sustain a lovely atmosphere, but by the sixth or seventh song, the laconic energy level begins to grate.”
With two albums behind them, Mojave 3 defined themselves as a stripped-down, thoughtful group capable of extending their sound without losing their identity. For his part, Halstead seemed content to continue making music for a faithful cult audience. “I don’t think we are doing anything terribly original,” Halstead said modestly in an interview with Rolling Stone Online. “… I think we’re getting better known; I mean, I think we’ve always had that sort of core fan base. I don’t think it will ever be crazy.”
Ask Me Tomorrow, 4AD, 1996.
Out Of Tune, 4AD/Sire, 1999.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze, 1998.
Big Take-Over, Summer, 1999.
Billboard, December 9, 1995.
Rolling Stone, April 1, 1999.
Alistar, http://www.allstarmag.com (January 14, 1999).
Rolling Stone Online, http://www.rollingstone.com (January 14, 1999).
Additional information was provided by 4AD/Sire publicity materials, 1999.