Interview: The Moth & The Flame remain faithful to Utah roots

The Moth & The Flame, photo: Roman Gokhman

Photos: Roman Gokhman

Earlier this year, Provo, Utah, alt-rock quartet The Moth & The Flame released their second album, called Young & Unafraid. Many of the songs were already upwards of a year old at that point, which has Brandon Robbins (vocals, guitar), Mark Garbett (keys), Andrew Tolman (drums) and Michael Goldman (bass) looking ahead to writing and recording again.

Considering the five-year gap between Young & Unafraid and their self-titled 2011 debut, they may want to get to work faster this time around. Last week at BottleRock Napa Valley, RIFF met with Robbins, Garbett and Tolman to talk about the current album and the music still to come.

The Moth & The Flame, now based in Los Angeles, found a new star for their “Young & Unafraid” video in May 2015: 61-year-old skateboarding sensation Neal Unger. Unger picked up skateboarding later in life and was self-taught. In the video he skates with much younger peers and represents the central message of the song: that everyone makes their own path and follows their own heart. Age has nothing to do with it.

You have worked with several very successful producers on your most recent album, including Nate Pyfer and Peter Katis (The National, Sigur Ros) Tony Hoffer (M83), and Rob Moose (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens). What was the process like? Did it ever get complicated, and was everything you expected before you went in?
Andrew Tolman: The different producers that we’ve worked with; each one brings something pretty different to the table. It has been a very great learning experience finding out the types of producers that we like. Each one brings strengths and weaknesses for us. Honestly, I feel like we’re pretty lucky to get the producers that we did. The first, Peter Katis; he’s worked with Interpol, The National and Sigur Ros. We actually lived with him in his house and recorded. He would cook food for us. It was awesome.
Mark Garbett: We spent a summer at Bridgeport, Conn., at his house. That’s kind of where the album was really formed and the bulk of the work was done. We did quite a bit after that, but spending that time with Peter is where things really began.

The involvement of 61-year-old skateboarder Neal Unger in the “Young & Unafraid” video is a seminal connection between you and your fans in that song. Do you foresee any future partnerships?
Garbett: We’re not opposed to working with Neal again. He’s an amazing guy; he really is. What you see is what you get. He’s a happy person that just loves skating and is excited about life. He was really easy to work with. You put the camera on him, and you pretty much get this guy that’s so real and so excited about life. It really comes through in the video.
Brandon Robbins: He did all the tricks. All of that was him. He’s developed some of those original tricks. If you notice some of the way he throws the board down and catches it, rides on it. That’s his style. He was telling us that he had to learn how to fall properly to avoid injuring himself.
Tolman: I think if you talk to any accomplished skateboarder, they’re going to tell you it’s not about if you fall, it’s when you fall. It’s smart to learn, you know, to be able to fall and get back up.
Garbett: He started skateboarding only a few years ago, so he’s still learning, is what he would say.

Your album has been out for a while now. Some of the songs are about a year old. Have you already started writing new material?
Tolman: We’re in the process of writing new material right now. In between festival dates this summer, we’re going in and out of the studio. We’ll be finishing up a batch of songs here in the next month.

You’ve worked with Lindsey Stirling and Imagine Dragons. All of you, I believe, went to school in Utah. Is there a strong connection between artists from that state? Do you stay in touch? Is there something that pulls you all together, even after you move away?
Robbins: Definitely. All the bands that you named. We’ve had ties to Provo, Utah, specifically. There’s just been a really cool scene that evolved there. There’s a strong sense of this friendly competitiveness. A lot of bands were really driven to be better, but also to help those around them be better. Imagine Dragons, Lindsey, and us; we came from that scene.
Garbett: Neon Trees are from there. Joshua James. Same place.
Robbins: They came out of that same era.
Tolman: In fact, the other day, we played a show in Provo. It was a benefit, and I remember specifically walking backstage at this small venue, and there were all of the members for Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees, Fictionist, The Moth & The Flame, Ronnie Vannucci from the Killers, Joshua James. There’s a batch of 30, 50 people, and every single person is an amazing artist. It’s really cool to see that community come together. Every one knows each other. All those people know each other, and there’s a real strong connection.

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