Subtle But Disturbing : Dreams, Nightmares, and the Sonic World of Rory Mohon

Rory Mohon may not be an artist you’re familiar with, but just one listen to his 2018 album Darkly Dreaming and you’ll know why he should be. Mohon writes dark electro music that feels cinematic. It sounds ready for the big screen, but I’ll stop short of saying “imagined soundtrack”. Yes, his songs are cinematic and feel like the score to some lost 80s gem, but there’s so much more here. Mohon builds glacial and spatial worlds while paying homage to past greats. The work he’s put into his art is present and apparent when you hear tracks like “Bats”, “Dirt Roads and Firelight”, and the exquisite “Binary Dreams”. In my head, Phaedra could be an imagined soundtrack. Or Kraftwerk’s Computer World. Or OMD’s Architecture & Morality. These all put visions in our minds. They brighten our imagination and take us on a journey, no story line needed. We write our own story with the best electronic music.

The same goes for Rory Mohon’s Darkly Dreaming.

February brings the vinyl release of Mohon’s excellent Darkly Dreaming via Vehlinggo Presents and Burning Witches Records. It also happens to be a part of BWR’s 2020 vinyl subscription(more info here). I sat down and talked to Rory about the album release, influences, and his writing process. Check out our conversation below.

J. Hubner: Where did you grow up?

Rory Mohon: I spent most of my time growing up in Portland, OR, but I bounced around between Mississippi and Wisconsin as well.

J. Hubner: When did music become an integral part of your life?

Rory Mohon: I first became enamored with music when I was 14. I was living in Wisconsin and wanted to pick up a hobby to keep myself busy for the long winter months there and expressed interest in guitar. My mother bought me a little Squier pack and I didn’t put down a guitar for about 10 years straight. At the time I was pretty strictly into punk rock and that moved into metal in my early 20’s.

J. Hubner: That seems to be a similar story among synth artists. Most of the guys deep into electronic and heavy synth began in hardcore. So electronic music came a little later for you?

Rory Mohon: I only played bass and guitar in rock, indie rock, and metal bands until the Drive soundtrack came out and I was changed overnight. I continued to play in bands but slowly started writing electronic music on the side.

J. Hubner: Who were some artists that made a huge impact on you?

Rory Mohon: It all started with The Chromatics, Johnny Jewel, LCD Soundsystem and Junior Boys. I later got into a Retrowave phase where I consumed a lot of Timecop 1983, Mega Drive and Powerglove. Lately I’ve gotten more into the soundscape side of things like Ben Frost, Tim Hecker, The Haxan Cloak and also house music from Kevin Kendall and everything Makeup and Vanity Set has been doing.

J. Hubner: Next month you’ll be releasing your excellent 2018 album ‘Darkly Dreaming’ on vinyl with Burning Witches Records, under the ‘Vehlinggo Presents’ umbrella. How did you get hooked up with Darren and Gary? 

Rory Mohon: This came about through Matthew Pusti of Makeup and Vanity Set, who has been someone I’ve looked up to and admired since 2013. I usually send him my music before it comes out to get some feedback on it since I get in my head about what I’ve been doing and he graciously passed it along to Aaron Vehling(Vehlinggo), who in turn sent it to Burning Witches Records. I’m very humbled and honored that these people heard something in my music as I’ve been writing for some time now and it’s been a dream to have something on vinyl.

J. Hubner: The record is fantastic, man. I love that you tow the line between dystopian synth score, sci fi dread, and dance floor beats. It’s an amazing sonic balancing act. Tell me about how the album came together? How long was the writing process for ‘Darkly Dreaming’?

Rory Mohon: Thank you very much. I wrote and recorded this album in under a month. It was October in LA and there was no Halloween vibes going on so I decided to make my own. I had a concept of doing something dark and spooky and was pushed even further into the sonic soundscape I was creating with the help of the score from Mandy. Hearing that made me feel like I was moving in the right direction.

J. Hubner: I could definitely hear something like “Dirt Roads and Firelight” in a horror film. Are you a fan of horror films or cinema in general? Do you approach music in a cinematic way? Like starting with a concept and then working from there? Are do you just sit down and see what the muse brings you?

Rory Mohon: I do love old horror films, and I write music to imaginary films that haven’t been made. I moved to LA two years ago because I want to compose for film and television so all the music I’ve been making is essentially my business card to get me into that world. I want to write solely for sci-fi and horror and focus on creating layers that are subtle but disturbing. I wrote “Dirt Roads and Firelight” as a complete homage to Johann Johannsson and his work on Mandy. I wrote that song the next day after seeing the film.

J. Hubner: Is gear something that’s important to you? Analog over digital? Real over virtual? I’ve always been of the philosophy that use whatever works for you. But vintage gear can be sexy.

Rory Mohon: I’m a total gear addict in that I think of it often and keep up with everything that comes out, however I usually can only afford the basic things so I continue to lust after the new and cool. Some of my best work has been written in just a Moog Mother 32 so I have to remind myself that it’s the melodies and ideas that are important and not the gear. Also it’s about whatever is the fastest for you to get an idea out on. If I’m writing music for an album it’s usually all analog gear with Elektron and Moog being my go to’s, but if I’m doing any kind of commercial work that requires a lot of notes and rewrites then I’m keeping everything inside the box and I’m using virtual gear like the Arturia plugins or Spitfire Audio.

J. Hubner: So you’ve got the ‘Darkly Dreaming’ vinyl release coming in February, but you also just released an EP last month titled ‘Layers’. It’s stunning, really. You seem to be evolving your sound, as these songs seem more sparse, visceral, but very organic and emotional. It puts me in mind of Rival Consoles.

Rory Mohon: In the last year I decided to pump out as much as possible so I made an EP called Muted Dance which was pretty much all live with one or two overdubs in total. HLLWN was an EP I made in October that I created in 48 hrs as a challenge to myself, using only three pieces of gear, and Layers was me wanting to record something with more emphasis on beats and melodies than the previous works. I’ve worked pretty hard over the last year and I hope that this can lead to me scoring as that’s the avenue I really wish to explore.

J. Hubner: That’s a prolific amount of work in a relatively short period of time. 

Rory Mohon: I’m happy I pushed myself because I’m able to churn out a song a day with relative ease right now and working quickly means I don’t have time to second guess myself so I go off instincts.

J. Hubner: What’s next?

Rory Mohon: I have some things in the works which could involve video games, short films and music software, but that’s all in the air and hard to say when this will be. So for now I’ll keep pushing.

Darkly Dreaming will be available next month on vinyl via Burning Witches Records. Check in with Burning Witches Records for more info.

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