Jack Colleran stands in a Dublin coffee shop checking his phone. The man better known as MMOTHS has an alien look to him and sticks out amid the bright colours and sunny dispositions brought on by the brief Irish summer. He stands tall and pale, wearing a black t-shirt and a thin gold chain along with some garish shorts. He says he has had very little sleep while recording in his studio on the Dublin quays, and his eyes are dwarfed by the bags gathering beneath them. It’s obviously a busy time for him.
Since uploading a couple of tracks to Soundcloud in late 2010, life has changed radically for Colleran. He has already signed with and left his first record label (SQE) but not before releasing two EPs, last year’s MMOTHS and Diaries, which was released in March. It’s quite staggering what Colleran has achieved in a short amount of time, and what started off as one guy avoiding revision and messing around with downloaded samples has become an intriguing and vibrant entity in itself. He looks back on his earlier efforts with flippant disregard though.
“There was no sense of creating a work of anything [with MMOTHS], and I think Diaries was the opposite of that. I wanted to make a piece that made sense from start to finish. I put a lot of effort into that, I put a lot of effort into making it all work together compared to the first one, which was just shit thrown together in a really lazy way.”
The supposed laziness can be easily forgiven. MMOTHS infamously started as a rather creative form of procrastination in Colleran’s final year of school, and he admits that he knew little about electronic music before his rise to prominence. So MMOTHS, in itself, is a learning curve, but Colleran’s focus and insatiable curiosity ensure that is also an ongoing evolution. In the studio, sound engineers tell him: “‘No, no, no, no, no, that’s – you can’t do that’. I’m hearing the same as the average listener, and I haven’t got this training. And I like that, because it’s fun and it feels like experimenting.”
And yet, still, wordless tracks such as ‘No One’ and ‘Too Real’ communicate great yearning and trap emotion within skeletal ambient beats with irregular flippancy. “I just messed around with it for a while. It was just the idea of creating something that wasn’t there before that I liked a lot”, he says. His process is made to sound amateur, but Colleran is a man with an inherent gift that has been quickly nurtured by the ease of today’s technology. He’s a man of his time.
Even if his music harbours hidden depth, Colleran admits that he’s “not really that emotional a guy” and is quick to declare himself “the worst person in the world for sharing emotion or conveying emotion”. If not accidental, the feelings expressed in the works of MMOTHS are certainly abstract, and further clarity seems far off. “I can’t write lyrics at all. I’ve never tried, but I know just wouldn’t be able to write lyrics … I think that was one of my main aims at the start: to not have any vocals on the tracks and to make tracks that were as strong as, say, Alicia Keys singing.”
The sentiment that consumes Diaries could not be said to be wholly universal, either. The EP came together during a “really, really shit” tour of the US and made for an effective coping mechanism as Colleran spent weeks by himself. “You meet people – you meet promoters and people come to the show and stuff – and that’s nice, but there’s no one you can talk to it about, like, just familiar things, so that was really rough. So it was kind of like a diary of when I was travelling around: it was great – it was a really great experience – but it was horrible.
“We played a shit show in the desert: it was unbelievably hot outside … I wish there was someone there who I knew, who I could say ‘Jesus, how hot is this?’ to. The lad I was talking to was all: ‘It’s always this hot’, and you’re like: ‘Oh, OK – you can’t get down to my level at all’.
In response to the dirge of touring solo, Colleran’s live show has had to progress immeasurably. Where once he stood alone, doing his best to imitate his recorded sound, there is now a full band, although the expanded live show is a much an ambitious leap as it is a reactionary response. “It was just about pushing forward and move, and we definitely needed that”, he says. “It doesn’t translate the same way as playing with just your controls or with your laptop as going to see a live band. There’s this level of energy that goes back and forth between the players and the crowd.”
Colleran, behind the controls and on keyboards, with friends Josh (guitar/bass) and Conor (drums) played their first show as a trio in the Button Factory last October before embarking on a tour with the xx. Excitement shakes the fatigue from his cadence when he talks about the live show and his upcoming performance at Body & Soul in particular. “My manager is coming over from LA for it because I’ve talked about it so much, so it’s gonna be fun. It’s a festival we’ve been looking forward to see since we got booked for it.
“I’ve never been before. It doesn’t seem like a festival where they go: ‘Ah, that’ll be fine’. They put effort into the entire bill and their production. I’m really looking forward to it.”
The efforts to make MMOTHS more of a live spectacle took time and forced writing and recording down Colleran’s list of priorities until recently, but the debut album is now officially in the works, and he speaks about it with apprehension.
“Now is the time where I have to write towards and build an album in the next few months, and doing that is the scariest. It’s the scariest thing to date. An EP is, like, whatever, it’s a couple of tracks, and it’s concise. An album is like…” Well, it’s a lot of scrutiny, but it’s very slowly coming together.
“I’ve been going through demos that I’ve had for the past couple months when we’re travelling or when I’m at home to see what works and what’s worth creating. So I’m piecing it together, creating a foundation and then thrashing it out.
“I don’t really know for sure what’s going to happen because it’s early days, but I want to experiment a lot. My idea is just to get a load of demos together and go somewhere and just get a bit weird with stuff. It could sound like Calvin Harris, it could sound like fucking John Lennon. It’s not gonna sound like Calvin Harris.”
Whether or not MMOTHS transforms into a chart-topping dance act or not is up to Colleran. Free from the deadlines and compromises that come with a record label, he is taking his time and open to what the creative process yields. “I think if we were still with [SQE] and we were making an album, there’d be questions as to – any label, they always want something, not constantly, but they need you to push forward, and, at the minute, I’m keeping all this music to myself, so that I can create something that makes sense.
“I’ve been writing fine most of the year, so I think I just like the idea of getting away from business and stuff and being able to focus on what’s at hand. We’ll see when that time comes, I’m at the beginning of the process now.”
It’s not easy to forget Colleran’s age, but it’s clear he has matured over the past couple of years. He has a firm handle on what he wants to do and has surrounded himself with people who can help make that a reality; it’s quite impressive to see, even if he still carries himself with the sluggish nonchalance of your average 20-year-old. It all could have been very different.
“My girlfriend’s in college at the minute, in a course she really hates, and seeing that on a daily basis has made me realise how lucky I am. I was in a university for the first time a couple of weeks back, in NCAD, and I felt so uncomfortable. I just knew I wasn’t meant to be there.
“I don’t think I’d ever be able to do it.”
MMOTHS will be playing Body & Soul at 10:30pm on Saturday (22nd June). Diaries is out now.