Ellen Chan from Moaning Lisa: “In a band you always work towards the same goal, and you all try to serve the song”
Grunge is back, baby! And while it might be Seattle’s dark, suburban streets that first took off, there’s a decent argument to be made for Canberra to be the genre’s new hotspot. Concrete example: Moaning Lisa. It was in 2016 when the quartet burst onto the scene, and over the past five years they have cultivated a rock-solid identity of relentless ferocity, rough, rough sound with all the emotional intensity. that goes with.
According to singer Charlie Versegi, the group’s debut album, Something like this but not this, is “an unscrupulous and unscrupulous record” – a record which is “resolutely rooted in reality” in which each track goes “straight to the point, without a shit”. Quotes like these usually reek of PR fodder (this one indeed comes from the album’s press release), but Versegi couldn’t be more truthful here: from the soaring early riffs of ‘Cold Water’ to the The distortion of expectation that follows ‘Wild Days’, Moaning Lisa’s debut album is a vicious and visceral assault on the senses, in the most beautiful way.
At the heart of the album – and the band itself – is a devastating two-ax attack that immediately makes each track stand out, Versegi’s own gritty fretwork colliding with that of the inimitable Ellen Chan. We caught up with Chan to discuss how the pair developed their one-of-a-kind chemistry, how their vintage Fender Stratocaster shines that chemistry, and what the band (now based in Naarm) have in common with them. Pixies, the blues and glam-rock of the 80s.
For your debut, how did you want this record to serve as an introduction to what Moaning Lisa is, means and represents in its current form?
Most of the lyrics and music are written by Charlie, and I think it’s just a matter of being honest. Honesty without filter. I really admire Charlie’s words – she’s a very good storyteller, and it’s very evocative. There is so much emotional depth in there too. But yeah, I think it’s just about being honest with ourselves, channeling all of our musical influences into it and what we inadvertently and inadvertently take from the artists we’ve listened to. We all have very different musical tastes and influences.
I guess with my guitar playing, I just wanted to complement what was already structurally there – the lyrics Charlie had written, or a tune that Hayley and Hayden had written together – and the different ways we write music.
What were some of these influences?
Before joining Moaning Lisa, I was very heavily influenced by my guitar teacher, who taught me to play blues guitar and a lot of 80s glam rock. It was when I was a teenager in my bedroom. , when I had no one else to play with, so I think I might have inadvertently picked up some of those styling techniques. It wasn’t until I joined Moaning Lisa, when Hayley, Charlie and Hayden introduced me to music like Pixies, Adalita and Mitski, that I really started to branch out into these styles. So I would say these artists are definitely some of the ones we really admire.
One thing I definitely got from the Pixies too, in terms of guitar playing, is in this song, “Where Is My Mind?”, There’s this semi-tonal thing going on, and I’m using a lot of that kind of interval in my guitar playing. It’s very grunge and punk, and it kind of caught on in music.
What is the creative dynamic between you and Charlie as guitarists?
When she writes a song, usually she has chords, and then she puts lyrics behind it, and those are the bare bones that we start to build from. So we all come together as a group to focus under the microscope on certain sections and choose a part of it. Sometimes she had a really strong idea for a guitar line or something, so I would play that, and then we kind of worked around that.
I think most of the time [the best material] comes out when we work together. I think before that I preferred to write my guitar part on my own, because I had always been like a bedroom guitarist. I always thought, “It’s too much pressure to play with other people or to write music with other people.” But I adopted this much more recently.
And you know, putting your ego aside too is really important. Because sometimes you can fall into the trap of saying, “Oh, I’m a guitarist, I can create my own guitar lines. But in a band, you always work towards the same goal, and you all try to serve the song. It really depends on what best serves the song you’re trying to write.
What guitars did you play in the studio?
Okay, so I’ve been playing this guitar since I was 17, and it’s still my favorite. It’s a Mexican Fender Stratocaster, a sunburst, that I bought from Billy Hyde in Sydney. My mom wanted to buy me a guitar, and I was swinging between a Telecaster or a Stratocaster, and I was like, “I’m just going to flip my pick and let that decide for me.” He told me to buy a Telecaster, but I was like, “No, shit, I’ll take a Strat.” So I already knew the answer deep inside me. So yeah, so I used that on the record, and Charlie would have played an American Telecaster.
What’s in this Mexican Strat that you can’t get enough of?
I think part of it has to do with the fact that historically it’s just a very common guitar – it’s really a favorite guitar for this style. It’s kind of like a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” agreement. I have a lot of other guitars, but the Strat works better for Moaning Lisa. I have this ESP guitar, which is the best for playing heavy metal – it has super thick strings – but it’s like, “Well that won’t work with Moaning Lisa.” I think in terms of alternative rock, [the Stratocaster] is just the best suited guitar I own. I would also love to have a Jaguar at some point – we’ll get there!
Did you also have a pretty solid arsenal of pedals to play with?
So the go-to is the [Pro Co] Rat pedal for distortion – for playing lead stuff, this is my main pedal, and then I also have a Maxon overdrive. In terms of reverb – which I would say is also part of the holy grail on my pedalboard – is the TC Electronic Hall Of Fame reverb. It’s just absolutely beautiful. I don’t even know what to tell you about it, it’s just beautiful. The reverb really shines in “Fussy” – in the verse, I play that clean reverb part, and that makes it so much prettier, it fills the atmosphere and really brings out the lushness of the song.
And then I also have a phaser pedal, which I don’t use often, because it leans quite heavily on 80s glam rock, and that kind of vibe, so I try not to overdo it. use it. But it helps fill in the gaps and just create a soundscape.