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Interview: Mousey

Posted by Lee Densem

Of Mice and Friends

There were tears & laughter during the recording of Ōtautahi musician Mousey’s second album ‘My Friends’ which is released today. And it seems that Sarena Close is also waiting with some trepidation about emotions that are still to be realised from her friends, once a few specific ones hear the record. If you’re after any more emotions, try a long-lost piano, dreams of writing a movie score, or being hot-headed. Mousey, it seems, is content for now being an open book.

While it’s not the first time I’ve interviewed a musician while they’ve been in a car, it is the first time that I’ve had someone duck out of a pub quiz they’ve taken leave from a pub quiz to talk music. So with that, I put my long-forgotten quizmaster voice back to use and get down to Round 1 – the history round.

“I grew up in North Canterbury and went to Rangiora New Life School, as all the Cantabrians want to know. Then I moved to Christchurch when I was 18 and never looked back. See you later North Canterbury!”

Mousey started young, already writing music and playing piano aged 5. There were dreams too. “I really wanted to be a film composer from the age of 8. But I felt like it was going to be way too hard of a journey, and I wasn't that great at sight-reading - or reading in general. So, I just switched to songwriting, and I never looked back.” Dreams that could still be fulfilled as “that's becoming more of a thing.”

“I would dream about my fingers getting chopped off and I'd wake up crying”

Music became a backstop for Mousey. “I didn't feel like I could do anything else when I left high school, so I went and studied music. I was very focused, it was everything. I’d play for hours and hours, every single day.”

“Like I would dream about my fingers getting chopped off and I'd wake up crying. I was actually obsessed with playing the piano.”

From Debussy, to “Angry Young Man” by Billy Joel, Mousey says she played hard and fast when she was younger. “I think I played a bit more for sport back then. Now I listen to a lot of music. I enjoy writing, I enjoy the nuances. And I enjoy playing with other people and layering and being very precise.”

I enquired about the piano she grew up playing, if she still has it, or if it’s still around? Her reply saddened me. “I don't actually have any contact with my family, so I have no idea. It could be sitting in my old room. I do not know.” I hope one day she finds out.

“A first album is like a compilation of stuff you’ve been working on for a long time”

Lemon Law, Mousey’s first album came out in 2019. Reflecting that a first album is like a compilation of stuff you’ve been working on for a long time”, album number two gave her a clean slate to start writing “my first 'album' album.”

She is quick to credit to her “amazing” husband/manager (I can only assume he’s inside quizzing) who takes care of all the business of being a musician so she can focus on the creative side. This was aided by NZ On Air funding which allowed Mousey the time to work on things, “until we got it right, until we were ready,” a rare luxury for musicians indeed.

“I didn't feel like I was being brave, I just felt like I was being honest”

Mousey has said that (first album) Lemon Law was about feeling like a let-down, while My Friends is about being let down, but being loved. Digging a little deeper, it’s apparent that it was right in front of us the whole time. “It is all in the title,” says Mousey. “It was about that year I was writing the record, and my relationships during that year. That involved being loved, and self-talking myself into believing that I'm loved, to really not being loved by some people. There are two sides to the album - a light and a dark side.”

Sharing deep emotions like we hear in this album comes naturally to Mousey, but others weren’t quite so used to her being an open book.

“People would say ‘thank you for sharing, you're so vulnerable, and that's so amazing that you can just share’. I just didn’t even know what being vulnerable was. I didn't feel like I was being brave, I just felt like I was being honest. I feel like as I'm getting older, it's getting a little harder to share, but I just want to fight that urge. Especially with my artistry, I want to be able to share anything.”

That said, she’s planning to sleep with one eye open when My Friends is released. “I can see some of the songs from this new album coming to slap me in the face when I release them. So, we'll see what happens!”

“You know it's done, when nothing bothers you anymore”

The album came to life at The Sitting Room in Lyttelton (whose other famous guests include Marlon Williams and Nadia Reid). “I did the whole thing with Ben (Edwards) from start to finish. We got crazy cabin fever. There was so much laughing and a lot of crying. It was an amazing and painful experience that I will treasure forever.”

“I'm so proud of what we ended up achieving in the end. It was due to having the time. We waited until we got it exactly the way we wanted it. It may not be immediately obvious once you've just done it. You get excited about something. You listen back and think 'oh that's amazing' in the moment. Then you take it home and you're on your phone speakers, or in your car, or the TV, or your laptop. And it's just not cutting it. You know it's done, when nothing bothers you anymore.”

As with well pretty much everything lately, Covid threw a few last minute spanners in the works. There were big plans for a video shoot of ‘Pudding & Pie’, “it had 5 different locations and lighting. It was just a lot to re-book all the people and get flights again.”

With that on the (hopefully temporary) scrapheap. Mousey explained how she came up with the concept for the ‘My Hands Are Made of Glass’ video and credits filmographer Kurt Pflaum for making it easy to execute despite some challenges. “The set which is my friends flat with the tiny bathroom. The video does not show how small that bathroom was. To fit Kurt, a fully grown man, and a nine year old girl into this small space. We were pulling every trick out to get her there.”

It's a thing of beauty, just like the rest of My Friends, which will sound even better on the vinyl that is underway from Holiday Records in Auckland. “It is crazy that they can turn this blob of stuff into music” says Mousey.

And with that, I feel like I’ve kept Sarena too long from her quiz. “The music section is coming up, so I better go and help,” she says. And with that, she’s back off inside to join her friends.

Mousey’s new album ‘My Friends’ is released on March 11. Stream it from all the usual suspects, but especially from Bandcamp where you can also get the vinyl. Catch Mousey on tour around NZ in April. Details at Under The Radar.