There's a lot of history in the basement of Ted and Heather Moll's Carondelet neighborhood home. Much of it dates from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — Ted is an avowed Star Wars nerd, and all manner of vintage jawas, AT-AT walkers and tie-fighter figurines line the shelves, while a life-sized R2-D2 cooler stands sentinel in the corner.
But a little slice of local music history has its roots in this space as well. Back in the early 1990s, when Ted's grandmother owned the house, a group of high school kids began fumbling their way through the back-catalog of second-wave ska music. The band named itself MU330 after some of its members' high school music class, and over the years the group would become a bright spot in the city's ska/punk scene, eventually taking its music — and its south side anthem "Hoosier Love" — all over the world.
"She would feed us and bring down snacks," recalls Ted of his grandma. "I think that's why we played fast ska music, because she would bring down soda and candy. We were all jacked up on caffeine and sugar."
On a sedate Saturday morning, Ted is back in that basement with his wife Heather, sipping coffee as their two children, Sylvia and Oliver, play upstairs. While MU330 still sees spurts of touring throughout the year and has even recorded a few new songs, the Molls are readying the release of their new full-length album as Bagheera, the spacey pop project they have co-led for almost fifteen years. Shooting Rockets Towards the Sun comes out at the end of this month, marking the band's first official release since 2004's Twelves. Like that previous album, the new LP marries the pair's instinctive sense of vocal harmony with propulsive bursts of errant pop and shoegaze dreaminess.
"We've been working on it for thirteen years," explains Heather. "Obviously you saw what's happening upstairs with children, so that kind of put a damper — we didn't play for a really long time. We tried to do a couple shows, just the two of us, and that never sounded super great. All that time, we were chipping away at things in the basement."
The basement has both a live-and-loud practice room and a more orderly desktop home studio. That setup has allowed the Molls to chip away at these songs over time; in fact, some tracks on Shooting Rockets date back eight or ten years. According to Heather, such is the blessing and curse of home recording.
"When you have a home studio, it's like, 'Oh great, I have a studio at my house!'" she says. "But you also have dishes and laundry and children. There's not a lot of time where you can go in and record an album in two weeks."
For Ted, the process of experimentation may have added to the long lead time between records, but it also provided a crucial window into the sonic make-up of Bagheera's more experimental excursions, like the trippy, interstellar "Jovian."
"I don't really know what I'm doing recording-wise," he says. "I know what I want it to sound like, but I don't have the experience of somebody who has run sound for ten years or worked in a studio. So it's a lot of trial and error; it may take me and hour or two to get where someone else would dial it in in a few seconds, because I'm gonna try out everything until I get it to sound how I want it."
Heather's approach is more direct, leading to the band's pop-savvy, hook-heavy songs. "I sit down with an acoustic guitar, and if it doesn't sound good on an acoustic guitar, it doesn't work for me," she says. "That's how I write; I write for myself as a person sitting down in a sunny room with a guitar. So I play a lot of open chords so it's full. Ted takes what I do and puts all the swirly bits on it — and he starts [his songs] with the swirly bits!"
Those "swirly bits" often come from the limitations of software and hardware, the ghosts in the machine that create atonal fizzes. "There's one song, it's called 'The Return of Eris,' and I built that song because I bought a fuzz pedal from Jason Hutto," Ted says, referring to the longtime St. Louis guitarist and producer (and current Texas resident). "I took it home and was playing with it; it just had a really unique character. If you would slide down a half-step on the note, it didn't like that — it would just create this weird noise.
"I try to exploit the weird little stuff that's not really musical — where the circuits don't line up right," he continues.
The Molls like to allow room for creative mistakes, letting their slight naïveté guide the construction of Bagheera's songs.
"Neither one of us really knows a lot about music," says Heather, eliding her own knack for songcraft and her husband's twenty-plus years behind the kit with MU330. "A lot of it is trial and error; we'll just sit down and I'll try to come up with harmonies for things. I think there's a lot to be said for not understanding the nuances of how music actually works. I think it sets us up for a lot of experimentation. I think if I knew theory I wouldn't try new things, because I would know what is supposed to happen."
"We don't discriminate against any notes," says Ted with a laugh.