In the interest of celebrating artists who either departed from their respective bands or simply took a temporary hiatus to follow their own musical inclinations, the Albumism staff recently celebrated what we believe to be the finest “flying solo” albums of all time. And arguably the finest flying solo album to surface in 2018 is Liela Moss’ sublime My Name Is Safe In Your Mouth, her inaugural solo effort following fifteen years and five albums recorded as the frontwoman of The Duke Spirit.
Still criminally underexposed here in the states, the London-based band has earned much-deserved reverence overseas, largely due to their stubborn refusal to be pigeonholed stylistically and their proven penchant for guitar-charged melodies that swirl in your mind long after you lift the needle. And the linchpin of their distinctive songcraft and dynamic stage presence has always been Moss’ soaring, versatile voice, which is never less than beautiful to behold.
I’ve been a huge champion of The Duke Spirit since they blessed us with their dazzling debut LP Cuts Across the Land back in 2005, so it was with gratitude and eager curiosity that I recently connected with Moss to learn more about what prompted her to fly solo for a bit and how My Name Is Safe In Your Mouth came to be.
Justin Chadwick: Congratulations on the new album! So after fifteen years and five albums with The Duke Spirit, why was now the right time for you to formally explore your own musical path for a change?
Liela Moss: Well, all of The Duke Spirit personnel are quite occupied with families and spurious projects now, so gathering us all together takes a lot of organizing! So, in the meantime, I just stockpile melodies and play around with things that could perhaps be Duke songs, or have a life of their own. These tracks started to feel like they lived in their own separate place, so it seemed like a cool thing to curate a body of work that would be mine and not band-y.
JC: Owing to its pronounced lushness and more minimalist tendencies, the direction you’ve taken with this album is quite different than the sonic blueprint most Duke Spirit fans are accustomed to by now. Was it a conscious decision on your part to deviate from the band’s traditional sound?
LM: I certainly made a decision not to use two guitars and full drum kit, in order to enjoy some distance and distinction from band work. This work reflects another side of my musical tastes.
JC: The album is the latest offering in your ongoing musical partnership with Toby Butler. What was it like writing and recording this album with him, relative to the work you’ve done together as part of the band?
LM: This was quite efficient, you could say. We would tag-team in and out of the studio, and we didn’t have to discuss too much as we both understood what we wanted. Although songs chopped and changed, and mutated, we also felt quite a pace to the way we worked. That’s made possible purely by the fact that two people can make decisions more quickly than four or five.
JC: You’ve been quoted as suggesting that the environment within which you crafted the album played an important role in the songs coming to fruition over time. Can you talk more about how your surroundings influenced your creative process and songwriting approach for this record?
LM: Writing and recording most of this in rural Somerset was extremely special. We didn’t encounter many people really! There was none of that frenetic energy of people in the city. Our companions were the plaintive church bells, a flock of geese flying overhead as I walked across the fields. Foxes and Roe deer scuttling off in the distance. An eeriness surrounded me at all times outside, and inside was a place of work or staring out the window at all this space. The elements, trees and moon cycle became the brightest, loudest companions. When you begin to get embedded into this natural scene, the internalized fears and joys of life just get nearer the surface and from there they pour out through the words and melodies.
JC: What inspired the album’s title, My Name Is Safe In Your Mouth?
LM: I had heard that phrase in a meditation workshop, used to discuss the idea of True Respect. That to love your fellow human would mean that their name is safe in your mouth. They would be safe from physical or emotional harm. You would treasure their name as you would them as a person.
JC: The sparseness of the arrangements and symphonic flourishes throughout the album really allow your voice—which sounds divine, I might add—to be heard more clearly than ever before. And it seems that these songs required you to adapt and stretch your voice in new and more versatile ways. Do you feel like the album was an exercise in self-discovery for you, in terms of your vocal capabilities?
LM: A couple of years ago I did a random show, singing with The Heritage Orchestra at Sydney Opera House in front of Giorgio Moroder. The show was a celebration of his work and I ended up doing “I Feel Love,” a magnificently stripped-back “Take My Breath Away,” and a few more. It was strange indeed to be singing these ‘80s pop classics, but totally awesome too. I had to engage in such a lightness-of-touch to get it right, to sing in tune and yet project in that enormous, fabulous place.
It was unforgettable for so many reasons and mostly because I was beyond nervous. Mind-meltingly scared. After that evening, I wanted to spend more time cultivating other ways of singing that I hadn’t adopted so far in my career.
JC: Though I don’t believe a tour has officially been announced just yet, I trust that you’ll take the album on the road soon? What can fans expect to experience during your shows, and do you have any plans to perform in the U.S. at some point?
LM: Well the wonderful (Seattle radio station) KEXP have just started playing “Wild As Fire,” so if I can get a bit more radio support, then I guess it'd make it more viable to come over. Obviously, I'd really want to get to the USA, as I have made so many solid friends there over the years of touring with the band, that I am in love with quite a few parts of it! It has to stack up financially, which is the struggle. But we'll get there. Having violin, three-part harmonies and analogue synth drones live is all part of the special vibe!
JC: OK, last question. In the spirit of Albumism, what are your FIVE favorite albums of all time?
LM: Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda, The Clash’s London Calling, Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs For The Deaf, Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, and Patti Smith’s Horses.
SEE Liela Moss on tour | Dates