Growing up in a home where jazz jams were a frequent occurrence, Gabe Mouer fell in love with music at a very young age. Starting out in choirs and playing in a number bands over the years, Mouer has most recently branched off with his electropop solo project, Patternist. Gearing up for a big year of touring and recording his first full length album, we caught up with Mouer to talk about creative freedom, the challenges that come with going solo and how to cope with criticism. Enjoy.
To start off, how did you get your start in music? Was there a specific moment or event that you remember that catapulted you into your life as a musician?
I grew up in a house with my grandparents. My grandpa was a big jazz guy --not in the community, but meaning he was big into jazz. He would hold these jam band get togethers where everyone would smoke pot and just get stoned and play jazz throughout the night.
I remember as a kid just hanging around that atmosphere, and he would give me a maraca, and I would try to keep time. I think that was really inspiring when I was young, just the camaraderie. I really fell in love in growing up in the '90s with the earnestness and romance of the bands I was listening to when I was young, like The Cure. My mom was a big New Wave-r. I think more so, I was inspired by the emotional connection that I had to music growing up.
Come late middle school, where you start trying to figure out who you want to be as a human being, I decided that I wanted to start trying to write songs. I had always done some singing and choir and stuff when I was young, and then I remember my grandpa telling me, "You can't just stand around on stage just with a microphone. You're going to look like an idiot. You should learn to play the guitar." So I did. From there, music was the focus going into high school and playing in bands, and trying to become a better songwriter. It was one of things where, once that was the focus, that trajectory was unbreakable for me.
How did you evolve from songwriting and playing in bands to the type of electronic music you produce with Patternist?
After being in bands for years, I think I just got to a point where I got tired of the ego balancing act that comes with being in a band. I think every musician has an ego, and everyone wants to put their creative input into the project. That can be very difficult, and maybe I'm just such an egomaniac myself... I wanted to try something where I was really challenging myself to see my ideas through alone. Really, the electronic thing is a 50/50 split. There's where I saw contemporary music going, and also it was a way for me to write a record all on my own.
I can't play drums, but I can program them. Obviously, that venue of electronic music really gives you that opportunity.
Do you think that the jazz influence that you had from your grandpa shows through in your music today?
I'm not sure. I like jazz, and I think when I was younger, I really tried to incorporate a lot of jazz voicings into my playing. As I've gotten older and started to think more about conveying emotions in music, I've fallen into more conventional chord structures that I feel probably are more reminiscent of bands like The Cure...Gin Blossoms is another big one. There's just these chord progressions and formulas that I think encapsulate the sad romance of life in a way that maybe the free-flowing improvisation of jazz doesn't encapsulate as well.
That makes sense. Aside from the Cure and Gin Blossoms, are there any other artists that have influenced you as a musician, or continue to now?
Yeah. My big thing is, about 90 percent of the bands I listen to, I listen to outside of the genre. I think there are artists outside pop that are doing really great things now that I'm constantly impressed by. If I can be the pop equivalent to bands more in the indie sphere, that's my ideal version of myself. Who knows if I'm pulling that off at all? That's the hope, because I think what those bands do is they really push themselves and push their art. I think you see less of that in the pop realm. I think we have access to more good music today, or it's easier to find more good music today through avenues like Spotify than ever before. It's almost cacophonous how much good music there is, and trying to figure out where do you fit in in all of this, all of these different sounds getting made?
You mentioned that it's super challenging acting as a solo artist. Could you expand on some of those challenges?
I think the hardest things honestly is the self-doubt. When you don't have that sounding board to bounce ideas off of. I spent a while in between my last band and finally getting music out of Patternist because I was just so unsure of what I was doing. Eventually it came to that point where it was like, "Well, if I want to actually try to do this professionally, you're going to have to take that risk of releasing stuff that might be completely terrible, and that no one will connect with.”
Yeah, I think that's really the biggest challenge, is trying to figure out whether or not what you're doing will connect outside of yourself, because that's what it's all about at the end of the day. I could write all this music for myself, but if it's not connecting with anybody else, it doesn’t matter.
Have you ever had an experience where you wrote a song, and you had that self-doubt, and you were like, "No one is going to connect with it, no one is going to like it," and then you ended up surprising yourself?
So far, I've been lucky that just about every track I've released has been embraced by someone online, at least in a small capacity. I think just recently, back in December, I released my new EP. I have a song on there that was written and recorded in about a day and a half that I really liked at the time, but I was really worried. It's a rough song. I mixed it myself. It was written very fast, because I felt like the EP needed a little bit more variety. That song wound up getting put on a couple of Spotify playlists and being embraced by, again, not a lot of people necessarily, but by enough. Found by enough new fans for me to feel like, "Okay, I did the right thing with putting that song on there."
When you work on film scores, is the creative process different than if you were just writing a Patternist song?
I think it is to an extent, but I guess the crux of songwriting for me again is all about the emotional connection. In that regard, it's the same. You're looking at a scene, and you're asking the director what they're trying to get across. You are trying to elevate that in your own small way. Sometimes not so small, depending on the scene. With Patternist, it's the same thing. I'll start working on a song and figure out what it is I'm trying to relay that I think people will connect to. What in my own life am I drawing from that I think will be a shared experience?
I think the biggest difference between writing for film and writing a Patternist song is that the intent is not my own. Obviously, the director has something they're trying to get across, and I'm there simply to support them. I'm much less precious about my ideas, because I understand that it's not my decision to make. I'm there simply to support them, whereas with Patternist, I’m more precious with my ideas. I get really attached to some things I'm working on. If they're not coming across, it's more of a blow to my ego when they don't work out, whereas for film, really it's like, "Dude, just take everything in stride, and don’t take anything personally when a piece of music isn't working out.”
Going off that, what's the most out there feedback that you've ever received regarding your music?
Gosh, that's a good question. I was told once -- this is a weird piece of advice -- the way I sing makes it sound like I'm maybe not as good a singer as I am. That was one piece of feedback that has stayed with me for a long time. I've never quite been able to figure out ... I'm still in contact with this person. We still work together professionally. I think they meant it like a word of encouragement, but that has always stayed with me. That was one thing where you're like, "I don't know if there's really a lot I can do about that.”
Yeah. How do you process that? Do you just say, "Okay" and keep doing what you know, or did they get in your head, and you tried to change?
Yeah, with that, I think I tried to give that as much thought as possible, but at the end of the day, my voice and the way I write is fairly consistent. I think changing your voice and your style is difficult. The time it takes to find any sort of idiosyncrasy in your voice and style alone is difficult enough, let alone trying to change that in some way consciously. People have a lot of opinions about how an artists should function. That doesn't always see eye to eye with maybe the ideal version of myself, or the ideal of this project.
Right. It's like, "Who do you listen to, and who do you shut out?
That's exactly right. That's a long, slow learning process. I think honestly this whole past year for me has been figuring out how to be confident, and figuring out what I want from this project, what I'm trying to communicate with this project. I thought I had all that figured out early on, but maybe it changes. As you grow, you start thinking about what you want to compromise or not.
Going off of that, have you ever gotten any advice that has stuck with you in a positive way?
Maybe it wasn't really advice that changed anything, but I was lucky enough this year to work with another Marmoset artist, Jeremy Bullock, who plays guitar with Wild Cub. I think that has been one of the most encouraging interactions I've had so far in this industry. As I said, I've always been very self-conscious about what I'm writing and the way I'm trying to approach music. Jeremy was very encouraging as far as, I think we both have a fairly similar mindset and a very similar approach to how we go about writing songs.
He was really encouraging just about the project as a whole. He was really enthusiastic about the songs I was working on. His advice was more about how to guide my career as far as linking up with PROs like BMI and how to utilize these resources to help get yourself noticed and stand out. Being a huge fan of Wild Cub to begin with, It was just a great experience all around. I got indispensable advice in our conversations.
That's awesome. What are you looking forward to most this year? In music, or it can be anything.
As far as Patternist is concerned, we're going on our first national tour at the end of February. That'll be great. We've got stuff lined up in Austin around South by [Southwest]. That should be really fun. Past that, I think the year is up in the air, which is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I've set a goal for myself that this year is going to be the year that I really sit down and try to do a full-length record for Patternist, because it's just been a couple EPs and a handful of singles in the last year and a half, two years.
Writing one congruous piece of music -- something that all is cohesive and tells a story -- is something I've wanted to do for the entirety of my career. At this point, I think I just have to force myself to sit down and do it, and see how things go from there.