Moor Mother is the Philadelphia-based musician, producer, artist, and teacher Camae Davis.
Moor Mother is the artist and musician Camae Davis, and Mental Jewelry is the noise producer Steve Montenegro. Together, the two Philadelphia-based collaborators are Moor Jewelry, and their first EP, Crime Waves, will be released by Don Giovanni on June 16. Today, Talkhouse is premiering a music video from that release, “Matter of Time.” To contextualize that song and the project on the whole, Moor Mother and Mental Jewelry interviewed each other about their different—and communal—approaches to their work as a duo. —Amy Rose Spiegel, Editor-in-Chief, Talkhouse Music
Mental Jewelry: Should we mention that we first met many years ago?
Moor Mother: Oh, yeah—that is cool. I used to run this event called Rockers at the Tritone, which is no longer around. It was a venue in south Philly, on South Street; I booked the bands. This woman named Patty Crash had an awesome band, and I remember seeing her and being like, “Ahh, this is so fucking cool!” You were playing with her.
Mental Jewelry: I played bass for Patty Crash for many years. We were managed by Rich Nichols, who was the manager of the Roots before he passed away. We played at Tritone with your band, Mighty Paradox. The Tritone was a cool venue. It had some punk nights, some avant-garde jazz nights… all these Philly free-jazz legends…I loved that.
After that, we didn’t hang out for five years, until I was playing with Dragon King, and then was just producing more than playing bass in bands. Do you remember that show last year with B L A C K I E at Everybody Hits? That’s when I saw you do your solo stuff for the first time, and I really enjoyed it. I messaged you afterwards and we met at Starbucks.
Moor Mother: I checked out your SoundCloud, and I was like, Oh, shit, this is tight.
The first song on Crime Waves that we talked about was “Hardware.” I already had the lyrics. I rapped the hook to you, and you were like, “Oh, that’s cool”—and then fuck it! It was very quick. You sent three of the newer tracks to me, and the words came right away. It wasn’t hard—the songs were very simple and left a lot of room to improvise vocally.
Mental Jewelry: Working together was fairly smooth. Some songs had parts that were recorded in the studio—I played guitar and bass on “Streets Dept.”—but I more or less built the songs in the computer. I made a lot from basic ideas that I had a long time ago, and built them toward the kind of stuff you do. We wound up with five good tracks, and a couple a of months later, we went to Kawari Sound to record demos.
Moor Mother: “Streets Dept.” was a throwback to an old mayor of Philly, Mayor Street, and the crews that worked to so-called “clean up the city”—but it’s still fucking dirty as shit. We were definitely thinking of where we are, place-wise, while naming songs. A lot of the brainstorming about titles happened while we were in the studio, listening back to the mixes. That was open—I’m never a stickler about what something should be called. I like to use the main idea of the song.
Things got recorded in one or two takes. We could’ve been doing a lot of improv in the studio, which would have been totally cool.
Mental Jewelry: I hope we can do something like that in the future. This first thing was a back-and-forth. It was like, I’m working on a computer, I send it to you, then we change certain things based on the vocals.
Moor Mother: Our ideas were like,”Yo, I like heavy bass;” “I’m gonna do some grime or reggae stuff.” A cool thing we did, which I hope we get to experiment with more, was send each other tracks by different artists that we like. It’s spooky and awesome that a lot of the artists we talked about are coming up, whether I’m doing a show or collaborating with them. We can be directly connected to our influences and to those musical conversations. I’m excited for some of these people that we’ve spent so much time talking about—reggae artists; free-jazz artists—to hear how we’re trying to push these types of music further.
Mental Jewelry: I like big textures. I’m mainly a computer person, and I usually don’t work with hardware. It’s complex that we even went to a studio, took things out of the computer, and ran them through machines to make them dirtier or grittier than if they stayed in the box. That goes with what we wanted [the EP] to feel like, and what kind of world [the EP] is: the distorted, dirty-sounding atmosphere. We like a lot of British stuff—maybe this is our Philly version of London nighttime. You know, a reggae club lit by one light, or a drum ’n’ bass club.
Moor Mother: It could almost be in any type of club, because it has its own vibe, or own place. We haven’t really talked about the release shows yet, or what the sets will be like—it’s going to be cool to keep investigating what we’re interested in and what we’re doing. We both play instruments, and we already have these ideas together, so how far can we take it? We both like making things grungier—more avant-garde or jazzy. There’s complexity to building on top of what we’re working with.
Mental Jewelry: It’s five songs, so we have breathing room—we’ll probably do some improvisation. I’d definitely like to bring an instrument—maybe a bass. You could bring your trumpet to add a spontaneous vibe.
Moor Mother: Each song should have its own crazy-ass intro. There’s one album release show on June 16 in Philly at Glitter Galaxy and one June 30 at Babycastles in New York. For Philly, we could bring some instruments, and for New York, we could bring something totally different. Give more of a chance to experience all the things that we can bring to the set.
Mental Jewelry: I like that idea.
Moor Mother: Cool.