Bedroom Symphony

Christopher Moll's haunting Project X takes shape in a Coral Springs apartment

Moll is a self-taught virtuoso on a variety of vintage keyboard instruments, and their evocative period-piece strains define his latest endeavors. His sensitive, string-laden songs are just as often bitter as sweet. Ascending to a new level of compositional complexity with the yet-unveiled "Project X," he's redefining for his peers exactly what a local band can be.

A mouse-pushing desktop publisher for an insurance brokerage by day, owner of a Ford Focus, Moll creates a complex, sophisticated, self-contained world of meticulously orchestrated, swooningly cinematic lusciousness. "If you cut off Christopher's arm, he wouldn't bleed," says a friend, known simply as Bone. "No, sir. A shoegazy E-minor chord, perfectly orchestrated and played by six different instruments, would pop out and smack you in the tympanic membrane. He's that musical."

Instead of getting together with his collaborators to improvise, producing songs spontaneously, Moll's method is akin to that of a classical composer -- albeit one who can discuss software code and processor speed as easily as diminished-seventh arpeggiated chords. "I don't do well with jamming," he says. "I want to create a universe that feels like it has a blueprint, a purpose to it." His carpeted, red-walled office, covered floor to ceiling in acoustic baffles, is where the magic is made. He edits and arranges his songs entirely within the digital domain. This glove-boxian technique could seem an austere, sterile means of composition, but Moll's suburban bedroom symphony is suffused with post-teenage heartbreak and disillusion.

Helen Horal
Helen Horal

Working with the sort of painstaking pointillism one would expect from a graphic designer, Moll has sculpted his own records to compete on the same playing field as any world-class artist. Lately, his production talents are bringing in a steady stream of clients looking for that signature Moll sound: clean, orchestrated, detailed recordings skillfully crafted to stand out in the world.

Casey Fundaro, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer/singer/songwriter, enlisted Moll to join a project called timewellspent in 2002. Fundaro, who funded the recording of the album himself, first considered hiring some well-known players from the indie-rock world, like Chris Stamey of the dBs, to help him realize his vision.

"I could have picked anyone," he says. "But after spending a little time with Chris, I chose him. He'll get up at 7 in the morning and work until 6 p.m. with no breaks until he gets it exactly right. Paul McCartney did that. Brian Wilson did that. Records that sound like Project X don't just go poof! -- it takes a lot of time and skill."

Project X started to take shape in the wake of the death of See Venus, the band Moll spent the first few years of the decade honing into one of South Florida's most memorable musical exports.

Born in the Bronx, Moll moved here with his parents from Ogdensburg, New Jersey, when he was 19. A fascination with horror-flick soundtracks led to an interest in organ music; he got a Casio keyboard as an eighth-grade graduation present and took it from there. He didn't even start playing guitar until college. "Just a means to an end," he shrugs. "I've never been afraid to get an instrument and get in there and figure out how it works."

Within a few years of arriving in Florida, he started his first band, Twenty-Three (a number generally acknowledged to have magical qualities, Moll says). The group didn't leave an album behind to document its three-year, early-'90s existence, but Moll (vocals/guitar), Alex Gimeno (drums), and Brian Hill (bass) developed a reputation for a live show that set them apart from the local pack. "We were total Anglophiles!" remembers Gimeno, who now enjoys international acclaim as Ursula 1000, with four albums of all-over-the-map dance workouts under his belt. The trio immersed itself in weekly music tabloids from England like New Musical Express and Melody Maker, and its swirling, psychedelic songs were clearly influenced by Brit-poppers of the day, like Ride and Pale Saints.

Twenty-Three was a "benevolent dictatorship," Moll says with a smile. Gimeno explains that he and Hill were so in awe of their companion's knack for melodic hooks and ability to map out complicated vocal and instrumental passages that they were too intimidated to offer their own ideas. "We just let him kind of run the show because he was so far ahead of us," Gimeno recalls.

After Twenty-Three, Moll moved from North Miami to West Palm Beach, expecting the music scene to be exciting. "And it wasn't," he recalls. Not until the end of the decade did he hook up with the principals of what would become See Venus. The other players -- including bassist Eric Rasco, singer Rocky Ordonez, and keyboardist Eddie Alonzo -- had all been grammar-school brats while Moll was graduating from high school, which caused much of the friction that gave See Venus its energy but ultimately derailed it. The array of talented control freaks nursed neuroses and perfectionism as well, making for an unstable but irresistible force.

Before the band had played a single show, See Venus gained an international reputation. The group's first five songs were passed around as a homemade CD and posted on its website, resulting in attention from intrigued listeners as far away as Norway, Germany, Vietnam, and Brazil. A Swedish music dot-com interviewed Moll and Ordonez, and the BBC even starting playing See Venus songs. Thai and Italian web pages still pay homage to the band. Intrigued listeners often noted that the music was so good, so professional, that it must have originated from a hipper locale than culture-deprived South Florida.

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