Bedroom Symphony

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

Some of the Debussyian impressionistic piano pieces on timewellspent point to the sentimental terrain he would later uncover in Project X, but they also reveal a deep understanding of mood and drama that proves that Moll, at the very least, owns a great pair of ears.

"I've started to be sought out as a producer and engineer," Moll concedes now, "but I don't see myself wearing that hat and jacket just yet. I think of myself more as a musician, but I guess people don't think of me that way, because they don't see me up on stage a lot."

Moll's managerial mannerisms -- which have him dropping phrases like "skill set" into casual conversation -- point to his methodology. The tag team of Moll and Wilkins have in the past year transformed the projects they have worked on and contributed to. Summer Blanket, Helen Horal, the Brite Side, and the Freakin' Hott -- all from the north Broward/south Palm Beach area -- saw their records kicked up to the next level. Wilkins usually handles the heavy lifting, as well as the work on the actual arrangement of songs, while Moll plays the detail man, editing, fine-tuning, adding flourishes.

A few bricks in the "Moll of Sound"
Colby Katz
A few bricks in the "Moll of Sound"
A vintage chord organ, part of the Project X arsenal
Colby Katz
A vintage chord organ, part of the Project X arsenal

Horal, a young singer/songwriter from Lake Worth, spent $5,000 making There Is Only This Place ("extremely reasonable for the kind of quality we offer," Moll says), released independently last year. The fee included a Wilkins-designed cover -- he's a talented graphic artist who is also a copywriter for the Weekly World News in Boca Raton. The package is as professional, in appearance and sound, as anything in the mass marketplace.

With the Freakin' Hott -- an unabashedly primal rock duo à la the White Stripes -- singer/guitarist Aaron found unlikely sparring partners in Wilkins and especially Moll. "I think enough people had told Chris he couldn't do a rock record if he tried," Aaron says. Wilkins actually recorded the tracks for the band's upcoming release, Slip on the Lips, and Aaron characterizes them as "extremely raw-sounding." Moll, he says, spent several months mixing them. When Aaron and his partner, Maggie, heard the finished product, they weren't sure what to make of it. "It took a few days to wrap our heads around it," he says, before deciding, "This is really, really cool -- and not at all what we expected." The hell-bent rebellion emerged as sharp as a switchblade from the grinding stone.

"Watching Chris work with the computer is almost like watching him play an instrument, the way he's clicking and mixing and dragging and moving things," Aaron says. "Almost anything he and Jon put their hands on turns the corner from something that's good to something that's really, really great."

West Palm Beach singer Keith Michaud, whose band Summer Blanket has included Moll and Wilkins in the past, calls the duo "mentors for songwriters looking for a sound." The pair retooled a pair of tracks on Charm Wrestling, Summer Blanket's 2003 album, and Michaud says he's still in awe of the work they did -- "mind-blowing," he calls it. But Michaud says he felt left out during the process.

"They transformed the songs into different beings entirely," he says, "but Chris and Jon were in their own little world, laughing at stuff that was funny only to them, making it clear I wasn't invited in." His bare-boned original sounded fine to him -- slightly amateurish but not without charm. Michaud wasn't sure he liked what they were doing at first. But when he heard his songs reimagined and retooled, he was speechless. "I was like, 'You guys know better than me, obviously. '"

Michaud, a performer who plays several gigs each month either solo or with his band, says he doesn't understand why Wilkins and Moll aren't more visible. The idea of bunkering down and toiling over a secret project for years makes no sense to him. "I can't believe they're just sitting around on their hands," he says.

Tim Yehezkely grew up in Connecticut and loved music from childhood, enrolling in band in fourth grade so she could learn the oboe. "I gravitate toward strange instruments," she says (she also owns and composes songs on a battle-tank accordion). By the time her family relocated to Boynton Beach and she started school at Florida Atlantic University, she was recording her own songs on a primitive cassette four-track. Two years ago, she found the courage to take her guitar to Dada in Delray Beach for an open-mic night where Wilkins was playing drums with Summer Blanket (he did the same for See Venus and is currently a member of I Am Stereo and the Freakin' Hott).

"I was very nervous, because I'm very shy," she says, followed by a high, sweet giggle. "I had never played in front of people before." As Wilkins recalls, all the elements of a sure-fire disaster were in place: "She had a classical guitar which didn't even have an input, so we tried to mic it. And she sang very softly, so you couldn't really hear anything."

To their surprise, the Sunday-night crowd at the busy restaurant grew still. "That was the first time I've ever heard the place just shut up," Wilkins recalls. She was a big hit. When Wilkins got the ongoing Popscene showcase for local artists up and running at Dada, he invited Yehezkely to perform. And he called Moll.

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