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"I know you're working on your new secret project, but you have to come see this," he exclaimed. "She's amazing!" Sure enough, Moll was struck by her winsome naiveté and by the crowd's reverent reaction.
"I was surprised she could handle that," Moll remembers. He introduced himself and passed her a CD of his music. "I didn't take it seriously at first," she said. "When I listened to it, I thought, 'Wow, he's really doing something. '"
Staring out his window at the greenery and butterflies, Moll had been immersing himself in Project X's ten songs. At first, they were weighted with melancholy. Eventually, they became more hopeful and romantic. British kitchen-sink dramas from the '60s, old spy movies, and the French film Amélie were important touchstones as a sort of soundtrack emerged. Wilkins recorded bass and drum parts, while Moll played guitar, farfisa, glockenspiel, and vibraphone, making for a classy, continental sound. Most of the instruments were older, classic models to capture the feel of a period piece. "Knowing Jon was heavily into soundtracks appealed to me," Moll says, "because we were going to go in this lush, cinematic direction."
He also took the orchestration concept a step further. Paying them when he could, Moll found nine professional musicians to contribute cello, violin, viola, piano, trumpet, trombone, cornet, French horn, vibraphone, flute, clarinet, recorder, toy piano, theremin, Chinese violin, and pedal steel guitar. Moll uses a computer program that actually prints out sheet-music scores from keyboard parts he's written. "We knew guys who can play horns, but we wanted to go the extra mile and get someone who can really nail it." Moll says. "We wanted to go beyond."
How to fit Yehezkely into this pastoral, inward-focused world presented its own set of challenges. First, Moll worked up a trial run through Astrud Gilberto's "Dreamer" to test the waters of compatibility. "And that's when I knew she had it," he says. "I could hear it in that take. "
Says Yehezkely: "I didn't really know Chris very well at that point. I didn't think anything would come of it. I wasn't worried at all -- I didn't know I was being tested." She shoots Moll a sly glance, and he laughs sheepishly.
At first, Yehezkely wasn't sure she liked Moll's dark orchestrations. They were elaborate and complicated, miles away from the simple recordings she'd been making in her bedroom. "I couldn't find a place on top of it at all," she laments. One night at Dada, beer was drunk and words were had. "How am I supposed to fit into something that isn't me?" she yelled. Frustrated, she told Wilkins that Moll's secret project just didn't feel right to her. "I don't know what he expects from me!"
"Chris had this whole vision, and it wasn't opening up to me," she says now. She wasn't sure she was up to the task. Wilkins and Moll, though, were certain they'd found the right singer, that Yehezkely's nearly blank, innocent voice was the perfect foil for the music.
"I said 'Trust in us, believe in us, this is going to happen, it might be hard, but it'll work. '" Wilkins recalls. "That's when we locked on the tractor beam and sucked her in."
But Yehezkely reckoned that if it felt difficult, it would erase the fun of organically creating music. "When something moves me, I sit down and write a song," she says, curling up cat-like on Moll's couch, playing with a buckle on her ballet slipper. "When it doesn't, I don't force myself. If it was going to become work, I decided I wasn't going to do it. I already had a lot of work at school and my own music which I enjoyed doing and was proud of."
But she gave it one more shot. She asked Moll to strip down his elaborate demos to their basics. "From there," she says, "I pushed: 'This is what I need; this is what I will and won't do.' And Chris responded, which I think is huge. He could have easily said, 'I'm not going to listen to your ideas. '"
Says Moll: "She has a very romantic way of looking at things, and we wanted to make sure the music matched that. I wanted a heart-on-sleeve-type deal."
Lovely and inscrutable -- it's hard to tell if she's sullen, pensive, moody, or just bored -- Yehezkely is a whimsical wild card, her empathic nature bouncing against Moll's stolid work ethic.
They agreed to tackle a tune provisionally titled "The Piano Song." One of Yehezkely's poems was adapted to fit the rhythm. They recorded her singing atop it, then had a listen. "And right off, I knew," she says. So did Moll and Wilkins. "We're grateful to have stumbled upon her," Moll says.
Given their mixed-up schedules, the Project X songs aren't quite finished. Moll is still adding those special Easter-egg sound effects that make headphone-wearers smile. A fly buzzes past. Waves break. Rain batters a window. A car slips down a slickened street. Moll says he aims to "produce songs that sound like they have always existed and will always exist." Instead of sending half-baked ideas to record companies looking to groom new acts, he figures they'd rather have a finished product. "You have to shoot for the national level," he maintains. "That's where your competition is going to come from."