Two Philly bands' mission to play house parties and build couch forts
Brendan Mulvihill and Andy Molholt, two players in the Philadelphia music scene, spent last weekend living in and performing at Pilam. The two of them, who perform as the band Norwegian Arms, are currently in the middle of a house residency tour of Philadelphia, in which they couchsurf from house to house, all the while playing music, sittting on porches and getting to know their temporary hosts.
Mulvihill and Molholt met at age 13 while growing up in Lansdale, a suburb of Philadelphia, where they were part of the same theater group. After graduating, they both joined a band. Mulvihill recalls the difficulties of their first tour: “It was the only physical conflict we ever had. On our way to Pittsburgh we hit a deer and had to come back to rent a new van. Andy was pissed off and 19 so we got into, for lack of a better term, a tussle.” That rough patch aside, the two have stayed close over the years — their banter flows with an ease that reveals their longstanding friendship.
Mulvihill attended college in Philadelphia and founded his band Norwegian Arms in 2009 with Eric Slick (also the drummer for Dr. Dog). The band has had “various additions and remissions,” but at the core remains a self–described “minimalist weirdo-folk duo.” Thus far they have released a couple of EPs and they plan to release their first album, “Wolf Like a Stray Dog,” in December. Mulvihill wrote the songs for the album while teaching English on a Fulbright scholarship in Tomsk, a city in the middle of Siberia. “It was an amazing experience, really intense at times. There were a lot of weird things — even just spending time alone in a place so cold and remote — that prompted various emotional responses, and the album really captures what was going on in my head at the time,” he recalls.
Though Molholt took a break from the Philly area to study at Columbia College in Chicago, he returned home in 2007 with his roommate, Michael Chadwick, to found the band The Armchairs. After playing together for four years and gaining popularity in the Philadelphia music scene, however, the band broke up, citing differing goals and creative directions. In the wake of The Armchairs’ breakup, Molholt decided to strike out on his own with Laser Background, a solo project that got started last June. Molholt plays with various friends when he’s onstage but writes the songs and instrumentation himself.
Over the past month, Norwegian Arms and Laser Background have been on a House Show Residency Tour. Molholt had the idea a few months ago while thinking about bands that take up a residency at a particular venue. “I was just spoofing and riffing on the whole idea, and decided to make it more literal by actually residing in these places and then playing a show,” he recalls. The two continued to refine the idea over the following months, adding the requirement that a song be written at each venue. They picked four houses in various neighborhoods that they felt a particular affinity for, including The Ox in Olde Kensington, their old neighborhood.
Molholt hopes that the tour will infuse the bands with a creative energy that comes from experiencing novel environments. “We’re trying to meet some people, have some new experiences. When you change your perspective or location, your creative output is inherently changed. We want to push ourselves to take in these creative spaces and see what we come up with,” he says.
Regardless of what the experience produces, Mulvihill and Molholt are enjoying it so far. For them, being in residence means late nights drinking with new friends, building couch forts and testing out new material. They hope to release a split EP with material written in the various venues, but in the meantime they are happy to just see where the tour takes them. We’re guessing it’s going to be to another house.