Austin artist Mob­ley’s catchy pop packs a mean­ing­ful punch

Austin American-Statesman - - MUSIC -

A scream rips through the air and the crowd presses for­ward as Mob­ley hits the stage at Em­pire Garage shortly af­ter mid­night on a steamy Saturday in mid-July. For the past two years, the lo­cal soul pop artist has been tour­ing non­stop, scorch­ing stages around the coun­try. With an un­canny knack for catchy, sing-along hooks, he cre­ates ir­re­sistible ear­worms, well-crafted pop songs that in­stantly stick. His Spo­tify spins fre­quently top 100,000, and his im­mer­sive thrill ride of a live show is rack­ing up looks from prom­i­nent na­tional mu­sic me­dia out­lets.

Now, with ap­pear­ances at Austin City Limits Mu­sic Fes­ti­val and Utopia Fest loom­ing large this fall, the home­town buzz is be­gin­ning to catch up.

His sig­na­ture look is dap­per: He sports a black suit coat and match­ing derby hat over a black and white striped T-shirt. The en­sem­ble is ac­cented by a jaunty red as­cot. As he takes his place center stage, sur­rounded by a key­board, a drum kit and a gui­tar — all in­stru­ments that he will com­mand dur­ing his en­gross­ing one-man show — a mes­sage flashes across the pro­jec­tion screen be­hind him:

“Fel­low hu­mans, we are about to en­gage in a strange rit­ual. The hour finds you here, of all the places there are. I would urge you to be here en­tirely. We’ll raise our voices and slap our hands. We’ll coax sound and light from wood and wire. And if we probe each note, each pulse and rhythm, we might just catch a mo­ment of…”

The screen cuts to a shot of Earth, ma­jes­ti­cally float­ing in space.

“I think peo­ple, when they go to a show, they re­ally want to be given an ex­cuse to have a good time,” Mob­ley says when we meet for cof­fee the fol­low­ing week. “It’s an ef­fort a lot of times. It’s an ex­pense and, at least, to a cer­tain de­gree, you’re putting your­self out there.”

He wrote the text the night be­fore the Em­pire show to re­mind the au­di­ence to be present, to al­low them­selves to be caught up in the mo­ment, to lose them­selves to the mu­sic.

“I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to re­mind peo­ple of peo­ple power … there’s a thing that can hap­pen when you have 100 or 200 peo­ple in a room all kind of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing re­ally sim­i­lar to each other in the same si­mul­ta­ne­ous mo­ment,” he says

If the au­di­ence re­ally “buys in” to the power of mu­sic, the magic of a group of peo­ple re­spond­ing to the same rhythm and mov­ing as one, he says, “you might feel some­thing tran­scen­dent hap­pen.”

It’s easy to be swept up in Mob­ley’s sear­ing elec­tro-soul throw­down. The songs are hot, his in­stru­men­tal prow­ess — switch­ing from gui­tar, to keys, to drums — is en­gross­ing, and his stage pres­ence is elec­tri­fy­ing. Whether he’s play­ing to a crowd of 50 or 500, he con­ducts him­self with the en­ergy of an arena star, and he sells it 100 per­cent. You can feel the pres­ence of thou­sands of unseen soon-to-be fans. You feel like you’re part of a move­ment.

The broad ac­ces­si­bil­ity of his mu­sic is de­lib­er­ate. First and fore­most, he con­sid­ers him­self a pop song­writer. As the child of a Marine, he spent much of his child­hood abroad with long stints in Eng­land and Spain. For a phase of his ado­les­cence, his dream was to be­come a Bri­tish pop star, specif­i­cally Chris Martin of Cold­play.

“I probably wouldn’t have falsetto if I hadn’t lis­tened to ‘Para­chutes’ 100 times,” he says with a laugh.

But don’t get it twisted. His tracks aren’t just empty dit­ties de­signed for mass con­sump­tion.

“I don’t just write songs if I don’t feel like there’s some­thing rel­a­tively im­por­tant

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