Music / Features
Track by Track:
Modal Melodies - Modal Melodies
Words by James Lynch
Thursday 19th May, 2022
Following the release of their self-titled debut earlier this month, we caught up with Vio and Jake from Modal Melodies to dig into the stories and ideas behind their heady, idiosyncratic new album.
Brought to life throughout lockdown by the unexpected pairing of two of the Melbourne underground scene’s most distinct musical minds, Modal Melodies is the brand new project of Violetta Del Conte-Race and Jake Robertson, who you’ll recognise from Primo! and Alien Nosejob respectively (on top of a tonne of other local projects the pair have been involved in over the past decade or so). As two major players in the local music scene, it’s not a huge surprise to see them teaming up, but perhaps what feels a little more unlikely is how perfectly the duo’s individual musicality blends together across their debut album; less maximal than Robertson’s usual blasts as Alien Nosejob, and more puzzling than Primo’s brand of to-the-point oddball-punk, Modal Melodies shines thanks to the immaculate sense of push and pull that permeates the record.

At its core, Modal Melodies is a collection of imaginative, left-of-centre synth-pop, slightly too unconventional to make for a dance record although never quite committing to the opposite either. There’s an alluringly illusive sense of tension across these 13 tracks; each even-tempered soundscape usually comes anchored by an erratic disco beat, and the lush, swelling keys are often juxtaposed by more chaotic guitar lines or synth blips.

Opening track and first single ‘Occupants’ sounds simultaneously immediate yet out of reach, an atmosphere that returns on highlight moments ‘The Sun’ and ‘Standing Still’, and when Vio and Jake share vocal duties, as on ‘Driving’ and ‘Disco Hotel’ - Vio’s dreamy and contemplative, and Jake’s sinewy and restless - the blend is similarly enigmatic. The album rounds out with ‘Changing Lights’, a starker moment that highlights the conflicting dark and lightness within Modal Melodies sound in an especially potent way, sending things off with a fitting overview of the record as a whole, especially so given that the entire collaboration stemmed from this original track.

To help us delve a little deeper into the world of Modal Melodies, Jake and Vio have kindly talked us through the stories behind each song.

Jake: This was the first song we worked on together. Vio had the vocals and chords already, I remember upon first listen thinking that it’d be cool to have a long outro with a million instruments building, like the Julian Cope Fried album. 

Vio: We recorded this at Jake’s house in our first session, he came up with a synth line that fitted in perfectly with the keys I had for the song. Later we added improvised guitars and extra synths.


Vio: I wrote this song about the Tarot Garden, built by the artist Niki de Saint Phalle, a monumental sculpture park in Tuscany covered in mosaics. I was lucky enough to visit the garden back in 2018, and had been looking at a book about it the day I was working on the keyboard riff for this. Later, we worked on this at Jake’s house and he added a great synth kinda bass line to it that brought everything together.  

Jake: Perhaps the second song we worked on. Vio had this one pretty complete before she brought it over to my house. I think the only thing we added was a few percussive hits and the guitar. 


Jake: Maybe this was the third song we worked on? Is this how we sequenced the record? I thought I had the music for this one written completely before showing it to Vio, but listening back to the finished song, oh boy how wrong I was. We each made up the parts we sang without the other person hearing. 

Vio: Hey yeah that’s funny about the track order reflecting working order! ‘Driving’ was a fun experiment in melody, we set some guidelines so that we each sang without hearing the other and it was interesting to hear the differences in how we responded to the track. We wrote the words separately about anything to do with driving, coincidentally both of us ended up writing about personal memories we had associated with it.

The Sun

Vio: Me mucking around on the bass at home, learning how to make a drum loop on the computer, throw in an arpeggiator and here’s a song to send to Jake! Once he added the guitars this song made sense. 

Jake: Perhaps the last song written for the album, which defuncts my aforementioned theory about the sequencing of this record. 

Fourth Stage

Jake: Originally I was trying to make this song like an old UK song, ‘Happy’ by Mary & Ken - a bouncy shuffle that you can dance stupidly to. To me, the chorus makes me visualise the lower class on the titanic dancing. I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing?

Vio: The words for this were partly based on a walk Jake and I went on while we were recording. We saw a Tawny Frogmouth high up in a tree, it was cute. I think I call the bird an owl in the song, but later realised it isn’t an owl at all. 

The Horizon

Jake: I wrote this song in Brest, France in 2013 when on tour with The Frowning Clouds. I think the other guys were partying or went to the shops or whatever and I had 20 mins of alone time. I thought it was just going to be a little minute long instrumental, but Vio breathed life into it and made it into a proper song. 

Vio: We tried to re-record this demo of the guitar but in the end we kept the phone-recorded version because it sounded so nice as it was.

Starting Point

Jake: Pretty sure ‘Starting Point’ was my demo name and Vio made the lyrics using that as the subject. 

Vio: The lyrics for this one were written with the intention of being a reminder that even if you’re feeling uncertain or hopeless there’s always the possibility for things to change or start over.

Standing Still

Jake: I just found the original demo for this one when organising my files the other day. May, 2014. Probably with Hierophants or Ausmuteants in mind. Happy eighth birthday little guy. Glad it was reserved for Modal Melodies, because Vio’s vocal melody makes the song. 

Vio: I think I thought it would be interesting to sing a disco song about being afraid to dance. But dancing could be a metaphor for anything you’re afraid to do.

In The Rain

Jake: All I added were rain effects to this. I dunno how I thought to come up with that?

Vio: The rain sounds make the song! The timing of this song is strange and accidental, the words are about how you have to be with yourself all the time. 

Glass Harmonica

Jake: I’m pretty sure this song started by me trying to rewrite ‘The Pretender’ by Fooeys. If you don’t know what a Glass Harmonica is, google it. Crazy instrument which I hope to see in the flesh. 

Vio: Glass harmonica was the name of the keyboard tone I used in this and we were both like, that sounds nice, what is that instrument?! The lyrics for this song are about how do you make a melody or a song and where does it come from? 

Clearer Path to Hutton Street

Vio: This song is about communication and wanting to understand someone else’s point of view. I sent the idea to Jake and he sent back all the guitars which added so much energy to the song. I was also stoked he sang on it! 

Jake: It was fun improvising all of the guitar on this one. Maybe the only song on the album with a bass guitar?

Disco Hotel

Jake: Where the heck did this name come from? The only song where I gave in and turned my vocals up. 

Vio: This song was pretty much fully formed when Jake sent it to me, I was happy to sing along. I like how the lyrics of this song talk about how things that seem not so good can turn out to be positive in the long run. 

Changing Lights

Jake: This one was originally called ‘Modal Melodies’ (before we had a band name), because I wrote it on paper first using my limited knowledge of mode theory. Like all of the other songs on this album which started as my demos, Vio’s singing made them complete. Definitely listening to a lot of Michael Rother when making it. 

Vio: Singing about escalators, CCTV cameras and train stations, I was coming home from work and noticing everyone else trying to get home too.

Modal Melodies is out now via Anti Fade Records - head to to grab the album on limited coloured vinyl.