Raised under the blistering sun of California’s Mojave Desert, Luis Vasquez creates shape-like sounds under a design of minimal darkwave. Vasquez began The Soft Moon as a process of expelling memories of a rotten upbringing. After a decade of working as a graphic designer and playing in various punk inspired bands, snarling post-punk and industrial synthpop felt like the perfect mode of expression. Vasquez won’t deny a kindred affinity with early post-punk artists, but The Soft Moon is his project, houses his demons, placates his fears, and blisters with his successes. I spoke with Vasquez about his aesthetic vision, the genesis of his musical expression and his dark-leaning peers.
SLUG: Your latest music video, “Insides,” directed by Jaqueline Castel, is fantastic! You used a Hans Richter film as the video for your song “Parallels” and your visual aesthetic draws from Dada/ Constructivist designers like El Lissitsky and video artist Nam June Paik, among others. Do you find that the harsh, angular nature of these movements parallels your sound?
Vasquez: I have this strange thing where when I hear sounds I see shapes—it kind of just happend naturally—I’m into the Bauhaus movement in art, all that Suprematism, Constructivism and stuff like that. I was a graphic designer at the time I started working on The Soft Moon. I like to go for a minimal approach when it comes to the album artwork and things like that to contrast the heavy textual atmospheric music. A yin and yang, if you will. I can’t help but constantly be inspired by art or anything for that matter around me.
SLUG: Ron Robinson’s addition to the band brings these aesthetic philosophies into a live setting with an audience. How important are visual components and an audience’s experience at a Soft Moon show?
Vasquez: Its heavily important. In fact, it’s pretty crucial because for me because I like to create something more than just a live band performing. For me its more about creating an experience, or creating a world, an environment for the audience to kind of be in—to hit on all sensory levels. I think it’s really important to envelop the person who’s watching the show.
For me to get my expression across it takes more than just sound- it takes vision as well. Ron’s a good friend of mine and he’s always busy and always travelling around. He’s not with us for every show but he used to do live visuals for us. Since he’s so busy what we do is we work together on visuals and he’ll hand me a disc that we’ll use for the live shows. In Europe we have a bigger light show but here in the States we just use a projector. I’m actually curious now that you’re asking me questions about visuals if we brought our visual equipment on tour—I’m hoping we did.
SLUG: I hope so too!
Vasquez: I think so. I guess I’ll find out soon.
SLUG: Speaking of Europe, are there any differences you’ve noticed between touring in the States and elsewhere in the world?
Vasquez: There’s a really strong connection in Spain, Italy, Germany definitely Paris—they really get the music. We’ve grown a lot larger out there so we play large venues—the live shows are a lot more dramatic. In the States we do well in California, on the East Coast, in Canada as well. We’re still growing out here. It’s interesting. It might take a little more time to have the fan base that we do in Europe. Here there’s a lot more expectations in terms of songwriting—people are expecting more of a song, whereas my music’s more soundtracky.
SLUG: How did The Soft Moon begin and what has the journey to Zeros been like?
Vasquez: When I first started writing music on my own after being in bands through my teenage years I remember I wrote these three songs in 1999. I forgot about those songs and then years went by and in 2009, ten years later, I came across those again just by coincidence—one of those stood out to me and I developed it into a song called “When It’s Over,” which is on the first record. Once I developed that track it felt right to me. It felt therapeutic. It also felt unfinished, like something I wanted to dive deeper into and develop more—so I wrote the first record based on that. The first record was very personal—it was a means to go back into my childhood and learn more about myself. By the time I got to Zeros I had been touring a lot and had formed a band around the project, so a few things changed—my experiences in life changed. Playing live and hearing what works well in a live setting is how I approached Zeros. On top of that, I approached Zeros with more of a concept in mind- I wanted it to have a certain type of story, to feel more like a book.
SLUG: How has touring with a live band affected your writing and recording process?
Vasquez: One of the very first shows we played I realized how loud we were—just how aggressive it felt live. That was one of the things I didn’t realize when I was just at home writing these songs. The loud and aggressive aspect I embraced. I realized there’s a bit of a punk element in the music. I grew up in punk bands but didn’t necessarily approach The Soft Moon as a punk project, looking back I noticed there were certain punk elements in my songwriting so that’s one thing I kind of embraced after performing live. I could hear what worked live- in terms of the live experience, the way the music changes- certain elements were energetic and so I embraced all of those things. I noticed and developed more in terms of my songwriting as a reflection of the live experience.
SLUG: I read somewhere that you’re appropriating elements of [Einstürzende] Neubauten’s industrial techniques live as well.
Vasquez: I haven’t really gotten there quite yet. It’s definitely something I’d like to pursue in the future—maybe in the direction of a more industrial performance, that’d be great. I have introduced more percussion live. It’s definitely evolving in that direction,
SLUG: What equipment do you use to record and then transfer into a live performance?
Vasquez: For recording I use a variety of synthesizers, drum machines, a lot of experimenting with percussion sounds—for instance using sandpaper, blocks of wood, banging on a trash can lid, things like that. Live, I take all those sounds and import them into a drum pad for the drummer to trigger as he’s playing. Live is pretty much a basic set up: we have a bass player, and then me—I play synth, percussion, guitar and sing—and then the drummer has a synth module and a sequencer. We’re a three piece live.
SLUG: Has your public profile on Captured Tracks affected the process at all?
Vasquez: Captured Tracks has its own fan base. I feel like I don’t fit in too well with the CT roster, but I love the CT family—if you look at the catalogue, you get more of the indie thing on that label. But at the same time it’s nice to stand out—it’s helped me but at the same time it’s probably gone against me as well. A lot of people probably expect me to be on 4AD or something like that.
SLUG: I always thought of Captured Tracks as a good family for The Soft Moon though. Maybe more so with Blank Dogs than indie pop bands like Craft Spells or Wild Nothing.
Vasquez: Maybe perhaps we do fit in—people always mention it and they’re happy The Soft Moon is on the label. It works.
SLUG: You’re set to play SXSW with Austra, Kontravoid, Xeno & Oaklander and other similarly dark-leaning peers. What are your thoughts on the new school of post-punk bands?
Vasquez: We’re all different kinds of musicians but we’re all connected somehow—like a collective consciousness or whatever. Things happen around the world at the same time with the same kind of feelings and emotion in mind. I like to think that I’m on my own trip, diving deep into myself trying to pull things out and it just happens to sound a certain way, I guess. It’d be nice to find out why we make similar music.
SLUG: How do you feel about labeling current musicians as goth, post-punk, industrial etc? Convenient organizing principle or unnecessary generality? Do you see The Soft Moon within a tradition of darkwave/industrial sounds?
Vasquez: I don’t disagree with comparisons I get. Its funny a lot of the bands that would come up when I first started getting write ups I had never even heard before. I wonder why my music sounds similar to those bands. I probably connect with bands that were making post-punk in the ‘70s—we happen to be similar people, just in different eras.
SLUG: So what did you grow up listening to then?
Vasquez: I grew up listening to Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, and then it wasn’t until later that I started getting into things like thrash metal like Slayer, Iron Maiden. Then I started getting into jazz and stuff. I didn’t really get into obscure music until I was older when I started picking through records. But I listened to pretty normal pop music when I was a kid.
SLUG: That’s interesting. I notice an oscillation between industrial sounds and somewhat pop elements in your songs, especially on “When It’s Over.” Is that conscious?
Vasquez: In terms of songwriting I’m not concerned with writing a formulaic song which is what most people use. For me to get my emotions and my expression across it’s more of a photo or a painting or a soundtrack. I prefer to write my songs that way, to tell a story, a moment, like a photo. I write the music based on that, I don’t really need a hook or a verse to talk about if I’m sad or to talk about my childhood. It’s more abstract for sure.
SLUG: You’ve recently collaborated with the legendary John Foxx and were picked by Trent Reznor to remix a How To Destroy Angels track. What’s it like to work with great alt. artists?
Vasquez: I never thought I would be collaborating with anyone when I started. The Soft Moon is such a personal introspective thing for me. The first person I was approached by was John Foxx and I was blown away because he’s a synth legend. It was refreshing for me because I finally got to step out of my box a little bit and work with another brain and that felt really nice. On top of everything it wasn’t just working with someone else it working was with John Foxx which was incredible. The whole Trent Reznor thing was out of the blue and I was actually very intimidated by that one. He’s a perfectionist for sure- he spends a lot of time perfecting songs so I was quite intimidated when I was approached. In fact I procrastinated on doing the remix for a while- I finally made it three days before I had to leave on tour and I had to get it done I didn’t want to miss out on that opportunity to work with him. When I finally did it I ended up feeling really good. I was proud of myself. I was scared going into it- I guess I was really worried if he’d hate it or whatever because it’s Trent Reznor. I kind of embrace those challenges, happy that I took on those opportunities- for me everything’s about learning and so its really cool to learn that I can work with others and it makes me a stronger songwriter which is ultimately what’d I’d like to be- I want to get better and better at what I do.
Placate your goth soul with Vasquez and The Soft Moon. They perform Thursday, March 21st at Kilby Court with Salt Lake’s OCTOBER and Red on Black.