The Soft Moon's Mechanical Principles
The Soft Moon's composer, Luis Vasquez, has the propensity to own you with his foreboding, audible formations. There's a mobile, degenerate, sexual inescapability to his music—songs become scenes of large, futuristic tankers moving at high speeds. Vasquez's doused vocals loom behind diesel-fueled bass and corridors of tamped, lower-fi machine beats. Guitar and keys are mangled with obsidian hooks. It all moves out via turbines that have seen years and years of use. Since 2010, the San Francisco–based Vasquez has put out a trilogy of releases: a self-titled debut, the Total Decay EP, and 2012 full-length Zeros. Vasquez was in from Istanbul, Turkey, when we spoke.
Your song "Parallels" owns me. It tells me to rob a bank. And I do as it says. I'm the song's mindless robot. I walk into the bank, place a note on the counter informing the teller that I want all the money in the safe, and then she speaks in an eight-bit voice, "We've. Been. Expecting. You." Through her eyes is a scorched desert. She reaches into her drawer and hands me a human ear. The ear is warm. I float through the opening of the ear into Egypt's White Desert, and there is a chase scene involving "flying solar tankers" going 270 miles per hour. Vision is tunneled. Harsh g's during turns cause near blackout. I will play the song until it tells me to stop. I don't know who is chasing whom.
That's not too far-fetched. I like how weird you got with the warm human ear. Are human ears a new currency?
Human ears have always been currency.
Sometimes I forget.
How do you direct your creative process?
My process is extremely spontaneous. I never know when it's going to hit. I've noticed I feel most creative when I'm in a good mood, which is ironic considering my songs tend to express the dark places inside me. I never force writing, which can be quite the waiting game at times. But once I feel the urge to write, it just spews out of me uncontrollably. It's rare that I direct the songs as I'm writing them. I try to let them happen naturally.
What sparked you to write "Machines"?
"Machines" started differently than the way it ended up. I've had this intense neck phobia my whole life. It keeps me from sleeping most of the time. The strange thing is that there's no physical sensation, and it's completely mental [laughs]. With my neck phobia in mind, I wanted to create a sound using the synthesizer that would reflect the way my mental neck phobia felt inside my throat. It's the synth stabs that happen throughout the song. In a way, I thought that if I mimicked my phobia, it would go away. Kind of like when they say if you have a song stuck in your head, you're supposed to listen to it, and it will go away. Unfortunately, it seems to be getting worse—I think it's because the song ended up going a different direction rather than confronting the phobia, which I had initially planned. As I was writing the track, it took on a life of its own and became more of a weird 4 a.m. basement dance track. I embraced it for what it became and ran with it.
The Soft Moon conjures darkness. Seediness. Someone has done something that's not okay, or they're going to do something that's not okay. Where does this come from?
I grew up with a guilty conscience [laughs]. To this day, I feel like all my thoughts and actions come from a bad place. I feel like a bad person all the time, and it really fucks with me. I give myself a hard time, which stresses me out and gives me anxiety. It's like I'm constantly running from something, and I feel it shows in the music—makes its way into my songwriting. During a live performance, I feel very cathartic, like I'm defeating all the negative feelings. Unfortunately, when the show is over, I immediately return to feeling like a horrible person. The Soft Moon is a means of self-discovery and healing for me, which has slowly been working.
What's your live setup?
Live, the Soft Moon is a three-piece with Justin Anastasi playing bass; Keven Tecon playing drums, synthesizer, and drum machine; and me playing guitar, synthesizer, percussion, and vocals. I'm very happy with the current lineup and hope it stays this way for a while.
Where did you grow up? What do you remember?
I was born in Los Angeles and moved to the Mojave Desert at the age of 12 because my mom noticed I was being influenced by the bad neighborhood we lived in—she was concerned I was going to get involved with gangs, guns, and violence. I remember being really upset that we moved to the desert because there was nothing out there. I hated it. In fact, I never liked it, but in a strange way it took me on this musical path. I've always felt that I was going to be a musician regardless of where I lived, but the desert definitely molded my songwriting style in an interesting way. My favorite things were skateboarding and listening to music in my room; my least favorite things were the jocks at my high school.
How do you arrive at your sounds? What are your oft-used effects?
When I first started writing songs for the Soft Moon, I pulled out all my old guitar effect pedals I had kept from when I was a kid playing in punk bands—using only what I had, I kinda created the formula I have today. I like the idea of making the best with what you have, rather than getting caught up with buying tons of gear you'll never quite penetrate. Since the Soft Moon was a means for me to return to my childhood, I felt it made sense to use old stuff from my past. In terms of sounds I look for, I want to make everything sound like flesh or like living things. Chorus and flanger pedals are a good way to achieve that.
The video for "Machines" is an edit of Ralph Steiner's Mechanical Principles from 1930. What's your relationship to Mechanical Principles?
I have a love for that particular era of avant-garde film experimentation. My videos for "Parallels," "Circles," and "Total Decay" are also inspired and taken from related artists of that time. Through research, I came across Ralph Steiner's work and thought Mechanical Principles worked perfectly. A good friend of mine, Ron Robinson, who works as a full-time animator and video editor, worked on those with me.
Where do you want to record next?
I'm pretty anxious to start working on the third album. I'll be moving to Berlin soon for a short period to start writing. I consider the first record, Total Decay, and Zeros a trilogy that has cohesiveness. I'm ready to expand.