Name: The Soft Moon
Progress Report: Luis Vasquez talks about the recording of the Soft Moon’s forthcoming sophomore LP.
The Soft Moon’s 2010 self-titled debut was a thing of gothy delight — eleven tracks of spooky bedroom electronics that created such a powerful, singular vision — of something beautiful, harrowing, and more than a little frightening — that the album was able to transcend its obvious influences. 2011’s follow up EP, Total Decay, pulled off a similar trick — creating dark soundscapes that sounded both alien and weirdly intimate (and not unlike long-lost gems that could have been rescued from some forgotten 4AD fantasy vaults). This fall the man behind the moon, Luis Vasquez, will release his second proper full-length, an album that promises to add a little volume to the sonic blueprint of his first two releases. I called him up to discuss.
STEREOGUM: Hey Luis. Where are you right now?
LUIS VASQUEZ: Right now I’m in Oakland, just working on some lyrics before I go into the studio in a little bit. Trying to wrap things up.
STEREOGUM: So where are you right now in the process?
VASQUEZ: So far this week I’ve tracked nine songs in the studio. I’d been writing at home and when I was ready I booked some studio time at a place in the Mission District of San Francisco. I’ve got nine tracks right now and I’m aiming for ten. Today I’m tracking vocals. So … I’m pretty close. The record is nearing completion.
STEREOGUM: Did you tour a bunch on the back of the last record?
VASQUEZ: We toured a bunch. We went to Europe shortly after the first album came out. We did quite a few smaller tours here in the states. We toured with Interpol for a while. Since the touring ended, I’ve just been writing. I’ve actually been working on the record since last November.
STEREOGUM: Are you able to do this full-time or are you still working a day job?
VASQUEZ: I actually quit my day job almost exactly a year ago. I’ve been struggling, for sure, but I just felt like I had to do it for the sake of making this second record. I had to be able to give my all to it. There is a lot of pressure — a lot of people seem to be curious. The second album can always be a make or break thing for a band. I’ve certainly struggled and have been very very broke, but the record is nearly complete and I think we’re gonna tour a whole bunch, so maybe I’ll make some money then.
STEREOGUM: The whole “quitting your day job” thing is such a scary leap for all working musicians.
STEREOGUM: It’s good, though. It shows a certain amount of fortitude when you decide that you’re really gonna commit to this thing for real. There was so much love for the first Soft Moon record that it must have made it a little easier. Were you surprised?
VASQUEZ: I was totally surprised. The project was never even really meant to surface. The first album was something I was just doing at home, with no intention of putting together a live band or even really trying to find a label. It was just very personal music that I was making just for myself. Then things started to happen and somehow I got signed and a put together a few more tracks to make it a full album. then I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. For something that felt so honest and kind of simple to get that kind of love from people out in the world, it just felt crazy. You know, the record was just this document of me kind of talking about my fears and stuff, so to have people respond to it.
STEREOGUM: That’s probably exactly why people responded to it. It’s cool when something takes on a life of its own.
VASQUEZ: Then it’s really just about trying to keep up with it.
STEREOGUM: Recording-wise, are you pretty much doing everything yourself this time?
VASQUEZ: I’m still doing everything myself. I had considered bringing in other people, but I really just wanted one more album that was just me, where I could focus on a vision that was solely my own and really concentrate on finding my own sound a little more, rather than bring in my band for tracking and sharing ideas. I did this record entirely myself, but maybe for the next record I’ll bring the band in and mix things up.
STEREOGUM: What is your usual way of working?
VASQUEZ: I usually start by going to the liquor store and buying lots of booze. Actually, I just sit at home and tinker around with different instruments — sometimes it’s the bass, sometimes a synthesizer — after I track an idea I basically pace around the apartment, look at the window, and then sit back down and start tinkering again. That’s my process, which happens pretty much day and night.
STEREOGUM: Do you live in a place where you can make a lot of noise?
VASQUEZ: No, and that’s actually why I do a lot of whispering on the first record. I had these neighbors who just complained constantly. There is something about the building that allowed all sound to travel, so I had to whisper most of the time. This time I’m recording vocals in an actual studio, so I can be a little louder.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting how those kinds of work constraints can inform/create your aesthetic. I remember reading that Depeche Mode only became a synth band because they couldn’t afford gear and they didn’t have a place where they could play loudly.
VASQUEZ: That’s funny. It’s a little strange for me — going from a bedroom into an actual studio. I feel like I have more freedom, which is cool, but I still end up doing a lot of recording at home, where I still can’t be very loud. There is still that element of restraint on this record. I’m hoping the new record will be a little more dynamic — the quiet recordings mixed in with louder studio stuff. Playing with a band really changed things too. Our shows were known for being kind of noisy and loud and big, so it’s cool to be able to explore that more on this record. People always commented on how much louder the live show was than the record, so now maybe it will be a little more balanced in that way.
STEREOGUM: I know you are still right in the middle of the process, but what can you say about this new music? Does it feel radically different?
VASQUEZ: I would say it’s a little less “loner” than the previous one. I approached that first record from a very outsider point of view, but this record feels a little bit more exposed and I have a little more understanding of what the audience likes. I feel like I’m communicating a little bit more this time, rather than being so intensely retrospective. I think that’s the main difference. I really wanted the concept of this record to be more about communication than anything else.
STEREOGUM: That makes sense. It’s an interesting thing to make something not meant for public consumption, only to see it consumed so publicly. It also must be strange to think back to the mindset you were in while making that first record. You must never have imagined that at some point you’d be going out and singing those songs in front of increasingly larger audiences.
VASQUEZ: No, I certainly never did. I never knew how cathartic it would be. It was so scary at first, but it felt so good, so liberating. I think our very first show was in Oakland and we played with Blank Dogs. I had about a 10 minute set because I could only perform about three songs live. During that first song I remember screaming and it suddenly felt so good. It was a relief. It felt really good, even though I was very scared.
STEREOGUM: Had the record not taken off in the way it did, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
VASQUEZ: I’d probably be doing something similar … .some kind of loner songwriting thing in my room. I’ve never stopped making music since I was a teenager. I went through tons of phases — from writing electronic music to trying to write psychedelic rock songs. I think I would have just carried on writing music at home for myself and working at a day job. Same as a lot of people, I guess.
STEREOGUM: What was your day job?
VASQUEZ: Graphic designer. I was designing t-shirts and stuff for a fashion company.
STEREOGUM: Graphic Designer: the classic indie-rock day job.
VASQUEZ: I know! That’s totally true.
STEREOGUM: When do you think the record will be released?
VASQUEZ: Captured Tracks will probably put the record out in October. I also just did a collaboration with John Foxx, which will come out in September I think.
STEREOGUM: Will you be touring with the same guys?
VASQUEZ: Yeah, but after our next tour in Europe one of the guys can’t do it anymore, so after that we might carry on as a three-piece. We’d be working with more samplers and trying to multi-task within the band a little more. We’ll see.
STEREOGUM: Can you say yet what will the record be called?
VASQUEZ: The record will be called Zeros and there will be a title track called “Zeroes” as well. I have a rough track list and a rough version of the cover art as well, it’s all coming together. I do all the artwork and everything myself.
STEREOGUM: How much studio time do you have left?
VASQUEZ: Two more days in the studio. Then we go to Europe for a tour. I’ll record a little more in June and then everything will go to be mastered.
STEREOGUM: Are you working with a producer?
VASQUEZ: I’m working with a producer and an engineer. In the past I’ve done everything myself, so I was super hesitant about allowing anyone else in on the process. I was going back and forth about it for weeks. I changed my mind a million times. But after the first couple of sessions, I got really comfortable with him. I’m actually tracking vocals with him, which is something I never thought I’d be able to do. That usually feels way too personal to do with anyone else around. The band feels like my child, so it’s still so hard for me to share it with anyone. But I’m glad I did.
Zeros is out this fall from Captured Tracks.