By Brian F. Johnson
While answering questions about Moon Duo’s latest album Shadow of the Sun, as she walked through the streets of Copenhagen during a recent phone interview with The Marquee, singer/keyboardist Sanae Yamada turned the tables and started asking questions herself.
“Do you ever have those times where your mind is just kind of changing and you can’t see what’s going on in a coherent way until after the change has kind of progressed a bit?,” asked the keyboardist — sounding almost like a theme of one of her own synthesizer draped, droning cosmic psychedelic rock songs. Yamada was attempting to explain why Shadow of the Sun, the band’s third full-length LP since their inception in 2009, was the group’s most challenging album to date.
“I’m not sure how to explain why, exactly. I think we were just going through a psychological evolution,” she said of herself and guitarist band mate Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips). “It was one of those things where, it was this time of flux, at least for me, personally. I feel like my mind was changing a bit in the way that I was thinking about music and the way I was relating to what I do with the keyboards in the band. So being in the middle of that time it was really, ultimately, a rewarding process making the album, but there were many times when it felt especially hard to see clearly what I was doing and whether I was happy with it.”
Whereas the group’s last album Circles was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Yamada said that this album seemed to be a reflection of their experience of making the recording. Johnson has said that he was reading existential and dystopian fiction at the time they wrote Shadow of the Sun — having just come out of winter and being on the road — and some of the songs directly reference the books he was reading. And Yamada said that it could have been that he was reading that material because of what they were going through. “I think the experience of making the record kind of created the theme, rather than the theme creating the record,” she said. “It definitely paralleled the theme.”
The entire experience was also the band’s longest recording process to date. Yamada said that was partly because of the fact that they were touring while making the album, but also because of the heavy mindfuck that came with making it that the recording became a really challenging album to finish. “We started in February 2014 and we finished and sent the album in for mastering — sealed the deal — at the end of September. Previously we’ve done quicker, more focused sessions. Circles we did in about three weeks where we were isolated and totally focused and it just went really smoothly,” Yamada said.
Pitchfork cited “protopunk” influences and a thin veil of industrial grit in its review of the album, which was released in February. “Shadow of the Sun is a continuation in that a lot of the ideas on the record are ideas that we’ve been exploring since the beginning, like the use of repetition, and kind of the hypnotic effect, but I think that it differs too,” Yamada said. “The state of mind around the whole recording process — there is this element of chaos or looseness on Shadow of the Sun that doesn’t really come across on Circles.”
One very large part of that, Yamada said, might be the addition of the duo’s touring drummer John Jeffery, who for the first time joined Johnson and Yamada in the studio for the album. Yamada explained that Jeffrey’s addition was a “refreshing” one that added good perspective to the group, and she also said that it ended up producing a new sound for Moon Duo. “We did our previous records with a drum machine and on some of the tracks on this record we had a prerecorded drum machine track that we had done all of the guitar and keyboard to. And then we had John over-dub the pre-recorded drum track. So it’s like this hybrid — like the human interpretation of the machine track, which was a great thing,” she said.
Like their previous, albums Moon Duo took Shadows of the Sun to their old friend and confidant Jonas Verwijen at Kaiku Studios in Berlin for the final mixes. “We lucked out with Jonas when we hooked up with him for Mazes. We had an instant rapport and that’s never gone away. It’s about the chemistry of when we all sit down together. Like any relationship, if the personal chemistry isn’t aligned it can be frustrating,” she said.
While the band, which started in San Francisco, had some Colorado roots during the writing of Circles, they have since relocated to Portland but will be back this month to headline Synesthesia: Denver Psych Fest, which, now in its third year, is charged with promoting psych rock, experimental and electronic music in the Mile High City.
“Colorado was always kind of a temporary situation for us,” Yamada said. “When we decided we were going to pursue the band full-time we left San Francisco, put all of our stuff in storage, and had a really generous offer from family to use their house in the mountains when we came back to the States. So we were on the road really heavily for a while and then had the good fortune to use this house. I love Colorado and we had a great time there, but we both just have too strong an affinity for the West Coast, so ultimately we ran back.”
Synesthesia: Denver Psych Fest
Multiple venues in and
around Larimer Lounge
Go If You Dig:
- The Velvet Underground and Nico
- 13th Floor Elevators
- The Seeds