The Soft Moon: A conversation with Luis Vasquez
We have discussed before how the idea and concept of a one-person project is an intriguing and alluring one. Both inside and outside of the alternative music scene, there is no shortage of people that have dedicated their lives to their music in a myriad of ways, from Blood Orange, Bon Iver and King Krule to Author & Punisher, Fågelle and Mare Cognitum. In some cases, this one-person lineup is expanded on a live setting, as performing songs by one’s own hand can prove to be incredibly difficult. Such is the case with The Soft Moon. Originally started as a personal project of multi-instrumentalist Luis Vasquez, The Soft Moon was never meant to be performed live and Vasquez himself never considered anything special would ever happen to the project, until a fortunate message on Myspace changed that in an instant. That moment transformed The Soft Moon and its music quickly evolved, becoming a means for Vasquez to achieve self-discovery and deal with past experiences and traumas which, in turn, brought in an audience of like-minded individuals over the years, that saw their own reflection in Vasquez’s music.
Last year, The Soft Moon released Exister, a record that stands as both an emotional journey and a culmination of Luis Vasquez’s work until now. With this in mind, we spoke with Luis Vasquez about his humble beginnings in music, the creation of The Soft Moon and the journey of self-discovery it has been since then, as well as his upcoming performance at Hellfest.
What was your first contact with music?
I remember I was a little kid and I was getting ready for school, I discovered MTV. That is my very first memory of music, is watching MTV videos before school.
Was there any song or group that caught your attention at the time?
I remember that, around that time, Guns N Roses were really big! [laughs] I remember it was because of Slash, he looked super cool playing guitar and I thought that’s the instrument I wanted to play, because it sounded so fucking cool, you know? What’s funny about that is I eventually got a guitar when I was twelve, and I got the guitar with no amplifier. I remember playing and going, “why can’t I make those sounds that all the guitar players on MTV are making?”, and I realized I needed an amplifier. [laughs] So then, I went to a pawn shop and got an amplifier. It’s so funny, that’s how naive I was when I was a kid.
“What’s funny about that is I eventually got a guitar when I was twelve, and I got the guitar with no amplifier. I remember playing and going, ‘why can’t I make those sounds that all the guitar players on MTV are making?’, and I realized I needed an amplifier. [laughs] So then, I went to a pawn shop and got an amplifier. It’s so funny, that’s how naive I was when I was a kid.”
Did you ever manage to play like Slash or, at least, some riffs by him?
Not really, but I did try to learn a couple of his guitar solos when I first got my guitar. But then, right when I got my guitar, I was already getting into punk and stuff, so that was pretty much where I was diving into, by the time I got my guitar.
Did you have any musical training growing up?
No, not at all, and in fact, there is no musicians in my family. So, it’s kind of strange that I just happened to be the one that felt it at an early age.
Were you in any bands before forming The Soft Moon?
I started my first band when I was fifteen, I think it was fifteen, around that age. It was a punk band and we did some covers of Bad Religion. We actually used to play at this bar in the town I was living in the desert at the time. It was 21 and over, I had to get a permission slip to play there, so I used to forge my mum’s signature to play there. [laughs] I don’t know if you remember but there was this 90s band called Staind; when we opened for them, I was fourteen or fifteen years old, it was before they got big, so that was funny.
What is the origin story of The Soft Moon and what were some initial ideas and goals you had for the project?
When I first got my guitar, I was always starting punk bands with friends over the years and I wanted to be a successful, signed band for many years. And then, at one point, I kind of gave it up, I was thinking, “ah, whatever, I’m not going to try anymore”. I was working this graphic design job and then I decided, “you know what, I want to start making music again”, so I bought my first synthesizer and then, I bought some studio equipment, and I just started writing after I came home from work. And the thing was that I wasn’t trying too hard to be something. I was just writing music when I came home; you know, I would drink a beer or whatever, relax and write music just for me. And then, I was posting these songs on Myspace at the time, like at the very end of Myspace, right when Facebook was starting. I posted these three demos and within a couple of weeks, I was getting approached by record labels. I don’t know how the fuck they found me, I had like, twenty friends on Myspace. [laughs] But yeah, I got approached and that’s how it all happened. I remember I got approached by Mike Sniper from Captured Tracks, and I didn’t know anything about Captured Tracks; I actually didn’t reply to the message, it took me weeks to reply. And finally, I looked into it and I discovered his band at the time, Blank Dogs, I thought it was really cool. So, I wrote him back and he said, “you know what, before signing a contract, let’s put out a single on a 7’”. We did that, it was Breathe The Fire, and it did really well. Then, we just signed a contract, and right after that, I finished my album, released it and went on my first European tour, and that was twelve years ago now.
You mentioned not trying to be anything and just wanting to make music for yourself, but were there any influences that inspired you back then, both in and outside of music?
At that time, when I just started getting into writing again and just for myself, I was getting heavily into record collecting. I was really into late 60s and early 70s krautrock, psych rock, Brazilian psych. I was going pretty nuts with collecting records; the weirder, the better. The ones that really stood out to me in terms of inspiration where bands like CAN, Neu!, Niagara, Faust, pretty much most of the krautrock genre was what really inspired me, all of that stuff that was happening, and even some Kraftwerk. My music and inspiration were kind of driven by Kraftwerk, but then filtered through me, so that’s why it kind of came out dark and it became post-punk and industrial on its own, without me even trying because it was krautrock filtered through my experiences as a person.
You mentioned that when you started the project, you almost immediately starting playing live. Was that always a part of your plan for the project?
In the beginning, I actually never thought anything was going to come with The Soft Moon, so I didn’t even write music in the beginning considering how it would be performed live. When I started playing live, that’s when I realized my music doesn’t translate live; like if I were just to take it and try to make it identical, I noticed I had to change things in order to make it work live. Then, going forward after touring, I started realizing, “okay, I’m a live band at this point”, and I started considering how it would be performed live when I was writing. Starting with the second record, I was thinking about the live show and writing things that would translate as exciting on stage and come off well.
On 2013, you moved to Italy to write Deeper, and not long after, you relocated to Berlin to begin work on what would eventually become Criminal. How did both of these relocations inspire you in a creative sense?
When I moved to Italy, I was right outside of Venice, I was in a small town twenty minutes away. I was by myself; I was in the middle of nowhere, in a small town, so I had to really look at myself, you know? It was just me and my instruments, I didn’t really have a life aside from being in my apartment and working on music. So, I think the inspiration for Deeper came from within, which is probably why I probably called it Deeper, because the only I could do was to dig deep into myself, pull stuff out and be creative. And also, I think being in a new environment was exciting for me as well; I was in San Francisco, I was in Oakland, and then, I went to the middle of nowhere, in a small country town, in Italy. So, that was exciting for me and inspired me in that way, almost like survival, you know, I had to write something great in order to survive. So, the inspiration came from just being alive, I think.
And then with Criminal, I was living in Berlin, that’s a whole different story. You know, going out all the time, techno clubs all the time, staying up late, not sleeping, partying, drinking and everything. I felt very lost and very confused, I was angry, I was all over the place. It was almost like there was too much freedom, too much to do, and my discipline is very bad. I was just doing shit that I would regret or feel guilty about, so that’s why I called it Criminal, that record was probably the angriest one, I would say.
You mentioned that Deeper was a record where you took a deep look into yourself. Do you ever get the sense that you are revealing too much of yourself on a record?
Yeah, I actually do. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, it depends on how I feel in the day, you know? Sometimes, if I wake up feeling hungover, I definitely feel like, “oh, I fucked up, I’ve been revealing too much about myself”. [laughs] But I feel like Exister is where I revealed quite a lot, it’s very intimate, I’ve been kind of focusing more on my mother-son relationship a little bit on that record. But, at the same time, there are no regrets because whatever needs to come out, comes out, and I want to be as genuine and honest as possible with my music. I want to be genuine to people, but I also need to be genuine to myself and let whatever needs to come out, come out. The one thing that came out of actually saying a lot about myself is that I’ve become close to my fans and my fans have become close to me, because we start to relate to each other, you know? Everyone starts to feel like, “oh, we’re not alone in these certain situations”, and that’s a beautiful thing that came out of it. The one thing I’ll say is that, by expressing so much intimacy, I feel like I’ve become a better person after Exister. So, going forward, I probably won’t be needing to express myself that much or feeling so guilty anymore.
“The one thing I’ll say is that, by expressing so much intimacy, I feel like I’ve become a better person after Exister. So, going forward, I probably won’t be needing to express myself that much or feeling so guilty anymore.”
The aforementioned Criminal also brought you to another label, Sacred Bones. How did this collaboration come about and how has it been working with the label since then?
It’s interesting, when I first signed with Captured Tracks, Mike Sniper was sharing a small office building with Caleb Braaten from Sacred Bones at that time. Captured Tracks and Sacred Bones were in the same small room, they each had their own desk side-by-side, running their own labels. I remember when I came to visit Mike, I met Caleb and there was this energy I could feel from him, he was looking at me as if saying like, “fuck, I wish I would have signed you first”. [laughs] I remember years later, after I signed with Sacred Bones, I talked to Caleb about that, and said, “I always knew I’d be working with you”, and he said the same thing. So, I guess it was inevitable to be on Sacred Bones. And yeah, it’s been cool working with the label. What I like about Sacred Bones is that I feel like it’s very respected, you know? I feel like being on that label, I feel respected as a musician, it’s a cool community and a cool family.
The Soft Moon’s music also has this incredibly cinematic aspect to it and some of your songs have been featured on television series over the years. What are your thoughts on having your music appear on television?
I love it, to be honest, I would like more of that to happen. I’ve always felt like my music is very visual and cinematic. In fact, I’ve even mentioned in the past that I try to make music that you can see. So, when I do see music on film, it’s great and it’s exciting for me. In a way, I kind of write music for that purpose.
And you actually did record a soundtrack called A Body of Errors. Even though, as far as I know, that soundtrack is not a part of any specific film or TV series, would you be open to creating something like that in the future if you were approached?
Yeah, that’s something I’m highly interested in. I’m already kind of making moves and talking with directors, so I’m hoping I can do that in the near future. One of the main reasons, I mean, I love film, but at the same time, it would be really nice and refreshing for me to create work for someone else’s vision, rather than writing and expressing for myself. I feel like I’ve done that enough over the years with The Soft Moon that I think it would be great to work with someone and write for them.
Was that one of the reasons why you created A Body of Errors, to get out of that space?
Actually, A Body of Errors was kind of like a soundtrack to my life. It was still like a separation because I wasn’t really singing on anything, except for one song where I’m kind of repeating a verse. So, it was still a reflection of who I am but without the words, which was already a step into stepping away from expressing myself so much.
Last year, you released the aforementioned Exister. How was the creative and recording process like this time around?
With Exister, it was a completely different landscape and different environment because I had moved to the desert, Joshua Tree. It was a complete contrast to Berlin, which I felt I needed after being in Berlin for like, five and a half years. In the desert, I had a lot of freedom, and for the first time, I could be as loud as I wanted to be, I could play drums, I wasn’t living in an apartment, I had like a small house. That was really cool, to have that much freedom to do whatever I wanted for the first time, and it was like a cycling back to the desert, where I spent ten years of my life. When I was a teenager, I lived in the desert so it’s after all this journey, I ended back in desert to write Exister. It was very emotional, because I was back and I was kind of close to my mum again, my uncle had just come out of prison after forty years and I saw him. There was a lot of family stuff going on and, at the same time, I returned back to the desert, so it was really emotional, it was confusing, it was difficult and very chaotic emotionally, actually. There was a lot of times where I felt like I couldn’t do it; I felt like I couldn’t write anymore, it was just too much and a lot of things were happening in the family. In fact, when I first approached the record, I had a different idea in mind, and I started with this idea and sort of concept, and I just couldn’t help it, the album came out crazy and emotional. Therefore, I wanted the album to express my many sides, my many emotions; that’s why you have a hard techno track, you have a punk song, you know, it’s the expression of many emotions.
Do you feel like it was sort of the closing of a chapter and the beginning of a new one, like coming full circle, not only for The Soft Moon, but for your life as well?
Yeah, definitely. And it feels great to have this closure. I feel like, going forward, it’s still going to be The Soft Moon but I think my mentality is more mature now, and I’ve realized who I am and have accepted it, I’ve accepted issues in my family and my life. Certain things that I can’t change, you know, I’ve accepted those things in my family. So yeah, it’s the end of a chapter and I’m going to move into the next phase of whatever The Soft Moon will be.
This coming June, you will be performing at Hellfest for the very first time. What are your expectations regarding the festival and what are you most excited about?
This is interesting, this will be our first metal festival, basically, and it’s a really big deal from what I know. I don’t know what to expect because it’s a metal festival in Europe, so that’s interesting. A metal festival in the States, I would think a lot of mayhem, a lot of drinking, a lot of drunk people. [laughs] But in Europe, I feel like it might be slightly more conservative. I mean, of course everyone is going to be drinking, they’re metalheads, you know? But I don’t know what to expect. What I do know is I’m going to prepare our setlist to bring out all the heavy-hitters, we won’t be playing any slow songs. [laughs] We’re just going to come out, kick ass like we usually do and then, hopefully I get to see some bands that I want to see, you know?
Did you have a chance to check the lineup?
Oh my god, yeah, it’s insane; I’ve never seen a lineup like that in my life! [laughs] It’s like, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Motley Crüe, it’s out of control, it’s going to be fun!
“What I do know [about Hellfest] is I’m going to prepare our setlist to bring out all the heavy-hitters, we won’t be playing any slow songs. [laughs] We’re just going to come out, kick ass like we usually do and then, hopefully I get to see some bands that I want to see, you know?”
Interview by Filipe Silva
Photo by Matteo Nazzari, courtesy of The Soft Moon