The Soft Moon’s Luis Vasquez on Going to a Beautiful Place to Find His Darkness
Over the course of six years and three albums as the Soft Moon, Luis Vasquez has created a universe of dreary and driving darkwave-infused post-punk, a place dotted by grayscale monoliths and a fog as thick as the sense of foreboding. The aesthetic is consistent across the Soft Moon's catalog, even though each album was created under entirely different circumstances — the self-titled debut was inspired by Vasquez's childhood in the California desert, much of follow-up Zeros was written while touring, and new album Deeper was written and recorded in Venice, Italy.
But this isn't Willie Nelson or a regional rapper we're talking about, so the impact of location isn't readily apparent in the music. There is no Soft Moon "road album."
Still, the concept of place was especially integral to Deeper. By 2013, Vasquez was beginning to think the Soft Moon had run its course, so he basically engineered a move overseas to serve as a creative catalyst. It wasn't until he relocated to Venice, one of the most beautiful cities known to man, that he was able to return to the dark recesses needed to create another Soft Moon album. And the result is his most focused and cathartic music yet.
Just before Deeper dropped, we chatted with Vasquez about his isolation in Italy and journeying abroad in order to journey inward. Check out the revealing interview below:
How would you say location affects your creative process?
What's interesting is that I didn't realize how much influence the Mojave Desert had on my music until later, when I kind of listened back to the first album and kind of started putting pieces together. After my first release, I took a road trip back to the desert because my mom was still living there, and I purposely put on the [self-titled] album so I could listen to it while I was there. And I started connecting the dots.
For Deeper, I kind of just ended up in Venice. I never said one day I want to write a record in Venice. It's just where the music led me. I purposely went out there to live in solitude, so I didn't really partake much in the Venetian experience. I could've been anywhere, honestly. I just wanted to be somewhere foreign, so I could completely rely on myself for any sort of expression. I felt like I had taken all my experiences in life up to that point and felt, now I have all the tools I needed to absorb, let's see what I can pull out. So I guess it's kind of ironic that there's not any sort of Italian influence on the music, but I was there. [Laughs]
Why not just do the Bon Iver thing, hole up in a cabin in the woods for six months? Did you need that language barrier to force the isolation?
I think so, yeah. I wanted to feel a sense of survival. I really wanted to depend on my music to keep me alive and to feel alive. I kind of wanted to put myself in a situation where it was a bit of a struggle. Maybe it's because I appreciate the outcome more with a little bit of a fight.
Did you find yourself looking for distractions?
I didn't have internet for quite some time, so there was the language barrier and no access to social media or something as simple as streaming a movie. So I was hyper-forced into sitting there and creating. I felt like an author or something with a typewriter in a room. It was interesting, and looking back it was something I needed, I guess. It represents the album title too, I think.
How long did this last?
I was there a little over a year. Almost a year-and-a-half. The album took a total of about nine months. The experience was nice, I have to say. When I did need to break away from the writing process, it became the perfect place to do that. It's peaceful, it's beautiful. It's a really nice contrast to that dark world I have to enter when I write.
That's exactly what I wanted to ask, if the city's outward beauty served as a relief?
It's funny, now that we're talking about it, I'm starting to realize it. Going back to how environment influences me, perhaps it's not necessarily the influence, but the contrast that I need, because I can't only exist in that dark place. Initially I had moved to Berlin, and that's where I wrote the first song for Deeper, and at the time it was a little too heavy for me; there was no contrast. So I felt defeated by Berlin, actually. I ended up going back to the States, touring some more, and then made my way to Venice. And perhaps it was a subconscious decision that I don't even realize but now that we're talking about it there's a realization.
A lot of people living in a foreign country talk about the timeline — first it's immediate happiness and the excitement of a new place, followed by several months of depression and culture shock, followed by a deeper satisfaction with the experience.
I do remember that. Wow, this is crazy. When I first moved to Venice, I hated it. There was a point where I wanted to leave, I didn't really give it a chance. I was telling my manager "I have to get out of here, I'm not inspired at all." But the longer I stuck with it, I realized what was coming out in the music. The whole purpose of me going there, like I said, was the struggle. And I didn't really see that for a while. It was really difficult, I felt like I was in the wrong place at first.
That comes through on "Being," a sort of terrifying examination of self-doubt and confusion. Why end the album on such an elliptical note with that song?
I had reached a point where I felt a lot more confident in myself and accepted who I am more, so I was able to express more of myself with Deeper. But, things are still completely open-ended. I want more knowledge, more information. I purposely made it the last track to leave it open-ended. The lyrics are basically me asking questions about my existence. In the end, there are no answers. And as soon as I finished Deeper, right away I felt like there was a part two, a continuation. There's still more to be said.
So where does the Soft Moon go from here, both literally and figuratively?
I won't know for certain until touring starts. That's the other half of the project, which is just as important. The live show is the release of everything. The writing process is an inward look, this analytical, autobiographical thing. We'll see what happens with the live show when I can physically get everything out. That will kind of let me know what the future holds.
Are you nervous about performing this material that came from such an intense bit of self-discovery?
Yeah, I'm actually quite nervous to perform, especially "Being." Live, it might lead to some sort of breakdown on stage. It might be quite heavy for me, but necessary. [Ed note: At the April 11 show in Brooklyn, he in fact did not have a breakdown during "Being," though he almost certainly shredded the hell out of his vocal cords.]
Deeper came from such an immersive environment, so how do you see yourself writing the next album?
I want to explore more of that, the strange sort of addiction I guess I have with the torturous process that it is to write. And the ups and downs I get emotionally from it. It's masochistic, in a way, and I can't stop.