Photo: Andrea Rigano
by Stina Isabel Gavrilin
The Soft Moon, the industrial tinged post-punk brainchild of Californian-born Luis Vasquez, returns to Tallinn in support of his latest album Exister. Before the highly anticipated show at Sveta Bar on April 14, we sat down virtually to chat about the album as well as Vasquez's creative process, musical beginnings and mental tortures. Midnight in Tallinn meets afternoon at Los Angeles...
You’ve said that after releasing the much different A Body Of Errors under your own name, making Exister felt like starting The Soft Moon from scratch. Did your approach to making music change a lot?
No actually, the approach kind of returned to how it used to be with The Soft Moon because A Body Of Errors was a departure. I just wasn’t as emotional to create that record so it was more soundtrack inspired. When I returned to The Soft Moon, it was basically back to the torture. It’s always torture when I create Soft Moon material because I’m unearthing the things that are inside of me, that I dig up that I’m not usually aware of. It was back to the same torturous process when I was creating Exister, in fact it was probably the most torturous album to create. Criminal was shortly behind that one but I would say creating Exister was very emotional.
At fifteen, when you first started writing music, what was it about back then?
(Laughs) it’s funny, I actually wrote about similar things. I guess I was a frustrated kid. The first song I wrote, I remember it was called ‘Claustrophobic Man’, and I vaguely remember some of the lyrics. It kind of came off as frustration, not being able to express myself, feeling claustrophobic. So yeah, I was already writing about these sort of darker, serious topics, emotional things. Since the beginning, it’s funny.
Your first album was a reaction to childhood and on Exister you’re revisiting it once again. Comparing the creation process of the two, how much had your frame of mind changed?
I would say that in the beginning I was a little scared to express myself completely. Specifically with vocals, I was whispering a lot on the first record and being very vague with my lyrics. At the same time too I didn’t really understand what my feelings were in the first album. By the time I reached Exister, like twelve years had passed – travelling the world, experiencing many things, just getting older and releasing several albums. With Exister I felt like I reached a level of confidence that I didn’t have in the first record. I became incredibly confident eventually by the time I hit Exister, therefore I really expressed myself as much as I could verbally, lyrically, even with my actual singing voice. I think I reached a horizon in terms of understanding who I am. There wasn’t any more questioning, it was more about accepting or dealing with where things are, knowing that they’re not gonna change and just accepting it. That’s the difference I guess, just being more aware. And confidence.
On bad days, do you find it harder to be creative or the contrary, you have more substance to be inspired and driven by?
No, when I have bad days it’s almost impossible to be productive. Ironically, I tend to sabotage myself and create bad days when I do have to create. With Exister, and also during the lockdown, I was drinking a lot. I would purposefully drink into oblivion and create a sabotage, so therefore I would be too hungover to write. It was almost like I didn’t deserve creating an album. What’s the word, not self-pity but... what do you call it? Comedians do it a lot, just talk shit about themselves.
Yeah, I was almost trying to sabotage myself to the point where I wasn’t able to even function and create, but at the same time there’s an irony to it because that’s where I also get my material from. It is these feelings of lowness, destruction and turmoil and things like that. I really challenge myself a lot. I try to make it as difficult as possible when I create. I don’t know why I do that but maybe it’s a form of torture.
How has living in the desert affected you creatively, especially having grown up there?
It was kind of like a full circle thing. It was interesting after all this time, like ten, eleven years and then returning to the desert. That was a very emotional thing. I didn’t really see it while I was living in it. It’s something that I’m looking back at now and understanding how it really made me feel because a lot of times I don’t know how I feel until it comes out in the music and even when it does, it takes time for me to realise “oh, that’s how I was feeling”. A couple of years could go by. But being in the desert to create this record, for one thing it gave me a lot of freedom finally because I had been writing all these albums in apartments since the first record. So there was a lot of limitations. With this one I was able to do whatever I wanted, I was playing drums in my living room and I was screaming, really being able to let everything out. In terms of being an artist and expressing myself, it was limitless, which was the first time. Also being in the desert which was contrasting living in Berlin, ‘cause I was in Berlin for about a little over five years, so it was a contrast to that, which helped me clear my mind. But I think the main thing wasn’t necessarily living in the desert, it was the fact that I was back home in a way and I was close to my family. After all these years, I think that’s where most of the influence came in on this record.
Does having all the equipment you need to make music drive you to also be more open in the writing or does it set new limits?
I felt like it was too much, there was too much freedom. I got so used to being limited with the previous [albums] that there was times when I was creating music in the desert, that I didn’t even know where to begin because I could do anything. Although it was fun to be able to let everything out, I do feel that I prefer writing when I do have some sort of limits because then I tap into my creativity more. If I have less things to work with, the more I have to use myself as an instrument and my brain, my emotions. So going forward I would probably go back to limiting myself in terms of instrumentation, environment and things like that. Now I’m back in Los Angeles, I’m in a bedroom that I converted into a studio and I actually feel better. Maybe also because if there’s too much space, too much going on, I feel like I can’t have control of that. I need to feel contained and organised, so I can focus here (points at his head).
There’s an especially cathartic quality to the videos for Exister. Does this chapter mark a sense of emancipation for you, meaning you can move on from the hurt in your past? Do you still carry certain unresolved things with you from album to album?
I would say that with Exister I finally feel like I’ve concluded all of the missing pieces emotionally. But leading up to it I felt unresolved, always felt like I needed to dig more. But yeah, I can finally say that with Exister I’ve concluded a chapter and moving forward with new material I’ll probably have a little bit of a different approach. I just feel different. I feel concluded so it probably won’t be so guilt-driven, I won’t have any more questions about myself. I think I’ll come off a little bit more empowered.
Seeing other artists involved in a couple of songs on Exister was a surprise. Will collaborations like these become more common for you in the future?
I don’t know, I still very much like to work alone. The purpose of The Soft Moon is just self-growth, it always has been. It is interesting and it was kind of surprising even for myself to have collaborators on the record. I got approached by the record label, in the music industry it’s just kind of a way to reach wider audiences, tap into different genres. It was a way for me to try to get my music to people who wouldn’t normally listen to it. I tried it out with Fish Narc, he’s got a completely different audience. The cool thing about that, we became great friends after. Then with Alli Logout, I just admire her, so I thought it would be great to work with Alli, especially on something very punk, very aggressive. It was fun. In terms of going forward with collaborations, I’m open to it for sure but we’ll see.
Since you’ve expressed that the process of writing albums is torturous for you, do you consider the whole The Soft Moon experience therapeutic or more like a compulsion?
It’s both because therapy comes after. I learn more about myself and I feel fulfilled with the outcome of it, but the process of creating the music is a different thing. That’s the torturous side, that’s the hard part. It’s like getting your blood drawn, it sucks but afterwards you could be saving someone’s life with your blood. That’s why it’s both, it’s torturous but then rewarding at the end. And it could be why I make the process even more so as torturous as possible because maybe I’m addicted to the reward at the end. The harder it is for me to create, the bigger the reward.
You’ve also mentioned that all the music you’ve ever made ends up dark. As you evolve mentally and as a person, could you imagine ever getting to a point where The Soft Moon becomes an outlet for joy instead?
I think the closest I will come to that is probably what I’m thinking in my head in terms of new material. More so like the empowering thing I was mentioning, nothing really happy. I don’t think I’ll start a reggae band any time soon (laughs). But I think the next step would be about less whining and maybe I would like to be a person that helps others. For a while, The Soft Moon has been something that people could relate to for sure, and also I can relate to a thing where you don’t feel alone with your emotions. It’s been like that for many years. The next step would be more about, not only do I relate with you, but I can help you through my music, ‘cause I’ve reached a certain level within myself. I think that’s the next step and maybe after that, a happy record.
Last time you played in Tallinn was with the album Deeper. What has changed in your live setting since then?
The live set is pretty much the same. It’s going to be just as cathartic as it’s always been in terms of performance. Of course I would love to enhance the lighting show. That stuff costs a lot of money and touring has changed a lot these days, but you’re going to still see the same catharsis on stage. Very emotional, it’s going to be very heavy. I still perform the same. I can’t help it, every time I’m on stage, something takes over me. So you’ll see a sort of an exorcism.
One more question, about the title of Exister. Is there a reference to Depeche Mode in there?
Oh, like Exciter? No, not at all. It’s funny because I realised that way after I released the album (laughs). I’m aware of that record but I had completely forgotten about it. No, no reference at all. The word ‘exist’ has always been a word I really liked. In fact I used to write graffiti when I was a teenager, and I used to write ‘exist’, that was my graffiti name. I always felt like this person existing on this planet, I always felt like an outsider. I kind of put a play on words and called it Exister. I know it’s a French word, but aside from that I felt like I was making up a word, or at least a title. I looked it up, there’s only one other album title named Exister, which is crazy because if you look up anything on Discogs, millions of album titles are the same. But for Exister, it’s just me and another band out of San Diego. Hot Water Music, I think. Anyways, I’m blabbing on...