In the North Berkeley home where the members of Wild Moth live, the bedrooms look more like studios. Screen-printing equipment peeks out of a nook, and there's music gear everywhere. Sitting in the house wearing black and gray clothing, three members of Wild Moth look like a self-sustaining unit. They're all recent college grads, between 22 and 24 years old, with mussed dark hair, and they're sitting under a print by the artist Gee Vaucher, whose artworks adorned many album covers of the English anarcho-punk group Crass.
Though arguably one of the Bay Area's most promising young post-punk bands, Wild Moth wants to tear parts of punk culture down. The band honors many aesthetics and ethics of the movement, but aims to dismantle others. Its new album, Over Again, out Sept. 17, wears the influence of punk, but breaks from any codified sound. The opening track, "Behave," swells and bursts incessantly. Between each verse, bleak chords pulsate as cymbal noise ascends through towering crescendos. When there's no higher sonic plateau, Wild Moth relents for a pensive lyric. Throughout the LP, mid-tempo instrumental segments rage and then settle into seas of feedback for ruminative verses. The vocals of Austin Montanari and Carlos Salas seem to be torn between pondering and outrage. There are hooks, too, like the tear-drop guitar lead into an exalted chorus on "Into Your Hands."
Wild Moth's sound departs from punk's insistent rhythms and concise fury: It's more nuanced, structurally intricate, and melodic. Yet, in an indication of the band's debts, Montanari designed Wild Moth's logo with Crass in mind. Easily reproduced, instantly recognizable, Marc Leyda remembers that "[Montanari] wanted kids to be able to tag their desks with it." The emblem actually cemented Salas' decision to join. His flier and T-shirt designs for the band appropriate found images and distort them until barely recognizable, evoking the same sense of turmoil tempered by beauty as Wild Moth's music.
Again showing the influence of punk, Wild Moth operates under staunch ethics. The band members book tours independently, prefer all-ages shows in unusual venues, and will release their debut through a handshake deal with Asian Man Records that protects ownership of their music. "The only reason to turn down a record label is if you don't agree with their ethics," Salas says. "[Asian Man] wanted to put out our record with no questions, and just wanted to fund it." Montanari concurs: "It was refreshing to see Asian Man respecting us." This DIY operation is striking in an age where many outsource the various chores of running a band to for-profit companies.
The members of Wild Moth are also opposed to the regimentation of punk into specific sounds and scenes. They bring up a show in San Jose where they shared a bill with more typical-sounding bands — but lament that most of the audience remained outside while Wild Moth performed. "We hope for people who understand that punk doesn't have to be something so specific," Salas says.
They reserve yet more criticism for punk's record-collecting obsessives, and the companies that deliberately limit copies of records to create collector appeal. "We've had discussions about how [the label] Youth Attack caters to kids who strictly want to own a rare record," Salas says. To him, this shows market opportunism encroaching on punk. He addressed this subject on "The Spectacle," a track from Wild Moth's eponymous, self-released demo tape, which was reissued on vinyl last year. The song title comes from Society of the Spectacle, a political manifesto and seminal text of the French art movement Situationism. Published in 1967, author Guy Debord argued that citizens live through representations of experiences, rather than experiencing things themselves. Salas' song uses the theory to criticize the punk scene. "I feel like a lot of post-punk bands are void," he says. "I want our band to carry on a critique." The phrase "Perpetual Void" — emblazoned on so many Wild Moth fliers — originates in this early song. It's directed toward what he considers insipid and unsubstantial bands.
Punk has instilled in Salas the restless urge to second-guess. Discovering punk bands like Crass, he says, "introduced new ideas and the language to explain them." The same attraction to rhetorical devices led to his interest in critical theorists like Debord. Studying political theory at San Francisco State University gave Salas a new language of resistance, just like punk provided years earlier. In the same sense, Wild Moth shrugs off much of the sonic template of punk, forging an updated version of its perpetually oppositional spirit. As our interview ended, Salas says, "Can I ask you some questions now?"
webhed: Wild Moth Holds Punk to a Thoughtful Standard
keywords: Wild Moth, punk, post-punk, East Bay,
PQ: "I want our band to carry on a critique," Salas says.