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Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Soft Moon Will Unsettle You Politely Tonight at Milk Bar

Posted By on Thu, Feb 10, 2011 at 9:39 AM

Luis Vasquez, aka The Soft Moon
  • Luis Vasquez, aka The Soft Moon

Luis Vasquez sounds like a calm, well-adjusted person over the phone -- and this is something of a surprise, because the music of Vasquez's debut album as The Soft Moon winds its way through panoramas of fear, paranoia, apprehension, and darkness. It's not as overtly gloomy as, say, much of Joy Division's catalog, but the buzzing synths, whispered vocals, linear compositions, and hissy noise littered throughout easily supply the impression that they were made by some black-fingernailed recluse.

But as I get Vasquez on the phone, he's just about to leave his day job as a graphic designer for children's clothing company Gymboree in San Francisco. The 31-year-old chuckles as he explains this, but he's likely not going to be working there much longer. Vasquez, who performs tonight at Milk Bar, is on the kind of quick rise that occurs in the wake of a roundly acclaimed indie debut album -- after tonight, he plays the Noise Pop festival Feb. 25, and has plans for national and European tours before the summer. "The music's totally enveloping my life," he says. "It's definitely taking up way more time than I ever thought it would."

Partly the surprise is due to the fact that Vasquez never intended to try to make it as a musician. He says he began crafting his spare, haunting songs merely to express his own feelings. "It was just something more on a theraputic level for me," he says. It wasn't something I planned on exposing to anybody -- it was just something I did."

Vasquez had written early versions of some of the songs on last year's debut album back in 1999. He let them sit for nearly a decade, then revisited them, re-recorded a few, and put them on a Myspace page for friends to hear. Vasquez was only a couple of weeks away from taking down that Myspace page when he got a message from Mike Sniper, a New York musician who runs the Captured Tracks label and wanted to put out a Soft Moon record. "I wasn't going to go any further with it," Vasquez explains. "When he was interested in it, I felt like okay, maybe this is something bigger."

Recorded entirely in Vasquez's Oakland apartment, The Soft Moon sounds quite unlike anything coming out of the Bay Area scene right now. It's a mix of post-punk atmospherics, lo-fi synths and drum machines, and Vasquez's haunting, barely-there vocals. ("I literally had to whisper when I sang, because my upstairs neighbors would complain about sound constantly," Vasquez explains.) Many of the album's moments are starkly beautiful -- especially majestic centerpiece "When It's Over" -- while others seem crafted to disturb listeners. Vasquez traces the moods on the album to the years of his childhood spent in Victorville, a town between L.A. and Las Vegas in the Mojave desert:

There's a lot of broken down homes, and it's desert, and there's this kind of industrial area, so it felt very post-apocalyptic. I realized that I was surrounded by mountains ... and so that also kind of creates a feeling of paranoia in a way. There's also areas where you could see the horizon, you could see forever, so there's also where that kind of infinitism comes into play in the music.

But despite all the comparisons to Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy, Vasquez says he's no dedicated adherent of dark music. "I grew up listening to a lot of Afro-Cuban stuff, being Cuban myself," he says. "There was a period of my life where I listened to a lot of jazz and then punk-rock, of course. But I never really dove deep into the dark stuff." Vasquez calls himself "a super optimisic person" -- "I thrive on hope," he says -- but says some of the fear and anxiety in his songs comes from deep inside him.

Wherever it comes from, Vasquez's blend of minimal instrumentation and overcast atmospherics has won him many plaudits, including a rep-making 8.1 score from Pitchfork. He has plans to record another album later this year, but, true to his feeling-of-the-moment style, says he won't make any decisions or plans in advance. "I don't predetermine anything," Vasquez says with another polite chuckle. "I just sit down and let it flow."

MP3: The Soft Moon -- "Tiny Spiders"

MP3: The Soft moon -- "Breathe The Fire"

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