The Soft Moon: Pop for Outsiders

The sound of San Francisco's Soft Moon is disorienting: A darkly hyperactive Neu! mixed with the dance-floor sensibility of Depeche Mode and the stark despair of Bauhaus makes The Soft Moon one cynically crafted machine. But the most disorientating tactic in frontman Luis Vazquez's arsenal is his muted vocals.

Listen to some '80s bubblegum pop again, like "Promises, Promises" by Naked Eyes or Soft Cell's version of "Tainted Love" -- it's the same thing, but without some exuberant pop singer pushed in front. You can really feel some sort of malice.

With the Soft Moon, that malice comes from Vazquez's rough childhood, whispered between rings of post-punk horror and gothic echoes. We spoke to Vazquez while he was in Berlin and asked him about his ideal environment, how his music therapy is actually sorta worsening his anxiety, and how he's struggling to express himself using vocals.

Up on the Sun: How is Berlin? Whatcha doing out there?

Luis Vazquez: Just kinda hanging out, working on the next record here and there. Just taking life in, I guess.

How's the new record coming along?

It's going okay. I'm not really pressuring myself or anything. It's just kinda letting things happen naturally. The last record didn't come out too long ago. I want to let things marinate before I move on. It's more of like a vacation, I guess.

A lot of people say your music is disturbing, but I don't think it's the music itself. I think it's really the lack of vocals. If you listen to '80s music, you can hear similarities. But without vocals, it resembles a horror movie soundtrack. I like it. That's the disconcerting thing about it.

Yeah, I struggle with communication through words. My whole life I've always struggled with expressing myself through words. So it kinda just translates in the music. On top of that I prefer to approach my singing more as another instrument. There's that and also the frustration of trying to express myself through words is also sort of mimicked in the music. That's why I'll whisper, I'll scream. It's just a different way of using my vocals in a non-conventional way.

I read that for your first album, you did all this whispering because you couldn't bother the neighbors.

Yeah, actually that's how it all started. It's almost like a thanks to them, in some weird way. But at the same time, I remember being criticized after the first record came out. Journalists were giving me shit because I was whispering, but they didn't know I had to, otherwise I would have gotten evicted. Then, at the same time, the whispering created this formula, this thing that the Soft Moon is known for. It worked.

Do you ever plan to use vocals? Basically, this whole project is for me to challenge myself in many different ways. I'm learning about myself, trying to discover my past, and everything is kind of a challenge for me. The vocal thing, I may try to sing a bit more. I'm actually kind of in the back of my head to try to vocalize my expression a little bit more because for me it's just another challenge. The "Ice Age" remix is spectacular. I like how it still sounds like you, but adds so much to the How to Destroy Angels song. Any other remixes you've been offered?

The very first remix I ever did was for Mogwai, and that just got released, and the remix I ended up doing was the single for the album, "San Pedro." That was my first remix.

I'll have to check that one out a lot. I like the [original] a lot, it reminds me of San Pedro cactus, the mescaline cactus.

Yeah. [Laughs.]

I read somewhere that you did music as kind of like a therapy for your past. Is that helping you at all?

You know, I'm not sure actually. The whole purpose of this project was for therapeutic reasons, and as I keep kind of uncovering these thoughts or these experiences that I've hidden away in myself, the more that I reveal them. It's almost like it fucks me up a little bit more actually.

I started out doing this because I wanted to find out more about my childhood that I seemed to have blocked out. I don't really remember any of my childhood, so this was like a tool to discover that. And the more and more I discover, it messes me up more. It reveals things. It tells me why I blocked out my childhood. It helps me, for sure, but at the same time that I wouldn't necessarily want to remember.

That can be tough, I imagine. Good luck with it, I'm glad you have some sort of outlet for it. Yeah. At least I have an outlet.

There are so many people who don't, and they shoot folks in shopping malls. So, how do you like San Francisco?

It's cool. It's such a small city, I felt like I've been there a little while now. I've kind of exhausted it, maybe. I guess, in a way, I'm sort of insatiable. I constantly need stimulation in order to keep thriving. Once I've kind of exhausted an environment, I kind of need to move on, and not because I'm over it. It's just that for me to be creative, I need that stimulation and I need to give myself motivation. So right now, that's why I'm in Berlin right now, seeking influence and inspiration. Just moving about and taking in the world as much as I can.

It seems like you don't fit in with the San Francisco "scene" so much, so I was wondering if you fit into a more European scene.

It's weird -- I feel like an outsider no matter where I go. I'm always kind of living in my head. In terms of San Francisco, I feel like a complete outsider. I almost do this thing on purpose. Pretty much what I do, I always live in wonderment about existence.

I always wonder about myself. That's why I like to do interviews, because when I get asked questions, I also have so many questions. I'm trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I'm just trying different places to see what clicks. San Francisco kind of made me react in an opposite way to what was going on there. Amidst the psych rock and the garage rock and the indie rock there, I reacted differently, and I think that's why my music just sounds different.

I came to Berlin, hoping to find a place I resonate more. I kinda do, but at the same time, I don't. I'm just trying to figure it out. I'm starting to figure out environments don't help me write, it's more internal. My environment is my body and my mind.

What is the visual aspect of your show like?

It's heavily black-and-white lighting. There's certain moments when you get bursts of red. Just kind of intense, strobe lights, just something to stimulate you on a multi-sensory experience.

Who are some of your favorite cinematic composers?

I'm kinda into really weird rare stuff. There's this guy, his name is Luke Ferrari and he did a score for this children's film from the late '70s/early '80s, this Polish children's film that really caught my ear. Then, going back to Gasper Noé, I think one of the guys from Daft Punk did Irreversible, which he directed. Daft Punk is definitely on my radar in terms of people who score films. It's kind of just all over the place. Just if it resonates with me, I enjoy it.

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Troy Farah is an independent journalist and documentary field producer. He has worked with VICE, Fusion, LA Weekly, Golf Digest, BNN, Tucson Weekly, and Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Troy Farah