Toronto's Moon King Searches for Identity of New Album

You can practically hear the artistry over the phone as Daniel Benjamin, one of the creative forces behind the Toronto-based band Moon King, tries to find a quiet place to talk as he walks down the snowy streets of Montreal, Quebec. He's trying to put the finishing touches on the tour that the band, which also includes of one his oldest friends and bandmate Maddy Wilde, are undertaking in support of their first full-length album Secret Life, an exciting disc inspired by shoe-gaze and kraut-rock.

The conversation turns to the influential Canadian bands that have come before. Benjamin believes the country's musicians are in a better position for musical influence because they are able to sponge up the inspiration from the United States and England.

"It's strange coming from a place with a parallel world of pop culture," Benjamin states excitedly, "Within Canada, we pay attention to American pop culture, bands, and politics more so than we do our own. There is definitely this feeling of being this helpless observer and I think it sort of comes out in the music that comes out of Canada as well. It's a bit of a melting pot. I think the struggle is to find some kind of identity that's our own, especially in Toronto. It's not always very easy. We don't fit in to the Toronto music scene. There aren't really any bands that sound like our band. We go out and find the people that identify with us."

The struggle to get a fix on Moon King is real. There's a fine frenzy and a paradox of joy and paranoia in the opening track of the album, "Roswell." Inspired by the myths surrounding the New Mexico city, the epic track starts out calm and quiet and quickly rouses to a tempo that becomes feverish.

Explains Benjamin, "I think the idea behind a lot of what we do is to combine a bit of the dark and the light so that even within a single song the vocal is smooth and very relaxed and the music is really aggressive, or it could be the other way around sometimes. There are a few songs on the album where I'm really kind of singing from my gut. I can only do it a couple times in the studio before losing my voice."

The emotional vocalizations of Benjamin and guitarist Wilde are tranquil in their high pitch and tone as they emote the dark lyrics of the song. He even remarked on the band's Facebook page that he loves that people who were writing about the single think that a girl is singing lead. That post is not to be mistaken for sarcasm. Benjamin is genuinely flattered by it.

"There's a lot of people who say they're not sure which one of us is singing," he says after he chuckles over the question, "It's kind of interesting because we grew up together singing in bands and I think that maybe our voices just adapted because [Wilde] is actually a very good singer and I'm not. I sing from the top of my head. It's very unconventional and not good for your voice, but I just like it that way. I can reach the notes I want. It's a bigger compliment to me because all my favorite singers have always been women, and I think that for someone to say that I sound like a woman singing is a huge compliment."

Benjamin states that most songs are written live on stage, starting with a few syllables for lyrics that begin to take shape each night.

"Without having the words written down, I'll just make something up. After a while you just start singing the same thing show to show. You have the lyrics before you even wrote them. It's a funny way of writing but it feels very natural," he says.

Search for the group's performances on YouTube and you'll get the idea: raw, haunting music that erupts with inventiveness. Some songs are committed to memory or a notebook while some are lost in the ether. "The trick is to record the earliest possible version of the song from the minute of birth," Benjamin says, "That's probably the best it's going to be, then add to that and make it grow. It's your job to capture it in the moment as completely as you can." The process has proven fruitful for the band. Benjamin is sitting on over 30 songs he is eager to go through for the band's next release. "That's always a good feeling," he says.

For now, the band will continue to tour in support of Secret Life. In addition to touring with his most trusted friend and collaborator, Benjamin is touring with his brother, who is in the band Doldrums. Boldness springs forth from the family, and the hope is that from the support and confidence they provide, more inspiration will emerge. "My brother and I have known each other for a while," Benjamin quips, "The important thing is we've got a bunch of fairly ridiculous characters. It's going to all come together and something really good is going to happen. Collaboration is the biggest strength I have."

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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil