The Soft Moon's Luis Vasquez on the primacy of percussion and adding a cyborg drummer
The Soft Moon started out in 2009 as the solo project of Luis Vasquez. The band developed over the next few years from a stark, Suicide-eque, minimalist post-punk band into something with a dark urgency and expansive song dynamics that recalled Chrome and Cabaret Voltaire. The Soft Moon's 2011 EP, Total Decay, exposed the band to wider audiences with an even more refined combination of organic and electronic drums giving the music a gritty, industrial sensibility. Having expanded to a four piece live band last year, the Soft Moon released a new album titled Zeros. We recently spoke with Vasquez about his grounding in percussion, the influence of Suicide and the impact of Chrome.
Westword: In your music there is a lot of detail and attention given to the way the percussion is constructed and recorded. Would you say the music is rhythm driven?
Luis Vasquez: [That's interesting that you caught] that because my family is actually from Cuba, so I grew up listening to a lot of percussion and hearing a lot of Latin music growing up. Then my uncle was a percussionist, so I guess it's kind of in my blood. So I try to make the percussion sound more prevalent within the music. I think it's a strong part of the puzzle.
You wrote a lot, if not all, of the music yourself. Was choosing drum machines more related to how you had to record your early material?
Yeah, I think when I first started the project, drum machines were pretty new to me. I've always been more of an organic kind of percussionist. But I thought it would be a really cool technique to work with vintage drum machines in a way that wasn't straightforward -- make it more intricate. Then I'll bring in actual bongos and congas and other percussive instruments. I thought it would be a cool hybrid, if you will.
What do you think that hybrid adds to your music? Each has its own virtues, but what do you think combining them really brings out?
I think it creates something a little more fresh. It's more of a fine line between electronic and rock music, rather than straightforward electronic music. I thought it would be interesting to combine the two. I don't hear it very often. Normally when you hear artists using drum machines, it's obviously a drum machine, and they use it very straight-forward. So yeah, just to create something unique, and I'm a great fan of percussion in general, whether it's a vintage drum machine or actual percussion.
You recently added a flesh and blood drummer in 2012?
Yeah, he's been involved for six months now. It's the same concept with the drums. He plays a drum set, but the only thing that's acoustic is the floor tom. Everything else, he uses triggers. The snare is muted, so he's just triggering a sound I created while recording. So it's sort of a hybrid kit -- we call him "cyborg."
Did you sample the congas as well?
No, I played all that stuff live in my recordings. Since I have that background with my family, I do all the live percussion on the recording.
"Repetition" has some frenzied playing. Very precise and urgent.
That one I had to do quite a bit of takes because it's kind of wild. I found the cool pockets and combined them. On that one I played the percussion with my fingers, which was why I was able to get really fast with it.
Ron Robinson is the visuals guy in your band, rather than a musician. Why did you feel that was important for what you're doing?
I'm a huge fan of stimulation. For the project, as I was writing the initial material, I had just envisioned a whole aesthetic involved with it as well. So I felt like it would be a good idea to have a strong visual concept that tied in with the music live. You know, a multi-sensory experience. It enables you to get more enveloped and more lost. The world kind of stops and that's all that exists at the moment.
Those videos he made for like "Circles" and "Total Decay" are black and white and have a kind of feeling like the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Did you talk about what sort of vibe you were going for with those videos?
He, [Tarkovsky], actually got brought up in the conversation. I'll do a bunch of research on older art or whatever. I'll do hours and hours and weeks of research and come up with concepts and then present them to Ron. Ron has the ability to make it happen because he's skilled in that area. So it's a combination.
I'm hoping to work with him again on at least one of the songs on the new album. Probably something along the same lines and keep the aesthetic similar with him. I'll also be working with a couple of other video people this year just to make it a little broader. I think it should evolve at some point. Also, harkening back to the initial visual aesthetic project and not lose sight of that while also evolving.