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A MEETING WITH THE SOFT MOON
By Alice Butterlin
Luis Vasquez has performed since 2009 under the name The Soft Moon, his post-punk project tinged with industrial and cold wave influences. Vasquez is a tortured, unstable artist, who channels all his anxious energy into his intoxicating tracks. We caught up with him for the release of his new album, Criminal, to talk about his background, inspirations, and music’s therapeutic power.
You appear on your new album cover for the first time. Does that mean it is the most personal?
Yes, it is my most personal, but also I feel this album is a stepping stone to a more confident me. I was working a lot harder on my songwriting skills. I’m quite proud of my lyrics on this. I thought it would be good to change the art direction for this album. Also, since the album is called Criminal, I thought it would be cool to just put my face. That way it’s honest.
All your previous album covers were made by you. How were each of them a reflection of their time?
When I listened to my own music, or music in general, I would see shapes so it was natural to incorporate that in the visual aesthetic of my project. But times change. (laughs) Still, I could go back to that, but I wanted to try something new. I feel confident about it. I’m also singing a lot more on this album. I’m putting myself more out there.
What kind of subjects did you want to touch on with Criminal?
Guilt. Self-hatred. Just talking about personal problems that I have. For instance, the track called “Like a Father” is the first time I’ve ever sung about not having a dad. Also, my very first love song is on this record. I’m just breaking out more I guess.
The album also sounds much more industrial and has a certain 90s sound to it, taking us back to bands like Nine Inch Nails. Was that intentional?
Not really. I can’t get away from that comparison for some reason. (laughs) I didn’t really grow up listening to Nine Inch Nails. I knew all the hits of course, just as much as anyone else does, but I was never an avid listener. Maybe we’re similar people. What I do is my honest expression, what comes out is always pretty dark, rhythmic at times. If it sounds like another band, it’s totally unconscious. There were even moments in the studio when I was writing a song and as I am producing it, I realize some parts are a little too much and end up changing them. I always purposely try to avoid any sort of comparison.
Sometimes it is an easy shortcut for journalists to try and make their point.
Yes, that’s how it works now. When people talk about music, all they do is make comparisons, they don’t talk about how the song made them feel. It’s also how you get people to listen. So I guess it works in a positive way, too.
Growing up, you were more into punk rock. Did you play in any bands?
Yes! I wrote my first song when I was twelve and played in my first band when I was fifteen. I’ve been in many punk bands since then. It wasn’t until 2000 that I started buying electronic music. I didn’t want to play guitar as much anymore, so I would mess around, wanting to start a solo project, but nothing too crazy happened until I started working on the Soft Moon. I had given up on trying to be someone I wasn’t. I always wanted to reinvent music, that was my biggest goal. When I decided to stop all that and just express myself, it worked out.
Do you feel out of the new music loop?
Sort of, yeah. I sometimes read about it, but I stopped going on Pitchfork and other similar websites. I used to be obsessed with searching for new music, that was my thing. In a way, now that I’m successful with my own project, I feel like I’ve graduated. I’ve spent too many of my years listening to it and now it’s my turn to make it.
You’ve said your music is therapeutic for you. Has it been so for your fans?
Definitely. I get people writing me all the time if they’re going through a breakup or a death in the family… My very first die-hard fan was way back when I came up with the first record, and we used to chat on Facebook. He lives somewhere in the UK. This was back when I could actually sit down and talk to fans. Anyway, he told me that he had AIDS, his boyfriend was about to die from it, and that my music helped him get thought all that. My fanbase has always been very open and connected with my music. The majority of my fans are people who go through similar issues in their personal life.
Is it a hard process for you to be so open about your emotions?
Yes, the process is very hard. It’s not hard to express myself with music. It’s like seeing a therapist when you have depression. You have to face something that caused the depression. That’s the hard part. With my music, it’s a love/hate thing. It hurts to write, it’s torture. But then the outcome is amazing, that’s the part I live for.
Your album is called Criminal. Is it because you come from Oakland, which is considered the crime capital of the San Francisco Bay?
No, it’s not literal at all. There were a lot of crimes in the neighborhoods I grew up in. In east Los Angeles, for example, which is known for gangs. My uncle has been in a gang his whole life and now he’s in prison forever. I was getting involved with gangs when I was younger. That’s why I moved to the Mojave desert. I’ve always been around a lot of violence, criminal violence. Of course that plays a part in my outcome, but the title is more about me having hatred towards myself and feeling like I’m a bad person, because of the guilty conscience that I have. I’ve been raised Catholic and have been accustomed to feeling bad and thinking everything that I do is wrong. That’s why I’m calling myself a criminal, even if I’m being a bit dramatic. In a way, my music is dramatic.
Music has to be a bit dramatic.
Totally. If I was a normal person feeling basic emotions, I don’t think people would even listen to my music. You have to be extreme in a way.
In 2014 you supported Depeche Mode on their tour. What was the biggest take away from that experience?
That just left me feeling like I was on the right track. It was an amazing sense of accomplishment. Just being there, watching them perform every night in front of 20,000 people, sold out… Being a part of that was insane. Martin Gore personally contacted my manager because he liked my work, so that was even more rewarding. That was a very happy and emotional moment in my life. It kept me going.
Were you a big fan of Depeche Mode beforehand?
Yes, I was a much bigger Depeche Mode fan than all the other bands I’ve been associated with. I used to listen to Violator every day, that’s an amazing album. I also love the Cure, but I love Depeche Mode the most. “Wasting” would probably be one of those songs you could associate with my music the most.
You almost supported Killing Joke but they cancelled at the last minute. Was it a big let down?
It was the second time they’ve done that. They’re notorious for canceling their tours right before they start. They asked us a first time and then had to cancel. Then a year later, they contacted us again and said they were sorry and they would offer us more money. Then they cancelled again. (laughs) It was unfortunate. We had already booked all the in-between dates so we were counting on this to work. I had already paid for visas for my bandmates to come from Italy, flight tickets, and all this stuff. Last minute, my booking agent went crazy and put together a tour regardless and it turned out good.
You also qualify the Soft Moon as an art project.
I think I just look at it as art, but I came away from that. I started out very experimental, very atmospheric, I wasn’t really writing proper songs. In a way, it was a bit more artistic. Now I’m going towards more song-based material. Perhaps I’ll go back one day. It’s still always art for me. There’s a whole aesthetic to the Soft Moon, whether it be on stage or in music videos. There’s an image in all the merch, the album covers, and everything. If you look at it as a whole, it does resemble an art project.
What artists inspire you?
I was very inspired by Hans Richter, Rodchenko, the constructivist movement in general. Also, I love Pierre Soulages. All the expressionists. Jackson Pollock would be the most obvious one I could think of. Cy Twombly is another of my favorites.
Are movie soundtracks something you go to frequently?
Yes, they are my main inspiration while writing music. I don’t tend to listen to other bands. I love watching films and paying attention to the sounds. I think film scores are getting better and better. For me, it’s amazing what’s happening in film. I just saw The Killing of a Sacred Deer and the soundtrack is amazing. I was blown away. I’m working towards doing my own film score one day. I think it’ll be challenging.
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Photographer: Léonard Méchineau
Stylist: Elena Mottola