Moon Duo just released a brand new record called Shadow of the Sun via Sacred Bones, and seeing as the band is set to play Baltimore’s Metro Gallery Wednesday night, I had a phone catch-up with Sanae Yamada. During our chit-chat we covered everything from the process of creating this latest work to an almost comical instance of polite burglary that happened to the band in Switzerland (of all places), so internet-eavesdrop on all of that below, and be sure to grab tickets to the gig tonight, which you most definitely do not want to miss. HERE WE GO:
So going into the writing process for the new record (which is great, by the way // congratulations), did you guys establish any sort of mission statement for how you wanted it to sound? Or did that sort of come to light as you went along?
We didn’t have any guiding theme this time, and we did figure it out, but this one was pretty challenging, I think possibly because we didn’t have any set parameters that we were working from. So it was just this really open-ended approach where we could kind of do anything.
Yeah, sometimes I actually find that excess freedom can be detrimental!
Yeah, it can be a little paralyzing. [Laughs]
And do you find that you write or work better in certain environments or under certain conditions? Do you have a routine?
Well, actually, Ripley’s more of a daytime worker and I like to work at night, so we’d sort of tag-team the songs; he’d work on things during the day, and then he’d hand them off to me in the evenings. We have this basement (which is one of the great things about Portland, is there’s a lot of basement action [laughs]), so we’d sort of take turns down there from day to night.
See, that seems like the ideal scenario, because you’ve got a nice little break to come back with fresh eyes…or, EARS, I guess.
Yeah, I think that’s kind of essential.
Now, being based in Portland, did you find the city to be influential to the way you wrote the record or the way that it ended up sounding? I know you mentioned the aspect of working in the basement, but narratively or sonically, I guess, do you think Portland had any major sway on your mentality or process that lead to the overall finished product?
It’s really hard to say. I think I might understand that better after a little more time has gone by and I’ve had some distance from the record. With the other two albums…Mazes I definitely feel was powered by California, and then Circles was written when we were in Colorado, which was this really specific, spectacular environment. So I do feel like those two were influenced geographically, but with this record, I’m not sure how much that’s true…for some reason it feels more internal to me.
Right. Well, now that we’ve brought up the other two records, those were both fairly close to one another in terms of release dates, whereas this most recent record was a little more spaced out; you guys don’t seem like the type of band that worries much about outside pressures in terms of getting something done, but did you feel some internal pressure to keep pushing material out during the interim?
Well, yeah, I think by the time we made this record there was definitely an itch to make another one. We actually took much longer to work on this one than we took with the other two; we started working on it about a year ago, and for the previous two it was a much smaller window of time between starting work and handing it in.
And were any of the tracks on this record especially difficult to nail down? (Or on the flip-side of that, super easy?)
That’s a good question…I think for me, the one that I struggled with the most in terms of getting it to sound the way I wanted it to was “Slow Down Low”. And the easiest one, or the one that came the most quickly, was probably the lead-off track called “Wilding”.
Cool. And from a strictly technical perspective, was there anything that you learned via the first two records that you consciously tried to revisit (or not revisit) on Shadow of the Sun?
I mean, I always go into a new recording with this feeling like I don’t want to repeat anything I’ve done before exactly, so I try to work with different keyboards on different records. I think because each one is made at a different time in life, you sort of naturally approach them from a different point of view, because your own life has progressed and you’re seeing things differently. I can’t think of any glaring mistakes that we made with the other two that we consciously tried to avoid, but I think we both are always aiming to embrace a new process from wherever we are as a starting point.
Totally. Now, how was the experience of mixing in Berlin?
That was great. Jonas Verwijnen (the guy we mixed with) mixed Mazes and Circles as well. He’s our man! [Laughs] He’s really great, and we just have a really good creative chemistry with him; he always listens to what we’ve done, and he always has a real opinion about it and a direction for the mixing. He’s a really creative guy, and I think we lucked out to find him.
That’s so great, because a lot of people change it up every time as a result of not having found that sort of undeniable chemistry.
Yeah, it was a stroke of luck.
Very cool. And now that you’re all wrapped up with the record and you’re ready to tour, is there anyplace on the itinerary that you’re especially looking forward to playing?
Well, we always love playing in New York (it’s one of the highlights), but Chicago is great, and I’m actually a big fan of both Detroit and Toronto; we’ve had a lot of fun in those places before.
I hope the weather is cooperative! March is always a tricky one in those Northern and Midwestern places.
Right! [Laughs] It might be a little touch-and-go.
Well, at least Mercury is out of retrograde now, so hopefully everything will pan out. [Laughs] Now, it’s been a few years since you started the project; what (if anything) would be a piece of universal advice you’ve picked up along the way that you’d offer to someone who’s just now embarking on a musical career?
I’m not sure. I guess in terms of the trajectories of our own lives, we got started as a band on the later side; we’re both a bit older than a lot of the people out there doing it, so I guess I would say that if it’s something you want to try, it’s never too late.
For sure. Okay, and now I just have a few questions based on song titles from Shadow of the Sun, so bear with me! The first one is for “Thieves”; I know a lot of bands unfortunately have to deal with break-ins when they’re on the road, so have you ever run into any burglaries along the way?
[Laughs] We were once burgled in Switzerland, of all places, which is one of the last places you’d fear being burgled. It was kind of funny, because our van was parked outside of the venue, and they broke in, but they did it so politely and cleanly that we didn’t even know the next day until we were looking for certain things and couldn’t find them; when enough things were missing, we kind of realized someone had gotten in there and stolen a camera and some headphones and sunglasses and pocket change. It wasn’t a major robbery, but it was kind of a strange one.
Well, note to self: if I ever have to be burgled, let it please be politely and cleanly in Switzerland. [Laughs]
Yeah, there was no broken glass, no crowbar marks on the car…I don’t even know how they did it, actually! [Laughs]
So weird. Well, hopefully it never happens again. Now, for “In A Cloud”, touring and writing can be stressful, so what is your sort of “zen” situation? Do you do anything to relax?
When I get really stressed out I like to be outside, and there’s this amazing park in Portland called Forest Park, which is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a giant woods, so if I’m feeling really anxious or burned out, I’ll go take a walk in the woods.
Cool. And finally, for “Animal”, there’s always that question “If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?”, but I want to know what animal you would most definitely NOT want to be if you could be any animal.
I would definitely not be a reptile.
Okay, you survived that lightning round of weird questions, but before we wrap up, what else have you guys got on the foreseeable horizon in 2015? The record release and touring are obviously both huge things, but is there anything else you want to talk about?
The touring is the only thing we have set at the moment. The rest is kind of to be decided, but we’re weighing out some different options…maybe some more touring, maybe some more recording, but we’ll see how we feel.