A Deeper Criminal – An Interview with The Soft Moon’s Luis Vasquez.

Birthed as the tail end of the 70’s ‘Year Zero’ mentality bled into the nascent futurism of the 80’s, post-punk in its many guises is a genre that refuses to die.

There’s something about the emotional, abrasive and angular that is latched onto by successive generations, and from a tapestry woven out of luminaries such as Joy Division and Nine Inch Nails, The Soft Moon’s Luis Vasquez picks at the fabric of post punk until it’s almost threadbare, resulting in a sound that’s sparser than most, yet no less weighty. However, on Vasquez’s new album Deeper, the musician made a concerted effort to sidestep such genre concerns, to let out something inside himself that defied easy explanation.

This is a portmanteau of pieces originally published in The Brag, The Beat and Collide Magazines in 2017.

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“With this record I wanted to completely let go and try to express as many sides of myself and emotions as possible,” he says. “I felt with the previous records I was pigeonholed into this post punk thing. I had a particular sound and I wasn’t completely comfortable with who I was as a person.

“With Deeper I wanted to let it all out. Whichever emotion surfaced is what I would let out. That’s definitely how I ended up with the piano elements and things like that, things I never thought I’d do. It was a means to discover more about myself, about being harsher on one end of the spectrum but also more subtle on the other side. It was an exploration of extremes.”

Thematically, the album continues Vasquez’s obsession with the apocalyptic, combining harsh synths and Krautrock elements to create an aura of desolation that is as unnerving as it’s inviting.

“The whole apocalyptic thing started when I was a child,” he says. “I’ve always had recurring nightmares about the world ending. It’s interesting that they stopped for the last couple of years, but now they’ve slowly started to come back and that’s something that’s always made its way into my music, that sense of desolation.

“I spent a lot of my younger years growing up in the desert and I think that has a lot to do with those themes. Living out there felt like living at the end of the world, just pure desert. The population was pretty small. I was north west of LA about an hour away from the border with Nevada. So this whole apocalyptic thing is something I’ve been trying to figure out, but in the meantime I play with it. It seeps out in my music because it’s something that’s a part of me”

With the current end-times cloud cast by looming climate change and resource shortages, does Vasquez feel that the apocalypse is a matter of when, rather than a question of if? “Yeah,” he says. “It’s so hard to say, but that’s at least how I feel. But that could be because of my anxiety. I could be suffering from anxiety, so I think the worst, but I do feel that it could happen at any moment.”

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If the future is a muted prospect, then Vasquez is at least making the most of the present, with his upcoming Australian tour set to be followed by a trip behind the veil of state control, to the exotic frontier of China. Given the logistical hoops it must take to visit such a country, one has to wonder whether Vasquez’s booking agents have been working overtime.

“I’m not too sure what’s happening behind the scenes with the agents, but it’s been a long time coming,” Vasquez says. “The only other time we’ve been to Asia was two and a half years ago in Taiwan. The audiences were hard to gauge because we played a festival, so we didn’t get that true sense of connection. It wasn’t one of our personal shows, which would have made it more intimate, but the people seemed to be pretty excited about music and culture”

It’s been a long journey from a small town in the Mojave Desert, but all like all musical travels, it had to start somewhere.

“When we first moved out to the desert from LA, it was pretty desolate and there wasn’t much to do. My uncle bought me a guitar for my birthday and at around the same time, my Mom had a bunch of cassettes lying around – Prince, Michael Jackson. Madonna and The Cars. I listened to those tapes over and over until I wore them out. That’s how it all started, with me listening to music and taking notice of the structures of songs. That was before I got into punk rock. By the time I was eventually exposed to that I had gotten a little better at guitar and had started a band”.

With those early musical influences being difficult to emulate, I was sure that punk rock had been a liberating experience.

“Oh definitely!” he enthuses, “I definitely resonated more with punk rock, being a teenager and feeling the frustration and teenage angst that we all had as adolescent boys” Vasquez laughs.

“Everything I’ve ever written has always had a kind of darkness to it, but in terms of sonic influences and the use of chorus pedals, I would have to say it’s all probably down to The Cure. It was when I first heard The Cure that I finally figured out my aesthetic. I like the tones, the bass, the drums. I thought to myself ‘this is an aesthetic that I like, this is me’. So I guess my own personal darkness, mixed with punk rock, mixed with The Cure is where it began for me”.

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With his lyrical themes, like The Cure, Vasquez eschews the literary angle to focus more on personal exploration and an articulation of feelings.

“It’s definitely a personal thing. I have my own approach because for me, music is therapy. I like to use minimal words and short sentences that repeat like a mantra. When you hear a word over and over again, it becomes hypnotic”.

Between perennial touring commitments and his new home in Berlin, Vasquez seems to have adopted a somewhat nomadic lifestyle in recent years – though by semi-settling in Germany, the artist follows in a long lineage of musicians who’ve made the pilgrimage to the country, ranging from Nick Cave to Amanda Palmer.

“There’s always something I found fascinating about Berlin,” Vasquez says. “It’s quite a dark place with a dark history, and in a way it really does help me face my demons. Over time I’ve noticed that it’s backfiring though, because sometimes that dark mood and dark past is feeding into a little too much of who I am. I already have these dark feelings inside and so living in an environment that’s similar to myself brings me down further. If I lived on a tropical island, it’d be more of a yin and yang situation.

“But there’s something about Berlin that’s challenging me,” he continues. “I don’t want anything I do to be easy, so I’m intrigued by this city and its darkness. I’m trying to harness its energy. We’re very similar and I’m hoping that connection gives me some breakthrough or revelation for future material and then once that happens hopefully I can move on.”

-Andi Lennon

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