From left, Lo Moon's Sam Stewart, Matt Lowell, and Crisanta Baker at WFUV's studios in New York.
From left, Lo Moon's Sam Stewart, Matt Lowell, and Crisanta Baker at WFUV's studios in New York.
Last September, a mysterious, new band from Los Angeles called Lo Moon uploaded its first official song to YouTube. Over seven minutes, "Loveless" is all slow-burning crescendo, propelled by hypnotic drums and ethereal vocals. The track caused an immediate stir in the music underground, and soon word came out that Chris Walla (of Death Cab For Cutie fame) was producing the group's first album.
Then ... nothing happened.
Well, that's not exactly true. But in the year since the release of "Loveless," Lo Moon's official discography grew by only a single song ("This Is It," which was released in May). This was clearly a band unafraid to take its time.
With that long-rumored debut album nearing completion and scheduled for an early 2018 release, we thought it was the perfect time to select Lo Moon as one of our inaugural Slingshot emerging artists. I spoke with the band's singer and primary songwriter, Matt Lowell, about the Slingshot honor, how he discovers new music, and the future plans of this promising band.
Lo Moon is making the kind of music that warrants foreground attention with a song like "Loveless," the lead track that you guys put out, this gorgeous six-minute tune that builds over time. You know, I always say about Lo Moon, you were my love-at-first-sight band. There's all kinds of love in this world, but love at first sight, that's always special. After you hear "Loveless" once, you get it, but it's more than just the 30-second hook. It needs to be taken as a whole.
Yeah. And that's the beautiful thing. For us, it's amazing because every day somebody else is coming into the world of Lo Moon, a new fan. It's just really exciting because then you start thinking, "Oh, maybe there's a place for this." And like you were saying, the 30-second hook, that's a world to itself. And whether or not we fit into that world, when we went into making the record it was like, "This is the type of band we want to be. We want to make six-minute tracks. We want them to be heard." And so that's something that we're constantly striving for. And sometimes it's hard to just say, "This is the type of band we're going to be."
To choose art. It's that artfulness.
Exactly. Which shouldn't be that hard, right?
It shouldn't be that hard. So, Matt, a band makes a record. Then there's this whole other part of the quote-unquote "work" that has to happen. Talk to us a little bit about that part of the work. Talk to us a little bit about relationships that you have to build with different radio platforms or radio stations or writers and stuff. How has that worked for you guys? You seem to enjoy that or have a natural ability for it, that's going to be a real asset for the band. But talk to us about the other kind of chapter two of a band. Chapter one: make some songs that are meaningful and going to connect with people. Chapter two: get out there and try to tell the story. Tell us about Lo Moon's part of that process.
I mean, we were a little bit behind the curtain when we started making this record. We decided that we were going to take our time to figure each other out as musicians. We made something that we were proud of, and instead of forcing it out, we decided that we were going to put out a song like "Loveless," which is six minutes, and let live in the universe for probably around like six months before we put out "This Is It." We then had to go out and start playing it and start playing a bunch of songs that nobody's ever heard of and opening up for some great bands. For me, when we get an opportunity, I take it to the guys after I've thought about it and I say, "I think we have to get in front of as many people as possible because of the type of music we're making." We kind of stuck to that plan over the last year and just went out and did it. It feels really amazing now because we're at the point where more and more people are coming and learning about the band. I like the groundwork. I like digging in and grabbing the lunchbox and going to work, because that's what makes great bands. That's what builds longevity and the relationship between the listeners and the fans.
There's also people at radio that have heard one song and don't understand what the band is about. And so we have to go out and play and make them understand what we're trying to do, the sound of the band, the message, and everything we stand for. And I think the best way to do that is just getting in front of people and so we kind of stuck to that plan. We put "Loveless" out, and grabbed lunch pail and go to work and see what happens. And I think it's been working for us, for the most part. I feel really good about that and it feels good to be in a band that is willing to do the work. It's really hard. You always talk about it with other musicians. It's really hard to get the music out there. So we just kind of stuck to that plan.
And it's working for you guys. Lo Moon set out with a nontraditional approach towards getting your music out. And now here comes Slingshot, which is this program that we're doing with NPR Music and public radio stations and TV stations around the country, where we're kind of saying, "Hey, we're betting on these guys. We think this band's got a good chance to slingshot." Matt, as you see different fans connecting with the band or commenting on your YouTube page, commenting on your Facebook page, engaging with you on Twitter and stuff, what do you see in Lo Moon fans? I imagine you see a variety of ages and stuff.
Yes, it's been really interesting and it's something I talk to the guys about all the time. It spans all different ages. What we call "grippers" in the band – guys that go really deep on record-making and synths and gear. And then there's just the casual music listener, which is so beautiful for us, because that's the kind of band we want to be. We don't want to be elitist, but we also want to make records that we think are really artful. We're also really into that side of the record-making process, so it's kind of amazing to be able to cast the widest net. We're still figuring it out, too. We don't really know where our fan base is exactly. To watch it kind of move and hit different people is incredible.
It's also so cool, too, to listen to your songs. We've had "This Is It." We've had "Loveless." You guys have been busting a Prefab Sprout cover in your live set. There's that other song, "Thorns," which you did on WFUV and other places. "Real Love" is another song you've been playing live. Something people who love music – the grippers and the casual music fans – like to do is always point to, "Oh man, this cool new band, Lo Moon, reminds me of ____." And so for kids of the '80s, let's say, like me, "Oh, you've got to hear this new band. I mean, it reminds me of Talk Talk and Roxy Music." Then you'll hear a child of the '90s go, "Oh man, you got to hear this new band, Lo Moon. Totally reminds me of My Bloody Valentine." So you kind of hear that as well. And I bet you guys are hearing that coming back to you from folks who are finding and connecting with your music. What are some of the things people are saying in terms of referencing Lo Moon in reference to other artists?
The Talk Talk thing is there, obviously. And Mark Hollis is, especially vocally, a big influence on me. The cool thing is that, as more songs come out, the references become wider. You get stuff like Roxy Music all the time and my Bloody Valentine, obviously, because of the name "Loveless." We are huge fans of My Bloody Valentine, but we weren't even thinking about that when that song was written or recorded. What else have we gotten? We've gotten The XX because of the electronics. A lot of people are into the trip hop side of the drums in "Loveless." Radiohead – obviously, they're untouchable. Actually, every band I've mentioned so far is kind of untouchable. But it is interesting when you hear somebody say, "You sound like..." and then you go, "Wow, that's not even part of the landscape for us." And it's in there and I think that's amazing. Like anything, you want to feel comfortable when you're listening to music, so if something reminds you of something I don't think that's a bad thing at all.
It's one of the beautiful things about music. Now let's segue from Matt, the musician, to Matt, the music fan. How do you and the other guys in Lo Moon discover new music? What are some of the ways you do? Because you guys are not only music makers, but music fans. How do you guys discover new music?
A lot of it is word of mouth. Friends get into a band and say, "You've got to check this band out. I think you're going to be into them." That's a lot of it for us. You know we're out here in L.A. so, obviously, Jason Bentley at KCRW. When I was living in New York, you guys were a big part of discovering the occasional Spotify, "Hey can you check this out," which I always pay attention to. As you're a band, you just start hearing of other bands by being out there. That's really awesome, too. I think Glass Animals was a good one for us because we didn't really know the entire scope. Then we started seeing them live every night, and we were like, "Hey, these guys are really great." And other band members, I mean, we all listen to different stuff. So one weekend I'll go record shopping and find some dub record that I'm really into and just show the band. Or Sam will find something or Crisanta or Sterling. And we trust each other musically, so we'll listen to it even if we don't like it. We'll give it one shot.
And, Matt, how would you say that has changed, that process of music discovery for you guys as music fans? How has it changed over the last few years?
There's just so much. I think the playlists on different music streaming platforms have given people something every day. They're curating it for you, so you can get into this vortex where you're just getting music all the time. You've heard the song; you don't know anything about the band.
Context matters. You can hear a great song and be like, "Man, that's a great song. I love that song." It could fly by on a playlist, but context matters. Who is this artist? Where are they coming from? What are they trying to say? What's their connection? And I think telling the story behind music is something that perhaps has gotten lost in the process of there being so much music out. And one of the things we're hoping to do with Slingshot is to not only present the music but tell the stories behind it.
That's the amazing thing and that's part of the liner notes conversation that's going away. There's no liner notes anymore. And so you don't know who played on the record, you don't know how it was made, you don't know who produced it. An amazing part of this program is also getting inside the world of Lo Moon and where all of us come from and why the music comes out of the speakers the way it does. A lot of that for me is just the relationship between the people playing it, and that's part of the story. Every day it kind of develops because of that, because the relationships between Sam and I are developing musically, or Crisanta and I, or Crisanta and Sam. You're learning more about each other as you go on and what makes each other tick. The amazing part of this is that music listeners and fans can understand the back side of the whole thing, which is a whole other world within itself, not just how the song comes out.
A big part of that also explains the evocative experience that Lo Moon can bring to the table. I remember seeing you guys this summer at a music industry conference where you guys were playing in a convention tent at lunchtime and it was 12:00 noon at a buffet. And in my brain, I was at a club in Berlin, and it was after midnight. That is a beautiful thing when music can do that. Music can take you somewhere.
It was an interesting moment for you because you had to transport yourself. But for us, before we went on, I said the same thing to the guys. This is another show. Our job is to emote. To really evoke an experience –
Did you say to the guys, "Hey, we've got to pretend we're at a club in Berlin and it's after midnight right now?"
I didn't say after midnight in Berlin. I said Madison Square Garden, actually. I said it's Madison Square Garden, I don't care if everyone is eating right now, just play like it's Madison Square Garden.
Ignore the chicken cutlets on the table.
Exactly. But it worked for us because it got us into the mindset, you know?
Absolutely. Lo Moon, one of three bands in our first class of artists to kick off this new initiative, NPR Music and public radio and TV stations around the country. It's called Slingshot. We're putting our collective weight behind these bands and we know you guys are going to soar. Lo Moon is one of the bands. The other two bands are Big Thief – a New York City-based band – and Jamila Woods. I think, taken is a list of three artists, it's a pretty wide range of this moment in independent music.
It really is. Jamila is on the R&B side of things. I think that whole world is really, really interesting right now. She's trying to carve her niche in that, and Big Thief I've been hearing about a lot. I like female-fronted bands. I love her voice and you know the folk – is it folk? Is it kind of folk rock? It's hard to place that genre. Americana. I'm obsessed with that genre. So it kind of talks to me.
Yeah, it's super cool. We're really excited about Slingshot. Congratulations to Lo Moon for being a part of this. We're so excited about that.
We are, too. We're so excited.
And Matt, as always, great to talk to you. Thanks for checking in.
You too, Rita. Thank you.