The Soft Moon (Credit: Marion Costentin)
Luis Vasquez talks new LP, the importance of solitude and music as catharsis...

When it comes to the dour world of gloomy darkwave and industrial post-punk, for the best part of a decade the artist leading the charge has been The Soft Moon, the project of California-native Luis Vasquez. Now residing in Berlin, The Soft Moon is gearing up for the release of his fourth album ‘Criminal’, which arrives on the 2nd February via revered Brooklyn label Sacred Bones.

‘Criminal’ is The Soft Moon’s most intense record yet - in both its production and in Luis’ deeply-personal, confessional lyrics which sit right at the forefront. Bleak, introspective reflections on his battles with mental health, his violent upbringing and his most pervasive inner-demons are underpinned by slabs of harsh, industrial noise that borders on EBM or straight up techno at times.

With the release of ‘Criminal’ and EU/US tours fast-approaching, Clash caught up with Luis to discuss the new record, keeping on the move, the importance of isolation and music/art as a means of cathartic healing.

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“I always felt it would be sort of romantic to move somewhere far away and be alone and make something creative. I just didn’t want to be in my comfort zone.” Luis Vasquez spent his childhood set against the vast sprawling backdrop of the Mojave Desert and at a relatively early age, like most, he discovered music. The following couple of decades he’d end up dotting around California where he’d go on to release his first two albums under the Soft Moon moniker – ‘The Soft Moon’ and ‘Zeros’, respectively.

When it came to LP3, however, Luis fancied a change and spontaneously upped sticks to a tiny town just outside of Venice, Italy - looking to channel his new-found solitude and isolation into the next album. He tells Clash: “I kind of just wanted to challenge myself and go into survival mode in a way, just to see how I could use that as a tool to write and bring certain feelings and emotions out of me, so I just went and bought a one-way ticket to Italy and started working on ‘Deeper’.”

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It was very hard and lonely at first. Sometimes I would starve for a day...

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After spending several months locked away writing and trying to get to grips with his new surroundings in the desolate Italian town he now called home – “It was very hard and lonely at first. Sometimes I would starve for a day, I just wasn't used to the system there” – the result was The Soft Moon’s incredible 2015 album ‘Deeper’, recorded at Maurizio Baggio’s Hate Studios tucked away in the Venetian mountains (a partnership that would carry on with ‘Criminal’). However, before ‘Deeper’ was even released into the world Luis decided to relocate again. Fancying yet another challenge, admitting to us that isolation is crucial to his creative process, he made the move to Berlin where he’d eventually begin working on ‘Criminal’.

Deconstructing the motorik ‘minimal-is-maximal’ mantras of krautrock and channelling it into a mix of synth-driven 80s post-punk and the throbbing electronic sounds of early-industrial/EBM, ‘Criminal’ reeks of Germany’s rich musical heritage. When asked whether he thinks moving to Berlin helped to shape the sound of the new record, Luis says: “Yeah I think so, I mean every time I go to a bar or whatever there’s always techno playing, or if I go to a show it’s going to be something electronic. I’m always surrounded by stuff like industrial, darkwave, techno and things like that so I think it definitely plays a big part.”

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On his influences in general, he reasons: “To be honest, when I’m going through the writing process I try my best not to listen to music, I try to be as pure as possible but there was a point where I was first writing the record and I thought I’d like to incorporate a bit of Ministry which is where I think the heaviness comes from and, you know, early stuff like Throbbing Gristle, old punk music from California where I grew up – it’s all there, just painted in darkness.”

Focussing too much on The Soft Moon’s influences feels like a bit of injustice, naturally the album sits amongst a pretty vast pool of 80s nostalgia bands but ‘Criminal’ is a totally sincere, honest and gut-wrenching record, with Luis wearing his influences on his sleeve yet twisting it into something that’s entirely his own. This is a Soft Moon record made for no one else other than the Soft Moon. “I’m very internal when I write, in a way I almost feel like I could be anywhere and it would be the same outcome. Everything is very internalised, everything that I’ve experienced or I’m influenced by is just little elements here and there.”

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Everything is very internalised...

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‘Criminal’ see’s Luis test himself both artistically and emotionally, the album is his most challenging and abrasive listen to date but where it’s due the most merit is in the personal subject matter - with Luis staring his demons straight in the face and using the process of making the album as a sort of cathartic experience, a much-needed emotional outpouring.

He explains to Clash: “On this album, I really challenged myself in terms of the lyrics and vocals themselves. I think this was the first time where I actually had something to say. As I’m evolving as a songwriter and learning more and more about myself as time goes by it’s been a lot easier to put words behind my emotions. Things are becoming a little bit more clear in my head so I wanted to express that more verbally.”

When asked what it was like going down this path of self-exploration and whether this outpouring of emotions rewarded him with any form of respite, Luis states: “Yeah it was pretty intense. For instance, when I was in the studio writing lyrics for ‘Like A Father’, that one hit me pretty hard. I didn’t even have a topic in mind at first but it just turned out to be this song about the father I never had and how I had built up all this anger around him never being there. Which was something I’d never even really realised until I was writing the song - the lyrics just came out and I was like ‘wow, ok fuck no wonder I have so many problems’ [laughs]”.

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I’m constantly trying to have more respect for myself...

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There are a lot of personal moments on the record which see Luis attempt to come to terms with everything from self-hatred, anxiety and insecurity through to drug abuse and failed romances. ‘Like A Father’ looks at themes of abandonment and the absence of a Father figure, centred around the vocal hook ‘This head is a problem/You’re the ghost of my problem/Something’s got to give’. The visceral Nine Inch Nails/Ministry-esque fury of ‘Burn’ is a sinister ode to self-hatred and losing control, and then the crushing mechanical stomp of ‘Choke’ is Luis’ self-reflection on the darker side of cocaine abuse, a battle he is all-too-familiar with.

Talking about which songs he feels particularly emotionally invested in, Luis tells us: “’Like A Father’ would definitely be up there but another one would also be ‘Give Something’ which is probably my favourite track on the album. It was the last track I wrote and at that point, I felt like I needed to balance out the record so I wanted to do something a little softer and more vulnerable. I think that’s probably my first true love song. Then there’s ‘Burn’ – there’s a lot of self-hatred in that one and that’s something I constantly feel in my everyday life, I’m constantly trying to have more respect for myself and treat myself as I should and ‘Burn’ attempts to deal with that.”

‘Criminal’ is the sound of The Soft Moon going to war with himself and coming out the other side victorious and all-guns-blazing – with another incredible album to add to his back-catalogue. On the importance of having some kind of creative output to channel your emotions into, be it art, music or writing, Luis admits: “I think it’s completely important. For me it has to happen, I need it. If I didn’t have this outlet I don’t know if I’d still be alive to be honest.”

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‘Criminal’ is released February 2nd on Sacred Bones. Catch The Soft Moon at London’s The Dome on February 16th.

Words: Jack Palfrey

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