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Interview: Matt Lowell (Lo Moon)

24 February 2022

Each note on Lo Moon’s second album, A Modern Life, seems calculated and scrutinized, with the final output aiming for maximum aural sensation. It’s a natural follow-up to the band’s 2018 self-titled album which produced the hits “Loveless” and “This Is It” and one that felt a long time coming after singer Matt Lowell began teasing new material in the summer of 2019. Of course, a global pandemic not only has made the last two years feel like 10, but was directly responsible for the delay in A Modern Life’s release considering the album was all but finished in early 2020.

As a way to re-introduce Lo Moon to the listeners, the band – Lowell (vocals/guitars), Sam Stewart (guitars), Crisanta Baker (bass), and Sterling Lewis (drums) – dropped two singles, “Raincoats” and “Dream Never Dies,” to much acclaim and set the stage for what is to come on A Modern Life. When Columbia Records decided not to renew Lo Moon’s contract, the band found a new home with Thirty Tigers who seem committed to letting Lo Moon expand their fanbase over the long haul rather than hoping for an overnight success, not unlike the bands that influenced Lowell and his bandmates – Talk Talk and The Blue Nile.

These two bands provided the starting point for my conversation with Lowell who has already started writing songs for Lo Moon’s third album.

Early in the pandemic, I decided to deep dive into the catalogs of Talk Talk and The Blue Nile. Hearing those two bands, and listening to Lo Moon, I can see how both were influences on your songwriting.

MATT: It’s very funny because just before you called, I was listening to the album A Walk Across Rooftops by The Blue Nile. I was referencing something for a new song. The first time I heard Spirit of Eden [Talk Talk], a friend introduced me to them, because I was working on music and he was like, “This is giving me a Spirit of Eden vibe.” I knew “It’s My Life” but I had never heard Spirit of Eden or Laughing Stock. I was just blown away by the space, by the emotion, by the patience of it, just the way the whole story unravels in those records. It kind of changed my perspective on music completely.

The Blue Nile was never considered a “hit making” band.

MATT: They were a Scottish band. Paul Buchanan, the lead singer, is a revered singer-songwriter but they never reached the heights they should have. “Downtown Lights” off of Hats is probably their biggest song but it’s one of those songs where people are like, “Oh, I’ve heard this before,” but they have no idea who it is.

Those bands played the long game, never seemed interest in being a flash-in-the-pan by writing commercially successful songs. Is that your approach when writing music?

MATT: Yes, of course. And it’s very exciting when AAA radio takes on something. They took “This Is It” and ran with it and they are really taking “Dream Never Dies” and running with that which I wasn’t expecting. I’m never going into it with the expectations of the bands that do expect it. We just decided we were going to follow what it is that inspires us. We know it’s not the flavor of the month. But, it is interesting when you see people coming to it that say, “Oh wow, this is emotionally affecting me.” That’s the only reason I make art. I just want to affect people emotionally and it’s cathartic for me and the guys. That is an absolute death trap when you think about it. I’d rather have this [lengthy career] than have that [momentary hit singles]. I just love the bands that we look up to like The War on Drugs and Wilco who continue to put records out and get better and better. You look at your career and you go, “Okay, this is what I do.”

Lo Moon is no longer on Columbia. Who’s putting out A Modern Life?

MATT: We’re doing this record with Thirty Tigers, who are brilliant. They have amazing artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. It’s just a different system for us, we’re in it for the long haul, finding fans, growing a fanbase that cares. We’re much more comfortable in that situation.

Did you part ways with Columbia after you finished touring in 2019?

MATT: No, we made a record. We made a whole record, well, most of a record, while still signed because they wanted to do it. January 2020 came around and it felt like the relationship wasn’t going to be suited for moving forward in a positive way. It felt like it would do us a disservice if we put it out like that and they would have been disappointed as well. I do think the pandemic and personnel, people just left that were involved with our project, it was just a very interesting moment. In January, the pandemic was just around the corner and we were like, “We can’t put out record out now.” Well, I guess we could, but we didn’t know how to promote it. Everyone was still trying to figure out what to do. It just gave us a little bit more time. We went back in on the record and I think I wrote one or two more songs. We tracked them and we put them on the record. Honestly, that time gave us a better record.

You mentioned at the start of the conversation that you were working on a new song. Does that mean you’re already thinking about a third album?

MATT: Yeah. I started writing in 2020 and was writing in 2021. We’re in the studio now. With every record, there’s a moment where you think you’re starting the record but you’re not. It’s a false start. My gut is telling me that we started and we’re going to keep going until we have something that we love. You never know where these things take you. We’re having fun right now, we’re making some really good decisions, let’s see where it takes us. If we get to the end of the line and we’re like, “We need some help” or “We need to keep tweaking this,” then we’ll do that. I do think we’re moving forward. There are songs there.

Where did you record A Modern Life?

MATT: I wrote most of it at my house and some at a friend’s house and then we went to The Village down in Santa Monica to record. We took it back to Yves Rothman, who produced it, back to his house, took over his living room, made his house a studio and worked on it there. Then we finished it in Seattle with Chris Walla.

Because of the pandemic, did you have to ship files back and forth rather than all get together?

MATT: Yeah, we did that. We got together towards the end. We did a drum session where Sterling went into a studio with an engineer and we were on Zoom. It was a nightmare, we ended up redoing it. It was just very hard but we all got into other things. We scored this little documentary, Sam did some of that, we did one together. We stayed creative. I think in the beginning it was hard to figure it out. But, some of these songs, for the next record, were started like, “Hey, I just wrote this thing” and then I’d send it out and see what came back. Sam would send me something back and it would be like, “Okay, cool.” He reacted to it. I write a lot of things and you just don’t know who is going to react and who wants to play on it. If they feel like it’s exciting, that’s a good sign.

When you were asked to open some of The War on Drugs U.S. dates, which have since been canceled, did you think there was a realistic chance of those dates happening?

MATT: I did (laughs). Adam’s a good friend. We were together in December, we were at his studio rehearsing and we were talking about going on tour. Were we surprised or upset that the dates didn’t happen? No, we weren’t. I think what we’ve learned is that we take whatever comes day by day and whatever it ends up being, it ends up being. There’s no use getting worked up about it. We’re doing the entire European tour with The War on Drugs which, as of today, is still happening. We’re planning it and they are planning it with us, so it’s a thing that’s happening. Will it be happening tomorrow? I don’t know. It depends on what happens in Germany. It depends on what happens in France. We’re doing the same thing, everyone’s in the same boat, you just keep going until you can’t.

You released a couple of singles and videos in advance of the release of A Modern Life. Did you do that to double your chances of ending up on playlists on Spotify or did you do it because that’s what bands have done in the past to build up hype?

MATT: We were away for so long that putting an album out in a vacuum didn’t feel right, we needed to re-introduce the band. That’s just the way the timing worked out. I like when there are singles. It’s a little more creative this time around because I don’t think “Raincoats” would be a song that people would consider to be a single but we wanted to put it out there to show a different side of the band. I think we’ve been given the freedom to do that. “Dream Never Dies” felt very much like a segue into the new era of Lo Moon. I don’t think about it as a marketing strategy, I think about it as what’s going to give the fans what they want and build some excitement towards the record?

Maybe it’s because your fans have been hungry for new material, but the reaction from fans on social media has been outstanding.

MATT: You’re always surprised because you’re always afraid to put it out there. I’m so happy with the way the fans have accepted these songs. And, we found new ones, people who never heard Lo Moon before. That’s the point, just keep trying to find fans and make fans along the way. You put music out there and hope people feel something from it. That’s what it’s always been about for us.

The videos look really good.

MATT: They do? (laughs) That’s good. We made “Raincoats” video with an iPhone. Sam and I got into my garage and started messing around. We landed on an idea and he followed through with the concept. He directed the video. It was cool, it was just him and I for the first two days and we were experimenting. I’m just so comfortable with my bandmate that we were able to dial this idea in. We weren’t planning on putting a video out. When we got back from the new year break, we were like, “Let’s put a video out.” He did an amazing job. I don’t know how much videos matter in the grand scheme of things but they can help push the aesthetic forward so we saw it as an opportunity to see what we could do.

A Modern Life is 10 songs, two of which are instrumental and while the listener can get lost in the music, it’s a pretty tight album in terms of running length.

MATT: There’s one intro and one interlude. It’s a shorter album, I think it’s like 35 or 40 minutes. I don’t think people’s attention spans are there and we were just thinking about how to keep the statement tight and say what we want to say. At one point, the record was 14 songs and I just didn’t know if we needed 14 songs even though I’m in the band and I love all of the songs. There were a few that went by the wayside in a way that I think we made the right decision in the end.

The cover seems pretty minimalistic but right on brand with what you’re doing. Did you experience any delays with the vinyl?

MATT: Somehow, Thirty Tigers did an amazing job with pivoting. I think we were getting the vinyl made by one plant and then they pivoted at the last second to make sure we got it in time for the release date. It looks awesome, I’m so happy with how it came out.

 

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