Why you should get extra stoked for Moon Duo

Chrome-plated space robots

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Everyone loves Moon Duo, a husband-and-wife synthesizer and guitar-shredding minimalist, psychedelic, motoric pop band, without reservation. Don't they? OK, well, we sure are in love with the dark, weird majesty of their new release, Occult Architecture Vol. 1. It's something of a breakthrough in terms of sensibility and sound. There are still extended, face-melting solos, but it also totally sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a multi million dollar super slick space flick.

Metro Times spoke with Moon Duo in advance of their show at El Club on Saturday. We asked principal members Ripley Johnson (guitars, vocals) and Sanae Yamada (keyboards, vocals) to walk us through their Occult Architecture Vol. 1 album a bit (which, holy shit, did we mention how good it is?), from the conceptual elements to the continued integration of third member John Jeffrey (drums). P.S. Stoners might ask the duo to move to their state. Marijuana has been legalized everywhere they have lived (California, Colorado, and Oregon). Format/theme

Ripley Johnson: We started with 12 songs, too much for one LP. But it also didn't feel right as a double LP. We didn't hear our album as a complete double album experience, like a [Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti] or Twin Infinitives. We were also focused on this occult theme. So we had the idea to group the songs into a "dark" record and "light" record. We recorded and mixed the songs with that in mind. We mixed the dark record (volume one) in Berlin and the light record (volume two) in Portland (in the summer).

Sanae Yamada: We also really liked the idea of linking the releases to the seasons they reference, with a time of waiting in between. The occult architecture concept is more to do with innate, essential architecture rather than human-made: the intricate, interconnected patterns that compose the fabric of existence, from the smallest sub-microscopic particles to the vastness of the cosmos, from the concretely material to the ethereal. We weren't entirely sure if the dark/light concept would work out, but the songs really did seem to develop into two groups as we recorded them.


Yamada: I was really keen to move away from organ toward something more electronic, to focus on movement and texture rather than melodic riffs. Synths offer much more diverse possibilities in terms of atmosphere.

Johnson: A good groove should go on as long as it can sustain itself. That's another reason we were pushing for the two LPs, to give ourselves space for that. There's also the primitive and trance aspects, but that's been our thing from the beginning. And lastly, we just do what we do. We're not super slick musicians, who are going to segue into some kind of reggae bridge in the middle of a song. We can't do that, and we don't want to know how to do that.

Yamada: On a number of songs, we recorded the drums, synth bass, rhythm guitar, and synth drones all playing together at Type Foundry [studio in Portland, Ore.]. Then the two of us did overdubs and vocals at home.

Johnson: We were trying to push our sound this time around. In addition to the expanded synth role, we were open to really fucking with everything we recorded. Not just for the sake of it, but I think we wanted to find a zone that was new for us and didn't sound like anything else.


Yamada: On this record, I wanted the synth parts to be like textural animals that writhe around one another and react to their surroundings.

Johnson: A lot of the vibe of these records comes from Sanae's awesome synth. I'm not a synth-pop fan, unless it's weird or really lo-fi. Chrome, the Screamers, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire — I guess that kind of stuff maybe would be influences.

Yamada: Those bands both employ synths in a visceral way — they sound alive, and kind of violent at times.

The Man-Machine

Johnson: John Jeffrey, our drummer, is technically a hired hand, which is how he likes it. But he was there from the beginning for this album project. He's Canadian, and lives in Vancouver. For the last album, he was more of a human drum machine. For this album, we incorporated a lot of the electronic drum pad work that he does live, and recorded a lot of improvised fills and things, which extends the synth soundscape. He's great. He listens to almost only jazz.

Yamada: We wanted to add a live drummer without losing the skeletal consistency of a drum machine, and he manages to pull that off. For us, musically, it is not so much about man vs. machine, as about trying to explore the borderlands.


Johnson: We've never played a real biker bar. I've never been in a real biker bar. But we had a flexi single in a really nice New Zealand motorcycle 'zine called Head Full of Snakes.

Yamada: I don't know any hard-core bikers, but I can see how people who drive for pleasure might dig our music (if indeed they do). We spend so much time on the road, I think the flavor of it, the craving for that anchorless feeling, seeps into the music. It's certainly something I think about when we're working on a record. When we're recording, it's a season of interiors; touring is the season of outward propulsion. When we're in one season, its opposite moves to the back burner and becomes a space in the mind.

If this were the soundtrack to a film...?

Johnson: Dystopian sci-fi, directed by Jodorowsky or Panos Cosmatos or Shane Carruth, starring...

Yamada: Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Tony Leung! Chrome-Plated Space Robot was our alternate title for [the album].

With Jackie Lynn. Show starts at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 22 at El Club, 4114 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; elclubdetroit.com; tickets are $13.

About The Author

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
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