Interview by Shannon Lawlor
Moon Duo are a psychedelic-rock band hailing from San Francisco, California. Formed in 2009 by Erik ‘Ripley’ Johnson (Wooden Shjips) and Sanae Yamada, the duo have released numerous singles, EPs and eight studio albums including remixes and live recordings on respective labels such as Souterrain Transmissions, Holy Mountain and Sacred Bones. Moon Duo are widely notable for incorporating elements of krautrock, minimalism, drone and psychedelia into their rich, ecstatic sound.
In February 2017, Moon Duo released the transcendental ‘yin-and-yang’ inspired double-album Occult Architecture Vol I, and it’s May follow-up, Vol II, via Sacred Bones, gaining the pair an overwhelming response and worldwide attention.
Moon Duo are set to perform at Cape Town’s picturesque Endless Daze festival on November 3-5, surrounded by lush scenery and it’s inevitable power to impress.
We spoke with Sanae Yamada of Moon Duo on studio life and travelling:
For those unfamiliar with the aural distortion of Moon Duo, could you speak about how the project was initially formed?
Ripley asked if I wanted to start a band with him in 2008. He had been doing Wooden Shjips for a couple years and had this idea that, as a two-piece, we could be more flexible and able to tour – we could be the band who said yes to everything. At the time, I was teaching and writing fiction on the side, but I was feeling pretty frustrated with it, and music seemed like a refreshing outlet. Our idea at the outset was that we would be like Suicide with guitar. We were into the challenge of making rock n roll with only two people.
Latest studio ventures Occult Architecture Vol 1 & 2 were both released this year, which chronicle Moon Duo’s ceaseless hallucinatory journey far and beyond. How did this recording process differ from that of 2015’s euphoric Shadow of the Sun?
The recording process itself wasn’t especially different this time around – for all of those records we did basic tracking in a studio then added overdub tracks and vocals on our own, at home. Musically, though, I think we had more focus and a clearer vision for the Occult Architecture album(s) from the beginning. The idea for the two-halves-of-a-whole records came early in the process, and the material seemed to shape itself around that in a very organic way. Shadow Of The Sun was very disjointed in the beginning, and it took us much longer to find the key to its coherence.
On November 3rd, Moon Duo is set to perform at Endless Daze Festival located in South Africa. What are you most looking forward to about travelling to this part of the world and performing at the festival?
Oh wow, where do I begin? We are so, so excited to play in South Africa. We have never been there before and have dreamed for years of having a chance like this. We’re really looking forward to meeting some folks at the festival, which looks killer, and we’ll be in Cape Town for a few days, so we just want to soak up as much of the city as we can.
If Moon Duo could single-handedly change the music industry, what would you change, and why?
I’d like to see more equitable compensation for artists from use of their work by streaming services.
After just a single gaze through Moon Duo’s impressive back catalogue, it’s evident that the studio-setting has become more like a second home. Has this lifestyle required serious adaption, or does it come more naturally?
It has required some adaptation, but it is very much what we want to be doing in life, so it feels quite natural in that sense. Before we were able to do the band full time, we both worked pretty career-ish jobs. I was, as mentioned, a teacher, and Ripley worked in tech. When we decided to drop all that and take a chance with the band it felt like holding hands and leaping off a cliff into the sea. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
When Moon Duo aren’t performing, or recording – what do they like to do in their spare time?
Catch up on sleep. Also we both love film and books, and we’ve done some really gorgeous camping and hiking in Oregon, where we live.
If there was ever a possible scenario where you could pick – who would Moon Duo ever choose to collaborate with in some form, and why?
My personal fantasy would be to collaborate with ESG. I absolutely love their music, and they seem to be enchanted by repetition, as we are, but they approach it from a very different angle. I think we could combine our sounds to make something highly unusual.
What does the future hold for Moon Duo?
In the near term it will be a bunch of touring followed by some down time with family over the holidays. We’ll see what the new year brings.
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