I’ve been a fan of The Soft Moon, the darkwave-infused post-punk solo project of Luis Vasquez, for about half a dozen years now. I first saw them on tour in 2016 in support of the 2015 album Deeper at The New Parish in Oakland, a show that would see The Soft Moon having their touring van broken into and most of their gear being stolen while onstage. My second time seeing them was at The Starline Social Club in Oakland, touring behind 2018’s Criminal, which saw the power going out onstage during their set. I relay these experiences on a Zoom call with Luis, to which he laughingly responds, “Yeah, I don’t know if we’re ever going to play Oakland again.”
I’ve had some back-and-forth with Luis over Instagram for the last year, starting when he sold me the electronic drum kit that he had used on the 2011 EP Total Decay. Little did he know when he sold it that, having not been used in over a decade, the batteries inside had all but melted out into the battery compartment, rendering the kit essentially useless. We began our 45-minute Zoom call talking about the electronic drum kit before I asked him about his upcoming Soft Moon album Exister, last year’s solo album A Body Of Errors, and what the future of The Soft Moon live looks like.
Tyler King: First of all, I wanted to say thank you for agreeing to do this interview.
Luis Vasquez: How are you doing? Are you in SF?
TK: I live about 30-ish minutes outside in the East Bay.
LV: Wait, so what happened with the drum machine?
TK: I got it and kept trying to turn it on and it just wouldn’t. So I popped open the back of the battery compartment with a knife and the batteries had just deteriorated and there was acid everywhere.
LV: [laughs]At least it’s cool to look at I guess! I used that on Total Decay and then I moved to Europe. And I finally came back, and I’d paid a friend of mine to keep all of my things in a storage room in a basement. So when I finally got back, I saw the drum machine and a couple other synthesizers, came home, and finally moved to Joshua Tree. Then I unearthed it and thought to myself, ‘I’ll never use this again, so I’ll just sell it,’ not knowing that there were batteries in there probably from the 80s!
TK: I’m sure I could get it repaired, but—
LV: At that point, I don’t know…
TK: It’s whatever at this point. So, jumping in, what would you say was the catalyst for the creation of the new Soft Moon album Exister?
LV: I feel like with every record, I’ve always been limited in some way, shape, or form. I can’t sing because I live in an apartment, or I don’t have the drum set in front of me. Also, probably the main thing is, not really knowing how I feel, or more like not understanding my feelings as I get older. So after I got signed to Sacred Bones, I moved to Europe. And I always felt like I was in vacation mode in a weird way, and everything felt surreal. So Exister felt like it was time to come back home and reconnect, and that’s what this album is all about. And this is the first record where I feel like I have nothing to hide. Every other record was like, “OK, I guess I’m goth now, because that’s what people are calling me.” So I saw that, and I played into it. And this was the first record where I felt like, I’m just going to be completely myself, because that’s the only way that I’m going to die happy.
TK: Do you think the albums in your past that didn’t have true authenticity?
LV: No, every fucking one of them was authentic. I don’t hold back on any of them. The only thing that I would say is that I was probably confused about who I am on all of them. Now with this record, I know who I am. And doing all of this, traveling to every continent in the world multiple times and touring for twelve years, I’ve learned so much about myself.
TK: Do you ever casually listen back to your older material?
LV: Sometimes I do. It depends on how I’m feeling. For me, if I do listen to my older music, it’s nothing egotistical, it’s me wanting to hear and know how I’ve grown. And so sometimes I’ll listen to my older stuff, and it’s scary. But a lot of the time it’s informative.
TK: Do you think that part of the more confessional nature of Exister had anything to do with the A Body Of Errors album that was released last year? Because I found it interesting that for the first time you were releasing an album under your own name. Was there a reason to do that album separately from The Soft Moon?
LV: Yeah, because everything I write with The Soft Moon is completely torturous. With The Soft Moon I’m always unearthing shit that I blocked out, like childhood things. I won’t go into that, but I feel like with every Soft Moon album it’s like, “Oh fuck, I have to do this again.” I almost kill myself every time I write an album. So A Body Of Errors was me saying, “Can I have fun for a second?” A Body Of Errors was like a coffee break, but at the same time it was like me saying, “Hey, I can do other stuff too.”
Every album for me will be a completely different genre or experience, so the first one was heavy synths, very “John Carpenter” and all that. On the next album I’m thinking of making it almost completely percussion. On the album after that I’m thinking of just putting microphones all over my body. So I just needed to express myself completely, and that’s A Body Of Errors, whereas The Soft Moon is like a chronology of my life, and unfolding the layers of who I am and expressing that to the world in the hopes that it connects with people.
TK: How was it doing the European shows for A Body Of Errors? Wasn’t that the first time that you had gone onstage and performed live completely by yourself?
LV: First time. That was crazy. I was very surprised by the reaction of the crowd, and shocked that people were coming out to see me. I’m not an egomaniac, but I was going into it thinking, ‘No one is going to come to my shows.’ And there were people there, and it was very reassuring and inspiring for me to keep going. I came back home feeling like myself again.
TK: I’ve always seen a throughline in your albums. Criminal felt like an extension of certain themes and sounds from Deeper, and Deeper was that with Zeroes, etc. Did A Body Of Errors have any kind of influence or impact on Exister?
LV: No. A Body Of Errors is like “anti-impact.” It was just me wanting to show another side of myself and, of course I couldn’t help myself to not put my feelings into a couple of the songs on it, but for the most part it was just me playing my synthesizers. It was me wanting to have fun and knowing I have cool gear and loving horror film soundtracks. So with Exister, that was a whole different animal.
TK: So how would you compare the recording of the two albums?
LV: A Body Of Errors I wrote in several different parts of the world. I think I was in Cuba at one point writing it, and I was living in Berlin at that time, and I also wrote some stuff in Italy. It was more of an exploratory thing, and it was very light. It was like when you go out and have dinner with friends. It was that kind of lightness for me. And then I diving back with Exister into The Soft Moon, that’s just really hardcore.
TK: With the touring for A Body Of Errors all done, have you already started to think about the tour for Exister in terms of setlist, production, and performance? Will there be any differences compared to past Soft Moon tours?
LV: The Soft Moon, from the beginning, has been all about design and aesthetic. I feel like I created the logo before I even wrote a song [laughs]. At first we were doing projections really early on, so it’s always been about being a whole 3D experience… or 4D. But now with “Soft Moon 5.0” it’s about figuring out how to tour and travel without so much gear. How do we keep it functional, while also keeping it looking fucking amazing at the same time?
I remember in the beginning having to worry about having a huge guitar pedalboard, I had to have an analogue synthesizer, or multiple analogue synthesizers, because people cared about that stuff. But nowadays, you know, some of the biggest acts are almost karaoke at this point. There’s a guy singing, and one guy on synthesizer, and it’s all backing tracks. So it’s about finding a medium between traveling the
world with a USB stick versus traveling the world with three guitars and a huge pedalboard.
So the new Soft Moon look will definitely be a little more minimal, but you’re not going to miss anything because the show will be incredible.
TK: So does that mean that the audience shouldn’t expect the trash can making any more appearances?
LV: Oh no, the trash cans will always be there.
LV: I’ll probably end up getting a trash can tattoo at some point [laughs].
TK: Talking about specific performances… I know that you currently live, and grew up in, Southern California, you’ve lived in Berlin, and you started The Soft Moon out here while you were living in San Francisco; I’m curious if you feel any pressure, either externally or internally, to deliver a “better” performance at any of the cities that you’ve lived in.
LV: For me, I find that I have the most fun playing in cities I’ve lived in or have a personal connection to. I would say my top places to play: Berlin is insane, LA is always insane, San Francisco, and then Italy as well, because I wrote the Deeper album in Venice. But I don’t go into those cities feeling more pressure, I actually go in there feeling more badass, like, “I’m ready, let’s do this.”
TK: Do you feel any pressure when it comes to selecting what songs will be on a given tour’s setlist? Meaning, are there songs that you feel like you have an obligation to play versus your own personal desire to play?
LV: Yeah, for sure. One hundred percent. But for me it’s never a pain in the ass to play a song that I know the fanbase prefers, because even I know that those songs hit really well. So when I get the chance to play those songs every night, in a different venue or setting, in a different city… I don’t know what I’m trying to say here. But I think that the epitome of what we do is trying to write “that” song, and when we figure that song out, that’s the whole point of what we do. When we see that song on the setlist, we get excited. The only thing that hurts me is I have a hard time not crying when I play those songs and the crowd is fucking singing along. [shakes head]That’s the hardest part, but it’s an amazing feeling.
TK: On that note, how are you feeling about integrating the new songs from Exister into the live set?
LV: So, so far only the song “Him” has been released, and… it’s about to get really good [smiles]. Right before this call, I was actually approving the edits of the new music video for the next single, which comes out July 20th. You’re gonna hear some “real Soft Moon shit.” The first song felt like a test, dipping my feet back in the water, and having not really written a Soft Moon record in four years, it did feel a little weird to come back with a song featuring someone else. But going forward, I think that the next single is me in my purest form.
TK: Talking about the new single, “Him,” what made you decide at this point in your career to begin including other people in the music of The Soft Moon?
LV: I love to collaborate with other artists. Collaborating with fish narc on that song, I am so glad to have met him. He and I are practically best friends now forever. Like, I will go to his funeral and vice-versa.
TK: How do you see yourself playing that song live without fish narc?
LV: I don’t know. Unless he tours with us, I don’t know if we will.
TK: Something that I’ve noticed, being a fan of your record label, Sacred Bones, for a handful of years now, is that with nearly every new album that they release by an artist, there are nearly a dozen different vinyl variants of every release. Exister has no less than nine different vinyl variants, including standard black vinyl. Do you have any input on the different colors and designs for the vinyl records?
LV: I used to be super part of that process. But my thing is, I only like clear, black, white, and red vinyl. So back in the day, when I was on the Captured Tracks label, I was way more hands-on. But it’s good for me, because now I can step back and let the label take care of it. But it’s so weird to me that people will buy the record based off of how the vinyl record looks and not the actual contents of it. Like me spending a year writing an album in a forest, tearing myself open and tearing myself apart, is not enough anymore: you have to have the crazy color vinyl variant.
TK: I have a close friend who’s a massive John Carpenter fan, to the point where every time Sacred Bones releases a new Carpenter album or represses one of his older film scores, he’ll buy three of every variant: one to open, one to keep sealed, and one to maybe resell in the future.
LV: [laughs]That’s amazing.
TK: I mean, he has to have single-handedly kept John Carpenter fed for at least a couple of months at a time.
LV: [laughs]Oh my god, that’s amazing.
TK: Great guy, I love him to death, but for me I’ll just buy the one that looks the most interesting to me, or maybe the one that includes a signed lyric sheet or something like that.
LV: I’m going to be honest with you, I wish that people would just buy the fucking regular black vinyl, because that’s the one that sounds the best. The second you add any color to your vinyl, you degrade the actual sound quality.
TK: As a hardcore vinyl fan, you’re preaching to the choir. I know that you’ve said previously about your albums that each one is its own form of therapy. What would you say you learned about yourself by working on the Exister album?
LV: My last Soft Moon album, Criminal, was me pissed off, being a drug addict in Berlin trying to intentionally kill myself. I was frustrated. And Exister was me thinking, ‘I can’t do this again. If I’m going to write another record, I have to go home and reconnect with my family.’ Exister is me being completely open, not trying to be the goth guy like I might have done on Deeper. No disrespect to Deeper, I love that album, it was a very successful album for me. But I don’t want to be the mysterious guy wearing all black or anything, and so with Exister it’s just me being myself, and like I said earlier, it’s the only way I’m going to die happy. And I decided that I’m going to be me, and I can’t die happy if other people try to market me as something I’m not. I need to be myself, and this record is crazy honest. Wait until you hear the opening track.
TK: “Sad Song?”
LV: You’ve heard it?
TK: No, I’ve only seen the track listing.
LV: When you go front-to-back on this record, it’s a confessional. It’s like, “Here’s everything that happened to me.” I’m not the kind of artist who tries to intentionally be cool. I’m not trying to make a certain type of song because I know it’ll make people dance or move in the club. And hopefully this music lives on forever. I never wanted to be any kind of overnight success with music that wasn’t substantial. I want my music to fucking live forever.
Watch the music video for the song “Him” featuring fish narc here