“I never intended for this to even get to where it’s at now,” says Luis Vasquez, discussing his band The Soft Moon, a post-punk outfit of which he is essentially the nucleus, playing the role of frontman, sole songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and visionary. “The first album is pretty much just made up of loner songs that were never intended to surface,” he says.
The Soft Moon’s stellar second full-length album Zeros was released on Halloween. The Soft Moon is essentially the audial manifestation of Vasquez’s own nucleus. “I let my subconscious guide me in terms of writing, just letting whatever happens, happen naturally. I tend to keep it basic and primal,” he says.
Primal is perhaps the perfect word to describe the aesthetic quality and feeling of The Soft Moon’s creations. If Vasquez’s debut LP The Soft Moon evoked primal human nature and its relationship with sound through dark, noise-driven beats, creeping synthesizers and buried, whispering vocals broken with primal yelps, then Zeros is a wonderfully complimentary follow-up album, going both deeper and further than before.
Zeros, released via Captured Tracks, invites listeners into Vasquez’s mind, and in doing so reveals a microscopic lens on our own natural impulses. “I have this obsession with biology, with the human body,” says Vasquez, “I’m really intrigued by it but it also freaks me out.”
One prevalent example of experimenting with his own body and evoking a primal tone is his use of heavy breathing and mantra-like, buried vocals. “I have a hard time with verbal communication and I think that translates in the music,” Vasquez says. “There’s frustration in the vocals because aesthetically they’re meant to sound like they’re held back. The breathing and the moaning and screams and yelps for me are just very biological, representing my human body and my curiosity.”
Complimenting his obsession with the body, Vasquez also cites the idea of the apocalypse as a strong concept in Zeros. In a sense, the album is about how humans might respond to the end of the world.
The album begins with the end. The first track, “It Ends,” is a strong and loud industrial song called that Vasquez says “represents the world ending sonically.” The following heavy breathing “is meant to represent me going out of consciousness and into my internal world.”
His internal world contains tracks like “Machines,” which Vasquez imagines to be played at “an end of the world basement club at 4am.” The title track “Zeros” carries a slightly more optimistic tone, with the kind of synth that fits well in soundtracks to dark 80s high school dramas like Heathers or The Breakfast Club. However, the only vocal presence in the song is Vasquez’s repetition of the word “fall” over and over. “It represents the decline of the world. My music is about my decline and my biology and the apocalypse.”
These tracks are intricately crafted with layerof accent sounds, buried lyrics and sighs, spider-web synth that creeps in and out among constant heartbeats of percussion and deep, strong bass lines.
Like The Soft Moon’s debut LP, when listening to Zeros, it’s not hard to find similarities to early goth bands like Bauhaus and Joy Division, though the band is far from retro; Vasquez says that the band’s resemblance to post-punk and goth music is completely organic.
“I never listened to goth music growing up,” he says. “The farthest I got into goth was probably The Cure. If my music comes off as dark it’s because my thoughts are filled with anxiety. I didn’t have the best upbringing so I think my childhood kind of plays into that. My thoughts and emotions are dark.”
Funny, because Vasquez comes off as really optimistic and friendly in person, with a genuine eagerness in his voice. When I ran into him in February after The Soft Moon’s show at The New Parish in Oakland, Vasquez was a little sweaty and out of breath, but he was all smiles, open to talking for a minute and letting me take his picture, though when I bring this up he laughs, “I was a wreck that day. Hopefully the show was okay.”
Describing that show as “okay” would be a total understatement. Part of the impressive impact of the show came from the visuals, an overwhelming swirling of black and white spirals, starkly contrasted growing geometric shapes illuminated in flashes of light, all of which are a huge factor in creating the full-sensory experience that Vasquez strives for in his live shows.
As for the visuals on the upcoming tour for Zeros, he is working something new. “I want to tie in the zeros concept. I want to evolve it to color. We do this thing when we play live, we switch to red for the encore. Maybe you’ll see more of that in the future.”
The visuals of The Soft Moon’s live shows are not the only thing that’s evolved in the creation Zeros. The entire album was written during the daytime, between days of touring on the road, as opposed to the previous album which Vasquez wrote late at night and early morning. This album was also the first Vasquez has recorded in a studio, at Roominator Audio in San Francisco.
“At first I was very hesitant to take my project to a studio,” he says. “It’s like taking your baby to a babysitter.” Vasquez also says that his time in the studio lent to his increased experimentation on the new album.
Still, Vasquez says that when creating music, he needs to be isolated. “I tend to run across the street and grab a six pack and drink and feel the buzz and then work on my music, all alonem,” he says. He purposely avoids being exposed to any other music when he’s writing and recording.
“Sometimes when I’m in a car and the radio is on, I’ll turn it off,” Vasquez says. “I’m influenced too much, I’m like a sponge. If I’m working on a song and I have a concept in my head about that song, and I listen to something else that’s completely different, it will kind of throw me off.”
When he’s not on tour, Vasquez can sometimes be found roaming shows at the Independent, Cafe du Nord, and Rickshaw Stop, and cites Radio Habana in the Mission District as one of his favorite bars. “It’s a tiny little bar owned by this little old Cuban guy. He has all these dolls with dragon heads—it’s pretty wild and cool.” Vasquez also has a resident DJ night at Bar 355 in Oakland on the second Thursday of every month, where he plays post-punk, new wave and kraut rock.
If in the debut album Vasquez allowed The Soft Moon to step out of his bedroom in Oakland and into the open night on stages around the world, then Zeros is the band’s rising sun. The album is pure post-punk magic, orthodox in style without ever verging on the edge of imitation, making it a perfect album for anyone who craves a modern twist on classic goth.
The Soft Moon performs at The New Parish in Oakland on December 14th and at Mezzanine on December 15th.