HUSBAND-AND-WIFE TEAM AIM FOR THE COSMOS WITH STREAMLINED SPACE-ROCK.
For any fan of proper, reach-for-the-stars space-rock, Moon Duo are the dream ticket. The husband-and-wife team of guitarist Erik “Ripley” Johnson and synth-player Sanae Yamada have been together since 2009, initially as a parallel project to Johnson’s more straight-ahead, two-guitars psychedelic combo, Wooden Shjips. After the couple relocated from San Francisco to Colorado (briefly), then to the rural environs of Portland, Oregon, convening Shjips became increasingly problematic, so Moon Duo took flight. This year, they’ve fired off not one, but two fabulously cosmic LPs, which encapsulate their tuneful and utilitarian slant on trance-inducing psych-rock. Called Occult Architecture Vol. 1 & 2, these records’ crystalline grooves arrive swathed in sleek modernist artwork, alongside explanatory notions of each disc representing one side of the yin-yang duality – the first signifying the dark, the second journeying into the light. “The dark one isn’t all about doom and gloom,” grins Johnson, before a gig in sunny Brighton. “Some of the songs are kinda poppy. It’s not necessarily downbeat.” “We think of it more in terms of the internal, and enclosed spaces,” adds Yamada. “The darkness you have in a room, or the darkness of silence, versus the light as more outward-reaching, expanding and seeking.” In person, Johnson and Yamada are not the commune-dwelling stoners one might imagine: they’re amenable, coherent, thoughtful. Their vision of binary opposites took shape as they acclimatised to Oregon. “All of a sudden, you’re living in a place that has very distinct seasons,” Johnson enthuses. Yamada talks of “a natural drama unfolding around you the whole time – a real true summer, where it’s super-hot for three months straight and never rains.” “Then you get the long dark winter,” Johnson continues, “where you hike in these mossy woods, but mostly hibernate indoors. But that’s cool: we bunker down in our basement and get creative.” Such clear-cut meteorology will sound idyllic to British ears, and Moon Duo’s music is an equally perfect assembly of influences. “When I first proposed the idea of a band to Sanae,” Johnson recalls, “I was like, ‘It’ll be like [ synth-punks] Suicide, but with guitar’. That’s how influences work: you take something, and push it further.” They soon launched off towards pulsating fusions of FX’d guitar and shimmering synths, scrubbed up with a contemporary sheen. The “occult” part of the LPs’ titles refers to their belief in music as “an unexplainable force”, the “architecture” to their layering of sound. With a new light show and touring drummer, meanwhile, their gigs are a son-et-lumière revelation. “This band is really easy,” Johnson contentedly summarises. “We like being together, and we’re together all the time.” Sonically speaking, too, it’s a marriage made in heaven.
“IN THE LONG, DARK WINTER WE BUNKER DOWN AND GET CREATIVE.” ERIK JOHNSON
Lunar landings: happy couple Erik “Ripley” Johnson and Sanae Yamada step into the light.