Formed in 2009 by Eric ‘Ripley” Johnson and Sanae Yamada, San Francisco based band, Moon Duo are a music revelation. Reminiscent of bands like King Gizzard, Silver Apples and Suicide, their sound is completely dreamy – with spellbinding soundscapes and wistful overtones of synth pop. And their recent album “Occult Architecture” is a testament to their hypnotic blend of trance-inducing, neo- psychedelia.
It’s no wonder they were announced as one of the headlining acts along with US band, The Oh Sees for the Endless Daze music festival. Hosted by Psych night and Vans, the festival takes place from the 3rd – 5th of November in Cape Town. Yes, sadly only in Cape Town. Sigh. But we managed to catch up with Ripley Johnson for a little Q & A session.
Navina: Firstly, a warm welcome from The Grind Radio. We can’t wait to have you visit our shores! Are there any tourist attractions you’re most excited to see when you get here?
Ripley: Usually, we just ask locals and see what they recommend. For us, seeing some of the natural beauty is always high on the list. Table Mountain maybe. Beaches for sure. And we’ll see what people recommend for galleries, music venues, record store, etc… I’m a bad tourist. I usually just like to walk around different neighborhoods and pick up the vibe.
N: Your recent two-part release “Occult Architecture Vol 1 & 2” is a thematic representation of the Chinese “Yin and Yang” principle. Contrasting light and dark. What inspired you to explore this idea of duality on your new album?
R: It came about quite naturally. We started out specifically wanting to do a dark record. We were working in the winter here in Portland, which is a dark, sometimes gloomy, stretch of the year. We ended up with additional material that was lighter in tone, and I think we just needed an antidote to that darkness. So it was a natural companion volume.
N: What have been your favourite albums of 2017 so far?
R: Let me flip through our stack here. From 2017: Six Organs of Admittance – Burning the Threshold, Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage, Carlton Melton – Hidden Lights, Bitchin Bajas – Bajas Fresh, Circuit des Yeux – Reaching For Indigo, The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane comp on Luaka Bop, the Space, Energy & Light comp on Soul Jazz, Richard Horowitz – Eros In Arabia reissue. And I guess they came out last year, but I can’t get enough of the Jackie Lynn LP and Michael Turtle’s Phantoms of Dreamland.
N: That is a plethora of music to work through – thank you! What have been some of the strangest things that happened to you guys on tour?
R: Oh, tour is so boring most of the time. That’s what is so strange! That said, the people are the strangest, us and them.
N: Your sound is often described as “Krautrock”. How would you define “Krautrock” and what sonic elements would qualify as “Krautrock”?
R: I don’t like the term “Krautrock” as a sonic descriptor because it doesn’t really specify anything. I usually define it as “progressive German music from the 70’s”. But some of my favorite “Krautrock” bands don’t sound like each other. German Oak, Ash Ra Tempel, Kraftwerk, and Cluster, really sound nothing like each other. That said, there really was such an amazing array of adventurous music made in Germany in the 70’s. It’s mind-boggling and inspirational. So I guess there are those elements: adventurous, mind-boggling, inspirational.
N: Which artist/band is your secret shame?
R: I have no shame. I like that Cranberries song “Zombie”, which I guess annoys a lot of people, especially our Irish tour manager.
N: Describe your songwriting process. Do you guys compose the music first and then write the lyrics or vice versa?
R: I often start with beats or groove, then chord changes, melodies, lyrics. Something like that. Usually I hear most of it in my head. I make quick demos to capture the feel, then give it to Sanae so she can think about the keyboard and synth parts.
N: Do you guys have any weird talents you’re proud of?
R: I’m pretty good at troubleshooting computer problems. That was my job for a while. I enjoy solving technical problems. Not that weird. Sanae remembers everything, which is handy because I forget most things.
N: You’ve worked with sound engineer, Jonas Verwijnen since 2011. He also mixed your recent album release. Do you feel that Jonas always captures the essence of your sound?
R: It’s a good collaboration. He has really specific technical skills that we value, but we need to be there to make sure he doesn’t stray off course. We’re very particular about mixes and details, so the process is a bit of a struggle. Also, he has a Berlin perspective, and we’re West Coast, so it keeps things interesting, the push-pull.
N: Lastly, if a Moon Duo biopic had to ever come to fruition, who would you cast to play you?
R: Tim and Eric.
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