By Sophia Abbey
I remember the first time I heard moonbell, early high school, sitting in my living room. I was at a stage where I desperately wanted to expand my musical horizons and I turned to softer more ambient and psychedelic sounds. My mother’s friend Lisa had come to town to visit, bursting with happiness about a music video she had made for a band she was involved in.
I couldn’t wrap my head around it, it was so strange, neither the image or the sound were clear. Lisa explained her inspiration for the video, a mother losing her daughter to the rapture. She continued to show me how she had made the video with clips from an internet archive. I was intrigued by the experimental nature of both the music and sound and felt the urge to explore it further. The concept of found footage in relation to this strange sound is reminiscent of Stan Brakhage films, with delirious cuts and blinding lights.
Sitting on the rug in my living room, hearing it coming out of the stereo my family had owned since I was five was all too familiar but so exceedingly foreign. I fell in love with the sounds, and the figurine e.p. remains one of my favorite recordings today.
I was pleasantly surprised when San Francisco experimental band moonbell agreed to an interview with me. Listening to their most recent album, afterlives, felt like going back to the beginning. The songs play as though I knew them by heart, even though I had never heard them before. moonbell employs heavy reverbs and spiraling vocals that take you down a dark hole into a different world.
What is one venue or city that you haven’t played yet but would like to?
That would have to be either Théâtre antique d’Orange (an ancient Roman theater in France; when I was a kid, I saw a video of The Cure playing there and thought it looked amazing, playing in those spooky ruins) or Gilman Street in Berkeley, CA (a small, iconic punk rock venue near our SF home; love the crazy energy of that place).
A lot of people describe your music as “shoegaze”. How do you feel about that label? Would you describe yourself as something else?
Ha ha. Hey, it’s pretty obvious that we’re influenced by those ’80s/’90s bands, but personally I’m more of a fret-gazer (looking at what I’m playing on a guitar neck) than a shoegazer! Got to say up front that people should be free to describe our music however they want… But if I’m not mistaken, that label was originally coined by music press as a derogatory term to criticize “boring” bands that starred at the mass of guitar pedals on the floor instead of putting on a proper rock show. The UK bands originally targeted with that label weren’t too thrilled with it, not surprisingly! I think it’s sort of funny that some people now embrace that label… Also, a common perspective is that there’s a glut of inane bands out there now that string together a bunch of guitar pedals, produce some noise devoid of soul and melody, and call themselves shoegaze. That’s definitely not something we want to be associated with. We realize we have to prove we’re actually something different, and that’s a big motivator. In terms of how we describe ourselves, we really try to avoid it. It’s more interesting to hear how other people respond to it. The choicest thing I read once is “one foot on the path laid down by Spacemen 3 and the Telescopes and the other foot firmly planted in Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd’s back garden.” That’s encouraging!
Who are your biggest influences?
Trish Keenan (Broadcast), Nick McCabe (Verve), The Chameleons. Kevin Shields (MBV), certainly. But even more so than people as musical influences, for me personally it’s being influenced by a certain feeling that you had and trying to capture/recreate that. You know how when you smell something, like a perfume that an old girlfriend used to wear for example, and suddenly you remember this really, really specific feeling/vibe that you had at that time (and that’s lost now)? That phenomenon is a huge influence on me, in terms of trying to create a sound that preserves some specific mood that you want to hold onto.
If you could go back in time to the figurine e.p., what advice would you give yourself?
Seize every opportunity you get because things are so fleeting, those opportunities rarely come back. Momentum is a fickle thing.
What was the first album you bought?
The first one that I bought myself was The English Beat – Special Beat Service.
What do you see for the future of moonbell?
I just hope that the lineup stays stable. 2013 was a tough year because we had some personnel changes in the middle of recording our new ‘afterlives’ lp. It’s so hard to get good when you have that going on, being disruptive. Now we have a really great lineup and it’s so encouraging to feel like you’re really progressing musically, in terms of playing live and producing new material. You just want to see that continue because it will open up a lot of possibilities.
Tell me about the best concert you’ve ever played.
Definitely not our best concert in terms of performance, but certainly in terms of hilariousness… We played a big house party a couple of years back in Portland, OR, with Grrl Friend and The Shivas (Gnar Tapes/Burger Records bands), and this girl got all crazy on acid or something. She stripped down, ran around, and then locked herself in the bathroom. The cops had to come and remove her from the premises, and they didn’t even stop the show! – they just took the girl out (classic Portland). We were oblivious to this whole thing while we were playing (or it might have happened later – not sure, it’s all a blur). To top it off, there were these little skater kids out front throwing beer bottles, smashing them on the front door because no one would let them in the party.
What does your ultimate break up playlist look like?
How about a playlist for your ultimate senior prom?
Maybe for a weird prom on another planet, but the ghost of John Hughes said I should include these songs…
John Maus & Molly Nilsson – Hey Moon (slow dance)
What 2014 album are you most looking forward to?
Is there an artist that you’d love to collaborate with?
Torn Hawk (Luke Wyatt) – that would be mind-bending.
Red chile or green chile?
Red, but Lisa (moonbell synth player) says Green
Stream and download the album from their bandcamp below, and download their two EPs (Figurine and Parallel) for free.