After a big splash into the world with their self-titled debut and its lead single “Loveless”, Los Angeles’s Lo Moon found themselves on the road opening for bands like The War on Drugs and CHVRCHES, and putting on their own headlining dates in between. These experiences turned what lead singer Matt Lowell once dubbed a “strictly studio band” into a band finding themselves more and more with every gig played and every fan won over. Driven by a cinematic quality that recalls the best of bands like Talk Talk and XTC, Lo Moon is making world-building, anthemic music that is easy to get lost within.
The band’s sophomore album, A Modern Life, is another extension of their sound, but they haven’t made Lo Moon part two. These songs are leaner with a focus on stick-in-your-head hooks and an exploration of the fringes of their sonic palette that makes it an incredibly rewarding headphone listen. It’s a striking album that sees the band fully embrace the wide-screen vision that they strive for — songs like “Raincoats” and “Expectataions” burn with a driving intensity that begs for these songs to be heard live in the same way that their first album took over our ears in 2017. A few weeks before A Modern Life’s release, I spoke with Lowell about the journey of making A Modern Life and why he considers hope to be a crucial piece of the Lo Moon puzzle:
I think the last time we talked, you’d played my hometown of Birmingham three times in one year.
Dude, I think it might’ve been four, with three of them at the same venue — we opened for CHVRCHES, The War on Drugs, and Glass Animals all at the same place. I remember when we pulled up for the Glass Animals show and there was, like, a SWAT team there because of a bomb threat (laughs). I remember thinking how weird that would be in Birmingham, Alabama.
The biggest takeaway for me on this new record is that it feels like you’ve expanded the scope of what you’re doing with instrumentation and production, but in a way, you’re simultaneously paring it down. There are no seven-minute songs like “Loveless” on this album, and it’s a pretty lean forty-minute record. Was that an intentional decision on your part?
You know, I don’t think we were intentional about making it a shorter album. We did have the intention of making it more direct in a number of ways — I wanted the lyrics to be more poignant and direct with the listener. I also think that the headspace we were in with the band was that of “can we make this a full-band record?” With the first record, we made it without ever playing a show — these songs were borne out of more-alive energy, and as a result, it made the songwriting tighter. I think I made a decision to focus on the songwriting in a way that was more poignant and more direct but without sacrificing the heart of these songs. With that, we were able to really dive into sonics and where we could push ourselves as a band. That’s not to say that, live, we can’t stretch it out (laughs). There’s more space in these songs to really explore it live, which I think is going to be incredibly interesting; a song like “Raincoats” has no real ending point.
The last record carried heavy influence from bands like Talk Talk — were there any touchstones for this record that carried over in a similar way?
It was different this time around because we had so much experience touring with incredible bands that really gave us insight to where we wanted to go. I think touring with The War on Drugs was an incredibly formative experience — just watching them move crowds every night in their special way was enlightening. Sam and I also really got into Achtung Baby, and specifically, the interaction between man and machine on that record was inspirational for how we approached this record in the studio. The way U2 was exploring sounds and dynamic range was something I kept coming back to in the recording process.
That’s a great opportunity to talk about my favorite song on the record (laughs). I hate to be the guy that picks the lead single as his favorite song, but man, “Raincoats” is insane. I’d love to hear about how that song was created.
That song is really interesting, man, because the writing process was truly spontaneous. We were working on something completely different — I think it was the song “Stop”, actually — and the engineer for the track brought in some plugins for my vocal. I just started singing that opening melody of the song, and the band just listened and slowly began to jump in. It started almost as a tone poem with no words, but just a melody that was guiding us to where the song wanted to be. We built the back half of the song — to be completely honest, I don’t remember how we got there (laughs). It was just something in the room that really caught fire and brought that song to life. It was crafted in such a unique way, and I think it’s a unique song because of that.
The very interesting part about a song like that is when you realize that the song has a feeling, but you don’t really know what the feeling is. I realized later, at the time, that I was reading Kurt Andersen’s book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire and was dwelling on all of the feelings of tracing back 500 years of America. I had the line “under raincoats”, and felt like it was a metaphor for this book — you have no idea what the shape of history is going to take, and obviously the past four years have been really heavy. This was not a pandemic-era song; it was a Trump-era song. So it just felt like we were reacting, as a band, to this lament.
What would you say is the theme of the album, being as you took on this more poignant direction?
I think I was really focusing on this feeling of survival. We’re thrown so many things on a daily basis, and I think trying to find hope and staying hopeful through modern life is quite difficult. There were moments where I was feeling extremely nostalgic, like on “Dream Never Dies”, where you’re reflecting on youth and that period of time where your anxieties are just lower. You get older and you get more anxious, asking yourself things like “Am I going to live up to my own expectations of myself?”, and I would have never asked those questions when I started out as a songwriter. Those questions conjure up very emotional feelings, and I think understanding that gave me an anchor to construct this album around.
It’s funny, my outline here has in all-caps “EXISTENTIAL DREAD”, because I feel like that comes through on a lot of the album. I do think that there’s a decent amount of hope here, though — “Dream Never Dies” is a good example, but I think that you have a good counterbalance to the weight of modern life.
Yeah, I just wonder — I know what an “existential dread record” sounds like, and I can’t help but think about how much I’d want to listen to that. (laughs) I think that hope is a crucial part of the Lo Moon sound; it creates the wash that can be overwhelming at times, and that’s when I think we’re at our best. I think it’s the sound of hope, and I think I’m always exploring that. As dreadful as things can get, I like to remain hopeful the best that I can.