San Francisco-born Moon Duo released their third LP, Shadow of the Sun, earlier this week on Sacred Bones. And while the record, which I would characterize as “psych rock with an ‘80s post-punk edge,” has been receiving praise as their best yet, the comparisons it’s been getting are somewhat shockingly disparate. NPR alone cited parallels to Suicide, Spacemen 3, Jonathan Richman, Can, Modern Lovers, The Stooges, and even 45 Grave (Yeah, remember them and their one and only legitimate album, Sleep in Safety? If you don’t have it, remedying that is your homework for the weekend.) And while it’s a bit difficult to imagine these bands ever sharing a bill, if you consider yourself to be a fan of any two of them, Shadow of the Sun is something that I can nearly guarantee will satisfy. Moon Duo are currently on the road and will be playing Boot & Saddle this Tuesday, March 10th.
I recently got a chance to chat with Ripley Johnson, one-half of original, official, and founding members of Moon Duo (Sanae Yamada being the other half.) He tells me that he and Sanae approached the recording of Shadow of the Sun a little differently than their first two albums: “I think as far as the sound, we were playing with a lot more synthesizer and electronic devices, and we play with a drummer now. In the past we did everything with a machine, creating beats, and for this album we did half of the tracks with a drummer.” He also admits that the themes and tone of the work was slightly different, although he didn’t necessarily think it would be received as it has been: “I think I was getting really into dystopian fiction and going through a dark time in my life. I thought it would be a darker record. We actually worried it would be a little too dark, but some people say it’s our sunniest record… which is kind of surprising.” However, when I inquire about the critical feedback that the band has been receiving, Ripley admits that that’s something he’s happy to remain naïve of.
“I read little things here and there, but I don’t really read reviews because they tend to bum me out [laughs]. It’s hard if you have thin skin, and I think I have medium-thin skin. A wise person once said to me, ‘If you take the positive things seriously, you also have to take the negative things seriously,’ which I thought was really wise and has always stuck with me. But our friends have been telling us it’s our most accessible album, which I’m happy about.”
Moon Duo have been a band for a little over half a decade now, so I’m curious what have been the highlights of the band and Ripley says the biggest thing is the pride that he has in he and Sanae developing the band on the road for the past six years: “We’re most happy about the organic growth from us as a two-piece. In the beginning it was Sanae and I, in my Subaru van, and we’d do everything ourselves, playing the shows and selling the merch, and the fact that that was able to organically grow a fanbase through just going out and playing shows.” He also tells me that their label, Sacred Bones (which has served as home to PHILTHY favorites like Marissa Nadler, Psychic Ills, and Zola Jesus at some point), is something that he’s quite proud to be involved with: “Caleb [Braaten] has always been really cool and was the first person to release our first EP and they were a pretty small label at the time and they’ve gotten to be pretty big in that time, so that’s something that’s cool to be a part of.”
When I spoke to Ripley, Moon Duo were just a few shows into their current US tour, which goes to the end of this month, before segueing into a European trek that takes them through early May, but he tells me that it’s been going very well so far: “We started in Fargo, and it took us three days just to get there, so we’ve played there, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago – so we’re just four shows in – but they’ve been great, which is just amazing. Sometimes in smaller markets that you haven’t played a ton of times you don’t have a great turnout, but these shows have been really good.” He also tells me that Moon Duo as a live band are currently likely a little different than we’re used to: “We’ve played some shows in the US with a drummer, but this is our first tour with John Jeffrey, who’s our drummer, so as a live band it’s something new.” And when I finally ask him what’s next for Moon Duo, Ripley tells me that they’re currently focused on being on the road, but that new music is, indeed, also in the works: “We have a lot of touring scheduled for the whole year, a lot of things that haven’t been announced yet, but also hopefully recording a new record.”