Moving Panoramas Talk Musical Therapy, Shoegaze, and What it’s Like to Be a Musician in Austin

Is it just me, or is it starting to sound more than the 1990s than the 1990s? Is this what it sounded like to be old enough to get...

Is it just me, or is it starting to sound more than the 1990s than the 1990s? Is this what it sounded like to be old enough to get into clubs in 1993?  Either way… I’m not complaining… If you’re a regular reader of the site, you’ll likely have noticed a profound plethora of artists that we think are taking inspiration from the likes of Kim Deal, Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, and many of the most brilliant stars of Lollapalooza’s second stage… Well, I hope that Austin, Texas trio, Moving Panoramas, won’t be offended if I welcome them into that club…

The self-professed Dream Gaze band began when vocalist/guitarist Leslie Sisson moved back to Texas from Brooklyn to be closer with her then-band, The Wooden Birds.  During the day she took up a gig teaching at the School of Rock, where she met up with bassist Rozie Castoe, whom she’d previously worked with.  She then got reacquainted with drummer Karen Skloss (a peer from grad school) while temporarily playing in her then-band, Black Forest Fire. As those musical projects began to dissolve, the three decided to combine their efforts for something new and Moving Panoramas was born.  The band’s debut LP, One, is out this Friday, October 2nd, courtesy of Modern Outsider.  And while the album does boast nods to dream pop, shoegaze, and ‘90s alt rock, there’s also an element reminiscent of the psych-rock-tinged post-punk of the early ‘80s, in addition to a melancholy brand of twee.  I recently got a chance to chat with Leslie, who gave me the history of the band.

(For those in Texas, the girls have a handful of upcoming October dates, which can be found here.)

Izzy Cihak: So you’re about to release your debut LP, One, but you’ve been playing together for a while now.  What have been the early highlights of the band so far?

Leslie Sisson: We’ve been playing out for about a year and a half but we started working on the record just shy of two years ago. We’re really grateful for all the Austin love we’ve gotten lately and have played some great local and regional shows. Our fave moments so far have been playing Levitation presents shows (aka Austin Psych Fest presents), shooting our music video for “One,” featuring our very talented friend, Josh T. Pearson, getting our story featured on the cover of the Austin Chronicle, and being featured as Artist of the Month by 98.9 KUTX, who gave us Song of the Day back in March, during SXSW, and have kept us in their rotation ever since.

Izzy: And how would you characterize your process of writing and recording together?  Do you think there’s anything especially important for fans and potential fans to know about you, whether relating to how you work or just your aim as artists?  Or is it all in the music?

Leslie: Well, for this record, it all began with me showing Rozie, the bassist, a few tunes I’d written in an effort to mentor her in the songwriting process. We met when she was a student at School of Rock, where I was teaching, but songwriting wasn’t something they typically taught there. Then I called upon a former bandmate, Karen Skloss, to join in on drums and took the songs into the studio to show Rozie the recording process with my friend Louie Lino at Resonate Music in Austin, who recorded my solo record. Then we played some shows. Then I wrote more songs. Then before we knew it, we had an LP. This project turned out to be way more than we’d all imagined, in a great way. It’s great when the cards fall in pleasantly surprising places.

I’d love for the music to speak for itself, but it might be helpful for those listening to know that this record came from a very deep and sometimes dark place. Each song is a direct result of my personal musical therapy journey, i.e. writing music as an emotional outlet during very rough and traumatic times. I’m sure most musicians can attest to this. The story behind the trauma is a heavy one, but if listeners can find an ounce of hope in knowing that something good came out of something bad, that’s what it’s all about.

Izzy: What would you consider to be the most significant influences behind One, whether musical or otherwise?

Leslie: Musically, I was super inspired by most of the bands at the past few Levitation/Psych Fests in Austin. While playing with our drummer Karen in her former band, Black Forest Fire, it was digging up the 90’s dreamy shoegaze roots that I fell for during my early days of songwriting, which made me want to expand my sound. Outside of music, a lot of the songs on this record were written while I was struggling to heal after multiple traumatic events. Writing music helps me get through some of my roughest times, so this record is a direct result of that healing process.

Izzy: “Magic” is one of my favorite songs I’ve heard in a really long time. It reminds me of Liz Phair at her best, both sonically and sentimentally (Hopefully that’s not insulting… she’s my favorite “singer/songwriter” of all-time… including Lou Reed.)  How did that particular track come about and develop?

Leslie: Oh, thank you so much. That’s not insulting at all and is a great compliment. I dig Liz Phair and am flattered to be compared to her. Exile in Guyville was definitely in my rotation when I was learning to play guitar. I liked the cool, dark simplicity of her songwriting and her voice was unique and real. Now that you mention it, I can see how “Magic” might find its way into the ears of Liz Phair fans and that is super rad to think about.

“Magic” was one of my first tunes to make its way to the light from the darkness. It’s about being with someone but knowing you’re not right for them. Maybe they’re right for you, maybe not, but you know in your heart you’re not their magic one, nor have the power, i.e. magic wand, to make it work. There’s more to the story than this, but in short, when going through something traumatic with a romantic partner, it’s not always easy to stay together. You want to stay together because you shared something unique, but you know the relationship will never be the same. That’s my personal story behind this tune, but I’m sure in its simplicity, we can all relate to being somewhere we know in our hearts might not be right.

Izzy: You blend a lot of really cool genres/movements from lo-fi 90’s alt rock to dream pop and fuzzy psychedelics, so I’m curious, are there any contemporary artists you’re especially into or inspired by?  You’ve actually worked with, in some facet or another, a lot of my favorite artists of recent history, from Mark Gardener to …Trail of Dead and Sons and Daughters.  I even saw that you and Kimmy from Beach Day “follow” each other on Twitter and she’s totally my favorite person in all of music.

Leslie: There are a ton of contemporary artists that helped inspire this record. When I was writing these songs, a Brooklyn band called Caveman made its way into my iTunes thanks to Karen’s Spotify and it was on constant rotation. After hearing some early tracks from our record, my Brooklyn neighbor Matthew Caws recommended Wild Nothing, which was also playing nonstop. Former bandmate Matt Pond turned me onto Melody’s Echo Chamber, who swooned their way into my headphones daily on the subway. I couldn’t stop playing Generationals after hearing them on KUTX in Austin. I caught Steve Gunn at Austin Psych Fest and saw him again in Brooklyn and felt like I found a living Nick Drake, also a huge influence. I also find myself constantly inspired by the local Austin artists who are killing it, like The Black Angels, Holy Wave, Ringo Deathstarr, Telepods, Sweet Spirit, John Wesley Coleman, the list goes on and on.

Yes, I’m always inspired by friends’ music who I’ve toured with, like Sons and Daughters and Trail of Dead. Ride is one of my fave bands, so working with Mark Gardener was a dream, he’s the sweetest heart in music. It’s inevitable something will seep in from playing with and/or being on the road night after night with bands. Even only playing a few dates with Broken Social Scene, their music has been perfectly embedded enough for an inadvertent homage. And Kimmy is a dear! We played with Beach Day in Austin when they came through on tour and she and I were instant pals, I adore her and them.

Izzy: You have a handful of upcoming Texas dates.  What can be expected of the live experience of Moving Panoramas?

Leslie: The live set has become somewhat louder and crunchier than the recording but we’re pretty much a no frills live band. What you see is what you get. You won’t see us pretending to be something we’re not, nor will you see much on-stage antics, nor really even contrived outfits unless it’s an accident. However, although we have some gaze in us, we also won’t stand there motionless and stare at our shoes. We’re somewhere in-between all that, maybe some shimmy, maybe some eye contact, mainly focused on our sound and being real. We all come from mellow places so we’ll give you more heart than hair, and hopefully a few awkward laughs if the sound engineer remembers to turn the reverb down between songs. We’re still on the fence about shooting lightning bolts into the air, though, TBD.

Izzy: And what’s next for Moving Panoramas.  What are you most excited for, in addition to the release of your album?  Any chance of a tour, or possibly getting to see you here on the East Coast?

Leslie: I’ve been working hard at getting us up east, or anywhere outside of Texas. We really want to tour and are ready to hit the road, but seem to be having difficulty executing that part at the moment. We don’t have a booking agent yet, which is our missing puzzle piece, so hopefully that’ll work itself out at some point. We’re mostly reaching out to bands who we hope might welcome us on tour as support. We were hoping for a fall tour right after the release, but nothing has seemed to pan out for fall yet, so crossing our fingers for spring. Feels a bit like treading water at the moment. None of us want to take on full-time work because we’ve been trying to keep our schedules open, but looks like we might have to hanker down for the holidays to save money so we can try again for spring. Always open to suggestions, aside from us booking our own tour, which I’ve done before with my solo project and it was a little too bank-breaking to try again just yet. Everything has happened organically with this band, so we’ll just keep riding that wave patiently and hope for the best. Hope to see you soon.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.