Nothing builds character like a little adversity, which explains why Lo Moon’s Matt Lowell learned far more about life while struggling in Los Angeles than he did studying at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music.
“When I first moved to L.A., I really felt that things were going to take off,” the singer-guitarist says from a tour van headed to Minneapolis. “Then a record deal fell apart and I spent a year in the sort of opposite headspace, going back to basics and writing more songs. That was really daunting, to go from ‘This is going to happen’ to having it not happen, and having to spend a year figuring things out. But that was the best year ever—more informative than my years at Berklee, and definitely more beneficial. After that year, ‘Loveless’ was completed and everything suddenly started to make more sense.”
First put up on streaming services, where it promptly exploded, “Loveless” is where things finally jelled for Lowell, who had played in bands since his teens on the East Coast. Having finally gotten noticed after years of trying to build a career, the singer was careful not to rush into things. Instead of quickly shooting a video and then heading back into the studio for a follow-up single, he maintained a low profile, honing Lo Moon’s lush and romantic, synth-heavy sound with his bandmates, Crisanta Baker and Sam Stewart. That made the trio something of a novelty in these instant-online-gratification times: a band with a sense of mystery.
“Multiple times with ‘Loveless’, I found myself thinking, ‘Maybe we really are onto something and people are really into this,’ ” Lowell says. “But even when the song was finally mixed and mastered, I didn’t know that it would be special to other people, even though I knew it was special to me and the band.”
After hitting the road as an opener for the likes of the Temper Trap, Lo Moon eventually decamped to Seattle, where, working with former Death Cab for Cutie guitarist turned producer Chris Walla, the trio recorded its eponymous full-length.
The album’s 10 grandly ambitious and beautifully textured tracks are marked by epic, reverb-bathed drum fills, drifting synths, and Lowell’s soul-injected vocals. Lo Moon clearly had a vision for the album, and Walla helped it to arrive at a sound that nods to the neon-saturated ’80s without ever sounding derivatively retro. Yes, it’s possible to love Phil Collins, Talk Talk, and blue-eyed soul and still create something original.
“We tried doing the songs so many different ways, and eventually you come across something that you kind of trust,” Lowell says. “It was all about trying out different drum grooves, different guitar parts and synth sounds. It was a matter of us getting used to playing with each other as a band, everyone finding their own role. It was also really important to have the record sound like it was based on human emotions—to go with our first impulses.”
That wasn’t the only lesson Lowell learned during his year of reflection in Los Angeles. Pay attention to the lyrics on Lo Moon and you’ll notice that love is a theme that surfaces repeatedly in the songs, sometimes in a positive way, and sometimes in a way that suggests getting out of bed is hard even when the sun is shining. That’s not an accident. What they probably don’t teach at Berklee is that sometimes you have to work through the darkness to get to a better place.
“I’d gone through a pretty shitty relationship in New York right before I moved to L.A.,” Lowell says. “My world-view shifted and I ended up writing about the past relationship that I’d had. That view changed again as I moved through the record, which ended up being written over six years. Everything, including falling in and out of love, is all in there.”
Lo Moon plays the Cobalt on Sunday (April 15).