Looking at Deeper as an attempt to exorcise some persistent demons, there’s some question as to how successful the process proved to be. As a piece of art, the Soft Moon’s third album is devastating, all dark hues and lyrics that read like one man’s frantic attempt to make sense of the world around him.
Luis Vasquez confirms he was determined to work on some issues when he began mapping out the release, which was recorded over the space of a year in Europe. Step one was relocating to Venice, Italy, where the man who writes as the Soft Moon didn’t know anyone. His thinking was that would allow him to be alone with his thoughts.
“It’s a pretty emotional album for me, and probably one of the most personal as well,” the forthcoming musician says, on the line from a Detroit tour stop. “So it was tough, and that’s why it took a year—normally, I would write an album in six months. Because this was so torturous, the process took longer.”
While Vasquez might have been tortured, he was also reflective, that being a marked difference from the Soft Moon’s 2012 release, Zeros, where he was simply angry.
Speaking with no sense of self-pity, he says: “I was just sad. I was really alone, but what’s interesting is that I put myself in that position. To be alone was the whole point. I wanted there to be a struggle, because I feel like I can’t enjoy something or accomplish anything without a fight.”
And that fight was something he was totally committed to undertaking.
“I was trying to heal myself—to try and get rid of the chaos that’s in my mind,” he reveals. “I know that I have to face it first in order to win.”
In a perfect world, Deeper—which is loaded with such lines as “Take me far away to escape myself/I was born to suffer”—would have led to a complete purging. But Vasquez knows the world isn’t perfect. His personal traumas can be traced back to a childhood that was less than idyllic. In an interview with the Straight three years ago, he recalled his younger years: “I actually don’t remember much of my childhood. It’s like I’ve blocked it out. I do remember that there was a lot of violence at home—blood and violence. And, as a kid, I was picked on and called names.”
That upbringing led him to seek refuge in music. Before the Soft Moon there were punk, indie, and jazz bands. There was also an early, aborted dalliance with beatmaking in the late ’90s.
The Soft Moon—which is a solo project when he’s in the studio, and a full band when Vasquez plays live—is where everything has come together. Still, when asked where he’s at today in the healing process, he suggests that in many ways nothing has changed.
“I think I’m starting to realize that I’m a masochist in some sense—I’m obsessed with feeling pain, and that’s what it all comes down to,” he says with a wry laugh. “Maybe I’ll never find that inner peace. And maybe this is what makes me feel peaceful—the pain.”
But what beautiful pain it is. Deeper begins with the wastelands-at-dawn soundscape “Inward”, after which things come scarily alive with the pneumatic, whispered nightmare “Black”. Backed by metal-machine beats and space-phaser synth bursts, Vasquez spends “Wrong” looking into the void with lines like “I’m in control of my existence/This pain I feel inside won’t die.” Rubbery bass and vintage synths take “Feel” down an ’80s rabbit hole, with the Soft Moon’s main man asking, “Why are we alive?/Why are we alive?/Why are we alive?”
It’s no accident that Deeper closes with “Being”, a pretty-hate-machine rager that has him repeating, mantralike: “I can’t see my face/I don’t know who I am/What is this place?”
“The lack of closure is the reason for that being at the end of the record,” Vasquez offers. “There’s a lot of white noise and lyrics that are basically just questions which leave you with nothing. There are no answers.”
That said, one gets the sense that, even if he’s not aware of it, plenty of good came out of Deeper, which Vasquez originally intended to write with his live backing band, but instead chose to work on alone. As the songs began to come in his rented apartment, he hooked up with producer Maurizio Baggio, who runs the charmingly named Hate Studio in the hills an hour outside of Venice.
“Once a month I would schedule a week with Maurizio Baggio,” Vasquez says. “I’d stay with him, work on the songs, and then elaborate on the material. What was interesting was that I’d say something like ‘I want this to feel more aggressive,’ and he knew exactly what I meant. It wasn’t like ‘Turn up the snare.’ It was more like ‘I want this song to feel a certain way.’ It ended up being a really cool dynamic.”
That dynamic has made Deeper one of the year’s must-have records. And in some larger picture, it probably also helped Vasquez see that, as much as he enjoys the pain, there’s also something more to life.
“I’m a little bit better,” he cautiously allows. “Coming out of it, I feel a little more confident in my everyday life situation. I’m kind of accepting myself a little bit more. And that’s a good thing—a really optimistic thing for me.”
The Soft Moon plays Electric Owl on Saturday (April 25).