Local Artist Spotlight: Moon Duo

Local Artist Spotlight, Bumbershoot, Local Music
Dusty Henry
Photo by Alan Lawrence

Every week, KEXP features a new local artist with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. This week, we feature Portland psych outfit Moon Duo, who play Bumbershoot this Friday at 6:40 PM on the KEXP stage.


It's easy to get lost in Moon Duo's music. The formerly San Francisco-now-Portland act creates some of the most vivid and expansive psych rock around and has been keeping it up without losing steam for eight years. As a part of the Sacred Bones Records roster, they've continued to push listeners into the unknown while also forcing fans to look inward as well. We caught up with keyboardist Sanae Yamada about the band's move to the Northwest, exploring themes of duality, and their sonic evolution over the years.

Moon Duo was originally based out of San Francisco, but now it sounds like you’re operating out of Portland. What prompted the change? How have you taken to the Portland scene and how does it differ from other places you’ve lived and worked in?

We left San Francisco when we decided to try to be full-time musicians -- we couldn't afford to live there. We toured really hard for a couple of years and spent downtime in Blue River, Colorado, up in the mountains, and we moved to Portland in 2012. We'd both felt a long-time attraction to this city. I really like it here, though it's taken a while to find our way in because we keep leaving for long stretches of time. I don't think I have the credentials to report on the scene as such, but from what I've experienced it seems really vibrant, active, and supportive. There are some killer local bands.

Earlier this year you released the mammoth two-part Occult Architecture. When did you first start working on this project? Did you go into it with the intention of making something so large in scale or did it just happen that way naturally?

The first seeds of Occult Architecture were planted in August of 2015. Ripley [Johnson, guitarist] made some initial demos of about four songs, and we started building from there. Six months later, when we did the first recording session, we had a lot of material and a sense that the project was going to be more than one record, but it wasn't something we intended from the outset.

You’ve mentioned before that Occult Architecture draws inspiration from the Chinese theory of Yin and Yang, as well as the light and darkness of the seasons in the Northwest. What made you want to explore these ideas?

Well, in many ways the shape of our lives mirrors and embodies those ideas. There are the basic, internal dualities that just come with being human, and there is the human-encompassing context of diurnal and seasonal cyclicality. But beyond that we are a pair with each other, and through that pairing we live a fairly dualistic lifestyle: we shift between the touring phase, which is very expansive, high-energy, and outward looking, and the writing/recording phase when we spend a lot of time at home and things get pretty introverted, slower, and more reflective. The phases are opposite in nature, but they balance and feed each other as parts of a larger whole. Those are kind of surface examples, but I think experience has pushed us toward a lot of contemplation about balance, specifically the balance and coherence of dual entities and the ways in which they relate to and define each other.

You also just recently released an expanded edition of your Killing Time EP for Sacred Bones’ 10th anniversary. Going back through these old recordings, did it give you any perspective on the music you’re making now? Are there any stories behind the new songs you decided to include?

Haha. It was really fun to go back through our earliest recordings. We picked the extras for Killing Time just based on what seemed to go best with the rest of the songs on the EP, but I hadn't heard most of that stuff in years. I love how lo-fi it sounds compared to what we do now. It was grounding to hear it. I remember "Bopper's Hat" started out as an improvisational jam in our flat in San Francisco. Our place was at the top of a flight of stairs, and I was playing keys on the landing of the stairs while Ripley played guitar in the bedroom so we couldn't see each other, we had to respond to the sounds from the other person's realm. I think we might have had some kind of low-grade disguises on and were just kind of freaking out. We had set up a camera on each of us, and in the footage, you can see our late dog's head popping in and out of both frames trying to figure out what we were up to. Later we organized it a bit more and released it a split single with Bitchin' Bajas, and that's the version on the record.

One of the most thrilling things about listening to a new Moon Duo record is to see what you’ll do next and what exciting new elements and direction you’ll embrace. How do you keep yourselves so fresh creatively? 

Thank you for the kind words. I'm not really sure how to answer the question. I think we just try to embrace and work from where we are our lives at the time, and that time is intrinsically much changed from the time in which we did our last record or the one before that.

For those who’ve never seen a Moon Duo show before, what can they expect from your Bumbershoot performance?

I suppose I should mention here that there will be three of us on stage. We always tour with a drummer now, John Jeffrey, who has become a crucial part of our live shows. We may or may not have psychedelic visuals on hand, but we always try to bring the rock vibes (or at least beats, synths, and a searing guitar). We're fired up to play the KEXP stage. We are huge fans.



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