"I can't see my face / I don't know where I am"

"You've gotta take life by the hand...hope to one day come alive"

These lyrics expose the two sides to Deeper, the second full length album from Luis Vasquez's The Soft Moon. A brutally honest record that forensically details Vasquez's spiral into despair from personal demons, plagued by thoughts of suicide and depression (the first set of lyrics come from the record's closing track 'Being', a traumatic experience that dissolves into white noise by the end) but also signals a way out through confronting these thoughts and learning how to heal. And that's the second set of lyrics, taken from latest single 'Wasting'', a moment of calm amid a sea of gothic gloom.


A New Approach

Since forming The Soft Moon in 2009 in Oakland, California, Luis Vasquez has combined the aggression of industrial music with the bleak emotional openness of prime Depeche Mode, producing blacker-than-black music that shares a vision with 80s synth/goth pop but thanks to Vasquez's brilliant production that switches from an uncomfortable fog to sharp, gleaming metal, it's very much 21st century music. Debut album The Soft Moon was bracing post-punk, barely preparing you for the all-out aggression of 2011's Total Decay EP and 2012's nihilistic Zeroes. But a move to Berlin a couple of years ago following the fallout from those two records has seen Vasquez take a different approach on Deeper: not afraid of sharing his innermost thoughts, this record finds the displaced Californian take an icy, precise approach in no small part influenced by the minimal music of his new home city. A stripped down sound for sure, but as uncompromising and almost as noisy as on previous records, Vasquez has made his best album so far as The Soft Moon.


Berlin

Speaking to me from Germany, I begin by asking Vasquez about freezing and windy Berlin: "I've been here since July of last year, and I'm actually enjoying myself quite a bit," he says. "I moved here, or came to try out living here about two years ago, and at that time it didn't really work out." Vasquez goes on to say the timing was all wrong for an uproot: "I was at a weird point in my life," confesses US born Luis, "but it was also the middle of winter - which was probably the worst time to try to move to Berlin! I went back to the States and ended up coming back around again." I'm interested to know how much of an impact the city had on Deeper even though it wasn't actually recorded in the German capital: "It was written and recorded in Venice," reveals Vasquez, "but I think so. I actually feel more creative in Berlin and the first song I wrote for Deeper was written in Berlin two years ago, and that sorta inspired the record; so I would say Berlin definitely had in impact."


The Healing Process

Deeper is the darkest and most unforgiving record by The Soft Moon to date. While the unrelenting nature of Zeroes was down to its use of aggression (and received a mixed reception as a result) and Total Decay EP took a more nuanced approach to the confrontational music made by Vasquez, Deeper is unrelenting in a different way. The aggression has been usurped by claustrophobia and open introspection as Vasquez honestly discusses a low period in his life, one punctuated by suicidal thoughts....yet it appears Deeper is part of a healing process. I say to Luis that the record feels like a continuation of what The Soft Moon has been trying to achieve, but perhaps a more distilled version and one that truly captures his spirit: "I think that every record is a continuation of the previous, for sure," agrees Vasquez. "I think it's kind of like cataloguing my life, kind of like an autobiography in a sense. Each album, or each release, is like a chapter of my life." Given that Vasquez describes it as an autobiography is it fair to suggest that Deeper is the most honest Soft Moon record thus far? "Yeah, definitely my most honest to date I would say" he agrees. "I think I've probably put myself in a more vulnerable state as well, because I've expressed so much of me on a deeper level...which is the point, and I wanted to do that." There is a complete lack of hiding behind any sort of metaphor on Deeper; when Vasquez sings of suicidal thoughts he sings exactly that, straightforward and no shrouding in arch language: "This record is definitely the most straightforward," he affirms. "Zeroes was a bit more conceptual, and at that time I was kinda frustrated, kinda lost during that period of my life so there's a little bit more aggression on that record in terms of production." Vasquez goes on to explain that with a drop in aggression comes a little clarity: "With this record, it's more focused and definitely less metaphorical," he says. "Definitely more straightforward. Even with the album title, with the track listing....yeah, it's very literal!"


The Process

Deeper signals a departure from The Soft Moon being an entirely solo venture for Luis Vasquez. While touring has introduced extra members, recording and writing has been a solitary affair but this time around he was joined on production duties by Maurizio Baggio, the Italian joining him in Venice at the appropriately-titled Hate Studios for the recording and writing: "With him, I felt there was definitely some trust," explains Vasquez, "and I felt open and comfortable working with him." Baggio wasn't an entirely new face, though. He continues: "Maurizio had toured with me as a sound engineer on a few previous tours and because of that we established a pretty strong relationship. He grasped the project because he was there every night...because of that, I was willing to open up to someone else." Being someone so used to working alone, it meant Vasquez had to adjust and walk away from his normal solitude, and I ask how this affected him and the music: "Normally I work completely alone, but with Maurizio I was open to his ideas," he says. "I had been closed-minded to ideas in the past because it's hard to find someone you really connect with and to let go with.....but with that relationship on tour and him understanding my music and my vision I was open to his ideas, and nine out of ten of them were spot on and I could let him do his thing. I would bring a song I had written at home: once a month I'd schedule a week with him and I'd bring material, and we'd elaborate from there... he helped push me to different directions I wouldn't have chosen to go on my own, which is great." As for the sound of the music, it turns out that Baggio understood exactly where Vasquez was going in terms of how gloomy he wanted Deeper to be, explaining "it was an interesting dynamic we had; normally I'm not looking for a particular sound because I've created that during the writing process but I could say things to him like I wanted the track to sound more aggressive, or more painful - and just by saying words like that, he understood and that was really great."


Venice

The choice of Venice also added a certain something to the sound of Deeper; not so much that the studio was near Giorgio Moroder's home town ("I found that out halfway through recording; it was more of a fun fact, not so much of an influence") or the Italian music scene ("There's not too much music coming out of Italy in terms of innovation... they kind of lack in that sense and my Italian friends would agree on that") but that Vasquez found himself alone in a new city, with only his thoughts for company: "I think what happened, or what I gained from living in Venice wasn't the city itself," he says. "I was just living in an environment I wasn't familiar with and I was alone and pretty much living in solitude the whole time. It kind of forced me to survive, to completely depend on myself as a means of survival - and through the music. There was a bit of a struggle with adapting to an environment I was unfamiliar with and because of that it led me to focus even harder, and make something really fantastic [to me]".


The Unfamiliar

I say that in conversations with other artists they use certain experiences to find their current place in the world, things like childhood experiences, a trauma, a broken relationships. So did Vasquez find that being alone in an unfamiliar place helpful in revealing something about himself, and then expressing it in the music? "Yeah definitely," he affirms. "I didn't have connections with too many people out there. I was living in my head the entire time and it forced me, in a way, to go inward and to rely on myself, to really express my emotions and have time to think about my life - and to transform that into music."

And this makes Deeper one of the most honest and open records you'll hear in 2015. But, surprisingly, Vasquez isn't normally quite so open, despite telling me that touring the record will be a release and a catharsis, pointing a way forward for the next record: "You know, it's actually interesting! In my everyday life I have real trouble in expressing my feelings and being open," he reveals, "and for some reason I'm scared to do that in my normal life. But through the music I have a sense of confidence and it's the only time I'm not afraid to completely expose myself. And because of that I have this passion for music, it's the only time I can talk and open up so I don't go crazy!"