It was a cold but sunny afternoon in Amsterdam when I met Luis Vasquez alias The Soft Moon for the first time. And I must admit that I had no clue what kind of person I would face for this little interview. The musicians latest record Criminal – to which I listened many times before the meeting – is a very dark and heavy post-punk journey through Vasquez personal feelings. Even though his voice is somehow clearer and a bit lighter than on his previous records, Criminal arises anxiety and feelings of aggressiveness in yourself. What kind of person makes such intense and apocalyptical music? What kind of questions can I ask a person who previously said things like: ‘guilt is my biggest demon’, without getting too personal? In the end I got really surprised- a pretty happy and friendly man sat on the other side of the couch. Although completely dressed in black with many striking tattoos (e.g. a snake) Vasquez personality doesn’t really seem to fit to his creative outcome. But where does this darkness in his music come from when he’s such a kind and friendly person?
‘That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
I realized that even before I started The Soft Moon – when I was working on electronic music or playing in punk bands – everything was dark. Everything I touch becomes dark. I had a Jazz project way back and it became dark Jazz for some weird reason. I guess I just feel with it. I don’t know. That’s one of the reasons why I’m making this music, just to figure it out. Just trying to learn about myself and find out why it must be dark. Because on the outside I’m obviously friendly and I smile too much I think. (laughing) But yeah on the inside it’s a weird place.’
Guilty conscious and a lot of self-hate
It seems like Vasquez is constantly trying to figure out what kind of person he really is – and that he chose music to be his leader for this long journey. In any case he is a thoughtful person who permanently questions himself and other people. The musician even asks himself whether he is breaking a rule when drinking a beer before 6pm. As he told me, the reason for this insecurity and steady feeling of guilt comes from growing up in a catholic environment: ‘I grew up catholic with a very strict mother. I became quite conscious and insecure because there were so many rules. Now that I’m an adult I feel like I’m constantly breaking rules even though I’m probably not. But in my mind, I’m still in my childhood and everything I do feels wrong…’ Although he doesn’t live as a catholic anymore and he has a good relationship to his mother, those feelings of guilt won’t disappear. He even goes that far to call himself (and his album) a criminal.
‘In this one I’m calling myself a criminal because I have this guilty conscious and a lot of self-hate. I’m working on that. On the album I’m revealing a lot about myself and being very specific with what I’m expressing. I’m taking some risks with this album: it’s angrier and more aggressive.’
On Criminal Vasquez also takes another risk: focussing more on the lyrics and his vocals than on his former records. He now has found the right way to put words behind his emotions and doesn’t need to hide behind instruments anymore. ‘In the beginning I didn’t know if I felt angry or depressed. I didn’t know how to explain it. But now that I’m getting older and I know more about myself, the music is helping me to discover my emotions by putting them down into words.’ He is also more confident as a singer nowadays, having lived through some kind of ‘personal growth as a musician’.
As The Soft Moon’s lyrics deal with self-hatred, fear and pain I was wondering what he thinks of a related topic that from time to time appears in his songs: death. So, what does death mean to him? ‘I’m scared of it. Although I know it’s a beautiful thing as well. Life doesn’t exist without death. But even though it may appear as I’m like: death is cool, I can’t wait to die because my music is being dark – I’m afraid of it. I’m afraid of a painful death. I think maybe I use this as a reminder to work on my life, try to figure out a way to enjoy it, to find peace.’ Isn’t this what we’re all trying to figure out? Enjoying life and finding peace?
‘Berlin showed me a dark side of myself’
It’s almost the end of the interview and there is one question left. Luis Vasquez was originally born in Los Angeles, a very sunny and warm city. Four years ago, he moved to the German capital Berlin – a city that especially in winter appears to be quite like the opposite of L.A.: it’s a cold and dark place where people can get easily lost. Is there maybe any connection between Vasquez latest record and this special town?
‘The city shaped me in a negative way I have to say. I think it’s part of the reason why this record is quite angry. Berlin showed me a dark side of myself. There is so much freedom out there and if you don’t have any discipline you can make some pretty bad decisions. And I’ve made some pretty bad decisions – I still make them. It’s taught me how messed up I am in a way. I feel like perhaps this whole experience is necessary and I’ll find out later. But I think I had to see the darkness and create this record for me to grow.’
Quite heavy words for the end of an interview. But asking a big further he revealed that he is planning to move back to L.A., to his friends and family to ‘maybe buy a house’ and get closer to his mum. And who knows, perhaps if he’s really moving back to the sunny L.A., one of the next Soft Moon albums will be a happy bubblegum pop piece. Well, somehow I highly doubt it.