PLAYLIST: Moaning’s Post-Punk/New Wave Community

Sean Solomon discusses the two eras of moody music that inspired his band’s latest LP for Sub Pop, Uneasy Laughter.

“My playlist is just like the fucking Spotify algorithm,” Moaning’s Sean Solomon jokingly warns of the collection of songs he’s made for us. “I just copied and pasted this from their Post-Punk/New Wave playlist.” While this almost certainly isn’t true, the track titles Solomon chose to signify his and his bandmates’ influences for their second LP, Uneasy Laughter, give a surprisingly succinct summary of what their band is all about, merging artists from the ’80s new wave movement with contemporary post-punk groups like Preoccupations, Drahla, and Omni.

Moaning—not to be confused with Shopping, clipping., or Foxing—are among a small community of dark, electronics-infused rock acts currently coming up in LA, mirroring a similar movement that overtook Canada in the years following the dissolution of Women. Though they tend to lean into drum pads and samplers, their energy is directly in line with the guitar-focused acts from the two parallel generations Solomon cites in the playlist he created. “This one was, for me, sort of like a vibe, or a mood—my two favorite words,” he laughs. “This is sort of where my head was when we were writing stuff.”

Comprised of Solomon on vocals and guitar, Pascal Stevenson on bass and keys, and Andrew MacKelvie on drums, the trio will be sharing the follow-up to their 2018 self-titled debut this Friday, having already given us previews of a new synth-punk direction on early singles “Ego,” “Make It Stop,” and “Fall in Love.” Despite Stevenson “probably [having] cooler influences” and MacKelvie “probably [having] more bizarre influences,” we took a moment to chat with Solomon about some of the artists that inspired the new LP.

When I discovered your music I assumed you were Canadian, because you guys sound so much like groups like Preoccupations, who you included on your playlist. Do you feel like you have a scene in LA, or do you generally tag along with Canadians?

Well, Canadians like us because we’re so nice, but there is a scene in LA. Obviously there are a lot of different scenes in LA, but as far as bands that are stylistically similar, groups like Automatic, Numb.er, and Gold Cage are all from here. If I was trying to make a playlist where all the bands sounded the same, there’s probably a dozen bands in LA now that are sort of in the same vein. 

A lot of our friends play music that I think is the opposite of ours, but I’ll go see them. I used to live with Shannon Lay, who recently signed to Sub Pop. She plays folk music. I currently live with Bonnie [Bloomgarden], the singer of Death Valley Girls, which is more rock and roll—Iggy Pop really likes them. When we toured we brought Larry [Schemel] from Death Valley Girls with us, he was our tour manager. Maybe too much music exists right now, so it’s hard for anyone to be one genre.

It seems like there’s a pretty even split on this playlist between post-punk/new wave from the ’80s and contemporary bands who sound inspired by that period. Do those two periods of music inspire you in different ways, or is it all the same?

It’s interesting because we get compared to these bands a lot. I can’t tell if I’m being pushed in a direction by what people say about our band, but I do think there’s a different element of each band that inspired me in different ways. It’s funny that we get compared to the ’80s and these sort of nostalgic things because the way that we write music is very current—we use Ableton Live, we use an Octatrack, which is like a digital sampler, we use a drum pad. 

I think our influences are all over the place. We like a lot of punk music, Andrew listens to a lot of hip-hop. We kind of listen to everything, but when I was making this playlist I was thinking about bands we were sonically ripping off. The Cleaners from Venus song, that was a song that I showed my bandmates and I was like, “This song. I wanna make something that makes me feel like I do when I listen to this song.” 

Do you think that came through as much as you’d hoped?

I have no idea. I think what’s funny is even if I’m trying to rip off a song exactly, it’s never the same. It just goes through a filter and winds up being a Moaning song. And I discover artists because we get compared to bands I’ve never heard of. Our first record, everyone was like, “You guys sound just like Unwound,” and I had never listened to them. It’s kind of fun to be like, “Oh, OK, we sound like this band? I guess I’ll check it out.” And kind of discover cool things.

Is it ever a really awful band where you’re like, “Oh shit, I hope we don’t actually sound like this…”

Yeah, that’s definitely happened. I can’t recall the names because I just block them out completely. Someone recently was like, “You guys remind me of The Cure, Joy Division, and My Chemical Romance.” And I was like, “That’s so weird, but I’ll take it!” [Laughs]. I don’t know what it was, he just threw My Chemical Romance in there and I was down! I was like, “Sure, that’s awesome.” They’re current and theatrical—maybe also because the guy from MCR is an animator, like me? I don’t even hate it, I just never would have thought we were a related artist. I would totally go on tour with them. 

What appeals to you about bands that have a darker sound?

I like bands that are sort of vulnerable, that seem like they’re not playing the most conventional music. I think that even though all these bands fit in a playlist, they all have very unique sounds—you’re not gonna get Cocteau Twins mixed up with The Cure, you know what I mean? I think for me, I just like having something that conveys a feeling and something that feels like it’s telling an honest story. Life isn’t always happy and sunny, and I feel like it’s nice to feel less alone when you hear a moody song that’s not about rock and roll.

There’s this weird sensation where your whole adult life you’ve felt a certain emotion that you’ve never heard expressed before you encounter a certain type of music like this. It’s like, “Oh, they know what I’m feeling.”

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that recently—it’s sort of not talked about. Everybody at some point has some form of anxiety or depression, and I like that these bands are a little bit more open about it. A band like The Cure almost makes it cool, you know? You don’t want to hide the fact that you’re suffering from some sort of mental illness, because it’s actually what makes you unique, and it’s why you have a funny haircut or whatever [laughs]. 

It seems like every single playlist we get has a Cure song on it—do you remember when and how you first got into them?

I always sort of liked them, but I think I dug deeper into them because of Moaning. Pascal really likes The Cure. Actually, every best friend I’ve ever had in my life, their favorite band is The Cure. I eventually just had to listen to them—they have a pretty big discography, so it took me a while. I had to have Pascal tell me, like, “Start here: Listen to Disintegration, then listen to Pornography.” He sort of gave me the High Fidelity top five or whatever.

Something that’s kind of interesting about The Cure is that they’re able to adapt to whatever time period they’re in and still sound like The Cure. I think that’s really cool. It’s also that Robert Smith’s voice is so authentic-sounding and unique—that really appeals to me as a singer. And lyrically, the song I put on the playlist feels like it could be written today, it feels like someone lurking on their ex-girlfriend’s Instagram [laughs]. I think that’s something really powerful to me about The Cure: these emotions and feelings that, decades later, are still relevant, maybe more relevant than ever. They must know they’re doing something good. 

It took me a while to get into them because when I was a kid I was like, “That’s not me, I don’t dress like that, I’m not that person,” and as soon as I kind of broke through that, I realized how interesting their records are. I really like their Unplugged, too. They’re in a circle, and it just feels like your friends playing in a living room. That was another moment where I remember The Cure really clicking for me, where I was like, “Oh, beyond the reverb and the delay and the drum machine, these are just good songs.” They could be in a different realm—they could just be, like, nice folk songs.

What would you say is the most surprising song you were listening to when you made this album, one you didn’t include on this playlist?

I thought about putting Big Thief on here, specifically “Mythological Beauty.” I didn’t put it on the playlist because I was like, “Well, it doesn’t fit this cool playlist that I’m making.” I do really like them, and it is genre-wise pretty different. They’re such a popular band right now and it took me so long to just give into it, and when I did, I had that song in particular on loop. I found it so beautiful and moving, her voice is so amazing. It was sort of the same reason I like all this other music—it felt really authentic and somber in a really human way. I do think maybe that would be surprising…or maybe not. Maybe people will be like, “Yeah, no shit. Everyone likes Big Thief.” 

They’re this generation’s The Cure.

Yeah, maybe! I don’t know, when I was in high school indie rock was popular. It was like Sufjan Stevens and Beirut and that kind of stuff, so it’s surprising to me that it’s still popular, or has become popular again. When I listen to Big Thief, or like, Phoebe Bridgers, I feel like it’s dated—it feels like ten years ago. But then I realize that it’s still happening, it never went away. 

I feel like maybe it was popular when those people were in high school. Alex G is a good example—Alex G sounds just like what I was listening to in high school, like Elliott Smith mixed with The Moldy Peaches or something. To me, that’s someone who was listening to all that stuff and then ten years later their career started happening. Then the people who listen to it have either never heard that music before or are nostalgic for what they listened to in high school. 

I hear people all the time saying, “Oh, I like this because it reminds me of this feeling I had in high school.” I think that’s kinda cool. I could easily see myself going in that direction, but for some reason I switched it up and was like, “Oh, actually I’m interested in drum machines.” I started getting into effects pedals or whatever, but there was a period in my life where I was playing acoustic guitar and listening to Neutral Milk Hotel. It could’ve been that instead. 

What’s your favorite Cocteau Twins lyric?

[Laughs.] My favorite lyric is the one that goes [indistinguishable singing]. That one’s pretty good.

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