Avid readers of 'The Streetlamp' will by now have noted Gordon's repeated attempts to shoehorn in references to the European canon of classical literature, and my own oft-expressed wish to include more visual artists/musicians ( à la Colorform and Top Montagne). Happily, today's article hits both targets squarely.
Hopefully, you will remember when I wrote enthusiastically, last year, about El Vagabundo de Quetzalcoátle by Luna Moth? You may also remember that Ray provided two Mexican-themed videos to accompany the piece. That album, released on CLLCT, contained 10 lo-fi, acoustic nuggets, which were heavily influenced by Mexican indigenous and traditional music, in line with where Luna Moth singer-songwriter Joey (pictured) was in his life at the time.
Since then, Joey has maintained his prodigious rate of output and has released the noisy, garage-rock influenced Shamanic Youth album (released last summer but a little raucous for a 'Griff says' piece) and last week gave us the latest Luna Moth album; Russian Novels. As usual, this is exclusively available and, of course, freely downloadable 'here' on CLLCT. Russian Novels is an altogether more restrained affair than Shamanic Youth and Joey says of it:
"I wanted to write something a bit more subdued after the 'Shamanic Youth' freakout, and the result is 'Russian Novels'. These songs came to fruition during the autumn, which was quite conducive to the more introspective and reserved feel that I was going for."
Interestingly, the album was recorded as a collaboration with talented young artist Sarah Capshaw of Norman, Oklahoma, US. Joey had originally approached her to provide the cover art (above) and, not only did she agree to this, but entered so enthusiastically into the project that it became a fully collaborative process in which the songs themselves influenced the artwork and vice versa. Of this, Joey says:
"Sarah was the first person to hear these songs in their embryonic state and the first to hear them upon completion. I was, as well, able to witness the painting as it became ever more layered, complex, and dreamlike throughout its stages of manifestation. It was a very illuminating process, and I felt that it added a welcome new dimension to my own creative process as well."
More of Sarah's artwork can be viewed here and throughout this article. Also, Ray has produced a video ( see below), which showcases the talents of both artist and musician rather nicely.
I asked Sarah how the creative process differed from usual when making visual art in conjunction with a piece of music. She replied:
"I'm unfamiliar with indulging in a creative process without music. Something is almost always playing when I work; in this way it is easier for me to paint, because I can block the distracting, pesky parts of my thinking and typically (hopefully) channel something "pure"... if the music is right."
Obviously, in this case, it was. Russian Novels ranges from gentle, folky pieces like 'Some Birds Sing' to more experimental and intense pieces such as 'Nikolai Gogol'. I asked Sarah what feelings Joey's music evoked for her. She replied:
"Many of Joey's songs made me want to drink tea and go outside and fall in love and nap under a tree, all at once. I think he sings about all of those things in one song, maybe? And some of them are creepy and playful and groovy."
I can understand her difficulty in defining the Luna Moth music as it does encompass a broad range of sounds and emotions. My own personal view is that on Russian Novels, and in particular on 'Nikolai Gogol', Joey occasionally introduces an almost aggressive energy that's quite unlike the feeling his songs usually convey. I asked him where that had come from. He replied:
"I think the tense energy in 'Nikolai' is more vicarious than anything else… I wanted to try writing a song from the perspective of an actual historical figure. Although I’ve probably embellished and mythologized his story quite a bit, If you are familiar with Gogol’s life, it was quite intense. He was a genius and a satirist, and like all truth tellers and exposers of hypocrisy, he was alienated, shunned, and ridiculed by his society and finally exiled by the country that he loved and called home. He ended up burning most of his life’s work , going insane, and starving himself to death. I wanted to convey the sense of impotent frustration that he must have felt in that situation."
I also asked Joey where the interest in Russian literature had come from. He replied:
"My interest in Russian literature is just one facet of a search for something more meaningful and substantial in the intellectual desert of our shallow consumer culture. In their quest for truth, the Russians always seemed willing to dig just a little deeper than most, even to a level of discomfort. They of course felt nonplussed by the hypocrisy of their own society as well, and their words conveyed this in such a way that their intended meaning has retained its moral power to this day. This is what I’m referring to when I sing that ‘Tolstoy is a gold mine’, in 'Pseudo San Francisco'."
Keen readers will recognise the sentiments above as being something with which I can heartily agree. So, if you want to indulge in something more meaningful than the commerce driven pop-pap fed to us by the record industry, I suggest you go to CLLCT and have a listen to, and download, Russian Novels. Also keep an eye out for the work of Sarah Capshaw. Dare I suggest that now might be the time to snap up an 'early work'. To whet your appetite, Ray has provided the following two videos for 'Nikolai Gogol' and 'Charlotte Wears a Scarf' respectively. The images in the 'Nikolai Gogol' video are Marc Chagall's illustrations for 'Dead Souls'. Enjoy!