Messages from Luna Shadows [Interview]

Updated: May 29, 2019

Interview with Luna Shadows

photos by Larsen Sotelo

“I move with a lot of intention,” says indie pop extraordinaire Luna Shadows. “This evolution has definitely been conscious.” In her music, that intention is ever-present; each echo crafted and shaped with clarity, and a polished, glossy finish that you can almost touch. However, she might describe her art as “light, dark, and…emo?”

The new era of Luna Shadows has begun with “lowercase”; a gliding, percussive track with an endless atmosphere. It exists in a sparse underwater room, casting light to watch it softly dance around. Her vocals, lingering in the corners before they insistently surround the listener, create an anthem of pixelated feelings.

“It almost didn't exist,” she reveals. “I was working with my co-producer Bradley, and we were on Day 3 of my writer’s block. He started making the beat, and I started playing the chords - I was inspired by ‘Call Me Maybe’ [by Carly Rae Jepsen] at first. We were about one hour into the instrumental and I had NO lyrical or melodic ideas whatsoever. I nearly broke down in tears. I told Brad that if I didn't come up with anything soon that we should just trash it and move on. I took one last look at my phone notes and saw ‘lowercase’ and ‘all you have to do is leave the room’. I connected those thoughts in my head, started singing them, and within minutes, the chorus was done. Then, the verses took about 30 minutes. And voilà, the song was done.” The finished product is a far cry from “Call Me Maybe”, shifting and expanding breaths only to withdraw them again.

On first listen, “lowercase” seems like a slight departure for Luna, but the more you play it, the more familiar it sounds. “The beat is unlike anything in the rest of my catalogue - it's way more upbeat than I'm used to,” she relates. “That being said, lyrically, it very much feels like me.” Is this a permanent change of pace, or a one-of-a-kind-track? “As far as whether I plan to keep going in this direction, I love experimenting with different beats & tempos, so yes in that sense. But the beat of this song is so unique; I can't see it being repeated. It would still be different.”

The lyrics, dripping with weight and a hint of cynicism, describe the uneasy relationship between letters and words on a screen and those on the receiving end of them. It discusses the potential significance, both literally and symbolically, of our capitalization choices and how they can either be reassuring - or make someone feel really small. “It's one of the many examples of the way we communicate digitally,” Luna elaborates on this phenomenon. “I have a friend who gets really upset if you say ‘k’ because it isn't reassuring enough. But if you say, ‘okay, great!’ he's fine. Likewise, I'm the kind of person that if you send me 'okay', I will probably assume that you hate my guts. Digital communication is a breeding group for anxiety and miscommunication. The ‘lowercase’ metaphor is one example of the many ways that our online communication can be totally loaded in ways that I've rarely seen discussed in pop culture and art.”

It’s a relatable concept - maybe even painfully relatable for some. For Luna, the meanings of her songs are fluid, with the goal of being quite personal yet also connecting to broader experiences simultaneously. “The more detail I put, the further I hope that it reaches. It's a misconception that being general reaches the masses - I find the opposite to be true. The more specific I am, the more people tell me it feels like I am speaking directly to them.”

“My own music tends to be very autobiographical at the moment, though not necessarily in the way might one expect,” she muses further. “Sometimes I will start a song and the lyrics will reflect a scenario in my life, but then I'll put it on pause. Later down the line, the meaning might evolve and apply to another scenario entirely. Sometimes songs develop new meaning to me many years after - the people or places I wrote the songs about came and went, but I can still stand on stage and connect the lyrics to another more recent experience.”

A lyric from an older track that still resonates with Luna, and many listeners as well, is: “My daddy always warned that the saddest songs are major keys”. This is, in part, because this exact contradiction lives in her music. “I loved ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley/Rufus Wainwright/etc. growing up,” she reflects. “My dad would always point out how sad it was to sing an expression of joy over a minor chord. The ‘hallelujah’ in the chorus rises and then falls so quickly. Emotionally, this is the punchline of my music. The mood tends to arise from listening. I start with the music, and then I sit in the corner and think about how it makes me feel. Then I find the words.”

Having written hundreds of songs, and even “thrown away” an album at one point, what quality makes a track stand out to Luna as special? “I don't really believe in ‘the one’ - for me, it's more about consistency, quality, and cohesion," she answers. "As far as how I pick which ones make the cut, I utilize my gut instincts and share with those closest to the project to see what makes the most sense in my storyline. When I was preparing to pick my very first single for release, I was working as a music teacher. I asked my students, [around the ages of 10 to 12], which song they liked the best. They picked ‘Cry Wolf’ and while it was my least favorite of the bunch, kids don't lie. I knew it was the right choice. They were dancing around like crazy.”

Despite going with her instincts, Luna is in complete command of every aspect of her art; “a product” of her home studio environment. “I am a person who loves preparation, creativity, and taking the time to do things correctly. Having a bedroom studio enables me to take all the time I need to yield the results that I want. I'm not an individual who loves the traditional studio environment. I have a lot of anxiety, and pressure doesn't really assist me creatively. I would much rather have time to be thoughtful, meticulous, isolated, and present. If I had to rent expensive studio spaces for short periods of time, I doubt I would be able to put in all the detail that I put in, especially in the vocal production.”

Because of these careful production choices, her vocals are so distinctive that it’s hard to describe them in any way other than “Luna”. The sound, she says, didn’t come from a specific idea that she had in mind, but trial and error. “I have a system going now, but it took many years to develop proficiency in vocal production. I spend a lot of time simply getting the right delivery and performance. I focus less on technical things like pitch, and more on expression, tone, vowels, consonants, and emotion. I have a very modern mentality about vocal production. Vocals are written in ink. Once they're up, they're online forever - front and center. I will spend many, many hours going through hundreds of takes, making sure every single sound is exactly what I want it to be. Having the opportunity to listen to myself back has also made me a better singer, because being both the singer and the vocal producer means that if I'm having a bad singing day, I'll have to pay for it later in production!”

She’s a product of the larger environment she lives in, too, conjuring up dreams of Los Angeles through a flawless aesthetic - one that has changed direction throughout time. “My initial vision was to share a version of California in a way that it isn't really shown in pop culture,” she explains. “Growing up on the east coast, my perception of California was all saturated sunsets, beaches, ice cream, retro bathing suits, surfboards, Kardashians, etc. and while all of these things are part of the California experience, they don't represent the whole. There's a whole world on the east side - a world with lots of art, culture, and beauty in unexpected places. Operating only in monochrome became restrictive at some point, so I felt the need to depart and continue with this exploration but in a new, more vibrant way.” Luna’s fresh vibrance is shown in striking, yet still minimalistic, images with pops of red. The video for “lowercase”, a tour of LA landscapes through her lens, furthers this contrast, showcasing warm yellows and icy blues starkly opposed with pale neutrals.

This isn’t the only song to be paired with stunning images, either - there’s much more coming. “I would say my hint is that that I am as excited to share the next song as I am to share its corresponding visuals…” But as far as whether she’ll be expressing joy through minor chords, or giving us a cry-bop, Luna Shadows is, well, keeping us in the shadows.

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