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Interviews, SXSW 2020

SXSW 2020 Preview – Interview: Moaning Talks “Uneasy Laughter”, Sobriety, & DIY Music

By: Curtis Sindrey –

Moaning. (Photo: Michael Schmelling)

Moaning, the musical effort from vocalist/guitarist Sean Solomon, bassist/keyboardist Pascal Stevenson and drummer Andrew MacKelvie, will follow-up their 2018 self-titled debut with Uneasy Laughter via Sub Pop Records on March 20th. What happens when an abrasive rock trio trades guitars for synths, cranks up the beats and leans into the everyday anxieties of simply being a functioning human in the 21st century? The answer is ​Uneasy Laughter​.

Uneasy Laughter​ is a collaborative breakthrough which significantly brightens Moaning’s once claustrophobic sound, again abetted by producer/engineer Alex Newport (At The Drive-In, Bloc Party, Melvins).

Solomon, Stevenson and MacKelvie have been friends and co-conspirators amid the fertile L.A. DIY scene for more than a decade. They are also immersed in other mediums and creative pursuits — Solomon is a noted illustrator, art director and animator, while Stevenson and MacKelvie have played or worked behind the boards with acts such as Cherry Glazerr, Sasami and Surf Curse. On ​Uneasy Laughter,​ they’ve tackled challenges both personal and universal the only way they know how: by talking about how they’re feeling and channeling those emotions directly into their music.

In our new interview, frontman Sean Solomon discusses the making of Uneasy Laughter, his experience of celebrating a year of sobriety during the recording sessions, how the LA DIY music scene impacted him, and more!

Between your 2018 debut and your new record, you’ve evolved your sound to embrace a lot more electronic influences. What do you think prompted that change?

The first record was just a collection of songs we had created together in a practice space. And then the new record was more thought out realizing that people would listen to it all the way through. So we were just experimenting with different sounds and we wanted to create arrangements that best suited the songs we were writing. Some of the songs I wrote on acoustic guitar, and then I would try to transcribe them into MIDI notes so that I could hear how they sounded. They’re different, like sounds to experiment with different arrangements and stuff like that.

Would you say that this record is more cohesive than the last?

I think yes. It’s more of a interesting outlet to listen to all the way through. The first one is maybe more cohesive because they’re all straight rock songs, but for this album we wanted to have its ups and downs and keep you interested throughout all of it. We actually wrote probably twice as many songs that actually made it on the album, so this one was just way more thought out. We would cut songs if it was like “this song is too similar to this other song and we already have something like this” or we “actually want an upbeat song here”. So we were just trying to construct an album versus releasing a collection of songs.

Lyrically you focus quite a bit on the collective anxieties about living in the 21st century. What kind of message do you want to send to listeners who are going through those kinds of things every day?

I just want people to feel less alone with what they’re experiencing. For me growing up with mental health issues and a lot of the social issues that are popular today or as mainstream, I felt alone when I was experiencing things that I realized were normal. And I think even The Simpsons is a good example of something that I discovered in my life where I was like, “Oh, here’s a family that screwed up as me”, you know? I really latched onto that sort of stuff growing up because I feel like generations before mine, it was this pretend to be this happy, Leave It To Beaver family, and I just want people to realize that they’re not horribly unique in a way that’s destructive for them.

From a production point of view, what did Alex Newport bring to the table?

He brought mics. Just kidding (laughs). Yeah, Alex is great. He was really on board with us, and sort of became another member of the band. He liked all the ideas of experimenting and he just had some technical ideas that I would have never thought of. On one of the songs that is going to be a single called “Connect The Dots”, he recorded the drums and he put them into an MP3, and then we recorded the drums as samples and he just had a lot of technical experimental ideas that I hadn’t thought of that I thought were really interesting and cool.

During the recording session for this record, you ended up celebrating a year of sobriety. How did that kind of milestone impact the creative process?

I realized that being sober partially is for everyone around me, beyond myself. So I was very clearheaded and able to communicate with everybody and I wasn’t mean to anyone cause I wasn’t hungover or confused cause I wasn’t sober. I was able to articulate and communicate really well so everyone got along. And I think overall just piecing together the album in the short amount of time we had so it was just better to be clearheaded. I’ve noticed it’s been helping with the music videos and interviews, and it’s been helping with a lot of different things as well.

Venues sort of pay bands with alcohol and if you’re driving eight hours a day and then moving heavy instruments and stuff like that, it sucks to be hungover and tired every day and it was something you don’t really realize until you stopped doing it. So everything’s just been easier and more productive, and in a personal way, it’s created more of a purpose for me as far as being able to talk about those issues.

With a festival like SXSW coming up, do you approach those types of gigs differently than just a regular set?

I think that it will be pretty similar. The only problem is how quick we are on and off stage, so we don’t really have that much time to like soundcheck obviously. The sets maybe will be more spontaneous since we do get bored playing so many shows in one week that we tend to change things up and try and keep ourselves excited.

In terms of bands that people should see at SXSW, do you have any recommendations for bands to check out there?

Our friends in the bands Shopping, and Automatic are going. Both are female fronted, post-punk leaning bands, so that’s what I remember, but there’s probably a million good bands. I tried to go through the schedule and it’s totally insane. I need to spend a day just scrolling through all the bands playing and making a little list.

Coming from the LA DIY music scene, how did that influence you in terms of not only your sound, but also your outlook on the music industry as a whole?

I’m actually pretty lucky to have grown up in that community. I feel like the best art and music is being made outside of the mainstream at these $5 shows, and I think what’s cool is the bands that play those shows are staples of those communities and those people are obsessed with integrity and authenticity. I think that was a good lesson to learn right away because if you chase what’s popular at the time, by the time your record comes out, it’s already not gonna be popular anymore. If you started just paying attention to what’s going on in DIY communities, you’ll see that it’s these artists that are staying really true to their visions and what they believe in. That’s more important than anything else, and so that’s been very inspiring for me and the fact that anyone can do anything, which seems like everyone’s realizing that now.

Do you think you’re still able to sort of maintain that sort of idea of artistic integrity now that you’re signed to Sub Pop?

Yeah, I think that we’re pretty lucky we’re on a label that doesn’t tell us to do anything. I think that it’s just one of those things that you realize that experimental bands become popular, and there is no formula. You look at a band like Animal Collective or Sonic Youth, and it really is about the persistence and the vision behind that sort of music that makes people notice it.

Every band goes through their Sonic Youth phase eventually.

Yeah, totally. I liked Sonic youth when I was 13, because my sister hated it, so I thought it was cool.

With the with the record dropping next month have you had any time to pursue any of your animation or art design projects?

I did one video for the band, which was cool. And we’re doing a new one together, the whole band. And I’m working on a top secret project.

Nice! Because I can imagine the work that goes into that kind of thing, especially with animation, and on top of that with touring can’t really be easy.

Yeah. I animated a commercial for Adidas once, which was a sponsored Instagram thing. I did it from the tour van and I wanted to rip my hair out. It was horrible because we’d have to stop at Starbucks so I could get WiFi to download the notes I was getting and upload the new animation, and I would be in the green room stressed out on a computer. I try not to do that, but I’ve done it a couple times and I bought an iPad so that I can draw in the van. I think I’m actually going to have to do it this time for this project, which should be announced in March. I’m making some animations for a hip-hop project and I think I’m going to be working on tour again and on an iPad hating myself.

Check out Moaning’s SXSW schedule here, and pre-order Uneasy Laughter here.

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