Matthew Moon on coming back to Denver and how the scene has changed since he left in 2005
Matthew Moon's homecoming has been years in the making. In the past five years, the Colorado native has lived in Peru and L.A. But for his latest album, I Am the Wind, he made his way back to Colorado, where he holed up in an isolated cabin in Aspen to write before finally returning to Mile High City to record.
The assembled cast of players on Wind is Colorado to the core; the album features a slew of local luminaries like Hazel Miller and Jeremy Lawton, as well as players from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. In advance of his record release show this Saturday at the Soiled Dove, we caught up with Moon to talk about his travels, his return to the Denver scene and his experiments with new instruments.
Westword: Are you in Denver right now?
Matthew Moon: I am.
I ask because I was reading background about the new record, and I understand a lot of the songs came when you were living and working in Peru. How did that sojourn come about?
Well, my sister has lived in Peru for about eleven years, and she works in a field where she basically facilitates transformational energy. I just decided I wanted to go down there. I had been a few times in the past, and I really just connected with the energy and basically everything about Peru. I decided I'd go down there for a year. I went down, and nowadays, you can bring all of your recording gear with you. It really wasn't that much -- my Macbook pro and a couple of interfaces. I just recorded constantly and wrote and collaborated with other Peruvian musicians out there.
Just being in that atmosphere just had a huge influence on mainly the lyrical content of the album. There's not a lot of Peruvian instrumentation on the album, per se, but more it's just a reflection of the spirituality of the culture and the fact that instead of worshiping a god -- which they do -- but a lot of times it's more about giving gratitude to the elements, like the sun, the moon, the stars, the river. I learned a lot from different shamans that I worked with while I was down there. That aspect had a big influence on these songs and the writing that I was doing while I was down there.
If you were to point to some lyrics that really encapsulate what you're talking about, what would they be?
Actually, the very first line on the album, I think, really speaks to my heart. The words go, "When I'm sitting on the roof and the rain comes, I will open all of the doors and the windows." To me, without getting too deep into the meaning of it, for me, it's more doors of perception and the doors of your heart and the doors of your spirit. Literally, I wrote that song sitting on a roof while it was raining. There's the literal and then there's the deeper, poetic aspect to it. I decided to start the album off like that.
How long ago did you live in Peru?
I was there in 2009 and 2010.
How did you translate that raw material to the studio work that's featured on the album?
Basically, the process that I was working in was to come up with these tracks and songs and ideas mainly on my acoustic guitar. I would create beats for those between Peru and L.A. Between a few different locations, I would kind of just formulate how I wanted the songs and the arrangements to be. When I got back stateside, I decided this is what I wanted to do.
Part of that had to do with, "How am I going to finance this thing?" I ended up doing a Kickstarter campaign. Once that was a success and I got some funding, by that point, I had relocated back to Colorado. That was in 2011, the summer. From there, I just started calling all of my friends that I knew here from having played around for many years.
For example, I did my first few albums with a guy named Jeremy Lawton. He used to tour with me, and now he plays with Big Head Todd. He's got a little studio here in town. From there, I called Hazel Miller, who's a good friend. She said, "Hey, I know Carl Carwell from Earth, Wind and Fire. He'd love to come sing." He came and sang with Yvonne Brown. I have the three of them doing gospel stuff on a couple of tracks.
From there, I decided I wanted to do some real string arrangements. I had already been writing the strings for the album. I didn't really know how to present the strings, or who I was going to have play. I met Shawn King from DeVotchKa right around when this whole thing was happening two years ago, and he recommended Tom Hagerman, who does a lot of strings and different instrumentation for DeVotchKa.
He said, "I'd love to help, but I have two other people in mind I think would be great." One was Claude Sim, who plays with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and then Phillip Stevens, who plays viola. I have the three of those guys. Tom helped me get my arrangements together, so that when I put my charts together, everything made sense.
Keep reading for more of our interview with Matthew Moon
So the long timeframe didn't derail the creative process on this record?
The cool thing about tracking and music nowadays is that you can just take little pieces from different sessions and you can incorporate them. Everything that I wanted to do, I just took my time and did it.
Is this kind of long time frame typical for your creative process?
It's funny, because all of the albums that I've made, I've taken my time with. I would like to go in and just record an album in one week and be done. That would be so great, and I feel like I will one of these days. But for this, you just want to make sure that you put your absolute best material out.
I've got so many songs to choose from. I'm fortunate that I'm writing a lot. I whittled this one down from maybe seventy or eighty, and then I got down to thirty and then down to twenty. As far as songs for the album, I had close to eighteen, and we settled on twelve. It's just a process of elimination and figuring out which songs flow correctly and which ones speak to a theme and have cohesiveness. It can be a long process, for sure.
What was the push behind moving back here from L.A.?
I enjoyed my time in L.A., and I still have a lot of great friends there, but it's just that I felt that I was at a place where I was just spinning my wheels. I feel like sometimes in life it's important to uproot and move somewhere. In a sense, what happened was that it reinvigorated me. I got back to Colorado. I was in Denver, and I ended up moving to Aspen. I had a little cabin up there, and I just really focused on my music, recording and doing pre-production.
I'm big into mediation, and that time for me was an amazing time to get some solitude away from the hustle and bustle and get back to nature, like I was when I was in Peru. I kind of just connected again. It was a great decision for me to leave L.A., even though I still work there. I shot two music videos there for this new album -- one called "I Am the Wind," and another for this album called "Chasing the Sun."
So you're back in Denver now. How has it been coming back to the scene?
It's interesting when you leave and you come back. The scene has evolved so much here. It's amazing what it's turned into. I left in January of 2005, and it's just really exploded. It's cool. I always followed it. This time period that I've been back, I've kind of been under the radar in a sense because I wanted to have something new to offer to the scene in terms of a new album. I've just been laying low and playing gigs here and there, but it's all culminating. The CD release party on August 10 at the Soiled Dove Underground will be the first show I've played here in town in a while.
You picked up a new instrument relatively recently -- the lap steel. What was that process like?
I started out on what's called a Weissenborn, which is a beautiful lap slide. It kind of has the shape of a woman's body; it's made out of this amazing wood. Ben Harper plays one, David Lindley is an amazing player, too. Basically, I started out on that just writing. I was living in L.A. at the time and I wrote a song on that called "Rivers and Mountainsides."
From the Weissenborn, there are other variations: There's a dobro -- I went out and got a dobro. It's more of a bluegrass type of a sound. Then I decided I wanted to try playing the electric lap steel, so I went out and bought a 1940s vintage Oahu Tonemaster. I started playing that I played it on a song called "I Love This Place" that's on the new album. I kind of wanted to put my foot forward in the lap steel realm, too. That's become one of my new passions.
So how does this release stand out from your past records?
It's pretty obvious for me with the whole crowd funding, which I wasn't sure about. I did it, and you really have to self promote, which is kind of challenging. That part of it has been amazing. It turned out great. I ended up raising over $12,000. On top of all of that, I've really gotten everyone involved. I've never been so busy mailing out shirts. It's crazy; I've got so much on my plate and so many ways to engage my fans. It's really invigorating with this album. Everything is moving forward.
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