MOANING: SO MANY ABS
photography by jeff fribourg
Moaning might look familiar to you. Over the past ten years, musicians Sean Solomon, Pascal Stevenson, and Andrew MacKelvie have been active members of the local music and arts community built around DIY venues like the Smell and Pehrspace. Playing in such illustrious local bands as Moses Campbell, Heller Keller, and Shit Giver, the three eventually (re)combined their years of experience in the Los Angeles scene by forming the post-punk project Moaning. Demonstrating yet again that great art can indeed rise from the underground, Moaning’s self-titled debut was released last week on the legendary Sub Pop Records. Portions of this interview originally aired on KXLU. Moaning’s record release show is Fri., Mar. 9, at the Echo with Froth and Numb.Er. This interview by Bennett Kogon.
You guys have known each other for a long time.
Sean Solomon: I think maybe twelve years?
Pascal Stevenson: We met in high school.
Sean Solomon: Taft High School in the Valley. Ice Cube went to Taft also.
Pascal Stevenson: His son O’Shea Jackson was there while we were there. Lisa Kudrow even went there.
Sean Solomon: We’re not trying to brag. In L.A. we meet a lot of celebs, you know.
Pascal Stevenson: Also Fez from ‘That ‘70s Show.’
That’s your biggest claim to fame right there.
Pascal Stevenson: Wilmer Valderrama, also of ‘Yo Momma’ fame.
Sean Solomon: What a problematic character he was.
Pascal Stevenson: Was he just a Latino dude that they called Fez because they weren’t sure like what kind of foreign exchange student he was? Did they ever specify where he was from?
Sean Solomon: I think that was the joke.
Pascal Stevenson: He’s brown so therefore he’s called Fez and it’s the 70s and we’re racist!
Moaning has been around for longer than I thought it was—I saw on your Facebook page that you posted a photo in 2014.
Sean Solomon: Wow, you must be a detective. I didn’t even know we were a band then. Someone must have made it for us before we started playing.
Pascal Stevenson: I wouldn’t be surprised if we actually made a Facebook page before we had ever played a show. You know, the internet age.
Sean Solomon: We made a Facebook page in hopes that someone would come to our first show, I think.
You both have played together in several other bands—Moses Campbell being one of them. Why do you think Moaning is the one that’s really stuck with people?
Pascal Stevenson: After the other band fell apart, I think we just knew what to do right this time. When we started Moaning, we had more of a plan of attack or something?
Sean Solomon: We learned a lot from the other bands. It’s good to always keep trying. We’d been playing together for ten years and eventually something had to happen. We didn’t really plan to have a new band. It’s not like we were like ‘Oh, we’re gonna stop this other band so we can succeed.’ [But] I do think starting a new band really helped. A lot of people are afraid to start over, but it’s nice to have something fresh and new.
Pascal Stevenson: It’s easier for people to get excited about something new as opposed to a band that’s been playing for like eight years and still hasn’t done anything.
Sean Solomon: Our old band started when I was fourteen. By the time we were in our early twenties, people had already made their assumptions based on how we performed as little kids. With the new project, we just took our experiences from playing with other bands for so long and applied them to this new one. I think that’s why people are paying attention—that and because it’s way better. All of the songs [on the Moaning record] were written over the course of a year. I had gone through a few different things in my life, so during that year I had a lot of pessimistic thoughts. I think a lot of people our age feel apathetic toward love and all these different concepts that feel like they are changing from day to day. I hope that other people can relate to the music in their own way. For me, making music is therapeutic and helps me reflect on ideas that I’ve had. Even listening to the album today, I’m becoming way more critical of myself now that the statements are permanent.
You guys are putting out a record on Sub Pop. That’s pretty wild for any band. What was that experience like? You know, selling your life away and all that.
Sean Solomon: Well, we signed in blood. Which was weird. I didn’t know that’s how they do it over there.
Pascal Stevenson: Apparently everybody does that nowadays.
Was that a record label where you were like, ‘Yeah! Nirvana!’
Pascal Stevenson: I keep finding records that I forgot were on Sub Pop. That’s the funny thing about them is that they have such an expansive catalog and they’ve been around for so long. You say Sub Pop to different people and their response is completely different. Like some people are stoked on Modest Mouse, and others who like Nirvana or clipping. … Their discography is so wild.
Sean Solomon: Going to the Sub Pop office is like going to Disneyland. They have such cool art everywhere. Like Kurt Cobain’s signature and all that stuff. The first time we played in Seattle, a bunch of the people who work there came to the show. One of them was Jonathan [Poneman], who is one of the guys who started Sub Pop. He’s met like everybody who’s ever been on that label and there’s photos of him with Kurt and stuff. I guess he doesn’t go to shows very often, but he came to ours. I was too nervous to go talk to him and then he was gone before I could see if he liked our set. I thought, ‘Oh no, he hated it. We’re a bunch of losers.’ The next day at their office he was like ‘Man, it was sick. I wanna come see it again.’ He’s seen like every cool band and I basically play guitar because of that label, so it was pretty cool.
When Moaning signed to Sup Pop, it almost felt like it was a major accomplishment for a larger part of the Los Angeles music scene, too—like something a lot of people could be proud of. Did it feel like that to you guys?
Sean Solomon: Well, it definitely felt like a major accomplishment to us. But we wouldn’t have gotten there if so many people in the music community hadn’t helped us get there.
Pascal Stevenson: It’s hard to speak for other people because we are trying to figure it out for ourselves as well. I remember when No Age signed to Sub Pop, or when other bands that we know from L.A. had signed to bigger labels or done really cool things—that was really inspiring for us. It made us feel like … that maybe it could be us one day. And now that we’ve had a moment, I hope the same thing for a generation of kids who are growing up making music and going to shows. Like maybe they saw us play and got inspired to do their own thing. And then maybe someday their band could be doing something cool as well.
Sean Solomon: There are so many creative people who don’t have their music out there because they don’t believe that it’s worth the attention. I think anyone making art in L.A. deserves to have their voice heard as much as ours. To me, the most interesting work is from the people whose voices haven’t been heard as much. Those perspectives are the most unique because we haven’t heard them before. Right now, there’s a ton of great music and art being made—it’s just who’s lucky enough to find the people who will make it accessible. Hopefully a more diverse range of people are being recognized for what they are making in the future.
Are there bands that you hope will be ‘next in line’ for that kind of recognition?
Sean Solomon: I’ve been really into Lunchlady. That’s a band that I really get behind. Also Cat Scan from L.A. I don’t know—there’s so much great stuff out there that it’s hard to pick just one thing.
Pascal Stevenson: I’m really stoked on everybody that just got signed to Sub Pop. Like all of our ‘recent’ labelmates are really exciting to me. Since we’re on the label now, we’re looking at their roster a little bit more. Downtown Boys are great. And Jo Passed who just signed to Sub Pop. And Yuno. All that stuff we’re really excited about. They’ve been signing a really rad and diverse group of artists, which I think is commendable.
Every song on the new record seems to refer to another person—a lot of the hypothetical ‘you,’ almost as if you are in a conversation within your own lyrics. Who is this person that Moaning keeps talking to?
Sean Solomon: I think I’m constantly swapping out pronouns without even thinking about them. I think sometimes by saying ‘you,’ I’m really referring to myself. Like, I’m talking to myself or something. Obviously, there are people that inspire the record, but I don’t think it’s worth digging too deep into some sort of a narrative. The band name sort of dictated this first record, and in a lot of ways I think it’s a somewhat of a thesis statement. It’s more about the duality of the name ‘Moaning.’ Much of our lyrics are about how love and pain are connected. And sometimes those two are mistaken for one other. The music is both harsh and sort of lush at the same time. I think everything on this first record is about juxtaposition and learning about yourself by comparing yourself to others.
I saw the music video that you made yourselves where you tear up an abandoned building. Do you hope to keep working on more than just the the musical aspects of the band?
Sean Solomon: We made our album cover ourselves. It’s of a window and inside it is like a cracked reflection. We were really adamant about using practical effects, so it’s actually a mirror that was decorated as a window and then hung from fishing line in the sky. It has a ‘Twilight Zone’ sort of surrealist, kind of disorienting look to it.
Pascal Stevenson: It was photographed. Hashtag ‘No Photoshop.’
Sean Solomon: Haters will say it’s Photoshopped. We went to art school, so we got kinda pretentious about it. We went a little HAM on the album art ourselves. I was actually thinking about it recently and I’m excited for when there’s the ‘DIY Store’ at the mall. Like the clothes will have paint splattered on them.
Pascal Stevenson: I think there’s a DIY Channel. I like the phrase ‘Do it Yourself’ in relation to moms making little crafts at home. Or refinishing the deck or something.
Sean Solomon: DIY’s the new indie though, it’s the new sound.
It’s a bunch of people who like, plug their guitars in themselves and tune them or whatever! What do you think is going on with rock & roll nowadays?
Sean Solomon: We’re getting paid actually to make music by the government because they’re trying to distract everyone from what’s really going on.
What is really going on?
Sean Solomon: I don’t know. But I do know they’re tracking you with your phone. They’re listening to everything you say and they’re figuring out what kind of soap you like, so they can sell it to you.
There’s something that’s been on my mind since we sat down to talk face-to-face. It’s kind of silly because I know the people reading this will only be able to visualize what I’m talking about. But I have to ask—Sean, what’s up with those muscles, man?
Sean Solomon: Oh, I’m so glad you noticed. I work out eight hours a day. I drink egg yolks. I watch an entire season of ‘Seinfeld’ as I lift weights. And by the end of the season, I’m throbbing.
Pascal Stevenson: You’re laughing so hard, that’s how you get those rock-hard abs.
Sean Solomon: Today I didn’t want to look too good, which is why I’m wearing this silly hat. I know it was kind of weird to roll up in this Cat in the Hat top hat. I primarily just wore it to distract from the fact that my back is all bandaged up because I just got this tattoo of these wings. It was hard for the tattoo artist because there are so many abs on my back.
Pascal Stevenson: Back abs?
Sean Solomon: I’ve got two necks on my guitar. One is my guitar and the other is the neck of a bird that I murdered for dinner. Because I’m that manly.
Are you flexing right now or is that just how your muscles look?
Sean Solomon: No, that’s my body. Sorry my voice is so low and masculine. There’s nothing I can do. Being macho is cool again. Also, should we tell everyone that we’re lying?
I think we should keep it the way it is. I noticed that your drummer Andrew isn’t here. Anything you want to say so people have something to remember him by?
Sean Solomon: Well, he wets the bed. Not as many abs as me … I’m just joking. He’s actually my favorite drummer. I don’t know a lot about drums. They’re a different kind of person. If there are drummers reading this I’m in trouble, but I feel drummers are like the skateboarders of music. They’re just like ‘Look what I can do. Check THIS out.’ Guitar players are more interested in melody and stuff like that.
Pascal Stevenson: You mean they’re nerds!
Sean Solomon: Melody to me feels like, they’re writers. Like, ‘I need to go to Starbucks and write.’ And the drummer’s outside saying ‘Watch this kickflip.’
Pascal Stevenson: Oh, I write songs at Starbucks for sure.
MOANING’S RECORD RELEASE SHOW WITH FROTH AND NUMB.ER ON FRI., MAR. 9, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8:30 PM / $12-$15 / 16+. GET TICKETS HERE! MOANING’S SELF-TITLED FULL-LENGTH IS OUT NOW ON SUB POP. VISIT MOANING AT MOANING.BANDCAMP.COM.