Lo Moon know a thing or two about starting over. The Los Angeles-based quartet have been put through the music industry ringer: signed to a major label, tangled up in contracts, then forced to begin again from scratch after things went south. Their story isn’t so much rags-to-riches as rags-to-nearly-but-not-quite. But now they’re back, with a brilliant second album and plenty left to prove.
Their early music was eclectic, to say the least. On 2016’s self-titled debut, there were ambitious songs like “This is It”, with its creeping guitar notes and bold synth strokes, and the sprawling “Camouflage”, on which frontman Matt Lowell’s voice was soaked in reverb. They had noodling saxophones (“My Monday”), and propulsive, jittery dance rhythms (“Wonderful Life”). It was probably a bit much. Now they’ve wall things back for their new album To Modern Life, an exquisitely cohesive record that maintains the cinematic quality of their music – without overwhelming the listener. “Dream Never Dies” stars a delicate motif of arpeggiating piano notes, while “Expectations” makes the most of Lowell’s plaintive falsetto, amid a soaring, anthemic chorus of Springsteen-level proportions. Poignant closer “Stop” has a touch of Americana about it thanks to a dreamy slide guitar, as Lowell delivers the evocative lyrics: “Dying here with all my beliefs/ Laying crosses on the red winter leaves/ I know what I know, I need to let go.”
Lo Moon are at the tail-end of an arena tour supporting fellow indie-psych-rock dreamers The War on Drugs. Lowell and guitarist Sam Stewart are sitting outside a nondescript bar in Paris, a stone’s throw from the Folies Bergère, soaking up some April sunshine ahead of tonight’s show at L’Olympia. They have a Lennon and McCartney thing going on: Lowell is exuberant and quizzical, a quintessential New Yorker, while Stewart is quieter, observing our surroundings from behind his round-framed sunglasses. The pair met after Stewart relocated to LA from his native England in 2008, joining Lowell and bassist/keyboardist Crisanta Baker. Sterling Laws – a drummer for artists including Kim Gordon, Olivia Rodrigo and The National’s Matt Berninger – completed the group.
To Modern Life, Released at the end of February, it is the culmination of more than two years’ work. Lowell describes it as “a labor of love and frustration.” Despite living within 10 minutes of each other, the band were strict in following local lockdown rules, and much of the initial recording process took place over video calls. But the themes the album explores took shape long before then. Songs such as opener “Carried Away” are built from a kind of bewildered nostalgia. Celestial keys orbit around acoustic guitar strums and determined percussion, building to a swirling climax. Lowell sings in a weary, lilting sigh: “I feel lost in time and space/ Faked the smile that’s on my face now cause/ Some get bought and some get sold/ Like Mr Rogers, bless his soul.”
“I was thinking a lot about my childhood,” Lowell tells me. “And about my parents getting older – generally just asking bigger questions that I wasn’t on the first record.” Actually, the loss of innocence has been a theme in his work for decades. The first song he ever wrote was about 9/11, in his second year of high school. Tracks on the new record, in particular “Raincoats”, were influenced by Kurt Anderson’s 2017 book Fantasy Land: How America Went Haywire. “We lost a lot during the Trump era,” Lowell says.
A Modern Life is out via the Nashville-based indie outfit Thirty Tigers, but their debut was released by Columbia Records, which signed Lo Moon after the release of their first single, 2016’s “Loveless”. It taught them a lot. “It took about a year and a half to get out of the wreck,” Lowell says, wincing. “It’s almost comical how much of a cliche the whole thing was.” Stewart says that time reminds him of a scene in the 2010 comedy Get Him to the Greek, where Jonah Hill’s naive talent scout pitches an idea to P Diddy’s ruthless executive. By the time it came to releasing their first album, the people who championed them had left the label. “That’s when we were like, it doesn’t make sense for us to be there,” Lowell says.
These fraught early experiences, coupled with living in LA, have imbued the band with a healthy dose of skepticism about the industry. Stewart already had a sense of what to expect, being the son of Eurythmics musician Dave Stewart and Bananarama’s Siobhan Fahey. “I did n’t really know what else to do,” he says of his chosen path. “I was in a band growing up – we disbanded. I followed my brother [Django] and my dad to LA. It wasn’t even a choice… I just don’t really have any knowledge of anything else.” His attitude to him, and Lowell’s, of feeling like they’re being pulled to music by some invisible thread, is certainly at odds with the cutthroat ambition of their LA peers.
“The scene there is built around the industry, which makes it quite sad,” Lowell says. “It’s like a bunch of songwriters trying to write the biggest songs they can write, and everyone there is like, ‘I’m going to be the biggest artist of all time. And I need everyone to help me get there.’” Stewart mourns the once-thriving indie scene of Echo Park, where he used to live, that got “swallowed up” and turned into “quasi-indie-folk-pop stuff”. “The one thing most people in LA have in common is they move there to ‘make it’ in some capacity,” he says. “Everything now, whether it’s streaming or how many likes you’re getting, it all seems so stats-driven. And it’s really hard not to pay attention to that.”
“It seeps in,” Lowell agrees. “Everyone’s waiting for their Olivia Rodrigo moment, and it doesn’t happen. Especially not for bands.” But it doesn’t matter to them. “The artists we love and look up to, their careers have never been like…” He points straight up. “We’ve learned a lot about our strengths over the years, and we just care a lot more about that. Now that we’re doing it ourselves.”
‘A Modern Life’ is out now. Lo Moon play Lafayette in London on 25 April