Lo Moon

Although its nine songs revolve entirely around a single unifying idea, of life and personality forged from the revelatory moments of lived experience, to describe Los Angeles band Lo Moon’s third outing, I Wish You Way More Than Luck, as a concept album wouldn’t be entirely correct. Sonically bold and ambitious, fiercely literate and imagistic, the songs dance around their theme, not so much playing from track to track, as flowing through peaks and troughs of fervent emotion. It’s the singular work of a group of musicians whose confidence and abilities have not only scaled the heights of their ambitions but outstripped them. Luck has little to do with it.


From childhood and adolescence, all the way into adulthood, we fall headfirst into existence, as if there’s any other way, swept up in the currents of life with little time for reflection. Rarely contemplating the tapestry of events that prove formative, yet guided by them, constantly pushing onward, until fate or circumstance intervene.


In the winter of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, that’s what happened to Lo Moon’s Matt Lowell. The four-piece—bassist Crisanta Baker, guitarist Sam Stewart, drummer Sterling Laws, and Lowell, the group’s singer and chief songwriter—were putting the finishing touches to A Modern Life, their second album, and their first to be released independently, after a spell on Columbia Records. The idea for their next album struck Lowell swiftly on the heels of the last.


“Obviously, the pandemic was this very, very weird and catastrophic time for a lot of people,” he says. Time effectively stopped, life slowed down, the whole world shrank. In lockdown, with the future on hold, the present constrained, only the past offered a means of escape. For Lowell, looking back provided an unexpected path forward. He connected this time to another event of collective trauma, twenty years earlier; one that had a profound impact on him, and forged his path in life, as a songwriter.


In his sophomore year of high school, he’d watched the events of September 11th unfold live on a small television set in the common room at the high school he attended, located deep in the countryside of Eastern Connecticut. His immediate reaction was to check on his family. “They all lived in New York. My sister lived downtown,” he says. “I was trying to call my parents. I couldn't get in touch with them.”


The shock of living through that moment unlocked something inside him. He felt a compulsion to convey the emotions he was experiencing. “I sat down and thought, I need to write a song.” It came out all in one go. He played the song for his music teacher who insisted he perform it during a school meeting held in a chapel located on the school’s campus. An impressive, ancient-seeming stone structure inset with stained glass, and lined with wooden pews, the chapel sat atop a hill, overlooking a landscape of gentle green peaks and valleys.


Other than being in the school’s glee club, Lowell had never played or sung publicly in front of an audience. He sang the song, accompanying himself on guitar. In part from his timidity, his voice emerged as a falsetto, magnified by the unique acoustics of the venue, heavy on reverb, until it sounded so much larger. “I let the chapel do the work.” During the performance something clicked. “People were crying,” he says. “There was an emotion. It was coming out and it was very honest, and it was very pure.” From that point on, he told himself, “I'm going to write songs.”


What makes this more extraordinary is that up until that time Lowell had dedicated himself to an entirely different pursuit: hockey. Since eighth grade, he had been training to become part of the country’s sporting elite, through the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. He changed course almost overnight, and went on to study at another august institution, Berklee College of Music.


A few years later he landed in Los Angeles with a song in his pocket. A shimmering, transcendent epic entitled “Loveless” written and produced with another Berklee student, Andrew Bayer. Lowell began looking for musicians to help him realize the track on stage. The song brought them to him.


A classically trained pianist, originally from Denver, Colorado, Crisanta Baker heard through a mutual friend that Lowell was looking for multi-instrumentalists. The moment she heard “Loveless” she was hooked. “It was really emotional, but also massive and beautiful”.


British guitarist Sam Stewart was running on a treadmill when he first heard “Loveless”. “I was just transfixed immediately.” He too had heard about Lowell from a friend. Stewart had been playing guitar in bands since he was ten and moved to Los Angeles in his 20s. He’d been in several groups and was doing session work, but connected on a different level with something he heard in Lowell’s music. “I thought, this is the kind of music I've always wanted to make, but have never actually been in a band, or with a group of musicians, that wanted to do it.”


Completing the four-piece was another friend of Stewart’s, Sterling Laws, a session drummer from Anacortes, Washington, raised on the Seattle sound, punk, and hard rock. They all brought widely different musical influences to the group that somehow coalesced in the spirit of openness and acceptance with which they made music together, and a willingness to explore and push themselves, and each other, in new directions.


“Loveless” set a template for the new band, one they honed and enhanced over their first two albums. Songs that shift and stretch, moving from quiet to loud and back again, evading cliche and convention; tweaking the four-piece rock template with impressionistic touches and ambient interludes, but anchored by solid gold, melodic pop hooks, Lowell’s affecting falsetto, and lyrics that are intensely personal, if not painfully honest, yet strangely elliptical.


Reflecting on that journey, in December 2020, Lowell decided he wanted to return to the place that had in a very real sense formed him, the chapel, to see if he could recapture the magic that occurred there.


The campus was closed for Christmas. The student body had all returned home. Alone in the chapel, Lowell set his guitar to an unusual tuning, put his iPhone up in front of him to record, and started to play. It happened again. “Borrowed Hills came out in all of ten seconds,” he says.

He sent the video and a voice memo of the song to Stewart, telling him, “This is the first song on the new record”.


Just as “Loveless” had formulated a sound for the group, “Borrowed Hills” set a tone and a theme for the album he felt he had been waiting all those years to make. “9-11 really did change my life,” he says. “And so the record is about that coming of age, realizing what that moment meant for me, and trying desperately to get back there.” Those “borrowed hills of youth” on which we are formed, present for but a moment, that serve to shape our lives for years to come.


Lowell began to revisit literature that had affected him. Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, Salinger’s Catcher in The Rye, books about finding, becoming, and reflecting. He dug into David Foster Wallace and found, in a famous 2005 commencement speech he gave to students at Kenyon College, a title that fit the theme of the record like a glove, in the blessing Wallace left his audience with: “I wish you way more than luck”.


“The whole speech was about how life is your education,” says Lowell. “Education doesn't happen in school. It happens every single day and it happens outside of school, and it happens in the real world, and your education is that.” He began filling a notebook with words and phrases that stuck in his mind.


When it came to track the album, they re-isolated themselves, staying at residential studios for blocks of time, working with producer Mike Davis. “We were living and sleeping and eating at the studio, almost in a bubble,” says Stewart. Or a closed capsule, as if they’d been shot into space and the outside world was just a distant mirage. “Everything that exists only exists in this dynamic with this group of people.” It allowed them to maintain an intense level of focus and became, he says, “a breeding ground for super high levels of creativity”. The elements all came together, the songs interlocking like a puzzle, with repeated lyrics woven through, providing emotional connections that ran between them.


The cap on the recording experience was a visit to the chapel that inspired the record. “There’s a very palpable vibe in there, you can’t escape it,” says Stewart. “I remember feeling, everything we record in here is going to make the record.” The space affected each of them in different ways. For Baker, it was the physicality of playing the chapel’s huge pipe organ. “You could feel the air coming out of it,” she says. “With the reverb and everything, it’s this epic place.”


They all felt the weight of the location, its significance for Lowell. So much so that Laws says, “when I listen to the album, I can hear that space and that spirit, literally and figuratively”. The emotional tenor of the architecture and its atmosphere infused the record.


“All four of us come from very different upbringings,” Laws continues, “but this album feels the most relatable to me of any music we’ve ever made. It feels very close to home in an interesting way, which is odd, because it comes from Matt’s experience.” That feeling of nostalgia hits different ways at different ages, but it does hit for everyone at some point, and that’s all that matters.


I Wish You Way More Than Luck is an album about leaving things behind—family, places, youth, relationships, time—and the traces that linger in the mind long after their physicality has receded. The infinitely transient. What is music, or songwriting, anyway, but memory married to emotion. Feeling sustained. Echoes of lives lived and lives imagined. An ethereal sense of self made tangible, by intangibles. Frequencies colliding. Until we are lost inside a moment. That moment is all. It defines us, and can inform us, if we let it. And we should.


Chris Campion

Joshua Tree, California, October 2023.

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with Lo Moon
Valley Bar
Fri July 26, 2024 7:00 pm (Doors: 6:30 pm )
18 and up