“We were losing our minds earlier. On one side of our trailer is Suicide’s trailer and on the other is Big Boi’s. When Big Boi showed up, we lost it.”

Photography by Suzi Pratt

“We were losing our minds earlier,” beams Sanae Yamada. “On one side of our trailer is Suicide’s trailer and on the other is Big Boi’s. When Big Boi showed up, we lost it.”

You’d expect sharing a stage with Suicide to be a big deal for San Francisco’s Moon Duo – their darkly sexy ‘Escape’ EP of last year particularly drew heavily from the organ drone of tracks like ‘Dream Baby Dream’ – but Big Boi? We didn’t see that coming. At Primaver Sound 2011, Barcelona, he’s up next, and there’s a good chance that he’ll be met by a few thousand zonked out faces still high on Sanae and Ripley Johnson’s endless psych jams. They left the stage half an hour ago. It was “totally just a great experience”.

Earlier this year, the band featured on our Debut Albums We Most Want To Hear list, and in April they gave us ‘Mazes’. A stride away from their trippy, mumbled grooves it’s not, but nevertheless, it took us by surprise, sounding less industrial and proto-punk, and more straight up rock’n’roll. It definitely didn’t sound like it had been recorded in Berlin.

“It’s funny,” ponders Ripley outside the band’s dressing room portakabin. “We had a working title, which was a German title – ‘De Blumen’, which means ‘the flowers’, and we had a song called ‘Flowers’, and then when we finished the record the song ‘Flowers’ didn’t fit with the others, so we were like, ‘we can’t really call it ‘De Blumen’ anymore.’ And then we thought, we’re mixing it in Berlin and have recorded some of it in Berlin – this is just too… German! I mean, we’re not German people! Y’know, there’s all these albums like the Eno record, or David Bowie and Lou Reed, or Iggy Pop going to Berlin to make his record, and it wasn’t really that, because it ended up sounding very Californian. We wrote it in California, so it’s not really surprising. So it wasn’t really our German record. Maybe we have one in us, maybe the next one, but this isn’t it.”

In the end they called it ‘Mazes’ – a word that carries with it adventure, ‘the journey’ and a sense of endlessness, all of which Moon Duo are fascinated by. It’s a perfect title for the searching music they make with a primitive drum machine, ’60s sounding keys and heaps of distorted, flange guitar.

“That’s an interesting point,” says Ripley, “but no. I mean, ‘Mazes’ comes more from… as I was saying, it’s a very San Francisco record, and very thematically it’s a record about moving on, because we were about to move. And that song is really about making decisions in your life and where they lead you. Y’know, life is kinda like… I don’t want to say a ‘maze’, because that sounds really cliché, but you have to ask, ‘am I going to go this way or this way…?’”

“And you take some big risks,” says Sanae. “And you don’t know where they’re going to lead you.”

Ripley: “Plus it just sounds good.”

As was the case when we spoke with Ripley’s other band (Wooden Shjips) last year, the badger-bearded front man is careful to not sound too hippy, reigning himself in if he feels he’s getting too ‘out there’. As tags go, it’s one that goes hand in hand with his long hair, Bay Area zip code and the far out, pulsing grooves he makes in both of his projects. There’s an unquestionable (and likeable) spirituality to him and Sanae, though – he follows various Buddhist theories, while Sanae often describes things as “a positive experience”. The fact is, Moon Duo have got a lot to be happy about right now – they’re currently the filling in a Suicide/Big Boi sandwich, and they’re touring the world as a dating couple. ‘Mazes’ is propelled by louche positivity too; far lighter than ‘Escape’, almost ‘pop’ in places.

“People always come up and say, ‘Oh I loved your first thing,’” says Ripley. “That’s the classic thing, to say: ‘Their old stuff is great, but I dunno…’. When you’re a band who likes to change a little bit… I actually admire bands that never change, because it must take incredible discipline to never change your sound, and there’s very few bands who do that. Most bands like to change, and it’s always good if your audience will come with you on the journey, because, y’know, they might not like the latest one, but maybe the next one they will like. If you keep making albums that are good and worthy of people’s attention, and you’re doing something you’re serious about, people will come along for the ride. But the reception has actually been great for ‘Mazes’, because you’re right, a few of the songs are more pop, and that’s great because there are people who like pop music, who are most attracted to songs that are shorter and more concise.”

By “concise”, Ripley means five-minutes-long instead of ten, so Moon Duo haven’t ceased to explore the hypnosis of repetition completely. Their songs are still there for us to get lost in; for us to soak up at their deafening live shows (“It’s important to be loud,” says Sanae. “It’s full on rock’n’roll!”), mouths open and eyes even wider, until someone like Big Boi turns us and slaps us out of it, which is exactly what he’s about to do. Ripley’s so excited to see him he runs to the stage.

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