Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Peaking Lights

Peaking Lights are husband-and-wife duo Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis, and their latest album, '936' is a gorgeous, immersive mixture of dub, psychedelic space rock, minimal house, Krautrock and pop. Previously released on LA's Not Not Fun label, it's recently had a worldwide release on Domino off-shoot Weird World. The pair were holed up in New York recording their next album when I phoned them to talk about synths, surfing and soul...

                                                       Peaking Lights. Photograph by Ben Poster

So you're both in New York just now?
I: Yeah, we're here recording just now, at Mexican Summer's recording studio. We're working on our next record. We're working with Al Carlson (producer who's worked with everyone from Oneohtrix Point Never to Lady Gaga). He's awesome.
A: He's actually here, he just rolled in with his bike helmet on. 

How was the move from Not Not Fun to Weird World? They're distributed by Domino, so it must be a bit of a change.
A: Amazing. It was great!
I: Everybody's just been wonderful to work with. We're just really happy to be working with a label that can take our music to the wider masses.


And with that comes touring. How's that working out?
A: It's great. We did a lot of touring in the past, but we've just had a kid, so it's a little bit different from what we've done before. In how we're able to tour, I mean. We can't play shows unless we have someone to watch him, y'know?
I: At this point we can't really do huge tours. We're doing shorter tours, but as he gets older that'll change. We're still playing! Just a little bit less frequently.

You build a lot of your synths yourself, so is your sound borne of necessity? Or did you build these things to create the sound that you wanted?
A: It's definitely a little bit of both. How much is anything a necessity, except for food and water and air?
I: I think what Aaron's getting at is that- we couldn't afford to buy some crazy $30,000 vintage synth- but Aaron started building synths somewhat out of necessity to create cool sounds, and then it turned into sort of "Well, actually, these synths make really unique sounds that no one else is making!" So now it's become a really integral part of what we do.

With that being the case, do you worry about taking your equipment on tour? Do you worry about anything happening to it?
A: Yeah!
I: Yeah! Even travelling sometimes, the synths will get out of tune or something from being bumped around, so it's always a little bit of an issue. Even flying overseas. One of Aaron's synths is in a suitcase- it looks like a briefcase- and it's just got all these bare wires, and we're always afraid they're going to think it's a bomb or something...

                                                       Peaking Lights. Photograph by Ben Poster 

Do you use any modern equipment? Any emulators or anything?
I: I just use regular synths. We use a right wide variety of stuff, from pretty cheap vintage Casios to Nord stuff, y'know? The stuff that Aaron uses, he runs through his own filters that he made. He kinda uses his own synths, mostly.
A: Yeah. My own stuff mostly. I guess it's just how we managed to write songs. Over the years it's just figuring out who plays what, and what's easiest. We're becoming a bit more focused with what we're doing. It used to be that we'd play with these massive stacks of...
I: Stuff.
A: Stuff. Home-made synths and the like.
I: It was a little ridiculous. It was stacks and stacks of stuff, and it'd take us forever to set up. We've streamlined it since! We've picked our favourite stuff so we can actually play live and not have it be insane!
A: We used to have to get to shows an hour and a half early because it would take so long to set up, man!

Indra, you're from a punk background, and Aaron, you're from a noise background. Do you think the DIY aesthetic- and the rawness- of these cultures have contributed to the sound of Peaking Lights?

A: It's definitely contributed. There's a lot of our past influences that have helped us develop with this.
I: I think life leads you to where you are. So what you've done in the past leads you to where you are in the present, y'know?

A lot of the press about Peaking Lights talks about the krautrock influence, but not so much about the dub side of it. Did you plan to have such a dub sound, or was that the product of your home-made synths?
A: It's something we definitely set out to do. It's a big influence to us, especially with the home-made synths. Dub definitely influenced me in building stuff like that, just being able to say "Fuck it, I can do whatever I want to do!" It's definitely a conscious decision to let that influence shine through.

You both listen to a lot of hip-hop too. Do you pay attention to the production methods in modern hip-hop?
I: Maybe subconsciously. Not in the way that we're looking for sounds, but it's something we both really like. It's not like we could ever be a hip-hop band.
A: Well, Indra might think that...
I: It just seems a little more possible to create a dub sound, and of course that's our own interpretation of it too. It's not like we're gonna sound like a Jamaican band, y'know?
A: We just look outside. We really listen to very little modern music. We really just listen to older music. Lots of reggae and dub, soul music, Latin, jazz, Afro. Even old techno and disco. We don't have a CD player, and I don't think either of us really listen to stuff on the internet.

                                                 Aaron, Mikko, Indra. Photograph by Ben Poster

How significant was your move to Wisconsin?
I: Well I'm from there, and Aaron's from California. We've lived in Wisconsin for four years but we did meet out in the Bay Area, because that's where we were living. I think it's been a good opportunity for us to just... focus on what we're doing. We lived in the country for a couple of years, we had this great house we were renting, we had a lot of space with not distractions. We created the music for fun, it was like an activity for us. It wasn't like we could go out and do much in the evenings so we would do stuff at home. Create music.
A: It definitely helped us focus, with the space. We were able to build a studio up more. There was time, so I was able to do a bit more circuit bending and building.
I: We actually ended up opening a store, in Madison, selling vintage clothes and records. It was called 'Good Style'. We just sold it this year, and it's doing really well, actually. We had a lot of in-stores and art and that kinda stuff. We tried to start a little cultural centre. But we're moving back to LA.

How come?
I: We both miss California a lot! The ocean, the weather... Wisconsin was really good for us- to focus and start what we're doing- but now that we've established that we're really missing the coast.
A: I miss the coast. Where I grew up, on the beach, I was pretty much surfing every day. For real man, I miss just being able to go surfing. I miss the ocean a lot. It's in my blood!

Aaron, I'm told you worked on a 'legendary soul project' in a record shop in Oakland. What was that?
A: Oh, that dig? I was working at Saturn Records in Oakland and we bought this collection. It was a couple hundred thousand pieces. It was from a warehouse that had been repossessed by the bank, and it was all these unplayed 45s that had, like, personal notes from all these people. One was from James Brown. It was like "Hey, my band's playing in Oakland, can you book my show for me?" Just stuff like that. My job was to catalogue the records, so I was just listening to stuff and pricing it.

Do you think that if you'd met each other ten years ago, and moved to Wisconsin then, you'd still be making the same music? Is there anything from the last ten years reflected in Peaking Lights?
I: Ten years ago I was just starting with that band Numbers, and I was in a different headspace. I was really into punk and post-punk music. I feel like Peaking Lights is a development for me. Maybe like something you can't really create until you're at a certain point in your life. I should say that Aaron and I played in a band called Rahdunes first, which was a kind of psych-noise Throbbing Gristle sort of band. That was a huge departure for me, from what I was doing in Numbers. It opened my mind to improvising, and playing such a different kind of music. I think that was the turning point for me.

There seem to be quite a few people stepping away from Noise music just now, and a lot of people are mellowing out- even Merzbow's toned it down. And of course it's now fashionable...
A: I think it's just changing. There are always gonna be people who are not gonna tone it down at all, and then there's people who just have an experimental mindset, who just want to try whatever is out there. For Merzbow to tone it down a notch, it makes total sense. When I think about it I'm like "Well, how the fuck did he get there in the first place?" And it was just by experimenting, and fucking around, y'know?
I: And you don't want to just play the same thing over and over either. You want to develop, and explore new sounds.
A: Our friends Wolf Eyes played in Madison recently and they were just so good. It felt like where they were at when I would see them in the late nineties. To me they still have this amazing energy, it's just a different tone. They're still developing, they're not stagnating.

What's the new Peaking Lights record going to be like?

A: It's probably a little bit of a step away.
I: It's not going to be totally different, but it's definitely going to be a continuation, another chapter. A development!

Here's a mix Peaking Lights made. Keep up to date with their touring schedule, new material and remix album at their site.
MIXXED-UP by Peaking Lights

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