Words by Tommy Johnson
At the end of our conversation, Moaning’s vocalist/guitarist Sean Solomon will resume his freelancing animation work. It’s not a bad gig, including working on music videos for the Japanese group Chai, along with his band, but it does keep him busy. Along with that feverish amount of work needing finished, Moaning had just performed a show in their home of Los Angeles. Solomon admitted that he was a little skeptical about how the set was going to go; this marked the first time the band would be live in front of an audience after singles such as “Ego” have been released.
“It ended up being fun,” Solomon says. “The ten minutes before the doors open, I’m always like ‘No one is going to come.’ Twenty minutes after the doors open, I’m like, ‘We are going to sell out.’ There’s those ten minutes where I start to doubt myself and think that everyone hates me, so it’s kinda funny. I was proven wrong; it was at capacity, and everyone had a great time.”
Alongside Solomon, bassist/keyboardist Pascal Stevenson and drummer Andrew MacKelvie have been bandmates for an extended time. In the early days plugging away in LA’s DIY scene, the trio was under the alias Moses Campbell. Having been in their late teens when it formed, Solomon has mentioned previously that they had ran their course and change was needed. Enter Moaning with 2018’s self-titled release, praised by several outlets and adored by many.
The latest effort Uneasy Laughter shifts towards a more synth-driven, loopy experience that, in many ways, opened Moaning’s palette for different avenues to take their music. It’s also worth noting that Solomon’s sobriety opened him up in his writing sessions. In the band’s press release for Uneasy Laughter, he states: “I did a lot of reading in the tour van — authors like bell hooks, Mark Fisher, and Alain de Botton, all really inspired me. I don’t want to be the person who influences young people to get high and become a cliche, tragic artists. What I’d rather convey to people is that they’re not alone in what they think and how they feel. ‘Ego’ specifically and the album overall is about those themes — letting go of your bullshit so you can help other people and be present.”
OffShelf: You and your bandmates began playing in DIY venues like The Smell. Are places like that still around?
Sean Solomon: The Smell still does exist. It’s interesting because it stays at the same age. The people that go there are teenagers, and they have taken over to the spot. It’s pretty cool because it looks like it did when I was growing up.
OS: How did you find yourself discovering music growing up?
SS: I had a guitar, and it was sort of sitting in my room for years before I actually picked it up. I think that the first bands that my parents introduced me to be bands like The Beatles. When I was thirteen, I was listening to a bunch of stuff, but the band that got me was Nirvana. That introduced me to Sonic Youth, which introduced me to Daniel Johnston, which introduced to K Records and then indie rock and punk. I mention Nirvana because of the history of them, and the myth was cool at the time. I think that it put me on this path to get signed onto Sub Pop and following that history a little bit. I don’t know; it’s interesting to have a suicidal heroin role model growing up.
OS: You battled some addiction for some time, did you not?
SS: Yeah, I did. It was one of those things that I didn’t necessarily see for a long time. When I was fourteen and getting into music I started also getting into drugs because I thought they go together. I went to a psych ward when I was fifteen. I didn’t get sober; I stopped doing hard drugs, but I was still drinking and smoked weed. It wasn’t till a year and a half, and I was touring every day and people giving me beer and weed. That was when I said that I have to stop doing this completely; otherwise, I am going to do this every day.
People who are sober talk about rock bottom. I had a bunch of those, and they didn’t do anything for me. I think that the consistency of every day feeling the same routine… it takes a toll on you when you are on tour. You wake up hungover and have been in a car for eight hours. It’s not fun.
OS: It almost sounds like you got bored with living this lifestyle.
SS: It is interesting to be on the other side and just realize now that I’m not doing that stuff I can be there for other people. I can talk to you on the phone and be mad at you for it [laughs]. It’s not selfish, and it’s impacting everything. I’m thinking about everyone in the audience and not myself.
OS: Do you find yourself being frustrated when you get asked about your addiction and sobriety?
SS: I don’t mind… I like it when people ask me about it because they want to know about it. There have been a few people that have told me that they are sober now because of me sharing information with them, which is cool. It helps me ultimately want to keep it up. Music is great, but I think it’s important to relay most of a positive message as you can.
OS: Do you find yourself being clear-headed in terms of writing?
SS: I do. I think I was worried that if I didn’t stay up all night and get high or have all these terrible things happen to me that I couldn’t write. The opposite has actually happened; I write a lot faster and can edit myself quicker. The new album is interesting because there are songs before I started going to therapy, after I started going to therapy, and songs in between that I finished later on.
I’m stoked about the new album. It’s the first time we have made a cohesive album. We weren’t thinking about how to play it live. We were thinking about how we can make an album that people will want to listen to from beginning to end. That was pretty freeing and exciting.
OS: Speaking of the process of the album, I see that the band focused on experimentation. I especially enjoyed seeing the comment about how guitars will be guitars, but keyboards are unlimited.
SS: What I have been doing is I would write a song on the guitar just because it’s in my room. Then I transcribe it into Mini Notes and listen to how it sounds through different presets and see if there’s a different direction I can take it in. I have written folk songs that have turned into dance songs. Our song “Fall In Love”- I wrote it on guitar, and there’s no guitar on the final take now. It sounded horrible on the guitar! It is interesting how style is the least important part of a song; you can play it in a million different songs.
OS: You have been working with your bandmates for so long. I envision that it helps you as well.
SS: I will send Pascal a file and say do whatever you want. It will come back to a completely different song that has my melodies and vocals. The same goes for Andrew. He takes a generic drum beat on my demos and will do something weird. We have a song coming out titled “Connect the Dots” – we recorded the drums and put them through an MPC. We played them back through the MPC and chopped them up on the computer. I would have never thought to do that, and it’s one of my favorite parts about the song! If you listen to the rhythm, it sounds like a drum set, and there seems to be something wrong, and you can’t put your finger on it.
I think that we have been bored with generic guitar music… music is evolving. We get compared to the 80s a lot because we are using such modern technology every day to write and play music. It’s cool people finding nostalgic qualities about it. I don’t think that this album could have existed without the technology.