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“When we started the band, what we always wanted to do and [still] try to adhere to as sort of our guiding principle is the freedom to change,” Moon Duo’s Sanae Yamada says. While Moon Duo was forced to hit pause during the 2020 pandemic, Levitation reached out to them about sharing some old live recordings. The band wholeheartedly agreed, not only to provide a world hungry for live music once again but also to showcase to their fans and themselves their natural transition in sound as an ever-evolving psych rock band.The album features Moon Duo at Austin Psych Fest in 2012, as the original duo. And then their 2014 return as a trio joined by John Jeffrey on drums. Though they always stay true to their signature trippy Moon Duo sound, they are also able to provide listeners with something completely new and alive.
Elena Childers (EC): Hi, Sanae!
Sanae Yamada (SY): Hi! How’s it going?
EC: Good, good. Let’s just jump in and talk about Moon Duo. Let’s talk about the Live at Levitation—this was kind of an old performance. What was it like kind of diving back into that?
SY: It was pretty surreal, actually. The whole proposal for this record from Levitation and going through the old recordings and performances all happened during the pandemic when the whole music industry was more or less paralyzed. And we've been on the road for 10/12 years pretty constantly, so just being at home all of a sudden with everything so uncertain was strange… And then hearing these recordings out from the past was pretty wild. It was kind of ghostly. It really, for me at least, felt really far away.
EC: Yeah, the music industry really did go on an insane halt there for a while. So what were you guys doing during the pandemic then?
SY: Well… [Laughs] We were at home in Portland for most of it and working on recording stuff—doing a few odd remixes and little projects if we could get our hands on them. We weren’t really doing Moon Duo stuff, per se. We kind of took a little hiatus from that band. So this [Live at Levitation release] and then playing Levitation later this year are kind of the reformation of the band.
EC: Oh sick! How does it all feel to have had that unintended hiatus and now the comeback a couple of years later?
SY: Well, I’ll let you know when we play some more shows. [Laughs]
EC: [Laughs] Fair enough. Well, then do you think Moon Duo has evolved since the hiatus? How would you compare you guys to, let's say, back when you did this Live at Levitation performance almost a decade ago to a more recent version of the band?
SY: Well, I think that everything that we ended up doing and kind of what we built to in 2019… I think the seeds of it were just beginning to be there in those years of like 2012-2014. And 2012 was the last year that we played just the two of us with the drum machine. We added our drummer John Jeffrey in 2013 and that really changed our live set. So you can kind of hear that jump in between the two sides of the record. Like, the later drum machine days in 2012 and the early John Jeffrey days in 2014. But I think we took a lot of the stuff we were doing at that time with repetition and propulsion and the light show and just slowly evolved it over the years until 2019 when it became something a lot more elaborate.
EC: Ok, very cool. That’s awesome. Yeah, you can really see a beautifully transitioning evolution in the band, and I think that’s important. So, what would you say is the Moon Duo kind of philosophy or even slogan? You know, a one-sentence thing that describes you guys, what do you think it would be?
SY: Oh wow, that's a tough one… I’m not sure I can come up with something on the spot. [Laughs] I’m not great with mottos and things like that… I don’t really have like a one-sentence quote, but I think when we started the band what we always wanted to do and [still] try to adhere to as sort of our guiding principle is the freedom to change. We never wanted to get too pigeonholed in one type of approach or one type of sound. And we had many interests that guided us along the way. And some of those remain consistent, but we always try to leave room for evolution.
EC: Totally, and that's very important in a band.
EC: So tell me how you got hooked up with Levitation.
SY: Well, Ripley’s other band Wooden Shjips played one of the earliest versions of Austin Psych Fest. I wanna say maybe the second year that it happened? And so, we sort of had a connection through Wooden Shjips, and then they did shows with Black Angels over the years, and there was sort of an affinity there. We always just loved what they were doing and at the time there were far fewer psych fests to be had than there are currently. So I think that Austin Psych Fest and then Levitation were kind of like a pulse-start in this little mini scene that grew up around this psych resurgence in the last 15 years. But yeah, after that early Austin Psych Fest we were always just sort of peripherally in touch. And then, any time we got an invitation to play an Austin Psych Fest or a Levitation-related event, it was always a high priority.
EC: Hell yeah! Those fests have definitely helped spearhead the psych scene resurgence.
SY: Yeah, it’s a real touchstone, I think.
EC: Absolutely. So, tell me more about what Moon Duo is working on for the future.
SY: That's kind of an open question at the moment. It's been kind of wild for us. We haven't been able to really play over the last couple of years because our drummer is Canadian. So for a while, the borders were closed and we couldn't even actually get together. But we’re starting to rehearse and feel it out and see where we are. A lot’s changed for everybody in the last couple of years. Like us personally and just collectively—plus, the world in general! [Laughs] It’s kind of an open question right now. We’re just gonna start playing and see how we feel, see what comes out and where we wanna go from there.
EC: Sick. So we have to wrap up is there anything else you wanna shout out before we split?
SY: Just a lot of gratitude to Levitation for getting this record together and for inviting us back. We’re really looking forward to it.
EC: Thanks so much!
SY: Thank you!