With a Major Label Deal in the Rearview, L.A.s Lo Moon Is Relishing Its Newfound Independence And Having Way More Fun
There was an air of unwanted mystery surrounding Lo Moon when the Los Angeles-based group debuted. Touring extensively in 2016 and 2017, ahead of its first album which arrived in early 2018, the band released but one song during that time — “Loveless,” which owes more than its name to the seminal album by drone rockers My Bloody Valentine — and made it available exclusively on DSPs. Much later, a video arrived on YouTube. Otherwise, if you wanted to purchase Lo Moon music, you were looking at buying a 10” vinyl at their merch table.
Yet the group was performing a full album at its shows, so why the material freeze-out? Turns out it wasn’t a marketing ploy meant to project an air of secrecy around Lo Moon’s songs, but rather, a frustrating situation which found a record label and its just-signed rock band at odds.
“The label’s idea must have been that ‘Loveless’ would be released, nothing would be said about it, and it would do its own thing,” says Lo Moon’s pedigreed guitarist, Sam Stewart, the offspring of Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and Bananarama’s Siobhan Fahey. “But reality kicks in when people are coming to the show and the mystery is over as soon as they see it, and you’ve got nothing to give them.”
“We played 70 shows between ‘Loveless’ and the next single,” says the group’s frontman Matt Lowell, who penned the fateful “Loveless” and used it as his calling card to connect with Stewart and bassist/keyboardist Crisanta Baker when he moved to Los Angeles from New York. Columbia Records scooped up the then-trio, now a foursome with the addition of drummer Sterling Laws, and made the decision to withhold music from the group’s growing audience. Two years later, the label dropped Lo Moon as its was finishing its second album, “A Modern Life.”
Recording “A Modern Life” began at famed studio the Village in Los Angeles. Lo Moon then moved to the home of their producer, Yves Rothman’s home, where they converted his dining room into a studio. The final sessions took place at Hall of Justice in Seattle, where the band recorded its debut, re-enlisting the help of Chris Walla (who co-produced “Lo Moon” with François Tétaz). Lowell had the input of his three bandmates in the songwriting process.
The dreamy atmospherics and pop-rock sensibility of “Lo Moon,” mainly written by Lowell, drew comparisons to such classic groups as Talk Talk, Cocteau Twins and Roxy Music. On “A Modern Love,” the band amps up the energy, a natural progression from Lo Moon’s live performances, which transformed the languid sounds of the first album and turned them into guitar-driving rockers. The comparisons, in turn, have shifted to Coldplay and Radiohead.
With a thematic through-line of hope, the songs on “A Modern Life” sound like they were written during the pandemic — in particular, the happy-sad “Dream Never Dies,” frenetic “Expectations” and the sticky “Carried Away” — but none of them were. Rather, the band was able to reclaim the album they made while on the Columbia roster, and replaced only two tracks on the final product.
“We had a few people at Columbia that understood us,” says Lowell. “But we don’t need a label to decide what kind of band we are. We are an album band. The rollout of this album has been so different. We put out singles. We know when they’re coming out. We do our own photo shoots and videos.”
Adds Stewart: “We’re literally doing everything completely by ourselves and we’re having way more fun.”
The two credit Thirty Tigers, David Macias’ Nashville-based music company, which allows signed acts to maintain ownership of their masters and offers other favorable terms for independent artists, for providing invaluable marketing insight and distribution tools. By releasing “A Modern Life” on Lo Moon’s own Strnger Recordings, their approach is to grow organically by word-of-mouth, which all parties realize takes time. And they’re good with that.
“We’ve found that media, and some radio, have come into the orbit on this album — now that we’re ‘really indie’ — that weren’t coming at us [before] with a 10-foot pole,” says Lowell with a laugh.
Adds Stewart: “In hindsight, it feels a bit like people were almost allergic to the idea of our band on a major label, especially when no one knew who we were. For the first time ever, [outlets] like BBC Radio 6 pay attention to us. There were a lot of stations that got on board, but now they’re way more on board.”
Lowell manages Lo Moon’s social media, communicating directly with fans, and over the pandemic, Lo Moon built a robust mailing list for its newsletter, called “Raincoat Chronicles,” which they launched in Feb. 2021 on Substack. The newsletter included offering cover versions of songs (viewable here), interviews with creatives and reviews of books, podcasts and gear. Now, they use the newsletter to keep fans informed about all things related to “A Modern Life.”
“We never fit in with a lot of the ‘cool kid’ bands so we didn’t feel part of a scene or a community,” says Stewart. “What we found is, online, there are loads of people that are into the same stuff we’re into, and it’s fun to explore that.”
“We don’t want to be mysterious,” says Lowell. “We want to create that community.”
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