The melancholy latticework of Spencer Krug is like an ethereal brume. Operating as Moonface, the musician juts his hands over a piano and begins to weave a gossamer kaleidoscope comprised of recollections and fears. City Wrecker, the singer songwriter’s newest EP, releases later this year. We interviewed Spencer about the importance of lyrics, the influence of Pitchfork, and whether he has any regrets with prior musical endeavors.
ROBERT PATRICK: Your lyrics have always had a very barbed, dreamlike, and sometimes even self-deprecating aesthetic. There is always a vulnerability that seems both literary and yet cavalier. What makes a good lyric to you?
SPENCER KRUG: Something honest, even (especially?) if that honesty is brutal. Something that is undeniably musical – with rhythm and rhyme and all that – but still manages to deliver some meaningful sentiment, or a worthwhile addition to the narrative, or humour – whatever its intention. Throw some poeticism in there, a nice metaphor or whatever, or a single word that undermines the obvious and so leaves the line more open to the listener’s interpretation – that’s a good lyric to me. Also – surprises! Surprises are great in lyrics, when they don’t become punchlines. But I don’t think I am able to do all these things. I think my songwriting is still too weighed down with some sort of insecurity that keeps my imagination censoring itself. I like to try though. I am working on being less vague. Here’s a Cohen song that I like because the lyrics are so simple and straightforward; the rhyming almost childlike; yet it somehow works its way from somewhere sweetly naive to somewhere dark and resolute within three little verses. The last two lines to me are the real killers:
There’s something that I’m watching
Means a lot to me
It’s a broken banjo bobbing
On the dark infested sea
Don’t know how it got there
Maybe taken by the wave
Off of someone’s shoulder
Or out of someone’s grave
It’s coming for me darling
No matter where I go
Its duty is to harm me
My duty is to know
In an era that is so dominated by mp3 singles, digital playlists and instant gratification by way of electronics, do you think that people have been desensitized to the practice of sitting down and listening to full albums as they were intended to be listened to?
Maybe. But I’m not really qualified to say. I’ve never been into singles and playlists, unless I’ve been drinking enough to think that I can DJ a living room dance party. I still listen to whole albums, the same way I did as when I was a teenager, it’s just that now I play them on spotify or my record player while I’m cleaning the house, instead of on my tape deck while I’m eating cereal. But I’ve also never been that sort of person who sits back and closes their eyes and listens to a whole album start to finish. I don’t have that sort of attention span. I think that sort of person is very unique, and has probably lasted through the ages and will continue to do so, regardless of their age, or them being in or out of touch with technology, or how their music is delivered to them. Maybe we sometimes romanticize our parent’s generation as the last true music listeners; the last appreciators of the full length. But most of them probably just threw something on to play in the background while they did something else, the way most of us still do.
As a project, Moonface is becoming more stripped down and relieved of armor than, say, Sunset Rubdown. Can you pinpoint the time that you decided to eschew drums, keyboards and other instruments in favor of the piano?
This solo piano thing is just a phase I’m going through. When I was living in Helsinki I had a sudden and strong impulse to start playing the thing again (as I’d sort of put it aside for many years), which ultimately led to me recording Julia with Blue Jeans On. And I loved the simple and straightforward challenge of making an acoustic album. Putting drums and synths and guitars aside meant I had nothing to hide behind, and I liked that. But I also love making loud music, and sometimes busy music, and danceable music. I will revisit those things. I will cheer up. But this time I will try not to forget the piano.
In your opinion, has Pitchfork been a positive or negative sundial for readers and musicians?
I really have no idea. Pitchfork really liked Wolf Parade when everyone really liked Pitchfork, so I know in some way, early on, they had a positive effect on my ability to make music for a living. For new musicians, I imagine Pitchfork can be crushing when the reviews are bad, and head-swelling when they’re good. My only advice (unsolicited) would be to try to not read them, or at the very least, ignore them, which is what I try to do. But that’s a musician’s standpoint. As a reader, I don’t know. I very rarely visit the site, and I’m getting old, so I don’t know how relevant Pitchfork is anymore, but I would guess it’s a good place to go to simply find out what musicians are up to, and then hopefully make up your own mind as to whether or not the music is good. (And what else can the writer do except express his or her own opinion? That’s their job. I imagine, or hope, that writers for Pitchfork (and all music journalists) know that their reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. I like to think they know they have no real authority over what is good and what is bad – as no one does – but that their words are simply their own; shouldn’t be taken as the gospel, and are rather just one person’s opinion. That’s the mindset with which I think reviews should be read.)
Next year will be the tenth anniversary of ‘Apologies to the Queen Mary.’ You said in an interview with Pop Matters that you “have some regrets” in regard to some of your older material. Looking back, how do you feel about the impact that ‘Apologies’ made?
When Apologies came out I was too caught up in touring and partying to really take a good look at what was happening with the album – whether or not it had a meaningful impact on anyone. All I really knew was that more and more people were coming to Wolf Parade shows and we were having a great time on and off the road. I was in my mid-twenties, but emotionally probably more like a 19yr old. Now, when I go out and play Moonface shows and talk to people afterwards, I realize how many people truly loved that album and how it helped a lot of them through some personal turmoil; loss of a loved one or heartbreak or just being a teenager. And I’m grateful they were able to get get something out of the music, and grateful to hear their stories. It helps me believe I’m doing something okay with my life. As for regrets about music in the past, I would have to be a robot to not wish I’d done a things differently; hadn’t been smarter or taken more time when writing and recording an album. But I don’t really dwell on those regrets, and either way, ‘Apologies’ is not one of the albums I think should have been done much differently. Now, ten years later, I see it as it’s own cool little time capsule, flawed or not.
You’ve described making an album by yourself as a “peaceful craziness.” Now that you’ve worked almost exclusively as Moonface, can you see yourself ever going back to being in a band atmosphere?
Absolutely. The plans are in the works. At the very least, I’d like to do more recording and touring with Siinai. We’ve actually already started that. And there are other collaborations that are bubbling. I love working solo, the simplicity of it, and I want to do more of it in the future, but I would also never want to give up the camaraderie and energy that comes with working in a group of people who are all striving together to achieve one goal; one sound. It’s like a special little family; there’s a real comfort and safety in it. And I love the sound and feel of others with me on stage, knowing that we are all, in that moment, more connected to one another than we are to anyone else, even if we haven’t spoken all day because we got in some argument at a gas station over the GPS settings. All that stuff just falls away when you play music with people. It’s kind of magical. And, of course, working with others allows you to get out of your own head, musically, to make something you could never make on your own. I would be heartbroken I never played in a band again.
What made you decide to release your new EP, “City Wrecker,” on vinyl only?
The record label. But I stand by their decision. Sometimes when I look at a CD it looks like it’s already in a landfill somewhere.
On your Facebook page, you recently told your fans that you were going to become more active on social media. What was the impetus for this decision?
I want to be better connected with the people who like what I do; who are actually interested in communicating. In the past I’ve shied away from social media because I didn’t (and still don’t) really understand it, and had no interest in learning. I wanted to spend my energy on other things. And if ever this online silence was taken as some kind of introverted mysteriousness – or an attempt on my part at being perceived that way – that was a wrong impression. Really, it was just laziness. Affiliates of my record label ran the facebook and whatnot, and I rarely even looked at the sites. But then I realized a lot of people were asking me legitimate questions that were being ignored, and also realized there were things I wanted to say to Moonface fans that I could only put into words myself, so I hunkered down. It’s new to me, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m still not even good at answering emails. And I’m sure the sites I’m using are already antiquated (facebook / tumbler), but things like instagram, twitter, vine, etc. seem like they are for people who perpetually have something to share, and I’m not like that.
Have you ever thought about scoring a film, and if so, what filmmaker would you want to work with?
I would love score films, and have actually been close a couple of times, but the projects either fell through or got put on a back-burner. These were small independent films. I don’t know if I have the stuff to score a big-budget film. Maybe one day. I really like Chan-Wook Park, but that’s a fantasy, and either way my music probably wouldn’t work with his style; he is so slick, and I am too comfortable with imperfections. For me, I think scoring a small horror or sci-fi movie would be best, because I feel like there is a playful darkness to a lot of my stuff that would work well in those genres; something low-budget with some unknown director who is passionate and wants to take risks, and who has the time to sit down and really figure out with me how the music can be most effective in their film, but can also still pay me.
Listening to the title track off of “City Wrecker,” there is a pulse of acceptance and a terrific lilt of sadness. While making this EP, what did you discover about yourself?
I cried like a baby when I left Helsinki, where I lived for a couple of years, and where I made this EP just before leaving. We had this big going away party that lasted all night, dancing and singing, until I suddenly found myself and Siinai’s guitarist sobbing drunkenly into each other’s arms at 7 am. Then he went home and I just cried into the bushes. Now I live in Canada again, and sometimes wonder why I left Helsinki at all. I love my friends there, and the city itself, and I had the means to make music and pay the rent, but for some reason I felt like I had no choice – it was just time to leave. I don’t know what any of that has to do with this EP, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind.