Before starting on their European tour, psychedelic drone-rock duo Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada went down to Berlin to mix their third album. Ripley took some time off from their busy schedule to talk to us about work time, playtime, Annie Hall and crystal pyramids.
‘For me, writing and recording music doesn’t feel like work at all.’
Interview by Gerlin Heestermans Photos shot by Miranda Lehman in Portland, USA
Last year you both quit your day jobs, to fully focus on Moon Duo. How does that feel?
At first there was a bit of anxiety but we’ve relaxed into it by now. Part of that was having to move out of San Francisco because we could no longer afford our apartment, so we’ve been a bit nomadic since. We’ve decided to move to Portland actually, so we’re looking forward to putting down some roots. But it doesn’t affect the music at all. We travel so much that when we get home it’s fairly easy to settle into a work routine there.
Does music feel like work to you?
For, me the writing and recording doesn’t feel like work at all. Once an album is done and we have to tour to promote it, then that feels like the work part. Not that I don’t like touring, but it feels more like a required part of the job.
I understand. Sorry that I’m a required part of your job right now! I was wondering… how do you put the play into your work? And how do you put the work into your play?
It’s a bit hard to separate the two because we now live this job almost all the time. So in that sense, the things that I consider more like work (interviews, photo shoots etc) have more to do with selling a product, and that’s not very interesting to me. So a lot of times I try to do different kinds of promo, like mix tapes or video mixes. That’s fun for me. As far as the work in the play, as long as I’m playing around with music, or even visual art, it counts as work. Everything eventually finds its way into a song or album cover in some way. That’s the really great thing about this ‘job’.
I like that idea. I guess being a full-time musician you’ve got to be pretty (self-)disciplined. Do you have certain rules you work with?
When we started we wanted to be as self-contained, mobile and flexible as possible. We wanted to be able to play shows anywhere in the world, and not have money be the limiting factor. We can fit everything in two checked bags on a flight, and in our car with amps in the US. We plan to evolve the sound and setup over time but it will be natural, based on opportunities.
In combining your repetitive music with powerful visuals you’ve created quite a strong format for Moon Duo. Would I be going too far by calling you control freaks?
Ha! I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to the music but Sanae is totally in charge of all of the visual stuff, so there’s a nice balance.
Talking about balance, I imagine being part of Moon Duo can be very absorbing – especially ’cause you two also share a personal relationship. How do you let off steam and relax?
We’re big film fans. We read a lot and listen to a lot of music – believe it or not. But to escape a bit I really like going to the cinema. That’s one of the first things I looked into when we got to Berlin the other day.
What film did you see most recently? Do you have a favourite you like to go back to? Whenever I wanna relax and get cheered up I always watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Never fails me!
Ah, well most recently it was The Avengers, which is kind of embarrassing. I do really enjoy a good summer blockbuster. But my go-to favorite is Annie Hall. I think it’s a perfect film. I like a lot ’70s stuff, Elliott Gould movies, Altman, Monte Hellman, etc.
Live it’s just you two on stage. If you had all the money in the world for whatever stage props, what would you go for?
We’re so focused on being compact and thrifty (we have to carry everything with us on an airplane) that we’ve never even discussed anything like that! So I’m sure Sanae would have a completely different answer, but I’d say something with giant prisms and crystal pyramids and also dancers.
That sounds rad!
Moon Duo play on 14 June at De Effenaar in Eindhoven and on 15 June at De Nieuwe Anita in Amsterdam. Both shows are free for Subbacultcha! members. Other live dates: 16 June at Merleyn, Nijmegen.