Werkstatt Recordings found another gem. This time in the form of Blake Voss and his project Vandal Moon. The new album Teenage Daydream Conspiracy contains Blake’s best work to date. It’s saturated with more gripping displays of overarching 80’s post punk and dark wave than previously revealed in the years past. Call it revelry or call it a state of mind, Vandal Moon’s style will certainly take you to places you’ve been and to places perhaps not yet explored.
Your new album Teenage Daydream Conspiracy on Werkstatt Recordings has been out for a month or so. First off, how do you feel regarding the end result? Also, In regards to being on a label for the first time, what specifically do you expect to get on a small independent label that you would not get on a self released album? What do you want the label to help you with?
Well, this is my first time being on a record label. For my previous albums I've done pretty much everything on my own. I was a bit uncertain with the idea of going on a record label at all. I really had no idea what that would entail in terms of commitment and results. It takes a certain leap of faith to allow someone else into your little artistic world and to give them a piece of yourself. It's frightening frankly. But, from the get go, Werkstatt was really good about allowing me to dictate the terms of our contract, and they've come through on their end, as promised. When it was all said and done, they offered me a certain "legitimacy" that I think, unfortunately, people were unable to recognize in my work without a label attached. I think it has something to do with our corporate mentality zeitgeist as a collective consciousness. We don't think of things as having a real value without some form of representative backing. Which is an absolute fallacy, and unfortunate in terms of how people embrace art and for what reasons. Nevertheless, I'm happy with how it's unfolded for me. And I hope that Werkstatt feels the same way. I'm grateful.
I expect a certain level of support from a small label that I just cant provide myself. Mostly I expect that a label will do a lot of the work that I really don't like doing. All the PR stuff is draining and time consuming. Nowadays it's sort of expected that an artist is also a social media platform expert in addition to being a musician. Well, it will come as no big surprise that spending all your time trying to create effective advertisement detracts from my time creating actual art. That's what I want from a label. PR legwork and distribution.
I have heard nothing but good things about Werkstatt. The artists seem to echo your thoughts. Your video for Romance Demonology has generated over 1000 plays in 2 days. How is the word getting out about Vandal Moon besides the social media outlets?
I'm not sure there is any other way, really. I'm not in any print media that I know of. I'm not on television. All the radio programming that I've been a part of is Internet based stuff. I'm living in the dystopian future just like everyone else. We're all very fortunate in that we have total access to international distribution models for, basically, free. The only real cost is you have to give in to the present advertising model. But this has always been the case. People forget that when they are watching TV, the programming is not the product. The commercials are not the product... YOU are the product. The stations are selling your human eyes & ears to advertisers. And that's the bottom line. A lot of entertainment exists to take full advantage of your as a source of "energy" known as money. I'm on a tangent... but my point is this... unless I'm willing to tour, I'm stuck with the Internet. MTV replaced touring to some extent and the Internet replaced MTV, but multiplied its effectiveness. And even if I were to reach out to other media sources, outside of the Internet, the reality is that music is now free... so people don't need someone or something to tell them how good band X or Y is. They can go listen to it for themselves. That's why music journalism is dead.
Very true. We live in a world where technology is at a point where with an app or download anyone can create music. In a sense, everyone can create music if they want to and the market gets saturated with a lot of garbage. In turn it becomes tedious and cumbersome to weed out the garbage and find something good.
True and along the same lines, there’s more beauty and magic being made in the world than we could ever dream of finding. The upside and downside. Two sides to every coin.
Lets dive deeper into your music. The LSD EP was a departure from Dreamless and Synesthesia in regards to the evolution of your sound. 2014’s Synesthesia explored experimental areas that are not really present on Teenage Daydream Conspiracy. Dreamless came out in 2013 but seems to have more in common with the present day material than Synesthesia did. Was Synesthesia a form of experimentation for you?
Synesthesia is a concept album without anyone knowing. The idea was that there is a certain representative commonality to colors and how they affect the human mind and our mood. I chose an individual color for each song and wrote the songs as representations of colors. Except I decided that I didn't want people to know that I'd started each song as a color, so I renamed every track and allowed the listener to determine what color or mood or shapes they were hearing. Synesthesia is a fascinating phenomenon and something I wanted to explore. To answer your question more directly... yes, it was experimental. It's my only instrumental album, and my first record exploring software synthesis as a form of music making. That record should probably not be listened to while sober. Get high... and try and figure out which song is which color. That's the real experiment.
Dreamless toyed with some psychedelic & folk influences. What inspired this direction? How did you get to The LSD EP from there?
I wanted Vandal Moon to be something, which allowed me absolute freedom. It was supposed to be a name, which denoted or dictated no particular genre. Dreamless was the first full representation of that idea. The terms "psychedelic" means a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me it means freedom. We had punk rock, which means freedom, but not artistically. Post-punk was an elaboration upon that. But psychedelic music is important because it literally refers to having an "open mind". People would have you believe that it means tie-dye shirts & patchouli oil, but in reality that has nothing to do with it. It means exploration. It means freedom from conformity. As long as we don't allow it to be co-opted. The LSD EP evolved outwardly from a desire to be free but also to go further down one particular stream of consciousness. The LSD EP is an album about a fictional world where humanity is no longer allowed to explore their spiritual nature except through the use of technology. LSD is their only way
The LSD EP was certainly a harbinger of things to come. Teenage Daydream Conspiracy marks the present day sound with more vocal range than in the past and solid song structure. What changes did you make and why, or was this just a natural path?
I suppose it was a bit of both really. Structurally, with The LSD EP, I tended to write songs by building in layers. Get myself a looping bass line, start adding some chords, drums, atmosphere and evolve the songs in that manner. Closer to making a collage or something. Just letting it be what it wants. With Teenage Daydream Conspiracy, I sat and wrote 20 songs as demos and tried to make sure that they generally followed a more traditional song structure with a fully fleshed out verse, chorus, bridge, solo format. There are exceptions, but I put a lot more formalized control into what was going on structurally so that people could connect on that level.
The Cure seems to be an influence. “Blame It On The Weekend” and “Robert Smith (I Love You Since I Was Six)” seem to really point at the Cure, ha-ha, but there is definitely a hint throughout the album. How did you discover The Cure?
I wish I could tell you. It feels like The Cure has been around forever. I mean, they've been around my entire life, so. For me it really is forever. They run the full gamut of human emotions with their music, and Robert Smith is nothing short of brilliant for creating the weirdest, most beautiful songs you've ever heard. All of his textures and timbres... When I was in high school all the kids hated The Cure and I couldn't for the life of me understand why. They really could be the greatest pop group of all time. So fuck those kids. That song "Robert Smith (I Love You Since I Was Six)" is from my heart as a six year old boy. It's interesting you saw the similarity in "Blame It On The Weekend" because, really, that's me doing my shitty version of Gary
Regarding The Cure influence on “Blame It On The Weekend”. I felt The Cure in the lyrics, not so much the music. “Friday I'm In Love”, goes through the days of the week in the lyrics like “Blame it on the weekend”. That's what reminded me of the cure.
Ahhh, yes. Of course. I typically don't think of The Cure as having been an inspiration lyrically, but "Friday I'm In Love" is so iconic, I was definitely ripping them off. Sorry, Robert!
What inspires you to create music? What keeps you up at night?
Music is all I think about. It's a blessing and a curse. It detracts from other aspects of my life and I have to be careful to not fall into an abyss. I might not be the most talented musician on Earth, but I'll be damned if it's not what the Universe wants from me. I'll keep giving as long as it keeps asking. As for what keep me up at night... the same shit as everyone else. Struggling with responsibilities and relationships and life and death and pain. We're all humans and we're all in this together and it's God's big joke that we get to be conscious of our own suffering. Everything will always be as it was intended to be. There's no alternate path. Just alternate realities.
“Pyromania”, “Dream Lover”, “Romance Demonology”, “Can’t Feel”, “Little Toy Soldier” and “Father” are amongst my favorite tracks on the album. It isn’t easy to pick a favorite, as every track is one important piece of the entire document. Perhaps you could give us some insight to themes of these tracks?
Thank you. That's very kind of you to say... well, "Pyromania" is about false revolution. It's about thinking you care about the world so, as a form of action, you decide to change your Facebook avatar and expect that it will make some difference. I don't think that's what Gandhi meant by civil disobedience;playing with social media. That song is also about believing in something without understanding what that entails. I don't advocate violent revolution because I think I have something of an understanding of what that really means. And it doesn't mean Amazon delivering it to your doorstep in a nice little box. "Dream Lover" is a love song. We all need love songs "Romance Demonology" is about admiring something dangerous. It's dreaming about becoming the person you know you have the potential to become, but also realizing that in order to become that person, you'd have to risk everything. It's about being afraid to escape the mental cage we all live within. It's about destroying something in order to make it anew. It's the mythological Phoenix rising from the ashes. "Can't Feel" is about putting up a psychic shield and telling everybody to fuck off. "Little Toy Soldier" is about turning war on its head. It's about dancing with people and not killing them. "Father" is a meditation through chant. In that song I chant "Father" over and over. I lost my Dad to suicide almost two years ago. It was the hardest thing I've ever been through. It's confusing and unfathomable.
What’s the scene like in Santa Cruz? Do you find yourself playing in Los Angeles, as many great artists came up from the LA scene like High Functioning Flesh and Drab Majesty? What bands have you played with?
I'm sketching out plans for a tour now. We'll see if L.A. makes the cut. But, there's no real scene here to speak of in Santa Cruz. Just a bunch of yuppy wanna-be hippies and baby boomer blues. There used to be a pretty strong punk & ska movement here, but it died out a long time ago. I look around me and see mostly a dot com takeover. Expensive places are not conducive to art scenes. Historically, in America, great art scenes evolve out of places with affordable housing.
The NYC scene caters big time to many styles of underground music. Would a tour be something you would like to do in the near future?
Besides music, what interests you?
I was just being snarky about the vodka thing. I tend to shy away from letting people in on my other interests. But I'm interested in all kinds of things. I'm fascinated by mythology and its relationship to the human mind. I'm interested in international politics. I'm interested in the psychology of mind control and the human potential for free thought. But mostly I'm interested in how all these ideas work together to take us, as a race, down a particular path, and whether or not that's a form of destiny.
Back to the music and themes of Teenage Daydream Conspiracy. Is there any specific meaning to the title Teenage Daydream Conspiracy?
I believe in the power of youth and I believe in the power of the mind. These two forces alone can change the world. In fact they could be vital to our survival as a species. That's where Teenage Daydream Conspiracy comes from. The idea of revolution and change and cultural betterment. Only the young will lead us to this place. It's about optimism and momentum. It's about the foundation of the pyramid.
Last but not least; what's next for Blake Voss and Vandal Moon regarding upcoming releases and other projects?
Regarding upcoming releases, I'm doing a song with Logan Sky and Steven Jones. Something like a remix, but I'm adding my own vocals and guitar & whatnot. I'm also working on a song with Dylan Mars Greenberg. Both of these songs are darker new wavetype tracks. I've also got an ongoing project with Neglectic where we do improvised musical meditations. We call them Meditations on Death. We're about to release the third iteration - more of a psychedelic sound. And I'm looking for exactly what the next sound will be for whatever follows Teenage Daydream Conspiracy. I'm always searching for something new because I'm never really completely happy with what I've done in the past.
I would say that the most important thing in life and probably our biggest freedom is for people to be themselves. And if a person has the opportunity to express themselves, they shall not hesitate to do that for one second. And it's not a question of doing that in a creative or artistic form of art. So I think that would be my last words. If you can express yourself, DO IT!
Front 242, Jan 01 2003
Writer and contributor on Brutal Resonance
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