Some know Spencer Krug as the mastermind of ambient-rock outfit Sunset Rubdown. Others know him as a creative force in the pop powerhouse Wolf Parade. He is also an auxiliary member of Frog Eyes and the quasi-supergroup Swan Lake. But now, both of his main projects are on "indefinite hiatus," and the Montreal musician would prefer to be known as Moonface, his catchall pseudonym for all things Spencer Krug. We talked to the prolific musician about the literal title for his most recent record, Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped, and the perils of working alone.
Ryan Wasoba: The organ on this Moonface record is a very familiar sound. What drew you to that instrument for this album?
Spencer Krug: I had an organ when I was a teenager. I used to have a lot of fun with the drum beats and arpeggios and stuff. Like turning them up too fast and layering different beats and loops coming through the organ with a four track. I had been working with all this digital percussion gear, and it was brittle sounding and lacked that sort of warmth and deeper, darker sound. When I started thinking about making the same songs on an organ, it just made more sense to use this old machine to get a denser, more pleasing sound. I tried it and I ran out of time to try anything else, so I had to stick with that idea.
So you sought out the organ rather than using it because you had one?
I had to find it because I wanted the sound. I found it on the Internet. Mike [Bigelow, Moonface collaborator] and I went to a man's house in a minivan and bought it in a very straightforward transaction. I talked him down $50...what a sucker. We're touring with the same organ I used to record, and it's not really meant to be taken on the road. It won't survive forever.
Do you have a backup plan in case the organ dies?
No, there's no backup. If the organ goes out, the tour is over. It's a fun little element of danger.
We talked about the Organ Music half of the album name. Can you explain the phrase Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped?
That album title is half a joke and half the truth. When I was using electronic equipment, one of the pieces was this electronic marimba thing I was running through a vibraphone sound on a computer. The plan was to make rough sketches and go to a studio and do a quality version with a real vibraphone. But computer-generated instruments — the sounds are generally terrible. So out of a force of habit I started adding reverb and delay and distortion on this vibraphone because I couldn't handle the way it sounded. After I put digital drums on top, it ended up sounding like early-'90s techno, which was totally fine, and I liked the sound. There were hours of rough ideas, but none of it was forming itself into actual finished songs. Halfway through that process, I abandoned the idea of actually working with a vibraphone because it was kind of stupid. It was like sitting down at a piano to write songs for a guitar or something, like I was writing on the wrong instrument. Whatever. It was a long winter, and I ended up using an organ. After that the record came together very quickly.
You've been a member of so many different bands that have individually amassed a decent amount of success. Does the number of projects you're involved with affect your writing?
I've always written for whatever is in front of me at the time. To be clear: The days of me having a lot of projects are over now. For all intents and purposes, Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown are finished. They're on the back burner. All I'm doing right now is Moonface. It's a really free process to write without any parameters or boundaries and make every project a new idea, so things don't get stale.
You seem excited about the freedom of Moonface, but is it difficult to operate without the structure of a band?
I want Moonface to be about collaboration. It sounds a little bit contradictory, because the two Moonface records so far were recorded alone. All the collaborative stuff I was doing at the time was in Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown. The new record and the first one, Marimba and Shit-Drums, were made in similar circumstances. They were just me getting through a Montreal winter, which is very bleak, and it gets dark at 3 p.m. It's just me having all this time with nothing to do with it and this recording gear and having an idea and just starting. I have a tendency to overthink things and overanalyze, and there will always be a point where I'm pretty sure all of it is complete shit. You know, normal creative-process stuff. It's easier when you go through it with band members because you can talk each other out of your doubt. When you work alone, you actually have no idea of knowing whether or not you're right. Maybe it is shit, you know? And then you have days where you think it sounds amazing, but you have nobody to back you up. It can send you into a dark place, which is fine.
It's part of the process, but it's not a healthy way to work all the time. You can really lose it. I do it because I, impulsively, can't help it. But it's more rewarding to work with other people and to be an actual human being in the world and interact with people in a normal way. I want music to be an enjoyable thing in my life, not a trampoline to Crazyville.
In the description of Organ Music on the Jagjaguwar website, you mention performing under your own name in an almost derogatory way, as if it would be a sign of giving up. Why are you not professionally Spencer Krug?
Maybe it was a bad call. I don't know, there's something so serious and singer-songwriter-y about performing under your own name. I think I've always thought if I did that, it'd be my last move. I'm not going to do that and then go form a band called the Rainclouds or something. "Moonface" is not a band name per se as much as an alter ego. If I were to operate under my own name, there's something final about that, like, "That's Spencer. That's who he is, it's set in stone." If you use an alias, it's like when you go to a new city and nobody knows who you are, and you can pretend to be someone else for a day. I think it allows me that kind of anonymity.
It also opens it up to other people to be involved. I'm playing the Organ Music record live with Mike Bigelow [formerly of Holy Fuck and Wintersleep]. When we are onstage, I'm not thinking, "I am Moonface and this is Mike." It's like, "This is Moonface." He and I plan on writing and recording a percussion record, like a couple marimbas and some digital drums and vocals. I just finished mixing a different record a month ago, and it's a pretty straightforward rock record. And it'll be on Jagjaguwar, probably — unless they turn it down. They haven't even heard it yet. But that'll be Moonface. It's all going to be Moonface from here on out. It's just a name. I'm not ready to go full singer-songwriter. If I'm still playing music in my seventies or something, I'll probably go under my own name. Or maybe I'll just stay under Moonface forever. Eventually I'll think, "That's a stupid name. I should change that."
How did you land on the specific name Moonface?
I'm attracted to the name, it's sort of a self-description. I happen, not coincidentally, to have a very round face. So, since I was creating an alter ego for myself...I'll let you fill in the gap there.