If music lives in the spaces between the notes, consider Moses Sumney your guide through the stillness. A relative newcomer to the scene, his live shows in Los Angeles attracted an impressive list of fans from the music elite. He has performed with, and alongside, artists such as Beck, James Blake, Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio), Solange, Erykah Badu, Sufjan Stevens [Tape Op #70], St. Vincent, Junip, and Local Natives. Not bad, considering at 20 years old he noticed his friends were "doing things" and decided he needed to "do something" as well. Mission accomplished. His latest release (and first full-length album), Aromanticism, is a refreshing listen, full of great songs with engaging production featuring his otherworldly falsetto, and, of course, plenty of spaces in between the notes.
Your earlier work was quite stripped down. I was curious about your transition from those records you did on 4-track cassette recorder to making Aromanticism?
Definitely. Aromanticism is my first full-length album, so it's the debut album with two capital letters. Before that, I had two EPs, the first being Mid-City Island, which was recorded entirely to 4-track.
You got that from Dave Sitek?
Dave Sitek, yes. In 2013 I was starting out in L.A., playing a lot of shows. My name spread really quickly amongst "industry types," so I was meeting producers like Dave Sitek. I didn't really know what I wanted to do, production-wise. I didn't know how to produce, or how to approach sonic design. He said, "The best way to figure it out is to record yourself." I had never done that before, somehow, so I went up to his house and he showed me this 4-track recorder, a Yamaha MT4X. It's what they recorded the first TV On The Radio on. He made a video of him using it, so I could reference that. He gave me homework, like, "Record some demos and bring them back to me." I went home, back to my tiny studio apartment in mid-city, and I recorded a bunch [of songs] on the floor of my bedroom. I had a little [BLUE] Bluebird microphone and this shitty little amp. I really didn't know what I was doing. At the end of the process I realized I loved the music so much. Not just the music, but also the recordings. I've always been a big fan of lo-fi, unprofessional recordings. On a whim, I decided to put it out as a free download. Because I was meeting producers at the same time I was making those 4-track recordings, there was a lot I started making for the album way before that first EP came out. I always had the idea, or vision, of the album in my mind in the years leading up to its release. I knew it would be more polished, and that there would be more computer recordings. I wanted it to be more fleshed out, instrumentally; but I also knew that I didn't have any money, so I didn't really have a way to make that. There's "Man on the Moon," one of the first songs I put out. It's on Mid-City Island. I started making a studio version of that. I thought it was going to be on the album, but I ended up cutting it. It's a studio version of it with a drummer; Thundercat [bass] plays on it. There's a string section and all this production. Then I turned around and made the 4-track version of it. The album Aromanticism starts with the track "Man on the Moon (reprise)," which was initially the reprise of the studio version of "Man on the Moon." Then I ended up cutting the full song and keeping the reprise, because I liked it as an intro to the record, [as well as using it as] a connecting piece to that EP. It was always the plan to do music that was more fleshed out, but it took me a few years to do it.
You've talked about your first record being "purposefully incomplete." I thought that was an interesting idea.
Yeah. It was really necessary for me to learn how to get out of my own way, get out of my own head, and learn how to put music out. I was so used to not putting music out and dreaming about it. When I started making it, it was so intense for me to put anything out. I would work songs into the ground. I was beginning to fear that I would never release music. Pretty much as soon as I started playing shows in L.A., it became a moment and people became very aware of me. I wasn't expecting that. I was expecting to have a really slow beginning, spending years honing things. It worked the opposite way. I got a lot of attention off my live show before I had really put music out. Suddenly there were all these people waiting to hear something. Because...