Usually found conjuring psychedlia as one half of moon duo, Sanae Yamada Tells us about the thinking behind her new solo side-project vive la void
The driving album is quintessentially American, but despite being based in the States, Moon Duo’s Sanae Yamada has called on the spirit of ‘Autobahn’ and German motorik rather than Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ or Bruce Springsteen for her new Vive La Void side-project.
“I do spend a lot of time on the road, and I like a lot of the German Kraftwerk-era music, like Can and Neu!,” she says. “As I started to get into synthesisers, I became more interested in the music made with them and began listening to people like [US experimental pioneer] Laurie Spiegel. I’ve also always liked Suicide and Martin Rev’s solo stuff so I’m inspired by a mixture of those two things – a rock perspective based on what I was doing with Moon Duo, and a new interest in synthesiser textures and layers.”
It was while on tour with her band Moon Duo – the heavy, spacey rock two-piece that look as if they dabble in witchcraft on the side – that she originally had the idea for Vive La Void.
“The very first beginnings were around the time we were working on ‘Shadow Of The Sun’ a couple of years ago,” she says.“I was having all of these ideas which weren’t quite working on the Moon Duo record, so I just started building something else, created a place to grow these other things because it was getting too hard to try and shoehorn everything into this one project.
“I’ve been working on writing for a long time, I’d been trying to write fiction, and hadn’t played music since I was a kid, so Moon Duo has been a process of learning a new language, and I definitely think that this solo work is about me getting to a point where I could actually express things in a genuine way through music.”
Like Cluster or Harmonia, the sound of Vive La Void is droning, expansive and deceptively simple. And while Moon Duo are effective at creating a hypnotic sound using guitar, Yamada has easily transferred this into her synth arrangements. But it took some time before she would hit upon the right atmosphere for her solo debut album, ‘Vive La Void’.
“I recorded he record mostly myself, but I worked with a few people in the developing process” she explains. “There were a couple of years where I was working on it and just figuring out what it was going to be. Once I had the songs written and recorded, it was probably about a year between getting it mixed and mastered.”
Her new-found interest in all things synth couldn’t have happened in a better place than Portland, Oregon, which she calls home.
“Portland’s an easy place to be,” she says. “There’s a big synth community here, there’s a really cool facility called S1 – it’s a synthesiser library and I’ve just joined it actually. They’ve got all these modular synthesisers, so once you’re a member you can book time to go and play on things.”
Along with the lending library, her own arsenal is growing, with the album featuring a Prophet-6, a microKORG, a Roland SH-3a, an Alesis Micron, and a Novation Bass Station.
“I love the Prophet,” she says of he new tools of her trade. “I’ve had it for a couple of years and I’m still getting to know it, but it’s a really versatile machine. I feel like there’s so much it can do. I also love the Roland SH-3a, it’s an old analogue mono synth from the 70s, it’s got some great sounds, but I can’t tour with it, it’s too old.”
Although the album recalls early electronic influences like Suicide and Kraftwerk through Yamada’s use of retro synths, there’s a strong conceptual element which makes it an emotionally charged listen.
“I’ve been trying to pull together something around the concept of a void, or an anti-space,” she says, while musing on how she came up with the project’s title while out running before a Moon Duo gig.
A personal element is especially evident in the lyrics and the video for album track ‘Red Rider’. Although the former are impressionistic, they came from the strong impact that the 2016 American election had on her.
“I wrote ‘Red Rider’ in December 2016,” she says, “or maybe early 2017, and it was at a time that I was trying to process a lot of thoughts about doom, which is what the song is inspired by largely.”
Yamada takes a large pause before cautiously approaching the real sentiment behind her words.
“I think that a great many people in The States were really distressed and disturbed by the election and everything that’s happened since, even though there’s evidence of dynamics and forces that were already there. In the immediate aftermath, I was just trying to wrap my head around it and what to make of it all and where it might be going, what it might mean for the future So the song ‘Red Rider’ is definitely a product of that particular time.”
Vive La Void has led Yamada into new creative partnerships, including that with the New York theatre director Tina Satter, who directed the video for ‘Red Rider’.
“I’ve known her for years on a personal basis and I love her work – I think she’s doing something which is pretty brilliant and different and unique. So I asked her if she would be interested in doing a music video, and she was! She happened to know some brilliant people and we had a really good creative chemistry together.”
Any new project is always in danger of not always sound like the fresh start that an artist is trying to achieve, but Yamada has no such worries having taken confidently and adventurously to her new direction. Long may that chemistry continue to work.
‘Vive La Void’ is out on Sacred Bones