VMP Rising is our series where we partner with up-and-coming artists to press their music to vinyl and highlight artists we think are going to be the Next Big Thing. Today we’re featuring Arthur Moon, the self-titled debut from Arthur Moon.
Arthur Moon is the project of Lora-Faye Åshuvud: a composer and budding electronic pop star raised in Park Slope, Brooklyn, who can’t read music and doesn’t care for your structures. While she often finds herself seeped into the noise of everything, she uses Arthur Moon as a vessel for unraveling the world by arranging sounds with a fluidity that easily evades the oversimplification of genre. Arthur Moon is where Åshuvud becomes unhinged: any individual piece threatens to become many movements of its own, leaping across time signatures and melodic layers as some thoughts remain looping, fixed in their power. There are many tricks embedded within Arthur Moon’s efforts at queering music: even as Åshuvud’s vocoder gleans with optimism over upbeat synths and sparse backing drums, her writing reveals the complete opposite: a figure at once content with the bliss of normalcy, and purely terrified by the prospect of a narrow escape from a broken world at the expense of someone else.
If one’s already overwhelmed by such prospects, rest assured: Arthur’s creator struggles through all the above, and eagerly invites one to struggle together in her audible playground of electric uncertainty. Aided by her four bandmates — and on the contrary, some desert solitude — Åshuvud’s on the verge of releasing her self-titled debut: a gently unnerving 10-track trip through Arthur Moon’s self-interrogation of how to move and exist. It’s consistently breathtaking, often haunting, and lets no one leave easily; it’s the theory of Incorrect Music, elevated to a pop ethos that’s accessible enough to allow the listener to be challenged. A digital glossiness gives Arthur Moon a warm, distant glow, the music often untangling itself from predictability as she untangles herself from expectation. The listener may often be left unsure whether to dance, thrash, or spill their sadness into the street; the answer is “Yes, and…”
How does such a mindfuck translate into a record with dazzling orchestral heights and such barren lows, leaving Arthur’s voice to ponder in a near-weightless state? Åshuvud’s as curious and surprised as I, and has no shame in surrendering her ego to become an instrument to the process rather than a sole mind dictating the process. Our phone conversation proves her thoughtfulness gives back as much as it extracts from her precious moments; though I took the “queering music” term at face value, she too grows tired of having her sexuality entangled in every piece she releases to the point where no one discusses the work itself. That said, she’s a white queer woman from Park Slope with a partner and a dog… she’s not convinced of herself, and Arthur Moon remains a fluid canvas for her to workshop her self-skepticism and weaponize her privileges to destabilize the ills of this world. Chances are, she’ll sing a Thom Yorke tune as she does so.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
VMP: From the jump, like, first song, “Too High,” you're talking about all the things you can change, or wondering if you can change them: those questions that are rhetorical, literal, you’re speaking of the universe, of your family history, etc. At one point you even say, “Cut me open and let me out,” and you speak of whether or not you can keep your heart closed. From what I gather from that song, how overwhelmed do you feel by existing, if at all?
Lora-Faye Åshuvud: (laughs) Oh man, you see me. (laughs) Yeah, I definitely feel overwhelmed by existing, particularly in the rigid structures of our society, sometimes. And the rigid structures of that society as they manifest in being a musician and figuring out this industry, and being queer and figuring out how to talk about that. So, yeah, it’s definitely overwhelming, and I think when I was writing that song I was sort of trying to strike a balance between letting myself be overwhelmed and see all that stuff, but also kind of be meditating and quiet. I wrote it while I was on an artist residency in the desert, so I was alone, and sleeping in a single bed in a windowless room and really, just, going for it.
There’s like a thread of folks that I’ve talked to in the past who end up writing songs like that on residencies, where it’s like a desert or a ship, or, just somewhere really distant in the Catskills or something. You just get this really insular sort of feeling, but you’re pulling something beautiful out of it.
Yeah, sometimes I think it’s getting away from your life which makes you be able to represent it more, somehow.
Speaking to your earlier point, I think every press piece I’ve read about you has emphasized how you’re queering music. And, the one-two punch of “Homonormo” into “Reverse Conversion Therapy,” like, even when I just looked at the tracklist, I’m like, “What in the fuck is about to happen here?” And I just wanted to ask, what does your effort for queering music look like in an album-length format like this? How did it feel to translate it into a bigger statement?
It felt cool: There’s something about the full-length that allows space for more texture and more complexity, because you just have more time to flesh out some of the intricacies of whatever it is you’re trying to say. I was intimidated by the form, but also really excited to be able to have that time and space. And I think, yeah, the (laughs) one-two punch of “Homonormo” to “Reverse Conversion Therapy” really pushes it home, for sure. I think queering music — you know, those aren’t my words — but, queering music is not necessarily about just being a queer person who happens to make music , but rather engaging in this effort to make music that’s deviant from a norm. So, not necessarily following whatever rules or structures we think are like the proper [or normal] structures, but rather interrogating: “OK, like, why does a song have to be verse, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, whatever? Why can’t it be a different structure?”
And thinking about that more broadly, in terms of harmony and melody, there are a lot of rhythmic elements in particular which I feel sort of speak to my queering of music, which is just about making people feel disoriented in whatever it is that they expect to hear, and turning music on its head, and giving people the feeling of being outside of whatever it is they’re expecting to hear.
Right, cuz when I first was reading into that idea, I didn’t even know that you had identified as queer at all; I took it on its face for what it literally meant. Especially since we’re hyperaware of a lot of things, and a lot of dialogue is happening at once, but it’s virtually impossible for a queer artist to just exhale, and not have someone be like, “That’s the queerest breath you’ve ever taken,” especially in the music industry. How have you navigated that so far?
I was just thinking about this before you called me; I was like, “How am I?” Obviously, this album is intentionally queer, right? It’s sort of like a coming-of-age story about this Arthur Moon character, who both is and is not me, right? (laughs) But I also was thinking before you called, like, “Oh man, I hope that when this record comes out that people are able to find a way to write about it that’s not just about that, but also just about the actual music.” Because, I think it’s a lot easier to write about identity politics than it is to describe sound. (laughs)
So, I think that often people will just write about this thing that feels a little bit more comfortable. But, sometimes it can be a little bit frustrating to have folks just focus on that and not be like, “Oh, interesting use of the vocoder,” or “Wow, there are four time signatures happening at once here, that’s cool” (laughs) But at the same time, I think I’m certainly positioning the music that way, and it is something that I very much do want to talk about in relation to the music.
Word, and in speaking of it and intentionally doing that, how do you intend to use [your whiteness] and your position in the world to play a role most effectively to shine light and push dialogues forward?
I think that’s something that has kind of worked its way into the content of this music a little bit. “Homonormo,” for example, feels like a kind of self-critique in a way; it sort of represents a lot of the fears I have about what would happen if I got lazy, or what would happen if the work were perceived the wrong way. Which is to say: I’m a white person, I’m in this kind of normative relationship with a woman, we’re about to get married, we have a dog, and we’re doing a kind of normative thing. And my fear is that by sort of passing in that way, I’ll be taking advantage of my whiteness and my perceived cis-ness to exclude many of the narratives that really are the most important for the queer community, and for our society in general. Which include: talking about intersectionality, and what it means to be a person of color who’s queer, who’s living through a lot more difficult spaces than I’ve had to move through because of my privilege. So, I think the self-criticism is an important thing, but I also think that action is more important, and that comes with who I choose to collaborate with and how I’m talking about the work.
To your earlier point again about how you wish folks would describe the sound: I’m a very lyric-driven person, so a lot of the lyrics jump out to me, even as they’re like scattered or intentionally nonsensical. I’ve read about the condition that you suffer from where you think a certain way and your words come out one way; sometimes it’s like the writing is more focused on mood, even if there’s no direct throughline. But I can feel and empathize with what you’re saying, so, how did you make the decision to be more direct or more abstract, depending on which mood you want to communicate?
That’s a really good question. Do you know when Esperanza Spalding wrote a whole record in [77 hours] last year? She didn’t sleep, and just made this whole record and live-streamed it on Facebook.
Yeah, I remember that.
It was amazing, I watched a lot of it. And she kept saying this thing, which really resonated with me: she would be writing something, and then be working out a section of it, and instead of being like, “What did I say?” she would be like, “What did it say?” As if the song was talking to her, and she was just writing it down, you know? It was almost like she was transcribing someone else’s work. It was so beautiful. (laughs) That’s how it feels to me. I guess I’m obviously intentionally making a lot of decisions, but when it comes to making decisions around when to allow for abstraction and when to be more didactic, it feels like the music says what it needs to say and I write it down, as opposed to being more involved in those particular decisions.
The character in the music… sometimes just paying attention, it felt like you were dragging yourself but dragging me in with you. Like, when I heard you say, “You don’t fool me, you’re lonely…” Even on “I Feel Better,” you were talking about feeling like you’re getting ready to make yourself an enemy. All these darker, tense moments or acknowledgments of self, they happen on very bright pieces of music. Even the music’s not always just responding darkly, it’s like a bright push. How do you handle that sort of ironic juxtaposition, where you put stuff like that on happier sounds, or the inverse?
“I Feel Better” is a good example of that: I remember I brought that to the band the first time, played it for them, and everyone was sort of quiet for a minute, and I was like, “Clearly I don’t feel better.” (laughs) And everyone was like, “Yeah.” I think that balance is something that’s always a goal for me, so often, when I write sort of a bright piece of music, it immediately takes me to sort of creepy circus vibes. I’m automatically hearing it as some sort of cover for something that’s much darker. Happy music is cool, but even the most straightforward, saccharine pop music that’s all about joy and love — in my opinion — is there to mask or cope with something darker. And for me, the thing that becomes interesting is sort of acknowledging that within the space of the song, as opposed to having people put it on when they’re feeling bummed, or having a fight with someone, or trying to work out, or whatever (laughs). I think subverting it within the song actually can sometimes be more interesting.
It makes me think of the intro song, where you’re questioning how can you shift your performance, what can you do to be different intentionally. So, to hear you describe Arthur Moon that way... I don’t know, maybe I don’t have a question.
No, I mean, that’s actually something that I was thinking a lot about when I wrote that song, which is choice in representation and performance. In some ways, I can choose to hide or not to hide; the pain is probably there either way, right, but my sexuality, gender identity, and all [my identities] are things which I get to choose who sees them. That’s a very different experience from being a person of color. While perhaps there are relationships between being on the margins of something or being oppressed in certain ways, it’s also an extremely different set of concerns and an extremely different experience. It’s like, “What is the privilege of being able to choose?”
Hearing you talk through that gave me the question back: What agency does Arthur Moon the character give you, Lora-Faye?
Oh my gosh, so much agency. I’m sure you experience this, too, as someone who performs — maybe not — but sometimes just being up on stage, and all of the energy and adrenaline and fear of that can sometimes just create this permission to just, like… (laughs) to fuck up in the ways that you’re afraid you’ll fuck up and own it. To be wrong and be incorrect and, like, sing the wrong note or play the wrong thing, and just take joy in that and do it anyway.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a Vinyl Me, Please staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.