Belgian dream pop five-piece Newmoon are a fucking gem. Their debut album Space was one of the most magical records of 2016 and we couldn’t miss the chance to talk with frontman Bert Cannaerts to know a little more about it.
There’s no secret that your band’s name was taken from Elliot Smith’s posthumous compilation album. Is there a deeper connection between you and this specific album?
Elliott Smith is one of those artists that never released a bad song. We’re all really big fans of his. I always thought New Moon was such a hopeful, yet cynical name for an album that got released posthumously and it just stuck with me. When we started the band it felt like a good fit. Everyone really likes Elliott Smith, and the idea of a new moon as something sad yet new and adventurous kind of fit the whole vibe.
You guys have played in other bands before forming Newmoon. Does Space, your debut LP, feel like, in a weird way, your proper debut as creative minds?
I’ve thought about this a lot and I think that’s a pretty accurate description of where we are. Newmoon definitely forced us to take a step outside of our comfort zone. We are all really familiar with playing heavy music, so everything was, and still is, very new to us. At the same time this gives us so much more room to be creative and experiment with different things. The process of writing this album was new, which was scary yet liberating at the same time. It gave us so much room to be creative, but at the same time we were constantly walking into this unknown territory without really knowing if what we were doing was actually good or not. So far the response to Space has been above and beyond, which is something we’re really grateful for.
You went through a metamorphosis that started with a more straightforward hardcore punk sound to a now more complex, layered, sonically rich sound. How was that process? How do the both sides connect for you?
Playing hardcore and punk was a very cathartic thing for me. The cliché of needing it to express yourself and “let it all out” was definitely true. I loved every minute of it, and still really like listening to heavy music. But when I got into my early 20’s I started paying attention to a lot of other kinds of music, maybe a bit out of boredom? I remember going on tours and not listening to a single hardcore or punk record in the van. So when we started Newmoon we just started to take things from all these bands that we love like Radiohead, The Cure and Oasis, and pretty soon we started to sound like Newmoon. I think the most important connection between punk and what Newmoon does is honesty. Every song needs to be an honest reflection of what we feel, think and sound like. There always has to be an honest connection between the music and who we are as people.
Things moved pretty fast after you shared your early demo online – signing with Touché Amoré’s label Secret Voice/Deathwish Inc to release your debut EP, Invitation To Hold, and now two years and a half later the release of your debut full-length. Is it fair to assume that you had to grow as a band, mature, and figure out the next steps way faster than you would have imagined or even envisioned?
When we were writing our EP we definitely laughed at the idea of touring, playing loads of shows and even just finding an audience. As soon as the EP was released it became clear that a lot of people were interested in this band. It’s so crazy to think that we played to a sold out Electric Ballroom in London for our 6th show. Or going on tour with Touché Amoré. We did not think that would happen when we started Newmoon. Between all those tours and the recording of Space we had so much going on. At times it felt like we couldn’t keep up with everything that was going on. The past year we really took the time to write and record Space at our own pace. And now that it’s out we feel like we’ve finally caught up to everything that has been happening for the past few years. We are very ready to get back into the swing of things.
As the press release states, “the themes for Space were partly conceived whilst travelling in Japan”. Could you please enlighten us on the importance of that visit to Japan and in which specific ways did it affect the album?
Japan was probably the first country that left me really disoriented. The culture and language were so incredibly different from everything I knew. It really gave me this feeling of isolation. I started working on some of the lyrical content for Space on that trip. The isolation, not being able to understand other people, and having to just let go of control and see what happens are themes we explore on Space. It seemed like a good metaphor to try and look at things I have experienced in the past.
Bert’s vocals, in tracks like “Head of Stone” and for the most part of the album, are extremely well mixed with the other instruments almost like attempting to not stand out in any way to give a better chance to the song come off extremely unified – something like an instrumental band with vocals, if you know what I mean. Was that a concern throughout the creative and recording process of Space?
Throughout the process of recording the album we really wanted the vocals to be something that would accentuate the songs, rather than be this thing that needs to be up front at the attention of the listener. We consciously decided to mix the vocals into the music so they can be discovered and reveal something deeper than just a vocal melody. It forces the listener to pay attention to the songs. There will be things they won’t pick up on in their first listen, but maybe only after 5, 10 or even 50 listens. My favorite kind of albums are the ones where I’ll listen to it over and over again and hear tiny details that I didn’t really hear before. Adding multiple layers to the songs was definitely a conscious decision.
The music that you’re currently playing lends itself to some melodramatic reads from the audience, just because how massively profound the music sounds. On the other hand, it’s pretty obvious that you don’t take yourself too seriously. Is that an important countermeasure to have for Newmoon?
Some of the lyrical content on Space is very dark and cynical. As I said before, we try to be as honest and ‘real’ as possible in our music. We also take this band very seriously. We’re always striving to play shows the best we can, write the best songs, etc. Everything has to feel absolutely right for us to back it. At the same time we’re also just five guys who are playing music. We don’t want to be these broody and unreachable artist types. That’s just not who we are. We love to play with people’s expectations of what Newmoon should or should not be. Being sarcastic and cynical at times is one of our favorite ways of trying to break down that illusion.
You’ve released, so far, two videos for songs taken from Space – “Helium” and “Head of Stone”. I was wondering how much creative control you’ve had over these two?
We always try to work with people who we trust and support in their artistic field. For both of these videos, we chose people who we knew we could trust. “Head Of Stone” was directed by one of our closest friends Hannes M Meier. He’s a photographer from Berlin and we knew that whatever he had in mind would look stunning. We gave him some info and just told him to do whatever he wanted with it. I still really like the way it turned out. “Helium” was the same way, but we had some more input for this video. At the end of the day, when we work with other people we pretty much rely on their expertise and knowledge. We consider everyone we work with an artist in their own field, and we won’t take that away from them.