Moaning: The L.A. trio talks about paying dues, democracy in songwriting and making an album ‘in a real studio’

Moaning (Photo by Michael Schmelling)
Moaning (Photo by Michael Schmelling)

They paid their dues in L.A.’s DIY scene. Now, Moaning has an album — written democratically and recorded professionally — coming in March on Sub Pop. It’s smashing.

By Liz Ohanesian

L.A. trio Moaning’s first video, for “The Same,” was a DIY feat directed by the band and shot by pals Stumble on Tapes inside a house that was set for demolition. Guitarist/vocalist Sean Solomon got a tip on the location from a friend whose parents’ owned it. “He asked if we wanted to play a show in the house while kids were smashing it,” Solomon recalls outside of an Echo Park coffee joint. “I thought that sounded like it would probably get shut down by the police.” The band decided to shoot a video instead. According to Solomon, the cops still paid them a visit.

In hindsight, Solomon talks about it as no big deal: The neighbors heard a ruckus, the police came and left, the band still finished the video. “The Same” is a three-minute, 46-second marriage of rock and mayhem. Moaning, a three-piece filled out by Pascal Stevenson on bass and synths and Andrew MacKelvie on drums, play seemingly undaunted by the destruction that surrounds them. Walls are tagged and smashed. Sparks fly and debris falls. A skateboarder and a motorcyclist ride through the mess. Meanwhile, Solomon sings, “We’re the same, everything else has changed.” The video, released in 2015, garnered some buzz. It also came to the attention of Alex Newport, the L.A.-based producer known for his work with At the Drive-In and Death Cab for Cutie, who went on to produce Moaning’s self-titled debut album, due March 2 via Sub Pop.

||| Watch: The new video for “Artificial”

The 10-track debut is a tight package of energetic angst filled with guitar swarms and brooding synth flourishes that complement the raw emotion in Solomon’s lyrics. It’s a sound with echoes of the early ’90s — think classic Sub Pop or Creation Records — but it also marks the evolution of musicians who spent their youth in the midst of Los Angeles’ 21st century DIY scene. Now ranging in age from 25 to 27, the members of Moaning met as teenagers and have played together in various configurations over the years.

Solomon and Stevenson befriended each other at Taft High School in Woodland Hills when the former was 15 and the latter just 14. “When we were in high school, we would start a new band every few months and try different things,” Solomon says. The best known of their previous bands were Heller Keller and Moses Campbell, both of which also included MacKelvie. They played The Smell and other venues that came and went. They practiced at now-shuttered art and music hub Pehrspace. Solomon says that it’s because of these venues that they were able to hone their chops. “I think that all-ages and DIY spaces are really important for artists to experiment and develop without the expectations of selling tickets or making money at first and we weren’t allowed to play at the venues we play now, so we were very lucky and fortunate to have these smaller clubs that welcomed younger musicians,” he explains.

You don’t get good at anything without doing it a whole bunch and doing it badly a whole bunch.

Adds Stevenson, “You don’t get good at anything without doing it a whole bunch and doing it badly a whole bunch and nothing really gives you that opportunity to fuck up a whole bunch like small, DIY venues do, especially when you’re young.”

In December, Moaning played Teragram Ballroom as part of their tour supporting Canadian band and labelmates METZ. Although they were the opening, Moaning also had a home-field advantage in Los Angeles, and that showed when they played to a venue that was more than half-full. Fans hugged the edge of the stage as they played a big and bombastic set including yet-to-be-released material.

The members of Moaning have grown up and moved forward, yet they continue to share their musical journey. Moaning itself began when Solomon wrote the songs “Don’t Go” and “Misheard” (both of which are on the debut album), came up with the band’s name and presented the ideas to Stevenson and MacKelvie. The new project came with a caveat: Unlike previous projects, with the new band, everyone had to want to play the songs that were written. “If someone didn’t like a song, they had to explain why and we would change that part of it and still play it,” says Solomon. Sometimes, that would mean changing chords or altering melodies until all three members were on board with the song. “We’re willing to work with each other until it reaches a point that we’re all happy with and that’s how we’ve come across the sound,” Solomon notes.

||| Watch: The video for “Don’t Go”

Making the debut album with producer Newport was a well-thought-out process that culminated in an estimated two- to three-week session and another couple weeks mixing the album. “Once we went into the studio, everything was very deliberate,” says Solomon.

“This was, for all intents and purposes, in a real studio for the first time, so I think that it shows,” says Stevenson. “It’s far and away better recording-wise than any recorded output any of us had had the entire time that we’ve been making music.”

Moaning are still more than a month away from the release of their debut, but they’re already working on a follow-up. “I would say that we already have enough songs to record it,” Solomon says, “but we’re thinking about it a little bit more than we probably should.”

||| Live: Moaning plays the Echo on March 9, joined by Froth. Tickets.

||| Previously: Live at the Teragram Ballroom, “Don’t Go”