Neil Macdonald chats to one of the most exciting and interesting new bands we’ve heard in quite some time, the amazing and wonderful, Peaking Lights.
Peaking Lights are husband and wife duo Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis, and their latest album, 936, is a gorgeous, immersive mixture of dub, psychedelic space rock, minimal house, Krautrock and pop. Previously released on LA’s Not Not Fun label, it’s recently had a worldwide release on Domino off-shoot Weird World. The pair were holed up in New York recording their next album when Neil, of Sidewalk Mag and Bite My Wire, phoned them to talk about synths, surfing and soul.
So you’re both in New York just now?
I: Yeah, we’re here recording just now, at Mexican Summer’s recording studio. We’re working on our next record. We’re working with Al Carlson (producer who’s worked with everyone from Oneohtrix Point Never to Lady Gaga). He’s awesome.
A: He’s actually here, he just rolled in with his bike helmet on.
How was the move from Not Not Fun to Weird World? They’re distributed by Domino, so it must be a bit of a change.
A: Amazing. It was great!
I: Everybody’s just been wonderful to work with. We’re just really happy to be working with a label that can take our music to the wider masses.
We couldn’t afford some crazy $30,000 vintage synth- but Aaron started building synths somewhat out of necessity to create cool sounds, and then it turned into sort of “Well, actually, these synths make really unique sounds that no one else is making!” So now it’s become really integral.
And with that comes touring. How’s that working out?
A: It’s great. We did a lot of touring in the past, but we’ve just had a kid, so it’s a little bit different from what we’ve done before. In how we’re able to tour, I mean. We can’t play shows unless we have someone to watch him, y’know?
I: At this point we can’t really do huge tours. We’re doing shorter tours, but as he gets older that’ll change. We’re still playing! Just a little bit less frequently.
You build a lot of synths yourself. Is your sound borne of necessity or did you build these things to create the sound that you wanted?
A: It’s definitely a little bit of both. How much is anything a necessity, except for food and water and air?
I: I think what Aaron’s getting at is that- we couldn’t afford to buy some crazy $30,000 vintage synth but Aaron started building synths somewhat out of necessity to create cool sounds, and then it turned into sort of “Well, actually, these synths make really unique sounds that no one else is making!” So now it’s become a really integral part of what we do.
With that being the case, do you worry about taking your equipment on tour? Do you worry about anything happening to it?
I: Yeah! Even travelling sometimes, the synths will get out of tune or something from being bumped around, so it’s always a little bit of an issue. Even flying overseas. One of Aaron’s synths is in a suitca
se – it looks like a briefcase – and it’s just got all these bare wires, and we’re always afraid they’re going to think it’s a bomb or something…
Do you use much modern equipment? Any emulators or anything?
I: I just use regular synths. We use a right wide variety of stuff, from pretty cheap vintage Casios to Nord stuff, y’know? The stuff that Aaron uses, he runs through his own filters that he made. He kinda uses his own synths, mostly.
A: Yeah. My own stuff mostly. I guess it’s just how we managed to write songs. Over the years it’s just figuring out who plays what, and what’s easiest. We’re becoming a bit more focused with what we’re doing. It used to be that we’d play with these massive stacks of…
A: Stuff… Homemade synths and the like.
I: It was a little ridiculous. It was stacks and stacks of stuff, and it’d take us forever to set up. We’ve streamlined it since! We’ve picked our favourite stuff so we can actually play live and not have it be insane!
A: We used to have to get to shows an hour and a half early because it would take so long to set up, man!
Indra, you’re from a punk background, and Aaron, you’re from a noise background. Do you think the DIY aesthetic and the rawness of these cultures have contributed to the sound of Peaking Lights?
A: It’s definitely contributed. There’s a lot of our past influences that have helped us develop with this.
I: I think life leads you to where you are. So what you’ve done in the past leads you to where you are in the present, y’know?
A lot of the press about Peaking Lights talks about the krautrock influence, but not so much about the dub side of it. Did you plan to have such a dub sound, or was that the product of your homemade synths?
A: It’s something we definitely set out to do. It’s a big influence to us, especially with the homemade synths. Dub definitely influenced me in building stuff like that, just being able to say “Fuck it, I can do whatever I want to do!” It’s definitely a conscious decision to let that influence shine through.
You both listen to a lot of hip hop too. Do you pay attention to the production methods in modern hip hop?
I: Maybe subconsciously. Not in the way that we’re looking for sounds, but it’s something we both really like. It’s not like we could ever be a hip hop band.
A: Well, Indra might think that…
I: It just seems a little more possible to create a dub sound, and of course that’s our own interpretation of it too. It’s not like we’re gonna sound like a Jamaican band, y’know?
A: We just look outside. We listen to very little modern music. We really just listen to older music. Lots of reggae and dub, soul music, Latin, jazz, Afro. Even old techno and disco. We don’t have a CD player, and I don’t think either of us really listen to stuff on the internet…