“Under the Pale Moon“ – the first full-length album released by Wymond Miles – easily passes the through the gate as one of our favorite albums of recent years, judged exclusively on the merit and metric of repeated listens, in addition to the number of times we find fragments from this stunning collection of songs dropping directly and dramatically upon our conscious mind, at random yet consistent intervals.
We’ll likely spend the remainder of our lives seeking an answer to that question. It’s not that there aren’t ready clues awaiting us within each of the ten songs on “Under a Pale Moon” – clues manifested in otherworldly pop hooks, guitar and bass lines a mile wide, and a singular vocal yearning that brings us face-to-face with memories of autumn afternoons spent piloting cars in various states of disrepair, listening to “Dawnrazor” by The Fields of the Nephilim and greeting the world with an unconditionally confrontational stance.
So let us be clear: We are moved by “Under a Pale Moon” because of its convergence of beautiful and bold sonic and poetic qualities. It sounds great, it has a unique voice – we haven’t tried dancing to it, but we believe in endless possibilities.
What “Under the Pale Moon” has us considering, rather, is a set of larger, evolving and largely unanswerable questions. Why does music act as a great stimulus in our lives? Why do we persist in mining these songs for the vibration that yields the rare gem, in the form of a flash of insight that provides us with a greater understanding of the world around us, a greater understanding of the world within us?
“I feel my fate, my fate finds me. I feel my star, my star finds me. I feel my aims, my aims find me. My soul and the world are but one.” – Rudolf Steiner
In this complex, combustible combination of burden and joy, we don’t see a riddle to be answered, or a problem to be solved. But we are happy that we have the work and art of people like Wymond Miles to share and pioneer the continued exploration. And we’re even happier that Wymond was kind enough to answer our ridiculous questions below. Enjoy.
When we last “spoke,” in the context of an interview preceding the appearance of The Fresh and Onlys at Austin Psych Fest 2011, you said, “Song sequencing is big in my book.” How did that manifest itself in the choices you made with sequencing “Under the Pale Moon”? Did you have a fairly concrete sense of the sequencing early on, or is it the type of thing that might sway and shift after recording?
So I had taken a hiatus from writing songs on my own, then one night, quite uneventfully, “Strange Desire” just fell into my lap. Then “Pale Moon” came shortly after. Tunes come and go but as lyrics took shape I got excited and thought these were the stepping stones toward making a record. I got them recorded right away, writing the parts as I went along. An LP was just too ambitious, too insurmountable, so I had thought about forming this into an EP. I sent it to a few friends to check out and they fortunately all urged me into making a record. So I basically just trudged along thinking, ”What kind of song would I want to hear next?” It’s like I made an imaginary record in my head and just one tune at a time gave it shape. Most everything wound up being in the order I conceptualized it – I think I flipped “Run Like The Hunted” for “Lazarus Rising” to opposite sides of the record. I wasn’t gonna be stubborn about it, it just worked.
Relatedly, can we talk a bit about two songs in particular on the album – the first, “Strange Desire,” and the last, “Trapdoors and Ladders.” What was it about “Strange Desire” that led to its placement as the album’s first song, both from a specific musical standpoint and more broadly, from the aesthetic perspective? What led to “Trapdoors and Ladders” holding the counterpoint spot at the album’s end? Can you talk a little bit more about what it means to you when you sing, “I’m so tired of this strange desire”?
As the record started to take shape I kept thinking, “Whoa boy, this is gonna need an epic closer” and I was nervous about how I was gonna be able to pull it off. I got lucky with “Trapdoors and Ladders” because it was as quick as the first few to write. I wanted to nod at a couple particular songs by Swans and Death In June, and really cut to the heart of things, subject wise. So I just got brave and did it. It’s fairly uncomfortable for me to listen to because it’s just so raw. “Strange Desire” was the first song to come around in awhile. It wasn’t particularly the strongest tune – the whole thing is two chords – but it was so open-ended as to the production possibilities. It just set the tone creatively to how I was gonna do the record. I wanted to really focus on the bass lines – they’re what got me excited. It’s really naked and sparse for me. I finally got that bass sound out of my head, one really glassy guitar, drums that were incessant. It was all done in six bounced tracks of tape. I could’ve made it as dense as tunes from the “Earth Has Doors” EP were, but it just sounded cooked after six tracks. Lyrically I was just taking the subject of desire head on – they too were very direct. The whole thing was very playful and light for me. The bass line just had such a swagger to it that it kept pushing me to take on the charge and confusion of lust in a more candid way. When you ask about what that lyric means to me it’s just that, no riddles. However, what brought it all on gets a bit more complex …
You’ve indicated that “Under the Pale Moon” came about in a way somewhat less labored-over than its predecessor, “Earth Has Doors.” How did that manifest itself in the writing of these songs? Do you find any patterns in what may trigger the impulse or inspiration for writing your own songs? How do you think your trust, confidence or other term for the internal psychic barometer you use to gauge your songwriting satisfaction, has evolved since the release of “Earth Has Doors”? How much – if at all, or perhaps, how little – did the reception of the EP serve to influence or evolve that barometer?
Luckily I finished the record before the EP was even put out, so really no outside influence touched either of those recordings. I had put more than enough pressure on myself to just move on and begin again anew. The impulse of inspiration is still elusive to me – when it’s gone, it’s long gone, but when it arrives it’s fairly effortless. Scary business. I’ve found that context is everything. I can’t work without an intended goal and a timetable. There has to be fear involved or there is no arc of accomplishment. There has to be a calling toward the mystery, and this is the most complex aspect – it’s initiatory, and it tests you. “Earth Has Doors” wasn’t necessarily labored over in writing or recording the songs, but psychically they were heavy chains around me. Now that they’re out in the world a burden has been lifted. They’re really vivacious to play live. They were just sitting around in my den too long, starting to rot, stinking up the place.
Wayne Coyne was recently quoted in an article about The Beach Boys, saying the following:
“When I was young, The Beach Boys would confuse me. ‘Good Vibrations’ is one world, then there’s the campy stuff like ‘Barbara Ann.’ I’d think, ‘If they can do that, we are they doing this?’ But as you get older, you realize that’s the power of the group. It’s a lot of strange influences going in to make this magical, other-dimensional thing – music made by the cosmos.”
Your thoughts? Not to draw comparison between yourself and Brian Wilson (though we suppose there are worse fates), nor to indicate in any way that the music of The Fresh & Onlys is camp in any pejorative way, but your solo material does seem to be coming from a different galaxy, even if a neighboring galaxy. Did you ever have any hesitation about revealing your own music in light of this contrast? How do you balance these two creative impulses, or more important, how do you celebrate the differences?
Yeah, they’re just different aspects of who I am. Creatively they’re very distinct and I can wear two different hats entirely. I needn’t try and balance them. The Onlys are four really strong-willed people. That stark contrast of personalities is exactly what lets the Onlys engine burn the way it does. I was/am very hesitant to release these records because I’m very private, and my vulnerable belly isn’t hidden in these records. There’s no irony to hide behind. They also don’t reflect my day to day voice nor humor very well, although there’s some dry black humor. I never want to get pinned down as some miserable guy. Another stark contrast is I have a son and family and my days are nothing but play. I’ve never been as assured of life as I’ve been the past five years or so. Artistically these just caught me pondering the cosmos, gaia, sex, and death. Never shy away from the dark stuff, or it’ll consume you in unhealthy ways.
If forced to pick a favorite among an album of favorites, the song “Run Like the Hunted” might top our list – it strikes us in its way as an alternate-universe power-pop radio hit, the type that should be blasted out of car windows all summer long. What can you tell us about the origin of this song? Are we hearing correctly when you sing, “there was something in those clothes we wore that night” and if so, can you discuss a little more what that specific might represent? Can you do the same for the line, “I can’t help but wonder, I can’t help but think we are idle hands”?
That’s so great to hear! In my weird universe it’s a total power pop rock ‘n roll rebellion hit as well. It’s just a very straightforward tune of dissent against endless war and violence. It’s about seeking communion, but finding only apathy. It’s about opposing paradigms, but seeing the potential for love in the eyes of the “other.” That clothes lyric is correct. I was that kid in a Smiths shirt asserting my identity in a sea of N.W.A. and Limp Bizkit. Likely just aligning with that sense of asserting yourself in the world with what we wear. Chogyam Trungpa wore a suit as warrior, to assert his self dignity as a human in the world. I think about that often.
Were there any specific musical touchstones that were in your mind during the recording of “Under the Pale Moon”? What music were you listening to for your own pleasure during the recording or songwriting that you think may have transmutated into what we hear on the album?
I was touring with the Onlys for almost 6 months last year, so whatever stuff Shayde was jamming on the stereo, mostly. Lots of 70’s anglo guitar pop, early 80’s synth minimalism, Sarah Records jams. I knew I was gonna make a big romantic record like all my favorites when I first got turned onto alt-rock in the 90’s – The Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Darklands”, Go-Betweens, Slowdive’s “Soulvaki,” etc. I just wanted a record chock full of sweet basslines!
What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite Kate Bush song and why? Please show your work.
I only own two of her records – “Hounds of Love” and “Sensual World.” I’m saving my Kate Bush phase for my 40’s. Gotta be patient and let these things grab you when you’re ready for them rather than just scooping them up. That video she made for her last record with the crying snowman melting away has stuck with me for the past year. I’ll probably listen to nothing but her and dub and D’Angelo when I turn into a silver haired fox.
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that the title of your new album is actually an allusion to your long-standing student-teacher with Frank Zappa’s daughter, Moon Unit, and a comment on her inability to achieve the golden California tan of American legend?
I’ve never been able to sit through a whole Zappa record. My IQ isn’t that high to understand what the hell is going on with that gentleman’s career.
Helen Keller is quoted as having said the following, we presume after listening to Hawkwind for a few hours:
“There is in the blind as in the seeing an Absolute which gives truth to what we know to be true, order to what is orderly, beauty to the beautiful, touchableness to what is tangible. If this is granted, it follows that this Absolute is not imperfect, incomplete, partial. . . . Thus deafness and blindness do not exist in the immaterial mind, which is philosophically the real world, but are banished with the perishable material senses. Reality, of which visible things are the symbol, shines before my mind. While I walk about my chamber with unsteady steps, my spirit sweeps skyward on eagle wings and looks out with unquenchable vision upon the world of eternal beauty.”
Plato all the way. That’s my breed of philosophy – transcendent and permeated with religious romanticism that can be a redemptive force to will change in the world.
What’s next for Wymond Miles?
Touring the west coast this summer. My last for the year. Then the Onlys record will have crept of our womb and we’ll start showing that off to the world this fall. I’ve written an albums worth of orchestral ballads that the world will crucify me for making such a pretentious second record so I’ll likely start from scratch these next few weeks trying to write something that won’t sign my critical death of a sophomore slump.