Two former members of madcap indie crew Spiral Beach cross over to the dark side with their new dream-pop project.
Who: Moon King is the latest creative outlet for Daniel Benjamin (a.k.a. Daniel Woodhead) and Maddy Wilde, both former members of psych-pop-tastic Toronto band Spiral Beach.
Since the Spiral split of early 2010, all members have gone on to form or play with a variety of exciting projects. Airick Woodhead (Daniel’s brother) developed as Doldrums, and Dorian Wolf became the bassist in Austra, but Daniel took a touch more time to develop Moon King, with Wilde later joining him on vocals. The two longtime friends—both the children of folk musicians—grew up down the street from one another, near Bloor and Bathurst.
“Moon King is definitely the duo of me and Maddy,” says Benjamin by email. “It’s kind of a Simon & Garfunkel type thing; I write the songs, but we perform them together, both live and on recording.
“Maddy is the best singer and performer I know. We’ve known each other most of our lives, so the way we work together is sort of second nature now. I write and record everything as demos on my own, and then usually we start working out live arrangements from those.”
What: Together as Moon King, Benjamin and Wilde create memorable, melodic songs that zigzag between distorted and dreamy. Theirs is a world of fuzzed-out guitars, electronic percussion, savvy synths, and compelling vocal harmonies. While comparisons to the likes of Cocteau Twins, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and a variety of 1990s shoegaze bands have merit, Moon King sounds absolutely of the moment.
The duo’s debut EP, Obsession I, was produced by Benjamin and released in July on One Big Silence, the indie label run by Mike Haliechuk of Fucked Up. It’s a fantastic listen.
The five songs on Obsession I combine an obvious love of both discord and pop. Benjamin’s songwriting instincts clearly pull him to opposite yet complementary ends of this spectrum.
“The balance is what makes it interesting I think,” he says. “I mean, if I just wanted to see how far I could push myself—like, as harsh as possible, or as poppy as possible—I don’t think I’d ever be satisfied because it’s just limitless. Good pop music has sharp edges.
“I think the best moments in a song are the ones that hit you kind of sideways, that make you turn your head or twist your body, and give you a rush. From there, I guess it’s mostly about building tension and then releasing it to keep yourself on edge.”
Ironically, while Benjamin’s songs are full of discomfort—lead single “Only Child” is about Alzheimer’s and memory loss, for example—the results are quite beautiful. I hear exultation, and apparently am not alone in that.
“It’s funny that people are hearing it as joyful because the songs are all very, very dark,” emphasizes Benjamin. “Alzheimer’s, fear, obsession, egomania, and those kinds of things are the subject matter for all of the songs. I guess maybe there’s an element of euphoria that comes out of it. Or, at least, I want to sing about these things so I can stop thinking about them.”
Why: In little over a year, Moon King has morphed from bedroom studio project to much-discussed touring act. The EP’s release resulted in praise and adoring profiles from the likes of Vice’s Noisey blog and OTM zine, while a reviewer for Brooklyn Vegan pronounced Moon King’s November performance at the M For Montreal fest “easily one of the Top 5 sets I saw at M.”
Initially, Moon King live was just Benjamin and Wilde with a heap of electronics. Later, players including Doldrums, and Fucked Up’s Haliechuk and drummer Jonah Falco joined the duo on stage. More recently, members of projects, including Omhouse and Sexy Merlin, have been part of the touring band, but it’s been a rotating cast of characters as Moon King has travelled with acts including Grimes, Twin Sister, and School of Seven Bells.
“I really would just stay on tour if I could,” enthuses Benjamin. “I don’t have an apartment right now, and I’m pretty much just waiting until I can go on tour again.
“Twin Sister is amazing; I wish we could have done more shows with them. They crashed with us at our friend’s place in Portland, Maine the other week, where there were fur rugs, fireplaces, and satin sheets. It was nice to get to know each other amid such luxury. I make it sound like touring is all a dream, but two nights before that I drove from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. straight, and then we slept in the car for four hours ‘cause we couldn’t afford a hotel.”
What’s Next: Come January, Moon King will tour with Fucked Up to play a series of Ontario shows. Benjamin mentions that European dates are likely to follow.
The recording of Obsession II has also just begun at Candle Studios, with this second EP anticipated as a spring 2013 release. Obsession III will then follow, but the full cast of contributors is far from pre-determined.
“Other than me and Maddy, it’s a shifting line-up,” Benjamin says of Moon King. “We work with four different keyboard players, a bass player, three guitarists, and two drummers right now. Yesterday, we had Mike from Fucked Up playing guitar on the new record. Dorian from Austra is going to do some bass and synth stuff over the holidays. It’s not really a collaborative thing in the old school ‘four-guys-in-a-basement kind of way, and I do kind of miss that, but it makes sense to work this way for now. It’s cool that there’s a ton of people who know how to play the songs.
“I think it’s important that it be a kind of odd group of characters. I always thought it was the best seeing bands where even the extra keyboardist at the back has his own personality and presence. Everyone we play with is supremely talented on their own, but I’ve definitely avoided the ‘band-as-community’ vibe for this project. I feel like I focused on that too much in the past, and it can burn out very quickly. I’m more hoping that one day I’ll find myself in New Zealand or somewhere, playing with four people who are still just getting to know each other, and we’ll all feel like ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘This is crazy!’”
When & Where: Known for their intense, raw performances, Moon King plays two December dates on home turf. This Saturday (Dec. 15), they play alongside Majical Cloudz, Miss Elizabeth, Mass Horns, and DJ Arp2600 as part of the Silent Shout show at The May (876 Dundas W., $7). On Dec. 28, Moon King plays night three of What’s In the Box 2012 at the Drake Underground (1150 Queen W.), joined by Elsa, Beliefs, Dusted, and Austra’s Katie Stelmanis as DJ. $5
“These are gonna be two pretty different gigs,” Benjamin says. “Our drummer and keyboard player are kind of switching places, and we might add a fifth person on stage for the Drake show, to play guitar where every string is tuned to the same note.”
Fun fact: “I have no sense of smell.”