A UK artist known as Dust is the enigmatic figure behind Moonlow, a new project that is set to bring apocalyptic noise poetry to the masses this October via Trepanation Records. Luckily this publication has connections in the shadowy world of harsh experimental music, and we were able to nab Dust for an interview about the upcoming album.
Who Are You? invites listeners to “enter a quasi-religious communion with elements of the self” through untraditional song structures, dramatic vocals, and an emphasized contrast between tranquility and abrasiveness. Check out what Dust has to say about the making of the album, and listen to “Day 1 (You Have No Enemy)” embedded following the interview!
What inspired you to begin this project?
Moonlow was entirely unplanned. I became ill (probably with COVID 19) just before the lockdown happened in the UK and I had to start a period of self-isolation which then led into the lockdown period. My own experience of the illness and self-isolation, along with my awareness that the world seemed to be rapidly turning upside down, led to a couple of things. Firstly, I felt a strong urge to create; to channel the feelings of illness, upheaval and confusion into something positive. Secondly, I realised that it might be a good time to update some of my music production gear and to properly set up my studio in the house I had just moved into. I began to experiment with some ideas as a way of easing myself into using the new equipment, and I quickly realised that strong ideas were flowing and that this was something to pursue and eventually release as an entirely new “band.”
Can you tell me about the writing and recording process for the tracks?
Lyrically, I wrote one song per day during the initial period of my illness (hence nine out of the ten track titles are prefixed with “Day 1, Day 2 etc”). I wrote very quickly in a stream-of-consciousness style and poured out whatever I was feeling each day into that song. I found that almost switching off my mind and just expressing how I felt with as little conscious thought as possible worked. I did edit some of the words a little bit later on, but I kept the vast majority of what came out in the first drafts..
The music was, again, composed very quickly. I worked on the tracks in the order you hear them on the album. I would experiment with synthesizer sounds until I found a basis for the track in question. Then I would think of a basic musical idea or pattern which seemed to fit with the words of that piece. I then hit “record” and improvised around the idea, sometimes taking it in a completely different and unplanned direction. Occasionally this process would need to be repeated a few times in order to refine the ideas, but actually a lot of the main synth parts you hear are the first semi-improvised takes. The “rules” that emerged were that I would not use click tracks or any steady rhythmic elements, that traditional verse-chorus structures would be ignored, and that melody would be kept to a minimum. Once the basic synth tracks were recorded I embellished these with other synths and sounds, avoiding drums and percussion.
When it came to recording vocals, I initially used the in-built laptop microphone to produce demo recordings. I improvised the delivery of the lyrics over the top of the music, with no idea how it would come out until it did. Although I did later record some of the vocals using pro gear, I ended up keeping some of those initial demos, as the improvised delivery fitted and the lo-fi sound suited the music.
The exception to all of this is the final track, “Next,” which was written somewhere in the middle of the writing of the other pieces and was intentionally used a very different, more traditional, songwriting and production approach. My friend Aryeh joined me to duet on the singing over the top of acoustic guitars.
How did you get connected with Trepanation Records?
This was something that came about in a serendipitous way. As Moonlow and the album started to take shape I thought of Dan Dolby (the owner of Trepanation) as someone who might be interested in releasing the project. I had planned to send demos to him but, before I had chance, Dan replied to a social media post where I described the music, saying he would be interested to hear the music. We started a dialogue and I sent him the demos, which he liked a lot. He offered me a very good contract and Who Are You? is set for release on 16th October 2020 in hand-signed and numbered CD and cassette formats and for digital download.
Some folks know who “Dust” is, but you’re not broadcasting your identity to the world. What is the appeal of an anonymous band/project for you?
I think people can probably work out who Dust is pretty easily if they want to. In fact, it is even mentioned in the press release as picked up by a few media outlets, so people are free to Google this information if they want to! The reason for creating a new identity and not drawing too much attention to my “ordinary” one is that I want Moonlow to be separate in people’s minds from my “usual” output. Moonlow doesn’t fit in to the progression of what I normally do, and the vocal style also is very different. Separating the identities in my own mind also helped me to let loose and fully inhabit a different approach for this record, without overthinking how it might or might not be received by those who know my other music.
Does your other label know who “Dust” is??
They are aware of Moonlow. There are some other developments in that area, but I’ll save those updates for later!
The photos for Moonlow are very striking. What ideas did you want to represent?
I wanted to create a visual identity for the character of Dust. I wanted to wear the cloth over my face to maintain the anonymity of the character and also so that Dust could somehow represent a sort of universal blank canvas. The name “Dust” relates to an absence of the individual personality and the connectedness of everyone and everything. I worked with Mark Hillyer at True North Photography, who is not only an amazing photographer with brilliant equipment and facilities in his studio, but is also very artistic and creative as a photo editor. We decided that including some elements of nature would be fitting to the themes of Who Are You?, so Mark superimposed some images of trees on some shots. I also borrowed a kimono with a flowery design which was visually striking and also seemed to aptly represent the quasi-spiritual or ritualistic themes of the album. I am very pleased with how the photos turned out!
Who are some of your influences in the realm of noise music?
I am far from an aficionado of noise music. I have been to various underground noise music shows and I have often enjoyed them. Bands such as Crowhurst — the project led by my friend Jay Gambit, who fuse noise elements with metal — are an influence. I have also reviewed some underground noise music. However, I am not even sure I own one album of pure noise music on physical format. I think that working in a style you are less familiar with or less tied to can be a liberating experience. I didn’t feel the need to copy or live up to any particular artist within that scene or to make sure I adhered to any rules of the genre – I just did whatever felt right. There are all sorts of stylistic influences, including ambient and post-punk, but noise is a significant element. I came up with the tag “apocalyptic noise poetry,” which I think does a good job of encompassing the sound of Moonlow succinctly.
Without further ado, check out the creative force that is Moonlow below!
Who Are You? will be released on October 16th. Preorder your copy on bandcamp today! https://trepanationrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/who-are-you