Catching Up With… Peaking Lights

Peaking Lights

Seeing as how we’ve been covering Peaking Lights for a while now, self-titled didn’t want to simply premiere the latest single from Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis’ new album. We got a lengthy email exchange (4000+ words!) going with Coyes instead, touching upon everything from parenting tips to the Lee “Scratch” Perry-like mixing desk he scored off a recent divorcee for just $100.

Read on below, and look out for The Fifth State of Consciousness on June 16th through the couple’s own Two Flowers imprint….

Can you start by telling us a little bit about the song we’re premiering?
“Love Can Move Mountains” was a bit different before this version. It was originally called “Thinking Out Loud,” but we just never felt it was right. Almost never made it onto the record, but then the day after the election—when the orange abomination happened—we were all so distraught I was in the studio and just started changing the arrangement around.

I had this cinematic vision of these little blue alien creatures who were on this quest to overthrow this orange creature that was lording over and oppressing them. It was this whole story playing out in my mind; these blue creatures were escaping from imprisonment and coming together to overthrow the tyrant…. It was way more involved, but I started writing lyrics and came up with a framework for the vocal melody. So it’s really based around this vision from a sadness about what had gone down and then overcoming that. I hope that at some point we can make a video of that vision I had.

The new record’s arguably your magnum opus—a double LP that’s 80 minutes long and touches upon a ton of different musical ideas. Was that your goal from the beginning, or did this record simply evolve that way over the past couple years?
[Laughs] I don’t know if we’d call it our magnum opus; we had just had all these ideas and partial songs. I was writing a whole bunch in the zone. We both wanted to make a record that had a flow to it, not just like one or two singles then pffft….

This idea that the whole record is the story, not just a song—I know it’s a lot to ask people to spend 80 minutes with something these days, seeing as the attention span is likened to how fast people can scroll thru an Instagram or Twitter feed. I guess we’re old-school now: Generation X.

Seeing as how you both clearly appreciate the art of the ‘album’, how did you approach the sequencing and general vibe of this particular LP?
We made this album for vinyl; we wanted to slow things down a bit. Last year I started skating again with my kids after an 18-year hiatus, and also tried to make an effort to surf more. I just spent 10 days in the Maldives. I hope we do something about global warming because it will be underwater in 50 years or less if we don’t. I’d love for my kids to be able to see how beautiful it is; surfing and skating to me are all about flow, so I guess from my perspective I wanted the record to have this flow to it.

How did the finished product compare to what you were hoping to achieve with it?
I don’t know yet? It always happens that once we start playing the songs live in front of people, they change yet again. Even trying to prepare for this tour coming up, the songs are beginning to morph. I’m trying not to find anything I do too precious; just get it into the world when it’s done, just kind of letting go and moving on to the next thing, not looking back, not stressing about whether people like it or hate it. It’s like an itch that needs to be scratched and I’m really itchy if you know what I’m getting at.

What are some new production techniques, and fresh approaches to writing and recording, that you took in your home studio?
I think this was way more experimental than the last record. I got a couple pieces of studio gear—a 1976 Soundcraft Series TWO mixer, and an Otari MTR-12 tape machine. I was using the phase scope on ProTools to get the onboard compressor from the MTR-12 to do some weird stuff. Making lots of tape loops and warping tapes; on a lot of the tracks I was recording on a cheap Yamaha cassette 4-track. Using cheap battery powered mics and starving or pushing the electrical currents. Lots of reverse tapes. Overdriving preamps in the mixer, using tape machine on the aux send as kind of another compression. But also just state of mind wise, I think that Indra and I were able to get in the studio together more on this record. With Cosmic Logic, we were in two separate worlds. The only song we actually wrote where we were together in the writing process on that record was “Infinite Trips”; all the other songs one of us would be in the studio while the other watched the kids. It was a crazy hard way to write, and in my opinion it sounds like it on that record, kind of anxious and scattered…. The clarity in thought and being able to work together was super important and production wise was probably more important than any piece of gear or technique, we were vibing and that made the approach feel fresh.

When did you pick up that mixing console in your studio? Is it your secret weapon essentially?
Just last year. It was a really crazy find. The guy had an ad up with really shitty pictures that said make me an offer. I offered $100; he said okay. He was getting divorced and just getting rid of all this stuff. He wasn’t a musician; this was the only piece of music gear he had…. Crazy.

As far as studio gear and secret weapons, I think the only secret weapon in someone’s studio is a person’s mind and heart and how creative they can get. Gear isn’t that secret. I mean there are a lot of records that are super well-produced and made a lot of money for people, but won’t stand the test of time and are corny as hell. The technology that’s being used for every era will always sound really fresh, because people aren’t use to the sound yet. Think about Auto-Tune when it first came out. But, like, ’80s saxophone leads on rock records will likely die a slow painful death if there’s no creativity put into it.

What’s an example of a record Lee Perry did on that very same console that really expresses the artistic potential of it beyond simply being a piece of recording equipment?
Here’s a vid of LSP using the same board—a mobile version for touring acts:

LSP is a great example of why having a good heart and creative mind makes it more than any piece of gear. Here’s a really cool link to Cargo Studios, who also used the same console and made some epic records. So yeah; any piece of equipment is just a piece of equipment, really. It’s only the creativity of an individual that can bring out its other more odd potentials….

You two are obviously very close. How would you describe how your personal and creative relationship has evolved over the years?
There have been many phases, for sure. I think a big part of what we’ve learned from working closely over the years is how to step back and let each other do what they’re good at. It’s something we have had to learn—not to get up in each others business. I think to some degree we both want the same thing or similar things, but have different ideas about how to get there. Over the years we’ve had to learn how to use our energy together to focus on the bigger picture and help each other, not just get in each other’s way. If we’re united we can accomplish anything but if we’re pushing and pulling against each other, we’re wasting our energy and get nothing….

You started making music under the name Peaking Lights nearly a decade ago. Where would you like to see this project go over the next 10 years?
It would be awesome to do more production. I used to record bands decades ago when I lived in the Bay Area. I just forgot how much fun I had doing that. Also this soundtrack we’re working on… I’d love to do more of that stuff as well. Also really dig recording so it would be awesome to be more productive with that. Maybe more 12’s and singles, more DJing, more live shows, playing at sunset….

The world’s obviously not in the best shape right now. Does it make you frightened to be a parent sometimes, or do you feel a sense of responsibility to bring up kids in a progressive, positive way that may enact change someday?
The Earth’s not fucked; the Earth will recover with or without us. Humans are fucked. We’re doing our best to bring our kids up in a positive way. They don’t watch TV or have screen time with cell phones or iPads. We try to pay attention to them full on; they are both really confident and happy kids because of that and have the confidence to really pursue the things they love, which right now happens to be skateboarding, but I’m sure it’ll change through their lives.

“If you want to tell the quality of a person, look at how much time they spend with their kids because that’s going to be an indicator of how they treat you”

It’s really easy to shove kids in front of the tube and let them zone. With the state of things, and pay wages being so low, parents have to struggle to make ends meet, and that really doesn’t help. I get how hard it is to hustle all the time; we just kind of resolved to let ourselves be poor so we could give our kids the attention they need. I find that in the music industry (and others) a lot of people just totally abandon their children to pursue their careers. If you want to tell the quality of a person, look at how much time they spend with their kids because that’s going to be an indicator of how they treat you in the long run. If they don’t have kids and are focused on their career all the better. They are probably compassionate to realize how difficult it is and wouldn’t want to drag someone thru that.

I don’t mean to sound sour though, because there are also some of the most dedicated parents in the music industry as well, who have really inspired Indra and I to do our best with these little dudes and embrace the infinite learning experience and continue to pursue our art without screwing over our kids, and hopefully we’ll have happy, compassionate and conscious kids that turn in to happy, compassionate and conscious adults.

While I realize your kids are still pretty young, they’re growing up around a TON of awesome records. What are some albums/artists they’ve gravitated towards that have surprised and/or mortified you? What about one that made you proud of their personal taste?
They are both super tapped in. They like a lot of stuff, and understand different rhythms and styles. They know if something is funky or not, if it’s hip-hop or reggae or rock ‘n’ roll…. It’s pretty cool how into music they are; they’ve had a turntable in their room since they were little, and a stack of records. Sometimes when I go dig for records I take them; you’d be impressed at some of the stuff they pull! Sometimes it’s random, but they gravitate towards pretty deep stuff.

There was a point when they just wanted to hear Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue. They were obsessed with that record and super curious about Dennis Wilson. And that record is super heavy! I was pretty surprised but it also made sense; that record is amazing. They also love Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. The last week or two they got really into Double Fantasy and Imagine, but kind of focusing on the tracks “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” “Beautiful Boy,” and “Imagine.” We were digging the other week and I let them each pick a stack of records. Marlon got this Eruption 12″—”One Way Ticket”—that was funny. Indra and I were going nuts they played it in to the ground! They’re both kind of all over the map. In general, though, I think their musical taste is really good. They also call bullshit on bullshit music, which is rad.

What are some key finds that you’ve scored while record shopping lately?
Shit! As far as newer stuff I really like the stuff ESP Institute has been releasing as of late. I’m excited for the LA band Pharaohs’ new record. Been a big fan of Golden Teacher for a minute; had the pleasure of doing two live dubs for them—one in Portugal at Milhões fest and another in Poland at Off fest a few years back. Waiting on new tunes from them. Emotional Response and its sub-labels have been dropping super rad stuff! Just picked up a couple of the new Night-People cassettes: Zina’s Furniture, Discalce’s Mangrove Estuary, and the Feel Free Hi-Fi stuff. Been diggin’ Secret Circuit’s new stuff; also R.R. Barbadas. Looking forward to this new Happy Meals record; we’re playing with them in Manchester on June 26th and hopefully they come to London too! Equiknoxx from Jamaica are ruling! Carmen Villain from Norway released a dope new record—super moody in the best of ways, and has a killer remix from Gigi Masin. Music from Memory has been dropping some epic stuff as well…. Golf Channel is always good…. Themes For Great Cities has been releasing great stuff. Midori Takada’s Through the Looking Glass and Shimizu Kakashi’s Kakashi records were two reissues I was glad to see. The Alek Lee Sfarot 12″ is insane….

Well damn, that’s a list! Didn’t really tap into the old stuff, though. I’ll save that for later. I kind of have to stay on it because of the weekly Dublab show and monthly NTS show; gotta keep things fresh….

What were some major influences on your own writing recently?
Probably the biggest for me was getting back into skateboarding. I try and skate four or five days a week with the kids. It’s been really inspiring but also hazardous, so everyday I survive a sesh I feel good—feel like I was able to let it flow, and flow is so important. It’s more important than being tech-y or knowing the formula; to me, style always wins over technical ability. So I think this was a huge influence—trying to get lost again trying something new.

It’s kind of funny, but I feel this lovely curse that won’t let me make music that isn’t blown out in some way… Like with Cosmic Logic, we wanted to make this really weird calculated thing where there was no air and it was cold. I did my best to keep it crisp in the home studio—gated shit, super extreme, no noise or haze on it. Then we took it in to another studio to mix it and everything seemed alright, but when we got the masters back there was this buzz over everything. I could hear the hiss super loud. The studio found out that there was some grounding issue or something with the board and fixed it eventually, but we couldn’t go in and redo the mix. At first I was bummed, then after thinking about it I just kind of realized maybe it’s just this curse I have—forever beholden to the noise goddesses and that rather than fight it, I should just roll with it and see where that goes. This idea was a big influence. But musically I think there’s too much to filter; it really has to do with the state of mind we’re in at the time I think.

How about non-musical influences like books, films, etc.?
Love me a good book. I just read Philip K Dick’s The Man In The High Castle…. I went to college for fine art, specifically in film/video/new media. We try and get the kids to as many art shows as possible; they’re still pretty little so some openings are hard, but we still get to see some great stuff. I picked up a retrospective book of Paul Laffoley paintings recently. Also my friend who runs an amazing ceramics gallery/store in LA called South Willard gave me this beautiful Evan Holloway book. There’s also a David Korty ceramics exhibit there now I really like his paintings.

Otobong Nkanga’s ‘Shaping Memory’

I’m looking forward to catching some European art while we’re there. I really like this artist Otobong Nkanga who’s based in Antwerp. Hope to catch some of her work while I’m there; also a bunch of other EU/UK artists. This new Maxine Walters Serious Things A Go Happen book is awesome! A while back, I read a pretty mind bending book called The Wizard of South Amazon—highly recommended read. Also dig the Codex Seraphinus by Luigi Serafini pretty amazing work.

When I played Salon Des Amateurs in Dusseldorf, Tolouse Low Trax took me to this amazing bookstore next door and I picked up this typography book ABZ that was a massive influence on the cover. Living in LA is also really inspiring; it’s a super deep and diverse city. I love traveling and living here makes me feel like I’m constantly traveling. You can constantly find areas and places and be like ‘What the fuck is this spot?’ and that goes on constantly—so many things to check out….

You did a collab with Chloë Sevigny last year. How did that come about?
We met Michel Gaubert a few years ago, who put the project together. The idea was to compose a track to a poem that perfume line Regime Des Fleurs had written and Chloe recited. There were a few groups that put together tracks; it was really cool that everyone was down to let the artists who participated release the tracks if they wanted to.

What about the Flaming Lips’ Stone Roses cover album you contributed to?
Wayne Coyne is a Peaking Lights fan and he reached out to us to see if we wanted to be on the project. Of course we said yes! I got to meet him several months later; he hit me up as he was going to meet Miley Cyrus for the first time. He asked me if I wanted to roll with him; again my answer was yes! I have to say that Miley Cyrus Bangerz tour was visually INSANE! The sets were super inspiring; I have to say I was impressed! We met her art director, Dianne Martel; she was really on top of it, totally creative. And for the hour or so we spent hangin’ with Miley Cyrus, she was pretty chill….

Anything else you’ve been up to over the past few years beyond this album?
Unfortunately there are no simple questions in our lives…. Been trying to stay busy. I’ve been DJing a lot. I still have my weekly show Analogue Players Club on Dublab that I’ve been doing over the last five years. Also just started a monthly on NTS that’s all inna reggae style called Rockers Delight. Been DJing at parties a bit too, which has been really fun! Just DJ’d a classic kind of LA ‘Bukowskian’ spot last night with Tony Watson of Adult Contemporary and Lovefingers from ESP Institute, which was really fun and weird to say the least. DJ’d A Club Called Rhonda, which was a real highlight—totally rad!

I’ve also been doing a bunch of solo music under the title PLSD, which released a 12″ on Golf Channel last year, played ADE, and the legendary Salon Des Amateurs in Dusseldorf, and also DJ’d there. I have done a bit of remixes; Indra joined on one we did that was really fun for Moscoman last year, but also heaps more; off the top of my head this Vex Ruffin / Fab 5 Freddy cut—”Balance” on Stones Throw—was really fun. A new one on the way soon for New Jackson, and mixed a 45 for Pacific Horizons with a dub on the flip. Helped produce a record for Warm Drag who is Paul Quttrone (ex-!!!) and currently of Thee Oh Sees and Vashti Windish. It’s a super sick Cramps-meets-Suicide, filtered thru the ears of Phil Specter vibe. I did that right after we finished recording our record; it was a good palette cleanser.

Most recently we just put together a band of us and 13 other musicians and did this live all-percussion “Peaking Lights Family” DiscoDub for a Christian Dior Cruise Runway show that Michel Gaubert asked us to do , and it was so amazing! It was us, Onochie and Emeka Chukwurah- Onochie played bass for Fela Kuti as he developed Afrobeat, Jimi Hey from early Ariel Pink and so many other projects also does his own amazing music, Secret Circuit, Vashti Windish from Warm Drag, Imaad Wasif who played with Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Folk Implosion- Lowercase and more, RR Barbadas who you should check out, Peanut Butter Wolf, Vex Ruffin, artist Sabrina Frank, Nate Archer from Leisure Connection and Rahdunes and finally Carlos Nino – Man that was a mouthful! Anyways, this Dior show was super fun to do, we’re looking in to try doing the PL Family band elsewhere as well. Also been working on a soundtrack for a film, more on that in the not so distant future. Indra has been super busy trying to get this Two Flowers Records label off the ground.

How has DJing and the Peaking Lights Acid Test project impacted your ideas as Peaking Lights?
DJing and playing solo are definitely eye opening for me but Peaking Lights is a duo so some of the stuff that I learn from playing live or DJing doesn’t necessarily translate to Peaking Lights because Indra has her own ideas about how a song should go. I think what’s been good is to see how different the impact from a record to live is. When we started playing live in Peaking Lights I was playing guitar and synths and doing sequencing, over the years I just realized I prefer to do the live set’s as a dub with the ability to remix the song on the fly so my main instrument now is a 16 channel mixing board and a grip of fx, I’m pretty sure that came out of DJing…

What can we expect from you over the next year?
We have a soundtrack we’re working on. I’ve got some solo stuff under a different name. Hopefully get some 12-inches out, or maybe try and bang out another record. We also have a Euro tour coming up June 23-July 16, and will have some more dates in the US and Europe throughout the year….