The Soft Moon and fish narc Let It All Out

The friends and collaborators talk “torturous” songwriting processes, crying to your own music, and more.

fish narc is a producer and a member of GOTHBOICLIQUE collective ; Luis Vasquez is an LA-based artist who performs as The Soft Moon. The Soft Moon’s latest record Exister just came out last week on Sacred Bones, so to celebrate, the two friends and collaborators caught up about it, and much more. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music 

fish narc: You know what, I remember the reason I got into spiked seltzer was because we did this big [GOTHBOICLIQUE] national tour [in 2019] — the summer of spiked seltzer, as it were. And no names named, but the drunkest person on the tour was kind of in charge of the rider, so it definitely reflected that. We would always get  36, at least seltzers, and it was always White Claw or Truly or something like that. I’d never heard of it, and just ended up just drinking them all the time on that tour.

Luis Vasquez: [Laughs.] You were drinking them at the Roxy.

fish narc: Oh, yeah, then I put those fuckers on the rider for the Roxy.

Luis: If you put those on the rider in Europe, they don’t even know those are. They’re barely coming in right now. It’s weird, the one that I saw was Topo Chico, which was the last one that came through in the States.

fish narc: It makes sense. It’s kind of the classiest.

Luis: Yeah. Anyways, I’ve gotta try not to drink too much on this tour, because it’s so hardcore. I like a sparkling white wine or rosé.

It’s funny that we’re starting the whole conversation on alcohol — which is just part of the lifestyle, I guess. I don’t know if you heard that HEALTH collaboration I did a while back, but I rolled through it with a bottle of rosé — I thought that was normal, but they were like, “Oh, shit, The Soft Moon bringing rosé.” And I think they made a comment about that in one interview that, that they had. I guess that made an impression. And to me, that’s what I was just drinking all the time. 

fish narc: Some classy shit — just a goth man and his rosé.

Luis: [Laughs.] You’d think it was red wine, right?

fish narc: There’s something elegant about rosé. What was Nicki Minaj’s wine that she had? It was some really sweet rosé, I’m pretty sure, because she was rolling [Pink Friday] out. Pink Moscato… I’ve been cutting my drinking back and only starting at 7, because I was drinking too much in the daytime before. 

Luis: That’s a big problem with me.Sometimes I just don’t have that energy to write [music], because I need to have a certain type of energy to write. And I always think, Oh, what if I just maybe sip on a glass of wine, that’s going to elevate me… And then I end up just not caring and then I procrastinate. So I don’t know.

fish narc: That happened with me too, and I’m still trying to correct that. Part of putting that control on for me is being like, if I don’t start until 7, I literally have to start my music shit or other work before I start drinking. I have to get in the habit of at least starting and sitting down. It also gives me better mornings, and I’ve found in the past two weeks that I’ve been on this that I’m a morning person. But I kind of do procrastinate. I’ll be like, Oh, I need to eat a perfect breakfast and do all my chores.

Luis: Oh my god, dude. I mean, I need to do my workout. It’s funny because I’m hyper creative in the morning. It took me a long time to realize that. My alarm was always set for 6:15, and I’ll be up but then I’m like, Oh, I can’t wait to make that coffee, and then I’m going to do some yoga and then I’m going to do some jump rope, then I’ll take my shower. Then it’s, like, 9:00 by then.

That was one of my questions, your writing habits. It feels to me like you’re pumping out stuff all the time — it comes off as effortless to me. And for me, it’s quite torturous. But now that we’re talking, it sounds like we’re very similar in terms of how we procrastinate.

fish narc: Same shit. I see myself as being kind of a slow worker, but I think it’s because I operate in the rap zone where I am kind of slow compared to other people. But part of the whole SoundCloud culture shit — and honestly what I think was really cool about it — [is] any instrumental is a beat and any vocalizing can be approached with the home recording rapper attitude of, you make a beat, you get on it. Or, you get a beat and then you record on it. And if anyone is supposed to do it, then people with interesting taste beyond getting on rap beats can approach music with that same attitude. 

Into the 2000s, you started to see superstar producers and shit like that, but that job was really like a labor job for a while. You’d crank out a lot of beats for the person who is the actual artist putting their voice on it. But yeah I learned this speed of work from trying to keep up with being a rap producer, which honestly I’m not adapted for that speed of production. Like I have producer homies and they make, like, 40 beats in a weekend.

Luis: That’s crazy. Another question I had: Do you identify yourself with a genre? Because your music hits on everything. I think I try to do the same thing, but mine is like, each song is a different genre. You you have songs where you hit three or four genres in one track. Is there one genre you associate yourself more with?

fish narc: I think about this shit a lot, because even just in the most plebian [way], like I just want to communicate my music better so I can make more people listen to it, make it less complicated.

Luis: That’s what I do, too.

fish narc: You know what I mean? Because ultimately my music touches a lot of different styles, I think. But when I really think about how I make shit, I see myself kind of as a rapper, even though I’m not necessarily rapping on everything, and the beats aren’t always necessarily rap. But the foundational principle of what I do is based in rap music. A lot of my songs are punched in — I’ll write freestyle. 

I just learned a new mixing technique this week that I haven’t been doing, which is to level the audio tracks of each take.

Luis: Oh yeah. There’s a term for that, actually. I can’t remember right now, but that’s a crucial thing. There’s actually a really dope Instagram page called Mixing Tips — it’s insane. I’ve learned so much. I was on that page while writing Exister, my new album.

fish narc: Well, actually that’s a good place for me to ask you my first question: I see your music as being in this really cool middle space, between singer-songwriter music and instrumental style music. I feel like you can touch people who like electronic music and people who like indie music, which is really, really cool. So I wanted to ask you, when you’re writing, do you start with lyrics or do you make a beat first? 

Luis: In terms of the technical aspect of how I start, what instrument do I choose, that’s completely random every single time I try to write a song. The first thing I do — actually, I always sabotage myself. I always reach some sort of breaking point, I guess, because I’ve always felt pretty numb. So I try to make myself feel something in order to bring that shit out. So the instrument, basically, is pretty much what’s in front of me at that time where I have reached my breaking point. I would like to say it’s drums, but the thing is for me to make a beat, I have to be in a certain mind frame. If I’m, like, reaching a breaking point, I’m not going to want to sit on my laptop and make a beat, right? So I need something like a bass guitar, or I need to scream something or I need a synthesizer or a guitar. I wish that it wasn’t so torturous, but I guess that’s what The Soft Moon has always been for me.

fish narc: Right. It makes sense, because the subdued nature of the vocals in a lot of the tracks, the traditional way to analyze that would be, the person singing this is behind a veil and the way they present themselves is hidden. I know where your music is coming from, but you can feel it through that shit. It’s crazy because it’s almost like an inverse, where a lot of people with that disposition would be like, “Mix my voice hella loud, I’m going to rap 32 bars and tell you exactly how I feel.” It’s interesting, because in my experience with you, you’re an emotionally vigorous and deep person who’s really upfront with his feelings.

Luis: I’m up front with my music. But the thing is, it took me a long time to feel worthy, honestly. I mean, in the beginning of the first record, I was whispering and I didn’t know what the hell I was feeling. I was barely at the beginning of learning who I was, and I just didn’t feel worthy. I still sometimes don’t feel worthy of what I do, or understand what I do. But basically with my discography, if you listen to everything, you will see the evolution. And I just reached a point, I think, with Exister —  like now I can close a chapter, finally, and stop wondering who the fuck I am, why do I act this way, why do I behave this way? So going forward, I’m on a different level. So I’m actually intrigued and curious about what I will write going forward.

fish narc: Oh, I love that. That’s so exciting.

Luis: Yeah, man. I feel like I’ve finally reached some level of confidence where now I want everyone to see what my friends or my family sees in me. I guess I’m put in this darkwave, post-punk category, which is cool, but now I want people to see me skate, I want people to see me dance. It’s time for me to be completely me. And it’s a lot of work to get there, but now’s the time.

fish narc: That’s really cool, dude. I mean, it shows — Exister is a banger.

Luis: I feel like [in] a lot of your tracks, you talk about coming out of struggle. I love that track “My Best.” And then you have “Instant Sobriety,” “CLEANUP” — it sounds like you’re dealing with yourself, or you’re coming out of something from the past. 

fish narc: Yeah, and I’m trying to express how easy it was to become the person that needed a lot of help, [and getting] out of being that person. “CLEANUP” is like about one of my friends who’s gone. You know, and I say, “Did you feel free for once?” Regardless of what you’re trying to get away from, when you’re looking for a kind of chemical release or you get yourself habituated to those kind of things, you’re looking to feel free, but you end up tying yourself in. I mean, we’re even saying the same thing with alcohol — to try to get into it, to write, to free ourselves up, to express ourselves, and then we end up getting lazy.

Luis: Exactly.

fish narc: My biggest addiction was cocaine. I started using that because it made me work like crazy — and I loved getting high, but also for myself, I’m not the type to sit on the couch. I’ve never been that kind of person. So I got hooked on that shit working constantly. Like, I got hooked on that shit in the studio, because with GBC people brought that shit in for us, it was never lacking. And at a certain point, the only reason I actually quit was because it flipped and I just couldn’t work no more on it. And I was like, OK, well, my heart be damned, my mental health be damned, but I’m not sacrificing being able to do my shit.

Luis: That’s funny, because I’ve never been able to do anything on that drug. I can’t write on it, I can’t perform on it. I’ve had to throw up on stage because I get that gag reflex and I’m trying to sing. You know, I’ve tried it, I’ve had a couple cool performances on it, but it’s really rare. But when I use it, it’s like the opposite. It was an escape from music for me. But I know a lot of people that it had benefits for writing music and whatnot — so luckily it didn’t for me, because I’d still be doing it.

fish narc: Right? I mean, it’s funny because, yeah, we have to escape a little bit to look back at ourselves and make a song about something that’s meaningful. But you can’t go too far. You have to stay inside of your body, but you also have to look at yourself from the outside. And it’s so easy to get caught up in that shit. 

So, yeah, I’m talking about about struggles in my songs — certain struggles. You know, I grew up with both of my parents, and certain privileges like that. “My Best” is [about] when you’re doing your damnedest and it isn’t working, and shit doesn’t make no sense like no matter how much sense you’re putting into it. Horse Head has a song called “Sweet Machine” that’s so poetic and so good. Obviously I don’t identify as a machine, I’m not like that, but I’m just saying when things don’t make sense, you’re inputting info, you’re inputting your feelings, telling someone something and it’s coming out nonsense, and writing music is just like that. Like, you’ve got something and then you listen back like, This makes no fucking sense. I don’t know what I was talking about.

Luis: I wanted to bring this up, because I feel like every time I do interviews, I get asked these pretty abyssal questions, and the thing is, I don’t even actually know what I’m saying. It takes time to look back at it. You know, it’s all subconscious in the beginning. And sometimes I’ll listen to songs four years later and go, Oh my god, what the fuck? It’s happens every time. It’s so weird. 

fish narc: That’s so real. I identify with that so hard — like listening to an old song and you just burst into tears like, Damn, I felt this way? You ever listen to an old song and just burst into tears?

Luis: When I got my first guitar, I think I was around 12 years old, and the first song I ever wrote was called “Claustrophobic Man.” One of the lines was, “I’m scared to look at myself to see who I really am.” Isn’t it crazy, at 12 years old? [Laughs.] 

fish narc: [Laughs.] So we’ve talked about how you’ve thought about writing songs in Spanish but never done it before, and I was curious if you had any updates on that? Have you started writing your EP in Spanish?

Luis: Well, yeah, I’m thinking about it every day and I’m considering writing it on tour. I’ll be touring for for quite a while.

fish narc: 70 days, right?

Luis: Yeah. It’ll be my first time writing something on tour, and I’m definitely considering doing the Spanish EP. I think I need a little bit more time for Exister to go out and see how I really feel — I remember when I finished Criminal, I made a comment on Facebook or something and said, “Ready to put out the next one.” And some random fan was like, “Wait, you should let it marinate.” [Laughs.] And that stuck with me, which is crazy. I kind of learned something, maybe, about not getting ahead of myself. 

But I feel I really need that EP, though, because when I approached writing Exister, I wanted to write something conceptual and cold, and my mind, my emotions, my body wouldn’t let me. So I think now that I got everything out, I’m ready. I want to tap into that that new side of me. I want to see what comes out now that I’m feeling more confident than ever, understanding who I am more. It’s time to let it all out.

(Photo Credit: right, Alexis Gross)

The Soft Moon is the project of LA-based artist Luis Vasquez. His latest record, Exister, is out now on Sacred Bones.