Birthed right around the time the tail end of ’70s punk bled into the nascent futurism of the ’80s, post punk in its many guises is a genre that refuses to die.
There is something so appealing about the emotional, abrasive and angular textures of the subgenre, and there is a reason the sound has been picked up by such luminaries as Joy Division, Nine Inch Nails and The Soft Moon.
Indeed, Luis Vasquez, the lead singer of the latter band, picks at the fabric of post punk until it’s almost threadbare, resulting in a sound that is sparser than most, yet no less weighty. However, on Vasquez’s new album Deeper the musician made a concerted effort to sidestep such genre concerns: to let out something inside himself that defied easy explanation.
“With this record I just wanted to completely let go and try to express as many sides of myself and emotions as possible,” he says. “I felt like with the previous records I was kind of pigeonholed into this ‘post punk’ thing. I kind of had a particular sound and I wasn’t completely comfortable with who I was as a person. I hadn’t accepted who I was.
“With Deeper I wanted to let it all out: whichever emotion surfaced is what I would let out. That is definitely how I ended up with the piano elements and things like that, things I never thought I would do. It was just a means to discover more about myself: about being harsher on one end of the spectrum but also more subtle on the other side. It was just an exploration of extremes.”
Thematically, the album continues Vasquez’s obsession with the apocalyptic, combining harsh synths and Krautrock elements to create an aura of desolation that is as unnerving as it is inviting.
“The whole apocalyptic thing started when I was a child,” he explains. “I’ve always had recurring nightmares about the world ending. It’s interesting that they stopped for the last couple of years, but now they’ve slowly started to come back and that’s something that’s always made its way into my music: that sense of desolation.
“I spent a lot of my younger years growing up in the desert and I think that has a lot to do with those themes. Living out there kind of felt like living at the end of the world: just pure desert. The population was pretty small. I was north west of LA about an hour away from the border with Nevada. So this whole apocalyptic thing is just something I’ve been trying to figure out, but in the meantime I kind of play with it. It seeps out in my music because it’s just something that’s a part of me”
With the current end-times cloud cast by looming climate change and resource shortages, does Vasquez feel that the apocalypse is a matter of when, rather than a question of if? “Yeah!” he laughs nervously. “It’s so hard to say, but that’s at least how I feel. But that could be because of my anxiety. I could just be suffering from anxiety, so I think the worst, but I do feel that it could happen at any moment.”
If the future is a bum prospect, then Vasquez is at least making the most of the present, with his upcoming Australian tour set to be followed by a trip behind the veil of state control to the exotic frontier of China. Given the logistical hoops it must take to visit such a country, one has to wonder whether Vasquez’s booking agents have been working overtime.
“I’m not too sure what’s happening behind the scenes with the agents, but it’s been a long time coming,” Vasquez says. “The only other time we’ve been to Asia was two-and-a-half years ago in Taiwan. The audiences were hard to gauge because we played a festival, so we didn’t get that true sense of connection. It wasn’t one of our personal shows, which would have made it more intimate, but the people seemed to be pretty excited about music and culture”
Between perennial touring commitments and his new home in Berlin, Vasquez seems to have adopted a somewhat nomadic lifestyle in recent years – though by semi-settling in Germany, the artist follows in a long lineage of musicians who have made the pilgrimage to the country, ranging from Nick Cave to Amanda Palmer.
“There was always something I found fascinating about Berlin,” Vasquez says. “It is quite a dark place with a dark history, and in a way it really does help me face my demons. Over time I’ve noticed that it’s kind of backfiring though because sometimes that dark mood and dark past is feeding into a little too much of who I am. I already have these dark feelings inside and so living in an environment that’s similar to myself kind of brings me down further. If I lived on a tropical island or something like that, it would be more of a yin and yang situation.
“But there’s something about Berlin that’s challenging me,” he continues. “I don’t want anything I do to be easy, so I’m intrigued by this city and its darkness. I’m trying to harness its energy. We’re very similar and I’m hoping that connection gives me some kind of breakthrough or revelation for future material and then once that happens hopefully I can move on.”