I’m sitting on the sun scorched grass of Jonathan Rogers Park with Vancouver electro-pop duo Mesa Luna. As we watch an amateur softball team play in the backdrop of the city’s skyline, we discuss the band’s formation, their ethereal self-released debut EP Crux, and their pursuit to “discover” new songs.
Consisting of Justice McLellan and Alex Cooper, Mesa Luna formed in 2013 through a meeting of the two musicians’ minds and computers. Both McLellan and Cooper had spent much of their recent musical careers producing music alone. “I just wanted to get out there and start playing with people…I was tired of being a lonely bedroom producer,” explains Cooper.
Until the formation of Mesa Luna, McLellan had spent most of his musical career fronting indie bands and professes that he didn’t think he would ever be in a full-on band again. He instead had been gravitating increasingly towards playing a production role in music. When the pair were first introduced to each other by a mutual friend who felt they had a similar outlook towards music, they simply discussed the technical side of music production. Eventually though, McLellan and Cooper moved onto the idea of forming a band together. “We both had pieces of the equation…it was more just coming together and bringing our computers together,” explains Cooper.
Initially, Mesa Luna’s only conceptual inspiration was to be a project that was a little different, and one that bridged the pair’s worlds together. Cooper says that he had been making electronic music on his own terms for a while, but had been wanting to find an avenue to bring it onto the stage. Despite the affinity that he has for the Victoria noise scene that he spent much of his formative years involved in, Cooper still felt connected to pop music and the entire idea of having a singer. Meeting McLellan allowed him to at last explore his latent pop sensibilities.
Once this exploration was underway, Mesa Luna went through an intense creative period where 95% of what was written ended up being discarded. Each song is said to be a “discovery” as opposed to a conscious effort to write entire songs in one session.
The band tends to write in a nonlinear fashion. Often Mesa Luna will experiment with sounds that are at the outset, fairly traditional, but eventually become intentionally manipulated and mangled. McLellan says that sounds often unexpectedly end up in completely different parts of a song from what was initially intended.
“There is a drawback to technology that you can have this infinite opportunity to microedit everything to shit, but it also gives you this opportunity to really throw some paint at the canvas and see what happens. That’s ultimately what I’m all about,” says Cooper; “finding new sounds, interesting sounds.”
Originally, ideas for songs came from the duo’s respective “production comfort zones,” but as the band has evolved so too has the songwriting process. McLellan and Cooper have now found enough common ground with each other that they’ve increasingly started their journey towards discovering songs as a duo.
For Mesa Luna, this pursuit extends to the live arena as well. Initially the idea of being a primarily electronic band concerned McLellan: “I thought that [the songs] would be stuck in someway…which actually kind of worried me…but the more we played live the more I realized that I can fuck with timing and the way I interact with Alex.” Cooper feels similarly about their dynamic in a live setting. “There’s so much opportunity to play with tension and repetition…you can feel the room…I didn’t want to be just someone stuck behind a laptop triggering clips, I wanted to be live and responsive.”
The result of numerous live shows and intense periods of experimentation and discovery was the band’s debut EP Crux. McLellan and Cooper were living together during a difficult time while the EP was being written. The title of the EP is intended to reflect what the duo went through during these difficulties. “It felt like I was at a tipping point…the crux of all the drama” says McLellan. The music was an attempt to find a solution to the problems that both members were facing at the time. Cooper says that the release has a certain aesthetic, largely due to the foundation of the songs coming from a precarious emotional space.
Passionately delivered and intelligently written, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Crux is the band’s debut release. “Church Garden” is a perfect example of the band’s synthesis of McLellan’s forlorn, emotionally charged lyrics alongside danceable pop music. On the oneiric “Lost On Me,” McLellan’s indie rock roots show; his stripped down guitar playing contrasts wonderfully with the rest of the EP’s chiming electronica. Perhaps the record’s highlight is its closer, “Don’t Let Go,” which combines pulsating synth-pop with tremulous shoegaze. McLellan croons and whispers his deeply personal lyrics over each shimmering track, each song subtly exploring different textures and sounds.
Looking towards the future, the band says that they plan to release videos to accompany “Church Garden” and should be embarking on a West Coast tour in the fall. The band is also back in writing/discovery mode. With Crux, it feels like Mesa Luna has released their “sad EP” and their new material is heading in a more cathartic direction.
“It’s like we’ve processed our sadness, and now we’re just angry,” laughs Cooper. “I feel like [we] both share this deep seated feeling of discomfort and rage at the way the world is and that’s always gonna come out, but I think that’s great that it’s able to come out over the top of really danceable music.”
In their pursuit to discover songs, Mesa Luna have created a sophisticated and emotionally resonant pop record. Mounting my bike and leaving Johnathan Rogers Park, I’m excited to see where their expedition takes them next.
Mesa Luna will be releasing Crux at the Lido on October 24th. Check out their music online at www.soundcloud.com/mesaluna