"It's one the strangest things about the lifestyle: You sleep in your car one night and then the next if you're booked at some festival they put you up in a really nice hotel and get a complimentary fucking meal or something--it can swing back and forth," says Daniel Benjamin, reclining on a couch in the NYLON office and looking a bit like the evening before may have been more of the former than the later, with eyes sleepy and hair going every direction but down. The Toronto native, along with longtime collaborator Maddy Wilde, comprises Moon King, a fuzz-pop band that walks the fine line between capturing the feelings of dreams and nightmares. Between the buzzsaw guitars and soaring melodies, the music they've been putting out on EPs--their latest, Obsession II, came out this month--falls somewhere between the Raveonettes and Blank Dogs. Needless, to say, Moon King has become our own musical obsession. In the midst of a major North American tour, we caught up with Benjamin to talk about making people cry and finding inspiration in '90s chart-toppers.
You're midway through a North American tour--how's it been so far?
Really well! We played the Bowery Ballroom [in New York City] the other night and I think was my favorite show that we've done until this point. It's my favorite venue, really really good crowd. Someone told me afterwards that I made them cry--and that felt really really really good! I mean, obviously I don't want to make people cry, but I want to make people cry! I can't remember exactly [what I said]--I didn't say thank you because that's the weirdest thing to say thank you to. But all I really want to do is provoke a very strong emotional reaction in people by performing, and I put a lot of myself into it when we're playing. If anybody else feels like that during the show, that's all I can ask, really. That's all I want to do.
Do you feel like that's an emotional response you can only get out of people if you're performing live, or can you do that with, say, the Obsession II EP?
I think all of the most powerful emotional response that I've had to music have all been at shows, for sure, but that being said, whenever I started to get into music in a passionate way, I was 14 or 15 or something, there were definitely moments when I would just totally break down mentally to a certain song and I remember songs like that. When we do make the full record, which I'm gonna record over the summer, it's got a lot more really brutal songs on it, it's gonna be a lot more raw. The sound that I've been going for with the EP so far is just really big and everything at once, like really saturated and full sounding, but I feel like I need to strip it down and get a little more to the core of it and expose it a little more. Right now everything's hidden, everything's very saturated and doubled and layered. You'll be able to understand the lyrics a lot more because that's still the most important part of it for me.
So then does the songwriting process begin with the lyrics, with the music coming after?
No, pretty much all the melodies and the whole song will be playable at a show--we actually play songs at shows before the lyrics are written and then just sing stuff. [Writing lyrics] has to happen pretty naturally because I hate just sitting there with a pen being like, "What am I going to sing about?" That's not how it works; it has to happen naturally and that's why certain songs are much, much darker than others. "Sleeping in my Car" is such a desperate kind of song, and it's kind of sad--but not in a brutal, emotional kind of way.
Let's go back a little bit--when was the moment you realized that Moon King was a band? Did it happen organically?
It definitely sort of formed out of desperation. I had an old band with my brother, who started doing Doldrums stuff a little earlier and I really didn't think I was going to do a solo thing or music at all because I just wasn't very confident in myself; we wrote all of our stuff together and I just wasn't really sure that I would be able to do anything that I thought was worth anybody hearing other than myself. But then after two years I didn't have a place to live and I came down here to New York for a while and I just slept on people's couches for a long time and wandered around and met a lot of interesting people, and then I just had to go back and start writing stuff and taught myself to play guitar and more about recording and sort of weld it into existence from nothing. I guess that's why it's more of a personal thing for me, because this is all I have! So I have to put everything I have into it.
How did Maddy get involved?
Me and Maddy have been friends since we were very, very little kids. She also was in the band with me and my brother and we've been singing together since we were 14 or something, so we know how to work together. We have this unspoken method--I'll bring out a song and be like,"'It goes like this," and she'll be like, "OK then I can do this," and it just works out perfectly all the time, it takes five seconds. She's also had a similar experience to me; feeling kinda lost and not knowing what to do.
Did you and Maddy ever discuss what you wanted Moon King to sound like?
Actually it's funny, I have recordings of me, [my brother] Eric, and Maddy from when we were, like, 13 that sound shockingly similar to some of the Moon King stuff! Part of it is just the way we grew up; me and Maddy's families all come from this sort of Canadian-folk community, but we always sort of disregarded it and never really wanted to do any folk-y stuff. When we did start appreciating music on our own, it was 1999, 2000 , so pop/punk and stuff was coming out. Whatever was on MuchMusic, that's what we were exposed to. So all of a sudden the floodgates are open and you realize pop music exists. Those sorts of things influenced us: Green Day, stuff like that. I feel like Moon King sort of fits in with some electronic stuff; it's not really a guitar band even though there are lots of guitars--none of us really play the guitar very well, we just use it as a sort of sound-generating device.
What's the one thing someone needs to know going into a Moon King show?
If you're coming to it expecting a cathartic experience, then maybe that's the ideal way to experience it because they're there with us. The best way to experience the show is to feel you're on [a band's] team, and we're all in this together rooting for them. And if it looks like it's difficult for the band? That's the best. I hate when shows feel easy, that's not a good feeling at all. When it feels like you're struggling but determined, then that's the best feeling to play and that's what I hope people get.