After releasing several singles and EPs over the past few years Luna Shadow’s debut record ‘Digital Pacific’ likely feels like a long time coming for her fans (and she feels the same).
Known for her introspective lyrics and atmospheric sounds, Luna Shadows has garnered a loyal following since her first release in 2016. Since then, every release has been the catalyst to Luna Shadows’ debut record ‘Digital Pacific’ which was released a few weeks ago. Although some critics have commented on her use of old songs mixed with new, the ever-thoughtful and creative Luna Shadows gives listeners a new soundscape to delve into; giving an entirely new context to some of the previously released tracks when paired with new songs. Besides Luna Shadows herself, the two biggest characters in ‘Digital Pacific’ are her two homes: the very real California and the very digitized online space. Although she takes listeners on a trip through her home of California, taking us on winding roads from Palm Springs to Malibu and back again, some of the most relatable songs post-2020 are the ones that focus on the ‘digital’ aspect of the record and learning about who your digital self is.
1883 spoke with Luna Shadows about ‘Digital Pacific’, her life in California, and struggling with balancing who you are and who your digital self is.
Digital Pacific is your debut record and it feels like a long time coming since your first release ‘Cry Wolf’ in 2016. How does it feel to finally have this body of work released into the world?
It has been a big journey to get here but the reasons are all outside of me, so that’s why it feels like more of a relief than anything else to get this body of work out there. Since I’m a really fast writer and I produce my work as well, I’ve had to hold on to a lot. My first EP came out in 2016, my second one in 2017, and then I signed with a label in 2018. We were hoping to put it out in 2019 or early 2020… and then the pandemic happened. My label wanted me to have an opportunity to tour so we decided to push it back. Here we are, five years later. I’ve had a lot of music ready to go since 2017 but I’m the kind of artist who wants to be very organized and curated; I didn’t want to just throw stuff on the internet. Since it’s taken a bit of time, it’s evolved since then; songs have been added and removed and changed. Now I’m halfway through writing my second album.
How do you think your writing has changed?
I would say two things: as a producer, I’ve grown a lot. When I started writing the music on ‘Digital Pacific’ I was a more intermediate producer. I believe I’ve become a much more advanced engineer and producer and I feel that will naturally show in my music in the future. Second, my songwriting has become a lot more conversational; a little more direct and I started writing ‘Digital Pacific’ I was a more intermediate producer and I think, since then, I’ve become a much more advanced engineer and producer. I feel that’s naturally going to show in the future of my music. The second thing I would say is that my songwriting has become more conversational. A little more direct and less big concepts, a song like ‘night swim’ is very concept-oriented and a lot of the music I write now is more me speaking directly to the audience.
Have you gone back to songs you wrote a few years back and tweaked them to give them the perspective and growth that you have now in 2021?
I had to do that for ‘Digital Pacific’ a little bit but it’s more me getting rid of songs. I write a lot. I come from a school of training where you don’t wait for inspiration, you treat songwriting as a discipline. Treat songwriting like going to the gym. So, because I write so much, I have trouble going back into the mindset I was in when I first wrote them. I like to move forward with something else. With ‘Digital Pacific’ I went back and revised a lot of the production more than I did with the songs. It would be like me saying go back to your live journal entry from 2012 and edit it! [Laughs]
On this record, you included songs from a few years back, like ‘Hallelujah California’. Why was it important to you to blend songs from a few years prior with more recent tracks?
Two reasons: one, because from the time I wrote ‘Hallelujah California’ I know I wanted to put it on my album. My original plan was to put out a few EPs and then an album that would include the best songs from my EPs but with a label so I would have the opportunity to showcase it to a larger audience. My EPs did well on an independent scale but that was just me, I didn’t have any support. I hoped to take some of those songs and work with a team to get them heard and reach a wider audience. That’s the very logistic, non-romantic perspective! Secondly, from an artist’s point of view, ‘Digital Pacific’ is a very thematic record. It’s about my life in California and how it intersects with my life online. It would feel weird to me to leave a song that was a staple. Some publications are commenting on how old some of the songs are which I get, but I wanted those tracks to be part of my big debut collection. The way we consume music today is so fast; we finish things and move on so quickly. I felt like rebelling against that in my way. I’ve taken some criticism for it but I felt like it was important.
I think that’s admirable. Right now, in a streaming environment, it’s so saturated and people are just trying to churn out singles every other week to see what sticks. I feel like the artistry of it gets lost a bit.
Yeah! On that note, critics and journalists will say one thing but my fans will say something completely different. I did a listening party and the coolest part was the feedback I was getting from them. They kept saying that they had a newfound appreciation for some of the older songs in a different context in a bigger body of work. I paid a lot of attention to the sequencing and each transition from one song to the next. I needed to do something ambitious in a way, even if some of the content is older. I guess I am kind of challenging the streaming environment a little bit.
It sounds like you’re doing something authentic to you — as you said, things are just going so quickly and growing up, listening to full CDs from start to end, you appreciate the placement of certain songs. You get a full picture of someone’s story. I felt like doing something authentic to me and, as I said, things are just being consumed so fast.
Thank you for saying that. It was going to be around 13 tracks before, but because it got pushed back I added all of these other songs along the way. It was important to me to deliver new songs to the people who have been listening and following for years. I didn’t want them to think it was just recycled content. I also put out 7 music videos which I don’t think people realize how difficult and expensive they are! It’s a huge undertaking. I directed, edited, and styled everything myself. I hope those serve as another part of this picture for people to see and experience, whether the songs are new or older.
You come from a DIY background and you produce your music. It’s admirable, especially seeing as there aren’t a lot of female producers.
I appreciate that. I would never want to discredit my team or collaborators but I do a lot and I like it that way. A lot of artists go “Oh, I have a manager now! Oh, I have a team now!” and they kinda take a step back. The point of entry has never been so low which is great because it means more artists get the opportunity to be heard. But, with that comes to the territory of it being extremely competitive. If you don’t have a hand in everything you risk your voice getting lost. I’m too anxious to handle that. I like being involved. I like being hands-on.
In the video for ‘trash tv,’ you juxtapose the ‘Digital’ and ‘Pacific’ themes and the album as a whole analyzes feelings of anxiety and unhealthy relationships to social media. I love the line ‘Got ten perfect fingers/But we only ever use two’. Did you find that song and video therapeutic to write and film?
The song came together really quickly. I wrote that song with my friend In.Drip. who is a producer and artist himself. We were just together one day in January of last year right before the pandemic, which is funny because it sounds like I manifested everything that was to come! I was thinking about how I was feeling helpless; sometimes the digital world can be this whole separate thing. Some days, I don’t know what to do other than retweet something or share a petition or website to a donation page. There’s so much wrong in the world sometimes and all I can do is refresh my page. I’m so glad you like that line because it always stood out to me. I remember writing it and feeling like I dropped the punchline. I hope it’s relatable to other millennials and Gen-Z who also feel like all they can do is refresh the page and look for something to do. As far as the video being therapeutic… filming it was very stressful! Due to covid, we had a very closed-off set which meant I had so many responsibilities and sometimes it felt like I couldn’t focus on the camera. We finished it two days before it came out.
It looks amazing but I can only imagine how stressful that must’ve been! In general, the visuals you’ve created for the record and the world around it are all incredible — are visuals something you’re actively thinking about when you’re songwriting or is it something you figure out after?
I think about it. I’m always thinking about the bigger picture, but not necessarily how I fit in that world. I don’t always have a treatment in front of me, but there will always be certain colours or images or bigger concepts. For ‘Palm Springs’ we walked into the studio and I knew how we were going to shoot all the visuals while we were writing and recording. That was just straightforward. It’s really important to me that both aspects—audio and visual—work together.
This brings back to your need to be in control of your art and image. You know what each song represents, no one else could emulate that.
Yeah, exactly. I wanted there to be a through-line through everything. I think what runs through everything is a dark sense of humour, so I incorporate that throughout each video. I felt like I needed to be the director of everything to make sure they all fit together as me! It sounds cheesy, but it’s really hard to be yourself on camera. There’s a lot of people who have an idea of where to go and how they should be and I feel like I’m putting in a lot of work to be me. A lot of artists have trouble with that because they don’t want to put in the time or they feel like they should just be themselves and that should be something that comes naturally but, for me, being myself has been an incredible amount of work. It’s been an incredible amount of self-examination and reflection. I cried when the ‘trash TV’ video came out because I had a total mental breakdown thinking it wasn’t a good representation of me and that happens all the time. I’m a real perfectionist; I worry about how everything looks and fits together.
It’s nice that you’re being so open about that, though. I can only imagine what it must be like trying to act and show off who you are as authentically as possible, especially when you’re also trying to ‘sell’ yourself to an audience at the same time.
It’s like choosing an outfit for a party that night. It took me a long time to realize this can all be me — whether I’m wearing a red dress or a blue dress. It’s all still me.
The record is set up like a long California road trip — I know you moved from NYC a few years back. How has California inspired the way you write and record? Do you think your artistry would be different if you stayed in NYC?
Oh, totally. I always felt like I was in the wrong place but the second I got to LA it felt right. The second I got off the plane and I got to my hotel room—and I know it sounds weird—but it felt like I was born in the wrong place. I have seasonal depression so I struggled in New York. Living in LA has allowed me to be around other producers and collaborators, but it also gave me the power to take control of my mental health and be the person I want to be. LA became something of a character in my own story; I had to include this big part of my life that had such an impact on who I’ve become.
I can see why you were so influenced by it—I went to California around this time last year and I fell in love with the place and the people.
I’m so glad you feel that way. I feel like the city is what you make of it and can be different for everyone, especially in a place like LA where everyone is so spread out. It takes a bit of commitment and exploration to find your own pockets that you love and your people.
Lastly, what does this collection of songs mean or represent to you and what do you hope people take away from them after listening?
This is a very personal story for me; it’s me trying my best to share a snapshot of my life. It would be amazing for other people to connect or reflect on their own lives—the digital aspect and the cities they live in. It’s about finding your place, wherever that may be in the world. Wherever you feel the freest, whatever environment helps you improve or has shaped you in a certain way. With the digital aspect of this record, when I started making this album I never really saw any other artist making a good statement about the digital world. You have friends going through divorces because someone liked an Instagram photo and having people meeting in the strangest of ways on forums and apps. Digital activities can have a real impact on our lives and people don’t talk about or reflect on them. I’d love for people to listen and reflect and examine their digital world and how it’s impacted their mental health. On one hand, the digital world has enabled me to be an artist and the reason we are speaking right now, but on the other hand, I find my mental health can take a huge dive when I spend too much time online. When people are done listening, I hope they feel like they got some comfort. That’s all any artist could hope for.
interview by Kelsey Barnes
Listen to Luna Shadows debut record ‘Digital Pacific’ now!