Text by Paul Parreira
Peaking Lights is a duo lead by the husband-and-wife collaboration of Aaron Doyes and Indra Dunis. The pair has been making a wonderful noise since their 2009 debut album, Imaginary Falcons, was released. With each subsequent record they’ve moved away from a lo-fi sound by tapping into a deep well of influences that critics love to write about –reggae, dub, krautrock, and psychedelia. With their fourth full-length LP (out this week), Cosmic Logic, the sound has evolved even deeper into electronic pop. While the dub element is still felt in the mood and rhythms, the record displays a more accessible vibe than any of their previous efforts. I spoke to them (mostly Aaron) about their unique sound, touring with kids, and what it’s like making music with your significant other.
Where are you based? Where’s the studio?
Los Angeles. We’re in Echo Park. The studio is in a garage in our backyard. It’s nice, we get to spend time with the kids and pop out to the studio and work together.
What a nice set up. Most people dream of having that kind of lifestyle where they can work from home and be creative. That must feel good?
Yeah, it does. But it’s also hard, it presents its own set of challenges. But at the same time we’re really lucky to be with our kids a lot and we spend a lot of time with them. They’re growing up around a bunch of artistic stuff. Hopefully they don’t grow up to dislike it.
They will probably be lawyers and entrepreneurs.
Indra: A steady income.
How did you guys meet and form a band?
Indra was in a band called Numbers in San Francisco and I was in a bunch of different noise and electronic bands there. We had known each other on the fringe for all long time then I moved away. We both had significant others and when we split up with them I moved to Australia and New Zealand for a couple of years and then when I came back we were both single so we hooked up. And then the music started right away. We started jamming and playing together right away.
Let’s talk about the lyrics and the lyric writing. Who’s doing what? Is Indra writing the words since she’s singing?
It’s pretty collaborative, actually. We both write lyrics, we’ll come together and check with each other, “how’s this sound?” We are each other’s checks and balances. Indra will go in to the studio and have a rhythm set up, or she’ll go in and write a piano part, work on different lines, and themes. And then I’ll go in and I’ll pull different things out and edit them, produce it and put into the music. There’s a lot of overriding, us pulling back and distilling it.
There’s been a really nice arc in the sound of your records, and I really liked how the Lucifer record sounded more polished in comparison to the distorted sound on 936, and now with Cosmic Logic there’s this electronic, pop vibe. Is that part of a conscience effort in the progression of the Peaking Lights sound?
Part of it is also the gear that we work with and having access to more things that can make higher fidelity sounding music. The electronic thing comes from the gear that we’ve added and I think it’s opened up new opportunities. On Lucifer only 2 or 3 songs had guitar on it. And this album I think only one song has a bit of guitar. Yeah, I mean, it’s been a progression. The first record we did we only had a cassette recorder, we had a couple of synthesizers. [One of their boys can be heard screaming in the background] Sorry, the kids are going wild. It’s insanely hot out here right now.
What about the dub influence when did that come into the sound of the band?
It’s something we’ve always been into and a sound we enjoy. It definitely became more present with 936. Plus there was a project I did called Unborn Unicorn where I was kinda playing around with the dub sound.
I really love that Dub record you guys put out after Lucifer.
Thanks. We made Lucifer so quickly we didn’t have any time to distill it and so the Dub record was the distillation of the Lucifer record. We had been playing it live and we wanted to change some of the songs and that’s how it came about.
I’m a big reggae and dub fan, King Tubby, Augustus Pablo and all of the producer stuff. I feel like bands should make dub records more often. Offer two versions of a record to the public.
I think it’s important to re-contextualize your sound and also to have other people remix your stuff to hear your own stuff in a different light. The hard thing to do is do it yourself because you get so attached to how you imagined it. It’s just good to try and do it.
Cosmic Logic sounds more electronic than your previous work, less dub and more pop. I hate to use the word accessible but it is. Especially when I heard the single “Breakdown,” are you trying to strip some of the dub elements?
Yes and no. I feel like the dub elements are just hidden a bit more on this album. I feel like the way that I conceive rhythms I feel like I still have this idea of space with the bass and the drums, much like reggae, soul and funk music.
Funny enough, I was thinking about the same thing earlier today, about space in rhythms. Do you know this band from the 1980s called the New Age Steppers?
Oh yeah, Adrian Sherwood. Of course.
And I was thinking about how your music also incorporates that spatial element. It’s so nice how the melodies ride on top of all of that space.What’s your touring set up like?
It’s just the two of us. Indra sings and I hold it together in the back. We have a dub set up with a mixing console that I’m playing with and synths running through the mixer all being sequenced, we used to do it all with tapes but the gear was just too heavy. Plus we work with live projections.
Are you guys doing a lengthy tour for this album? What’s your plan for the fall?
Kinda off and on, our kids are starting school so we’re just doing 3 weeks in Europe from the middle of October until November and then we’re going back in the Spring. Then we’ll spend some significant time there when the kids are out of school next summer. And we’ll be playing some dates in the US too. But it’s hard for us to roll with the kids.
Do you take the kids when you tour?
Yeah. We take them with us and we have a touring nanny that watches them when we’re on stage. She hangs with the kids.
One last thing–tell me about the title of the new album, Cosmic Logic, where does it come from?
We came up with the title in the same way we come up with titles for most of our records – a little thing goes off in the brain and we think “that would be a good title.” With the first record Imaginary Falcons, we were living out in the woods. I was sitting outside one day and I thought Imaginary Falcons, “that would be a good title.” With 936, we used to commute, we owned a record store/thrift store, it was a 45 minute ride from where we lived and I would go in at 9am and I would be thinking about people going to there jobs. As I was driving in the idea hit me that you start your job at 9am and by 9:36 you’re thinking “when can I go home?” And when I started thinking about it more I looked it up. In numerology number 9 is the number of humanity. And then with Lucifer, we were thinking that it was funny that we were going into a professional recording studio because we had been making lo-fi records and now we had sold our souls to the devil. And then we started looking into the Lucifer meaning, and it actually means morning star. So all of these ideas had deeper meaning in them.
With Cosmic Logic, I came to Indra and said “Cosmic Logic” would be a good title for the record and I had spelled it KOSMIK. I looked it up on a numerology calculator and thought it was cool. And then I thought, “what if you spell it the right way?” The numerology calculator put it to the numbers 9-3-6, the name of our second album. So it’s all of these random occurrences that are humorous, initially, then as you dig deeper it becomes something more.
Check out Peaking Lights on tour this fall