Since forming in 2001, Moving Units have maintained a steady buzz of good press and created an impressive following of rabid fans. Part ‘80s throwback, part futuristic electro-rock, and all dance-worthy, the band’s sound is perhaps best known for its contribution to the slow-but-steady resurgence of the Los Angeles music scene. And while the band’s recent full-length Hexes for Exes continues to maintain that thrilling balance between over-the-top New Wave synth and straightforward rock, the subject matter this time around is just a bit more raw. Recently, the band’s lead songwriter and vocalist, Blake Miller, chatted about writing, recording, and his ever-growing list of side projects.
You’re hitting a lot of clubs. Who’s opening? Have you been able to hook up with some local talent in the cities you’ve visited thus far? We’re doing the co-headline thing with VHS or Beta, so we always have local bands in different cities open up: But I haven’t really seen a lot of the opening acts ‘cuz we’re usually doing press or running around. Unfortunately I haven’t really been in the room. Whatever magical talent there is out there, I’m going to be a little late to the party, I guess.
There has been a lot of talk about Hexes for Exes being a simpler, more straightforward record than 2004’s Dangerous Dreams. What was your mindset when you guys sat down and started writing? We just wanted to try something a little bit more melodic and a little different. We didn’t just want to repeat the same kind of sound and wind up re-doing past albums, which is no real fun. : We wanted to sort of flip the script a little bit; put some more electronics on some of the songs and go for more hooky, popular parts on other songs. It’s just one record, so, for us, it was like, ‘Okay, this is what we want to do now, and this feels right now.’ I’m not really sure how other bands do it, but most of the bands that make records that we enjoy have some variety in between albums, and each album kind of has its own vision, its own sort of personality :
How does the writing process work for Moving Units? How much of it is a group effort? On this record, I did a lot of writing on my own because a lot of the stuff is a little more personal. The subject matter and the structure of the songs are a little more traditional in the way a songwriter would write. For that reason, I would write by myself and then bring a song idea that was kind of rough to the band. Then the band would all kind of jam it out and tempo it and turn it in to a Moving Units song.
I know MySpace has provided itself a pretty worthwhile tool for both your band and your solo work. What do you think the benefit is to “leaking” numerous tracks online versus releasing a single, followed by the full album? I don’t think there’s one perfect way to do something. I think it all depends on the structure of what you’re going for. In our case, we already had a certain profile and awareness out there, to a certain degree, and we have fans that were waiting to see what we were going to do. So it wasn’t so much us trying to beat our chests and announce to the world that we exist: but we’re also really into the idea of connecting with our fans and people who like the band, so it was kind of a natural step for us to just put up the new tracks when we had them ready.
Would you mind telling me a bit about your solo work and deejaying gigs? I started doing the project with Steve Aoki a little while ago-it’s called Weird Science-where we’d remix other bands and artists, and that’s still going on. He and I will work when we have the time and when we get invited to do something that’s interesting. We’re getting ready to do a remix for Snoop Dogg [laughs]; it’s kind of a dirty, electro, house-y interpretation of his new single, “Sexual Eruption.” We’re also getting ready to produce our first original track. Weird Science sort of works at its own pace; there’s not a real formula behind it because Steve and I are both so busy.
And then I started another thing with Le Castle Vania [called Lies in Disguise], which is kind of a duo he and I are doing together. It’s really electronic and kind of showcases the best of what he and I both do. I write a lot of the hooks and the vocals, and he does a lot of the programming and sound design with bass lines and synth leads and the structure of it. He’s really savvy with structure that works well on a dance floor, a kind of deejay format. We’re just in the midst of mixing our first original single that’s gonna come out in early 2008, and we’re going to probably start touring around. : So 2008’s going to be really fun, but really busy.
How do balance the two projects and, more importantly, how do you find the time to play solo gigs while on tour? I don’t take vacation time. [Laughs.] For me, doing music is like a permanent vacation, so I’m always happy working. And now technology has evolved to the point where I can be working on something on a plane ride on the way to a DJ gig, or be sending files to one of my collaborators while I’m on tour on the East Coast and they’re in a studio on the West Coast. It’s much more of a fluid sort of world we live in, so it’s being busy without actually having to be in the room at all times:
So which of the bunch do you enjoy doing more? I hate to choose favorites because everyone I’m involved with are important people in my life, as artists and as friends. I think that, right now, the music Lies in Disguise is doing is really fresh. There’s something exciting about stuff that I’ve never tried, like exploring the outer limits of electronic music. I’ve always just flirted with it, so it’s exciting to plunge headfirst into a genre that I haven’t explored as much as I have rock ‘n’ roll. : And the scene and the climate are really good for that kind of sound, so it’s fun to get the excitement and the reaction that we seem to be getting already with that. It’s very celebratory and very contemporary.
You’ve said in the past that the Los Angeles music scene is uninspiring. Now that you’ve been around the world, does your stance on L.A. still ring true? To be honest with you, cities change and evolve. And when Moving Units first started there weren’t a lot of risks being taken in the scene. In 2002, it was sort of a static environment, so for us, we were just sort of challenged to just shake it up, to stir the cocktail and get people to react. Now, I think the scene has sort of risen to the challenge and there’s a lot more excitement and enthusiasm and imagination being cultivated there. I think the scene is really healthy and really becoming influential. And I think that a lot of the artists who are doing progressive work as musicians and as writers and as taste-makers are being really well-received in L.A. and it’s become kind of a cultural hot zone for people and bands and artists that are doing really bad ass music. [They] go to L.A. and realize how everyone really brings it hard and is really supportive there. I think, for that reason, L.A. is kinda becoming the place to go when you’re on tour: because the shows are always really great and the fans are always really involved and energetic. All you really have to do is go to Coachella to see how crazy Southern California fans can be for music, and how into it and reactive they are. There’s something special about that in the atmosphere.
Club Mercy presents the Moving Units this Saturday, December 1, at 8 p.m. at Velvet Jones (423 State St.). Call 965-8676 or visit velvet-jones.com for details.