Artist Profile: Peaking Lights

Artist Profile: Peaking Lights

Peaking Lights are the antique postcard in the attic. Love-dented sentiment scrawled in disappearing ink, soft pastel script with images of turquoise water and tropical rain forest. They are the bespoke velvet suit in the trunk, wrinkled but mint, with a 30-year old spliff intact in the breast pocket. Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis are responsible for this mesmeric Nile funk; their baby Miko is the unofficial third member and may make better mixtapes than any of us. Based in a craftsman cottage in Echo Park, California, his makers cast an amniotic spell that only a married couple could create. It is one sound inextricably intertwined, sharing a single lung-- dub deconstructed, but absent any academic baggage. There are auroral flecks of krautrock, gospel, soul, and esoteric Spiritualism. Your usual boy-meets-girl-in-psychedelic-drone-band-type thing. 

Last year’s glowing 936 established Peaking Lights as vanguards at converting Jamaican music into alternative energy, alongside Not Not Fun labelmate Sun Araw and British electronic experimentalist Kevin Martin (The Bug, King Midas Sound). Their latest, Lucifer, finds them floating further downriver, merging programmed drums with exotic rhythms made on obliquely tuned guitars and hand-crafted synthesizers. It is the dream-like blur that can only come from having a newborn or being the frequent recipient of opiate-scrambled daydreams. Song titles include “Live Love,” “Cosmic Tides,” and “Dream Beat.” Formerly lodged in Frank Lloyd Wright’s old compound in Wisconsin, the couple has returned to the Golden State, a coast attuned to their ethereal character and mellow vibrations. But their sound feels like it never could have come from anywhere else or at any other time. They are the postcard, finally delivered and undated.

Ad Hoc: What led you to decide to move to LA from Wisconsin?

Aaron: My mom’s family is originally from here. In the 1930s, my grandparents owned an auto place in Echo Park called Middleton’s. My great-grandmother lived in Highland Park almost her entire life. But I grew up in Avila Beach in the Central Coast, near San Luis Obispo.

Ad Hoc: You were in punk bands for most of your musical life. Was that your first musical love?

Aaron: It was probably boogie funk. My mom would make mixtapes full of boogie and play them at the aerobics classes that she taught.

Ad Hoc: In your own mixtapes, you’ve slipped in a lot of hip-hop. Were you a big rap fan growing up?

Aaron: Yeah, I always loved hip-hop. In San Luis Obispo, there was KCPR, the college radio station, and it would come into the country late at night and I’d stay up and listen. In addition to teaching aerobics, my mom was working as a waitress at a Cuban restaurant and she used to have this big coin jar of money at our house. When I was about 8 years old, she’d always take me with her to work after school, and I’d steal her tip change and buy tapes at the record store up the street. The first tapes I bought were Iron Maiden, Too Short, and NWA.

Ad Hoc: You recorded Lucifer in New York. Did the energy of the city affect its creation?

Aaron: Totally. New York is so crazy. The first two days I was there I went to a party at Macaulay Culkin’s pad, the WFMU record fair, DJed some crazy birthday party. It was an initial three-day rush of no sleep.

Ad Hoc: How much of Lucifer started as a jam?

Aaron: A lot of it. We wrote most of it when Indra was pregnant and we’d take breaks by going down in the basement and jam for a little bit. We’d come up with a bass line, record it, and slowly figure out the rhythms behind it. Or vice versa.

Ad Hoc: There’s obviously a strong dub influence, but it’s not dub per se.

Aaron: We definitely don’t want to do that either; it’s already been done. But it would be really fun to play in a dub band or something.

Ad Hoc: Has LA been a difficult place to work because of its distractions, say, versus Wisconsin?

Aaron: If anything, I feel more inspired. And plus, having a kid means that I have to stay home. Right now, I’m only doing music to pay the bills, so it forces me to work. Right now, I’m remixing the Horrors.

Ad Hoc: Did you ever get into The Grateful Dead or any psych-rock like that?

Aaron: Totally. I was obsessed with the first Country Joe and the Fish record growing up, too.

Ad Hoc: They were on some good drugs.

Aaron: Drugs always have a huge influence. Drugs make culture. I always think about that crazy story that Terrence McKenna would tell: how if we were apes, we would come down out of the jungle and we would look for food to forge on and find magic mushrooms and slowly realize their psychedelic properties and it would cause culture to massively and rapidly change.

Ad Hoc: Did you do a lot of psychedelics when you were younger?

Aaron: A lot of mushrooms. I’ve never done LSD. But a lot of mushrooms and I would grow opium poppies. You see them growing in the Central Coast-- not like California poppies though. They look different. They used to just grow in the hills up where I lived. They’ve been there for over a 100 years; they were planted by Chinese settlers and the Irish people who worked in those hills with the cattle.

Ad Hoc: You’ve spoken at length about the importance of digesting your influences. Why do you think that’s crucial to the way you’ve created music as Peaking Lights?

Aaron: From my perspective, it seems like a lot of people get wrapped up in being fearful of digging really deep or falling into the trap of sounding like something very contemporary, just because it’s easier to fit in. I mean, Indra and I have both played in bands that did that, but we’d gotten to the point now, where we were like, "Fuck it. Let’s just play what we like to play."

I’m terrible at math, but it’s almost mathematic. If you listen to modern hip-hop, it sounds like all the breathing room is taken out of it. It’s so concise and you can totally bump it on speakers but it seems like there’s not really the low frequencies.  If you put on a dub record versus a modern hip-hop record, the hip-hop record would be kicking more like in the mids. You’d feel the dub record thumping hard and after a while, after you listen to so much stuff, you start to notice those differences, and just try to figure it out: why does it do that?  And obviously, the more that you start experimenting with it, the more you’re like, "I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’ll figure out a way to make it work."

Lucifer comes out June 18th in the UK via Weird World, and the following day stateside via Mexican Summer. They're also playing Austin Psych Fest, which you can learn more about here.

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