Kingston After Dark: An interview with Luis Mojica

Luis Mojica is close to nature.

If you’re looking for compelling and rapturous soulful next-level indie releases created in the Hudson Valley, then you will be completely missing out on one of the most powerful records of 2019 if you sleep on the lush, jazz-infused chamber-pop poetry of Luis Mojica’s yearningly bold new album, How A Stranger Is Made. A boring run-of-the-mill collection of clichés this record is most definitely not.

“You found the boy inside my adult shell/ You saved him from the hell of gender spells/ You held him in your arms and kissed his long eyelashes/You called him a Moon Man and his frozen heart melted,” sings the accomplished vocalist and pianist on one of the record’s strongest tracks, “Moon Men.”

Known for his association with Rasputina and his own thrilling tracks as well as his holistic outlook, Mojica is playing Friday, Nov. 8 at The Beverly Lounge for a special night, as well as Nov. 15 at Colony in Woodstock for a Daniel Johnston tribute.

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It was a pleasure to catch up with the enigmatic fountain of song and politely grill the artist about this latest work.

Morgan Y. Evans: The album cover and title, How A Stranger Is Made, are both very evocative. It really makes the participant in the art want to know the context but that requires more participation in the work. Kind of ironic since they are getting to know you better by learning about becoming a stranger. 

Luis Mojica: Visually, I wanted to evoke fragmentation. This album is a collection of stories — all personal — that honor and even celebrate shame, pain, all these taboo human experiences that we don’t talk about and, when we do, barely ever celebrate. They’re all puzzle pieces leading up to a whole person.

Love the piano and crawl-bop vibe of “Shaman Food.” What was the starting point? Just lyrics? How much of the songs did you have written ahead of time, or did other songs developing in the studio determine what other instruments you’d add? “City Friends” also jumped out to me, like remembering your own memory through hearing someone else’s in their song? Really nice piece. 

Beautifully put. I developed these songs to scare myself. I was bored of my old material and I wanted to get more personal. So I set out with the intention of writing confessional, deeply personal songs for piano and voice, then each song had its own arrangements and environments that naturally came through when we were recording and mixing. The piano came first, then the vocals and other arrangements.

That seems like a great way to shake things up. So, Simone Felice is an old friend and it is cool you worked with him and David Baron on your latest release. One thing I like about Simone is he understands traditional sort of “classic” or “roots” approaches to music or literature or whatever, but is also really capable of thinking outside the box from his own wavelength. I bet you all had some interesting production conversations. 

Absolutely. I brought them my song “Queen Song” because I wanted it to be dramatic, intense, and a cathedral of a song. Simone was like a music shaman and David was like an alien on the control boards. His studio looks like you’re in a UFO with all the analog and synth wires. They really elevated the song and brought it into an intense emotional landscape. Just what it needed.

How did you decide to do a Leonard Cohen cover of “Stranger Song” to wrap this release up? It is a nice capstone summarizing the energy of the record and your voice sounds really good. 

As a man, a strange two-spirited kind of man, Leonard Cohen’s “Stranger Song” felt very invasive when I heard it at 16. I had never let anyone know the real me. My body, my sexuality, my truth … all was locked away in different rooms for different people at different times. It was like survival, or it felt like survival, I should say. His song was so self-realized and cut through the bullshit to the core of a man’s heart and what makes him lie and deceive women. It was so poetic and empathic that I was able to hear and I credit it for a lot of my own healing. 

That’s wonderful and powerful. I love Leonard Cohen and it has been interesting to read more about how he used to watch Nico. The recording process for your record seems pretty elaborate. You did some stuff in the Old Dutch Church and some in a studio, correct? 

Recording this was a two-year process. I recorded all the piano at Old Dutch Church and the vocals and drums at Split Rock Studios in New Paltz. Many instruments were virtually “flown in,” like the cello from Australia. The saxophone and backing vocals were recorded on my cheap microphone in my house. Justin Guip was the sonic magician that pieced all the parts together, forming this tapestry that feels very connected and whole. The process of recording reflects the psychological theme of fragmentation for sure!

What do you like about The Beverly? I like the cocktail lounge/bar area a lot. It’s a cool vibe in there.

You know, I’ve never been! I’ve heard so much good about them giving avant garde and genuinely alternative musicians a place to perform so I naturally reached out to do a show because of that. We’re planning an extensive national tour throughout 2020 so this probably will be my last local show for a while.

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