Life on the road and domestic bliss with Peaking Lights
A little way into our conversation, Aaron Coyes of LA-based neo-dub duo Peaking Lights stops me. “Before we go on to the next thing, can you hold on a sec? I’m actually dropping off the dog with my parents.” There’s some clattering on the other end, a distant ‘OK’, and then we carry on just where we left off: discussing the divine mysticism of numerology.
There’s an illustrative quality to this moment: just as they must function as a band, Peaking Lights are also a family. Aaron formed the duo with his wife Indra Dunis in 2008, and in the same year they began self- releasing music. Six years later they’re about to release their newest record, Cosmic Logic, on Domino offshoot Weird World.
More pop-centric and punchier than its comparatively zoned-out predecessor Lucifer, Cosmic Logic incorporates piano house and neon-lit, vintage electro to their psychedelic dub formula, continuing their mission to construct newer visions from fragments of the past. “It’s from collecting, having a bunch of different influences,” Aaron explains. “There is a power in that history. You have to look in the rear view mirror even if you are driving forward.” Yet in terms of the aesthetic and thematic qualities of the record, the veins of influence and intention become a little harder to trace. My interest in the significance of Cosmic Logic as a title leads Aaron onto a potted history of the duo’s album names. “All the titles for our records are really random. With Imaginary Falcons, we were out living in the woods and one day I thought I heard a falcon but hadn’t, then the phrase ‘imaginary falcon’ stuck in my head. Then with 936, we had to commute to work every morning from the woods, and I was driving in thinking ‘you start at 9, then by 9:36 you’re already thinking about lunch time!” While these stories may suggest an arbitrary approach to album naming, divine coincidence began to reveal itself. “We also looked at the numerology of 936, which gave that title some personal resonance. Then with Cosmic Logic, I had it in my head with a ‘ck’ at the end of each word. When we looked up the numerology of it spelt correctly it came out at 936! We were like ‘shit, we have to use it’.”
It isn’t entirely clear how seriously Aaron and Indra take these cosmic interventions. One track on their latest offering, Telephone Call, is framed from an extraterrestrial perspective with the refrain “Telephone call, telephone call from space / Calling all, calling all the human race.” Yet far from seeing this imagery as obscure, Aaron defends its accessible capacity. “Lyrically, with the whole record, we wanted to push ourselves to write lyrics that were more narrative based, with universal ideas. Telephone Call was one we wrote together. We were inspired by that Carpenters cover of the Klaatu song, Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft. We thought that was a really cool concept, but we also loved how Karen Carpenter just owns it. We were just inspired by the lyrics but also the confidence of it.”
It’s clear that Peaking Lights’ engagement with galactic thematics is rooted in pop philosophy; the idea that something as outlandish as alien contact has the power to relate to any listener, a relationship built on popular-absurdism. But the same cannot be said for all of their new material. Breakdown, at the tail-end of the album, carries a far more personal focus. “That song was really reflective. It was part of our frustrations with our own working process. I would play, and Indra would watch the kids, then I would go in the house and watch the kids and she would play her parts, which ended up feeling like we were recording the record separately. So the frustration of trying to write these songs ended up in Breakdown. Breakdown, it was personal, much more than Telephone Call, where we were having fun.”
While these frustrations aren’t immediately readable through the album’s palpable optimism, Aaron certainly reinforced that putting family first, and a band second, does provide complications of a particular sort. “We’ve been playing in bands since we were teenagers and toured extensively for years, but doing it with kids is a whole different game. Now our kids are getting older, we can’t just play every city and go on eight-hour drives. In fact we can’t do more than six hour drives because the kids will just lose it.” As their reputation as purveyors of psych-pop continues to grow, so does their family. “With one kid you can get away with partying and being fairly normal, but with two kids I’m basically fully sober now. I wake up, play a show, get back late and then we have to be up at six in the morning. Even if we are on the road we have to be fully present. They don’t have the understanding of ‘a tour,’ it’s their world which you have to participate in and give them your full attention.”
That being said, it couldn’t be suggested that Aaron resents this situation, in fact he is positively revelling in the future this current period is cultivating. “It is rewarding, the way they are growing up. Our oldest son Mikko can already hold a drumbeat, which might seem small but is so exciting. I feel that being around music, and being able to travel is having a real impact. Plus it means we can be there to raise our kids, which is a privilege. We can be there for them and lead a creative lifestyle.” Ultimately Peaking Lights are fostering environments; allowing the functional working environment of recording and touring to compliment the nurturing environment of parenthood. Thrillingly, amongst all of this, they have also found the creative space on Cosmic Logic to foster completely new, and bewildering, environments in the cosmos of their creativity.
Peaking Lights’ latest album, Cosmic Logic, is out now via Domino / Weird World.