Moses Sumney

Embracing Aloneness

Dec 07, 2017 Issue #62 - Julien Baker Photography by Ray Lego (for Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share


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"I'm so over opening for other people," Moses Sumney tells me over tea, eggs, and waffles in a cafe in London's Chalk Farm. With his knife he's poking his poached eggs, so wrinkly "they look like old people," he says. The Los Angeles musician has toured with James Blake and Sufjan Stevens, works with Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, and features on Solange Knowles' "Mad," alongside Lil Wayne. Now it's time for him to focus on his own work, his debut full-length LP Aromanticism.

The album name and theme came from a late-night Internet research session. "I asked 'Siri, what should my album be about?' And Siri was like 'write about this thing nobody has written about,'" he laughs. "And you know, Siri is our overlord and I have to honor her." His trademark humor is dark, riddled with sarcasm and lies that you really want to be true. "No, no, but really," he continues, seemingly looking me straight in the eye, despite wearing sunglasses. "I hadn't heard anyone talking specifically about the absence of romantic love as a concept or theory, and I wanted to really take that on because I related to it so much.

"People talk about not being able to find love, or feeling alienated, but it's always aspirational. It's 'Oh, I can't find love, but one day I will.' I wanted to ask: what if there is no maybe? What if there is no 'one day?' What if there is not love out there for everybody? Can you deal with that?"

The result is an album every bit as emotional as a record about full-on romanticism. It is dark, disturbed, and disturbing, but also breathtakingly beautiful, Sumney's voice often rendering up into falsetto at the notice of just one short breath. His lyrics are introspective, and often difficult to make out, as the tracks weave their way through folk, soul, electronic, choral, and instrumental themes.

Sumney has grown comfortable in his aloneness-note the difference between "aloneness" and "loneliness." On "Indulge Me" he sings "I don't trouble nobody/Nobody troubles my body" in an intriguing high-pitched whisper. Later it's "All my old lovers have found others/I was lost in the rupture," yet he sounds totally in control of his own being. "If people don't relate to the concept, I hope they at least further recognize that there are so many ways to be in this world, so many ways to exist."

There are lots of "ways," too, of becoming a musician. And Sumney didn't follow the most usual path. Born in the California suburbs to two pastors, at the age of 10 he moved to his parents' native Ghana. Teenage Sumney came to hate living in Ghana, where he found school difficult and was beaten, and used music as a very personal escape, beginning to write consistently when he was 12 or 13. On Aromanticism, Sumney plays guitar and improvises on synth and bass. But for a long time he could not play an instrument, and so wrote songs a cappella.

Back in the U.S., Sumney studied creative writing at UCLA. He was in bands, hovering between a rock group and classically-trained jazz nerds. But he never felt quite at home. "I've always felt most comfortable when I'm working with great guitarists, people who pick and play folksy stuff, which I do now," he says. "Now I feel pretty good in a lot of different genres. I like people who do ambient stuff, people who do folksy stuff. There's a mix. I play all over the place."

And that's where Aromanticism sits. It's all over the place, and wonderfully so, featuring Thundercat, Rob Moose, Paris Strother of KING, and Matthew Otto of Majical Cloudz, all names Sumney rolls out with undoubted enthusiasm, listing every one as his "dream collaboration."

On Aromanticism, it is the idiosyncrasy of Sumney's soulful vocals that strike you first. But he's working on his guitar playing too. "I enjoy playing guitar onstage, but if someone asked me if I was a guitarist, I would say no. I don't consider myself an instrumentalist. Now I'd really like to take lessons. I understand that I can do whatever I want with what I know, and knowledge is power. I feel like it could only get better from here."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Fall 2017 Issue (October/November 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.mosessumney.com

 

 

 

 

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