Goodbye Luna

Luna’s Guitar Au Revoir
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“Time to quit.” Longtime fans of Luna’s radiant guitar-driven space pop will recognize that phrase as a song title from the band’s 1991 debut album. But, as of late, it has acquired a more significant meaning. Explains guitarist, vocalist, and founder Dean Wareham: “We decided that our new album, Rendezvous [Jetset], would be our last.” While Wareham is a bit cryptic as to his reasons for retirement—“I figured we’d better stop while we all still liked each other”—the aural evidence suggests it’s certainly not for a lack of creative spark.

Rendezvous, a kaleidoscopic blend of richly textured guitar tones and delicate melodicism, is perhaps the most compelling, mature, and fully realized effort of Luna’s 13-year career. It is also the closest the band has come to capturing the heady ambience of their live shows in a studio environment.

Wareham believes the dreamy, cosmic vibe enveloping Rendezvous’ 11 tracks resulted from a back-to-basics approach to recording. “Essentially, [producer] Bryce Goggin had us set everything up in one big room that was miked,” he explains. “He didn’t isolate anything, and that made for a much more intimate sound.”

Tracking live as a band also set the stage for one of Wareham’s favorite moments on the record—a serendipitous occurrence near the beginning of the song “Speedbumps.” “I was running my guitar through two amps, one dry and one delayed, and I hit the wrong footswitch, knocking the delay signal out for a few bars. I thought I had ruined the take, but when we listened back I realized the space that was created when one amp accidentally cut out sounded cooler than what I’d originally planned to do.”

Happy accidents notwithstanding, much of Luna’s melodic grandeur comes from the crafty interplay between Wareham and co-lead guitarist Sean Eden. “My favorite guitarists usually come in pairs,” says Wareham. “Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed from the Velvet Underground, or Billy Million and Glen Mercer from the Feelies, for example. Often, I’m more interested in how a guitarist plays with someone else than how he plays on his own, and I love the way Sean plays off of me.”

Eden detailed his part in coloring Luna’s tonal palette: “Dean usually does stuff that is very chordal and basic, so I tend to work around that, finding little melodies that will fit. One thing I’ll do is to hit a higher inversion of a chord, adding echo and a slow whammy dive to give it an atmospheric wash.”

Although Luna’s tenure as a group was never marked by high-profile radio or MTV success, both the hipper branches of the music press and the indie-rock cognoscenti include them in the pantheon of legendary underground pioneers alongside Television, the Velvets, and Joy Division. When asked about Luna’s legacy, however, Wareham is less effusive. “We never regarded ourselves as a band that was stretching the boundaries of rock and roll,” he says. “Most bands nowadays are derivative, and I think when all is said and done, we were derivative too—but at least we were interesting.”

—Vincent DeMasi