Artist Spotlight: Interview with Joshua James Crampton of Luna is Honey
"Life is Honey"
Discovery of one’s self through the period of adolescence can be challenging for most. Defining yourself under the constant scrutiny of religion can potentially turn things into a whole other beast. Some might call this going to private school. Creativity is meant to be limitless and placing restriction on imagination can deny one’s true potential. Regardless, a true artist will take their situation and mold it into something that they believe to be authentically righteous and continue to forge ahead with their ideas and views of the world.
I headed over to the Bootleg Theater a few nights ago to check out some friends I grew up with play a show. It was somewhat of a surreal experience not having seen these guys in nearly fifteen years when we still wore uniforms and tucked in our shirts. After watching them play a quick set I caught up with the lead-singer/songwriter, Joshua Crampton, and discovered an intriguing world in the mind of a creatively-driven artist who up to this point, I had no idea about. Discussing music, art and everything in between, I wanted to find out more about the guy I barely knew growing up and learn about his process in shaping his vision into a language he could share with the world.
Tell the people where you’re from and what you do.
My name is Joshua James Crampton. I'm half Bolivian, half white. I'm an American artist, songwriter, and musician who currently lives in L.A.
Who is Luna is Honey? And what happened to Luna Child?
Luna is Honey is the band I play in and write songs for. I'm the singer, guitarist, and keyboard player. I play with four other dudes in this band: Amorn on drums (he also records, engineers and mixes most of our music), Adrian on guitar and sometimes vocals, and Jay on bass and samples.
It's funny that you know some of us long enough to remember Luna Child (later, Lunachild). That was a band I had in high school (and a little while after) with Amorn, my brother Elijah, and Jay. We started off as kind of a shitty garage band with really crazy songs that also played covers (like most high school bands do). Then after Jay started playing with us, we totally changed our sound and became more sample oriented and jazzy. We blended that with the alternative/post-punk/shoegaze style we were already messing with.
The most interesting thing about that band was my brother and Jay's combined use of samples and our ability to improvise. Being really young, without responsibilities, and being able to play music together every day was also something amazing. After we all got out of high school and several shows later, I moved to Tennessee to go to art school for a year. During that time, the rest of the guys formed an instrumental band called "Mabel's Strange Predicament", which made really amazing music. We would also get together on my visits back home and jam. I started making music on my own as well. When I moved back, we tried to do some Lunachild shows with all of the new ideas and influences we had floating around. Our collective involvement in the band at the time was really sparse. We still collaborated with each other pretty often, but I think we all kind of enjoyed exploring our own musical growth outside of a band structure a little more at the time. Amorn bought some recording equipment one day and we decided that we'd make one "last gasp" Lunachild album collecting what we had been working with over the past year or so. That record never really panned out. The only surviving gem from those sessions was a song called "Angry Toy Cat", which sounded much more pop-oriented and structured than anything we had been working with at the time. I included that track on a compilation of early Luna is Honey tracks. You can listen to it here: http://lunaishoney.bandcamp.com/track/angry-toy-cat
After that, we kind of kept our involvement with each other sparse and one day, we decided to start everything up again. We figured we'd do it as a new band with new songs. I had been writing and recording a lot of songs and we kind of started from there. The recorded output of the band in those days was really divided. It was half songs I wrote and produced on my own (collaborating with my brother on most) and a handful of songs we played together as a full band. The dynamic worked really well, but I always felt that the songs I produced on my own had a much more fully realized vision (despite their low fidelity) and aside from a couple staples, the full band tracks still sounded like a work in progress. Amorn and I decided to change how that worked later on down the line by experimenting with our home recordings and creating a much more powerful live presence.
The name Luna Is Honey actually came from a t-shirt I had designed that had these two weird animal things on it and read "Luna IS Honey." I don't remember where the idea came from, but a friend of mine told me he thought that was awesome, so I changed the name of our Myspace page to that and that's kind of how it stuck. We never really talked about it, for better or worse. For the record, it's not supposed to be a play on "honeymoon", although that kind of fits our style. It's more of a strange complement you'd give to a girl named Luna. Like "damn, Luna is HONEY!" Ha.
What was your experience going to a private school where your mother also worked?
I had gone to private school my whole life, even when I lived in Mexico as a kid. I didn't really think twice about it. Having my mom work at the same school I went too seemed weird at first, but she always made a point not to embarrass me or try to interfere with my personal life as an awkward student.
Did this have any effect on your creative process?
My parents were always very supportive of my brother and I making music and art. I think in the community we grew up in, that was a big move considering my dad used to be a pastor and everything. He always used to tell me, "I don't care what style of music you play, just make sure you're always creative with it and don't write negative songs." That always used to make me laugh.
Thanks for the ‘zine you gave me at the show. I checked out some of the fliers you made in your FB album (fuckin’ great). Who are some of the artists that inspire your work? I get a Daniel Johnston vibe looking at some of it.
You're welcome and thanks! Daniel Johnston is really cool, but I wouldn't cite him as an influence. I've always been inspired by the old post-punk fliers and album artwork from the late 70's and early 80's. I'm a big fan of old 50's and 60's pin up art and erotica too. All of the 70's comix artists are really great. Patrick Nagel from the 80's is also a mega influence.
I've always been into old 80's and 90's Manga too. Artists like Katsuhiro Otomo, Hirohiko Araki, and Usamaru Furuya have a big influence on some of my work. I'm a big fan of a lot of current mainstream comic artists too, like Frank Cho, Budd Root, Adam Hughes, Terry Moore, Ken Rocafort, and J.H. Williams III.
I'm also a big fan of paleo art. I'll get into that more later.
I keep with more of a "sloppy" style for a lot of my Petty Cash comix, but I like to mix them with a lot cleaner and more anatomically precise illustrations for my pin ups and dinosaurs. The "Miniature Comix" supplement that came in that packet I gave you is something I started recently. Its more in the vein of a traditional comic and features characters from different series that have very detailed and developed backstories. I haven't made any of those yet, but have them all written down. Miniature Comix is sort of their meeting point in the middle of all of their "sagas". It's a good way for me to establish their stories around a very neutral character (Brunette) while no one knows what has happened before Miniature Comix. It keeps things a lot lighter and allows me to work with them in the quick pencil-drawn medium I've been doing them in. I plan on getting help from larger sources to actually do the majority of the other books based on those bigger characters later on down the line. I'm very excited to keep making Miniature Comix and get them printed in a glossy form though.
What is the method behind Luna is Honey’s sound? Who are some of your influences?
I'm a very prolific writer. I still record all of my demos on a four-track tape machine. I just think that lo-fi sound is intimate and works well with my style. I have stacks of tapes full of songs from over the years. Some of them have never been heard by anyone but me.
Our process is rather comfortable and pleasant at the moment. I write a song, I make a demo of it, I send it to the guys, then we work on it. If it can't budge in any other direction, then I just keep it as is. In the past, I used to be a much bigger stickler for keeping with the structure and sound of the original demo, but now I leave a lot more room for the band to let the songs grow. Amorn is really good with arranging and so we usually work on structure and dynamics together. Adrian is really great with tones and has an amazing ability to pick up songs quickly, which also helps with dynamics and melody. Jay knows how to add that extra "icing on the cake" element to all of our songs, whether it’s with a bass line, or a few seconds of a genius sample he throws on a track that helps it sound like it came from another world.
Everyone in the band has a great ear, which makes rehearsing and writing a breeze and allows us to really be able to "stretch our legs" at live shows. That whole idea goes back to the days of Lunachild and how we used to work so effortlessly. I'm blessed to work with those types of musicians at this point and time. Sometimes I make fully produced songs on my own (that are still in that lo-fi tape vein). If the band likes them, we end up releasing some of those as Luna is Honey tracks. That also goes back to the initial dynamic of the band and adds a really unique element to our sound.
On a side note, I play bass in another band called Batwings Catwings. Working with them is a much different process than my band, but it's fun to see how others work and take from that into my own process. It's also made me feel that it's ok to be making loud rock music. That was something I was battling for a while, but I realized, "whatever, this is really cool".
As for our influences, I’m a huge Prince fan and that kind of seeps into all of my writing. After I started really getting into my own brand of songwriting (right as we were starting Luna Is Honey), I began to lean towards a much more soulful vocal style. I consider myself to be somewhat of a soul/r&b singer first and foremost, so I write rock guitar songs from the perspective of them almost being rock covers of r&b songs. I think inspiration is one of the most powerful and beautiful forces on this planet. It's truly amazing when it hits. I think whatever my newest influence is comes up front when I'm writing songs and helps steer the band's music in a new direction whenever we approach a new set of songs for a release. I'm glad that everyone in the band finds this exciting and I think that kind of shared inspiration comes from knowing each other for so long.
Everyone in the band has their own set of influences and you can hear all of those with each note they play. Every member of the band has their own unique style of playing. You can tell who each person is by just hearing a line of music they play. It's great. We all grew up listening to alternative bands from the 90's and then we moved on to post-punk and shoegaze and hip-hop and r&b and jazz. All those things still stick and we mix several decades of music into a blender, chug it, piss it out, and drink it again. We always stay in the present and sometimes future, though. Just because we have influences from the past, doesn't mean we dwell there. That is a big misconception people have when they think of bands who still use live drums and guitars. Like I said, every release we've put out has us in a different mode of thinking. Our last release, "Coolbreeze" was inspired by Prince's residency at the Forum, the change in Luna's lineup, and a trip I took with my girlfriend to Brazil in the summer of 2011. I actually wrote several of those songs there.
Amorn is the only original member from Luna Child, describe your relationship and how have you guys been able to maintain this collaboration over the years?
That's actually not true. Jay is also an original member of Lunachild. He joined maybe a year or two after we started, but he's been there since those high school days, too. I think I touched on this in an earlier question, but we've all been collaborating for years. We're all solid friends and brothers outside of the band, so that makes everything very easy. We all already went through all the petty bullshit bands go through in their early days as friends and co-musicians, so there is no drama or ego in our process anymore. We all trust each others' opinions and know how to listen up when one of us suggests something that could make a song or an idea better.
When did Adrian join the band? And how did he fit into the creative process?
Adrian's been playing with us for a little over a year now. Amorn and I met him at a Smashing Pumpkins concert. It was supposed to be some kind of "secret show" at the Viper Room in Hollywood. Amorn and I had nothing to do, so we went to see if we could get in. I had seen Adrian around at shows and was surprised to see him there. The three of us were hanging out in front of the venue because we couldn't get in and started talking to each other pretending like we weren't really trying to listen to the show through the open door. Then, we realized we were all there for the same reason and that we were part of the same scene and that we all knew how lame being at the Viper Room was. We hit it off immediately and exchanged music.
Adrian has his own band called Tremellow. They're a really great and underrated forward-thinking L.A. band, by the way. I suggest you check them out. After that first encounter, our bands played a few shows together and even did a battle show against each other once at The Smell.
My brother played in Luna Is Honey for the first three years we were a band, then had mixed involvement. He left the band and went on to make his own music under the name E + E. He's an amazing composer and musician and if you can find his music, I suggest you listen. Towards the end of my brother's time in the band, we recruited our first real bass player, Tyler Binkley (he was also dating my brother at the time). He recorded two releases with us and then we parted ways. Several random drunken jam sessions, goth club choking scares, and shits in Del Taco bags later, we asked Adrian to fill in on guitar to add some extra "umph" and texture to our sound. He played with us like he'd been playing with us forever. It was very natural. Jay switched over to bass after that because I've always trusted his instincts as a musician. That little change in our lineup fit like a glove. The rest is history.
You write the songs, come up with video concepts and create virtually the entire branding behind Luna is Honey. Do you consider yourself somewhat of a control-freak?
Ummm...I’ve realized that I'm more of a passive control freak. I'm also OCD and a perfectionist when it comes to certain things, but I've learned over the years to just let things be sometimes. Especially, when you're working with others. I never let those feelings or ideas become negative. If I want something done a certain way, I just do it. If I want someone's opinion or input or help, then I either ask for it or leave plenty of room for discussion. I do a lot because I choose to and that's what makes me feel good. When it comes to the complete end product though, it's all about the music and that is definitely a group effort. I take it in a particular direction up to a certain point, but it's the whole band that helps make a big splash, then I take the splash and find a good way to illustrate it. I think they trust my artistic aesthetic because I never let it reign down in a controlling way. I also ask for their opinions on things when it comes to album artwork and such.
Video concepts are just an extension of my graphic art that sometimes extends into something else because it involves actually showing all four members and what we do. That's an element where everyone kind of has control over what they want to look like, etc. The blend of all our looks and styles is part of what makes us an interesting band, after all. They're also probably glad that they don't have to worry about/bother with all that stuff sometimes. It keeps things consistent. I have a lot of fun with it.
What’s with all the dinosaurs?
I'm a huge dinosaur nerd. I always have been. I subscribe to fucking Prehistoric Times Magazine. I've always wanted to get into the world of paleo art, so I've been practicing and I throw dinosaurs into a lot of my designs. I've actually started working on a kids book telling short wordless stories about several different dinosaurs. I've always wanted to do something a little more "PG" than the rest of the regular stories I write, so I figured dinosaurs would be the way to go. I even drew a dinosaur for the cover of Luna Is Honey's 2009 album, "Raptor Red." That cover is actually going to be featured in Prehistoric Times Magazine later this year. I'm very excited.
Final words for the fans and potential listeners?
I hope I haven't been too long-winded with this Q&A, and if I have, I hope everyone finds it interesting. The only thing I can say is that I urge everyone to check out all of our releases on www.lunaishoney.com. I consider Luna Is Honey to be a body of work. We may not play some of the earlier songs anymore, but it's all special music that shows just how much we like to progress as we approach one release to another.
Right now, we're working on putting out a full-length record later in the year. We're gonna start it off with a single and new video. The artwork for the single is being done by an amazing Japanese comics artist named Ricken. I can't wait to show people her finished design. We're looking for someone to release the single and later, the album. Any takers, please hit us up.
Much love to everyone and thank you to everyone who's always supported us and thought we were cool. You know what's up and that's worth something.
Check out Luna is Honey below:
Yes I Want to Lose Control
What I Need
John Alvin makes art and writes on his free time. He currently works in Los Angeles, CA in the film industry. John is also the owner of Work Shrt and one-half of the musical duo JonDre. For more information, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.