'Loveless' at 30: Zoon Reflects on the Influence of My Bloody Valentine's Shoegaze Blueprint

Daniel Monkman discusses how to make shoegaze sounds on a budget

Zoon Photo: Vanessa Heins

BY Alex HudsonPublished Nov 2, 2021

When recording Loveless between 1989 and 1991, Kevin Shields and his band My Bloody Valentine famously almost bankrupted their label, Creation Records. They reportedly spent six figures making it (although the exact cost has been disputed), working in 19 different studios with numerous engineers to craft a towering symphony of fuzz.

The album, which turns 30 on November 4, set the blueprint for shoegaze music, and its influence continues to resonate. MBV have never been trendy, exactly; they're more of a constant reference point that artists have continued to draw on throughout the subsequent decades. You could hear Loveless in the '90s Britpop of the Verve and Oasis, the aughts indie of Deerhunter and M83, and the 2010s buzz bands DIIV and Deafheaven. Even mainstream pop artists like Coldplay and the 1975 have dabbled in shoegaze pastiche (the former with "Chinese Sleep Chant," the latter with "Then Because She Goes").

Daniel Monkman of Zoon is leading yet another generation of shoegazers into the 2020s, combining waves of fuzz with haunting folk and traditional Indigenous influences in a sound cheekily dubbed "moccasin-gaze" — a style also associated with groups like nêhiyawak and Status/Non-Status. In an interesting twist, Monkman has channeled the influence of the famously expensive Loveless with a DIY approach that's decidedly stripped-down. Zoon's excellent 2020 album Bleached Wavves was made for quite literally one-thousandth of the cost of Loveless — not that you'd know it from listening to the album's ethereal wall of blissed-out fuzz.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Loveless, we spoke with Monkman about the genius of My Bloody Valentine, achieving shoegaze sounds on a budget, and Zoon's upcoming sophomore album.

How did you first hear Loveless and what did you think of it?

I was in high school. At the time, I didn't know what shoegaze was. I didn't even know what dream pop was. I was just listening to Brian Wilson — I think the 40th anniversary of Pet Sounds came out, and I was getting really deep into the wall of sound that Phil Spector and Brian Wilson were creating in the '60s. I guess I was looking for contemporary artists who were doing the same thing. In high school, my friend Danny Hacking from a band called Holy Void was like, "Oh, dude, if you like Brian Wilson, you would love Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine." And I was like, "My Bloody Valentine? You mean that emo band?" And he was like, "No, dude, not Bullet for My Valentine — My Bloody Valentine." I was like, "Oh shoot, well let me check it out." So he burnt me a copy and put it onto an MP3 player I had at the time. I remember it all, the day that he showed me, and I was walking down the street and I was listening to it. This is a pretty common thing, but I didn't like it at first. But I remember the song "Sometimes" was the one where I was like, "Oh, well that was really nice." And then I listened to it again, and from the start to the end, I was totally moved. It was the contemporary artist I had been looking for. And then I later found out that Kevin Shields was super influenced by Brian Wilson.

I had a similar experience of not being able to digest the whole record at first, but for me it was "I Only Said" and that little synth riff that hooked me.

I know, dude. I have a funny story with my mom. I was listening to that track over and over again. The ending extends so long — I had this little red CD player, and my mom literally banged on my door. I remember this clear as day. She's like, "Daniel, I think your CD is skipping!" I was like, "No, mom! That's just how it is!"

Having loved the album for as long as you have, what stands out about it when you listen to it now?

It's one of those records where, the more you listen to it, the more little sounds you hear, and that's been the biggest thing. I think because Kevin, throughout the years, has remastered it, so new little sounds keep popping up every few years when he decides to do that. I have an original 1991 vinyl that my label gave to me, and when I listen to that, it still blows my mind. There's still little sounds that I never thought about when I listened before. I'm a musician now, more than I was back in the day, so I can pick up on all those little things, and it's very inspiring.

What's your favourite song on Loveless?

I think, right now, my favourite track is "What You Want." That song is so beautiful, and it was my least favourite on the entire record, for whatever reason. But, last year when I was listening to it, I was like, "This is such an amazing track." It's one of the tracks that they hadn't performed ever, and it wasn't until two years ago that they finally performed it, and so there's one live version online. It's just the perfect little shoegaze song, in my opinion. "To Here Knows When" is obviously my favourite-favourite, but I think my new favourite right now is "What You Want."

What do you think of My Bloody Valentine's other work, aside from Loveless?

The Tremelo EP is amazing. Ecstasy and Wine. All those records between Isn't Anything and Loveless really showed that they were creating this new type of sound, and the transformation is shown in those EPs. It's a really nice way to see their progression. 'Cause some people think it's just those albums, but then there's all these really cool EPs that they did in between. Because it was taking so long to release [Loveless], so they were like, "Okay, let's pump out these couple of things." I like those a lot.

Do you think m b v is on the same level?

I think m b v was the perfect follow up to Loveless. I love Loveless, but I think m b v is my favourite. Loveless is an absolute classic, but m b v has that classic vibe in the first half, but then in the second half, My Bloody Valentine takes you on this futuristic kind of journey. Apparently a lot of those songs were written in the '90s, so it's really interesting to put it in that perspective. This isn't just a 2013 album — a lot of this still was recorded in 1998 or 1996. I transport myself to that time. If I was hearing it then, it would be so mind-boggling. It would be a cool followup — which it is, but it's 20 years, so the line gets blurred.

That album was delayed and rumoured for so long. I don't know about you, but I was thinking it was going to suck. It was like Chinese Democracy — they had been spinning their wheels so long that, when it finally came out, it seemed like there was no way it wasn't going to be bad. But then it came out and it was amazing.

So amazing! I was recording an album in 2013 in Winnipeg. I was just putting out my debut record there. And as I was finishing the album, I was going through a pretty bad breakup, and I was in the bathroom basically bawling my eyes out. My friend messaged me was like, "Hey dude, time to cheer you up: MBV just dropped a new record." I was like, "What?!" I stopped the session, and I was like, "Okay, we have to listen to some of this record." As a celebration for the end of the session, we sat and listened to it. That album helped me out so much after that.

How has Loveless influenced your work as Zoon?

Back in the day, I didn't really have much internet where I lived and I couldn't find out what the lyrics were, but it was the music that was very vulnerable to me. I took comfort in that. Every time I make music, the instrumentation is very vulnerable. And so when I listen to Loveless, that's what I take from it. It gave me this new parameter to explore the instrumentation and really focus on making that just as strong as the vocal melody and lyrical content. What I gained from it was the understanding that you can create all these textures, and that can be the vulnerability.

How do you approach making music influenced by a record that was so famously expensive to record?

It's interesting. That's just how the world works. At the beginning, it's really expensive to do certain things, but as manufacturing gets cheaper, it becomes easier to produce some of the sounds that may have been pretty hard to do back in the day. When I listen to My Bloody Valentine and I listen to interviews with Kevin Shields, he always explains that the sounds he does are pretty simple. I just figured out a way to do that same thing with a low budget. I realized that a lot of money goes into renting studio spaces, but it's not necessarily the sound that's expensive. I just played a show the other night, and these kids walked up to the pedals and were like, "You made all those sounds just that?" They were expecting me to have a huge pedal board, but I really don't. It's a tough one, but over time, it gets cheaper. And the sound itself is not that expensive.

Are you just using a fuzz pedal and a reverb pedal?

I use this DigiTech delay, and then I use natural gain from my Fender DeVille [amplifier]. And that's usually the traditional shoegaze sound, or at least it's my interpretation. I think that's why my record sounds a lot different from some of the shoegaze records that have been coming out. I don't really get too caught up with the chorus or phaser pedals. I just keep it simple.

Are you working on new Zoon material?

Yeah. I just finished recording my LP2. I'm working with Owen Pallett on the arrangements, and Charles Spearin is mixing it. With Bleached Wavves, I was really influenced by Nick Drake, and I really wanted to make string arrangements and an orchestral type album. But I didn't have the budget — I literally had like 200 bucks, so I was like, "What can I do to make an album?" I later discovered that I should just go to my roots and make a shoegaze record, because I know that sound pretty well. This followup, now that I have more resources, I decided to change up my songwriting and explore more. There's still shoegaze elements, but there's acoustic guitars and string arrangements. Some laidback drums, but I'm not using drums in the traditional way; I'm more using hand drums but making it huge so it sounds like a timpani, and mallets on cymbals for wash sounds. Exploring new sounds, but it still has that kind of shoegaze vibe.

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