ORBIT OVER LUNA Interview – August 2013

orbit over luna is the musical persona of Shannon Penner, a multi-instrumentalist, composer, sound designer and animator in Toronto, Ontario.

Utilizing ambient guitar, unique percussion, world instruments and location recordings, he strives to create moods and atmospheres that are distinctive and original.

While Orbit Over Luna’s sound is primarily in the ambient/post-rock vein there is woven throughout threads of Asian world influences. It has been described as organic downtempo.

Intensely layered waves of sound, sometimes delicate, sometimes powerful invariably create a sense of place…like an audio postcard from somewhere not yet visited.

FTY : Can you tell me about yourself, how long you have been doing this, where are you from etc etc and also how did you settle on your moniker Orbit Over Luna?

My name is Shannon Penner and I am based out of Toronto, Canada. I’ve been creating music under the ‘orbit over luna’ name for around 7 years now but my style didn’t solidify until just a couple years ago. I’ve always been interested in astronomy so back in 2006 or something I was thinking about a musician name and came up with ‘orbit over luna’. I knew it didn’t really roll-off-the-tongue but there was something about it that I thought was unique so I started adopting it.

FTY : For someone who didn’t know your music, how would you describe your sound? 

Hmmmm, sometimes I don’t know how to describe my music myself! It’s got elements of ambient and post-rock but somehow fits in neither. There are a lot of world influences in there but doesn’t really fit in the ‘world’ category either. A friend once said it is “organic down-tempo” which I think is vague enough to encapsulate my music.

FTY :You have just released your first full length album. Can you tell me the title and what the album is about, feel free to describe the different song titles/sounds that you were trying to achieve?

The album is called Transit and it is a purely ambient release. I needed to step back from music for a bit because there were a number of things going on that were making me very stressed out and anxious. It’s also in my personality to get super obsessed and focused about music so I needed to back off and get a little bit of headspace.

I still found that I needed to create though. I started digging through some files on my computer and I found some guitar textures I made a little while ago. These were not made for anything other than experimentation with tone. I just happened to record some of them. The tone of these tracks were exactly the balm that I needed at the time. I put them on my phone and would listen to them throughout the day. There was enough music there for an EP and the thought occurred to me that I could release them. I just didn’t feel like what I was saying with these pieces was complete though. I wrote and recorded a couple more tracks while keeping the same experimental thought process in mind and I ended up with 50 minutes of music. To me it feels complete now.

It is the most personal thing I’ve done to date. It’s me without pretense. Completely stripped of everything except the core mood and emotion of the track.

Chambers of the sea and in the decay of shadows are particularly special to me. They both feature the piano, which is something a little different for me.

FTY : How do you go about the writing the music, do you start at the beginning of the song? is there one person who does the writing or is it a collective process? and then how do you then go about putting titles on the songs?

My songwriting process is pretty ambiguous. I don’t really have a set way of coming up with things. I find when I start relying on a formula my ideas start to become stale. So I try to change things up to spark new ideas. When I sat down to write some of the extra pieces for Transit I tried something different and didn’t pick up the guitar. There are 2 pieces on the album that have no guitar at all. I find that inspiring. Coming up with alternative methods of creating.

With my less ambient material the pieces often start with a chord structure or riff on the guitar. Not always though. There are times like in the second half of 先斗町:浮世 – Pontocho: The Floating World when I have a certain percussion groove that I really want and the harmonic structure comes after.

The writing process so far has all been myself.

Titles are a tricky thing. The naming of a song has to be right. You can’t really change it afterwards. Interestingly, when I was writing the 京都/奈良 – Kyoto/Nara EP, my working names for the tracks Fushimi Inari and Pontocho were reversed. As I was getting it ready for mastering I realized something wasn’t quite sitting right with those tracks. I realized that the music I wrote as Fushimi Inari needed to be named Pontocho and vice versa. The songs were telling me what they were to be named. They then felt proper.

I often name a track after it’s written and it’s kind of a fun and interesting exercise to figure out what the song is. I know what the exact mood and feeling is while writing and I kind of like to keep it visceral at that stage. I often have a lot of poetry books on hand and I flip through them to find particular words or phrases that hit the mark of the song and tweak them from there. For instance the title Chambers of the sea is taken from my favourite poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S.Eliot and The wind alive like a heart beating is from Oh Earth, Wait for Me by Pablo Neruda.

FTY : is it just yourself who is performing will the music or do you have other musicians contributing?

For the most part it is all me performing the music. I wanted to branch out a bit on 広島/宮島 – Hiroshima/Miyajima so I contacted a couple of friends I met online about playing some parts on the ep. Andrew Tasselmyer(The Sound of Rescue / Hotel Neon) played a wonderfully gritty bass on the 2nd track and Andy Othling(Lowercase Noises) played the electric guitars and ambiences on the last track on the ep. It was an interesting experience relinquishing control a bit and letting someone else’s ideas enter into my music. Looking back at my original scratch bass part that I sent Andrew, I had no groove in it at all! He knocked it out of the park in my opinion.

FTY : And if you are having other musicians contributing, are you also contributing on other artists projects?

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to contribute on other peoples projects.

FTY : Orbit Over Luna has released 3 EP’s prior to this, Two of those releases had a distinct Japanese flavour to them. Can you tell me about those three releases? 

The 2 ‘Japan’ EPs were inspired by a trip to Japan in 2011. I love the Japanese culture/music/art/language. It was a great experience to be there and I marked that as my first official Orbit Over Luna release. There will be 4 EPs in the series.

In between those 2 eps a friend of mine, Seana, passed away from Ovarian cancer. She was 26 yrs old when she was diagnosed which is an extremely young age for this type of cancer. She was an absolutely wonderful person. Kind-hearted, caring and optimistic to a fault. I was working on a few tracks that didn’t seem to fit with the Japan stuff I was doing so I thought that I’d release an ep dedicated to Seana with all proceeds going to the Ovarian Cancer Society of Canada. That EP is called the wind alive like a heart beating.

FTY : Why you didn’t just roll both of the EP’s into one and have one full length release? 

I needed to start off with an ep. It’s less daunting and easier to put together as a first release than a whole album is. In a way it was kind of a trial to see if there was any interest in the music I create.

Often with a first release you just want to make the whole thing absolutely perfect before putting it out and this can often hold you back. It will never be perfect. Just get it as good as you can at that point in your musical knowledge and put it out. Learn from it, and keep going. If you wait until it’s perfect, it’ll never be released. I sweated and agonized over 5 tracks. I don’t think I could’ve done a longer album as my first.

I also really like EPs – and thematic releases. It’s harder to tell a story with an album. It just feels natural for me to write EPs.

FTY : How often do you play live and are there any plans on doing any tours in 2013? 

At the moment, Orbit Over Luna is a studio project only.

FTY : Who or what influences you to do what you do?

Good music always inspires me. Some of my desert island music would be Caesura by Helios and Matador by Arms and Sleepers.

You know what, even some bad music inspires me. A poorly executed song with a great concept still intrigues me. Creativity in all of its forms breathes on the sparks of ideas in my mind. I’m also inspired by great graphic design like that of Mary Blair and Charley Harper. Almost everything I see and hear makes me want to create.

FTY : How do you promote yourself, are you using Social media and to what extent and how successful is that media to the success of your project?

I promote myself almost exclusively through social media. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube…a whole bunch of stuff. It is often hard to be as ‘on’ as you need to be to promote yourself these days. It really could be a full-time job. It is great though when you do start building a community of friends, fans and colleagues through an online presence though. I don’t play live so my network is pretty small in that area. If it wasn’t for social media I think that Orbit Over Luna would only exist as a handful of demos hiding on my computer.

FTY : Would you say that artists like yourself are turning the music industry on its head. It used to be the case that unless you had some sort of record deal then you were going nowhere and it was difficult to put music out as it all relied on distributors. What are your views on this and how easy is it to write/perform/produce and self release an EP or album? 

There is definitely a revolution happening. It is so easy these days to own a bit of gear and to write and release your own music. It’s a good thing but also a bit of it’s own enemy too. Sometimes there are just too many new bands and releases to sift through that the level of relative anonymity can often be the same. It’s hard to make a mark when everybody else seems to be doing it too. The area that I think is exploding is the niche market. The things that rarely got released by the labels anyway. Personally, I love the fact that I can have control over all aspects of my music. This is a great time to be a creator.

FTY : If you could collaborate with any artist/band, who would it be and why? 

My dream would be to work with Keith Kenniff of Helios/Mint Julep. There is something about every single thing he writes that I connect with.

FTY : What was the last piece of music that you listened to? 

Well, I’ve been listening a lot to This Was Tomorrow by Sway. Brilliant shoegaze/dreampop. I was also just listening to Twigs & Yarn which I discovered on your show actually! I’m currently listening to an original vinyl of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

FTY : What does the future hold for Orbit Over Luna?

Well, I try not to think too far into the future. I’ve got the rest of the Japan series loosely planned, but other than that I am just going along where this leads me. One step at a time.


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