The Joy of Despair
With his first album (finally) out, Moses Sumney talks to a kindred spirit, Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
On the cover of his debut album, Aromanticism, Moses Sumney levitates before an empty wall. His shirtless back is to the camera, his hands are folded behind him in a gesture of prayer, and his head has been erased. It’s an alarming image and a perfect encapsulation of Sumney’s sound. His approach calls to mind Billie Holiday’s — with its jazz-inspired phrasing and glass-half-empty lyrics. “Am I vital/If my heart is idle/Am I doomed?” he wonders on Aromanticism’s first single, “Doomed.” But paired with Sumney’s spacious, minimalist guitar and liberal use of loop pedals, his songs don’t indulge in self-pity. Born in Southern California and raised partly in West Africa, Sumney says he struggled to find his place in the world. He was, musically speaking, a late bloomer, but after releasing an EP in 2014 when he was 23, he quickly gained a following and went on to open for Sufjan Stevens and James Blake and to collaborate with Solange. He also bonded with a fellow introvert named Karen Orzolek, better known as Karen O and best known as the frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. After meeting in Los Angeles, Sumney and Orzolek began jamming together. As Sumney sets out this fall on his first top-of-the-bill tour of the U.S. and Europe, Orzolek and her band are playing their first show in nearly four years. Here, they talk about going solo, the perils of premature hype, and the importance of taking your time.