Out Of The Woods: Moses Sumney

Out Of The Woods: Moses Sumney

Moses Sumney's music is anything but safe, but after some sought after isolation, he's ready to dive into the mainstream. Read his Vman 35 feature and listen to his latest track, released today, below

Moses Sumney's music is anything but safe, but after some sought after isolation, he's ready to dive into the mainstream. Read his Vman 35 feature and listen to his latest track, released today, below

Photography: Hedi Slimane

Text: T. Cole Rachel

It would be a bit of a misnomer to describe 25-year-old singer and songwriter Moses Sumney as an overnight sensation, given that he has nothing in the way of hit singles and has yet to release a full-length album. Still, there’s no denying the fact that Sumney has managed to create a gentle storm of buzz, a description that might also be an accurate way to characterize the music he makes: quietly intense and held aloft by Sumney’s remarkably diaphanous voice. Since releasing a self-recorded EP, Mid-City Island, in 2014 he quickly established himself as someone to watch, snagging opening gigs for the likes of Dirty Projectors, Junip, and Sufjan Stevens, sharing stages with Erykah Badu and St. Vincent, and chilling with fan friends like Solange Knowles. For someone whose music often treads the same kind of ethereal and elliptical sonic terrain as Grizzly Bear or Beach House, the sudden flush of attention has been both affirming and surreal, not to mention distracting for someone who is desperately trying to finish making a record.

“It is a little bit daunting,” says Sumney, who, at the time of our chat, was holed up in Los Angeles putting the finishing touches on what will be his full-length debut. “Just because making an album is something I’ve thought about and envisioned only, you know, my entire life. They say you have your whole life to make the first album. It’s quite strange because it’s like you’re trying to make your life’s work without having lived the rest of your life. So yeah, I have this kind of internal clock that I hear ticking all the time. It’s just like, We’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to finish it.”

Sumney’s life story, as it stands now, should already provide plenty of interesting fodder for song making. Raised by very conservative Ghanaian-born parents—who moved him and the family back to Ghana from his hometown of San Bernardino, California, when he was 10—his childhood did not necessarily provide an incubator for a life in the arts, but it was precisely this kind of creative isolation that informs the kind of songs that Sumney would eventually write. (“I didn’t know how to play any instruments and so I probably wrote about 100 to 150 songs that were a cappella,” he recalls. “Me singing melodies without any music under it.”) Though he now occasionally plays with a full band, Sumney still shines brightest when performing solo—accompanied only by a guitar and his own arresting voice, which he loops and manipulates with an effects pedal to stunning effect. Seeing him perform onstage—building up a song using only layer upon layer of his own voice—it’s hard to imagine that there was ever any doubt that this is what he should be doing with his life.

“Oh, I always knew that I would do music,” he says. “I always knew I would be a performer, an artist. I didn’t always make music, but I think I’ve known I wanted to be a musician since I was like seven and I started writing songs when I was 12. I was a very intuitive child, so I was writing songs, but I wasn’t sharing them with anyone. I didn’t really start performing my music until I was about 20 or 21. But I always knew that I would, which is kind of odd.”

This year looks to be a big one for Sumney, who is eager to share with people the songs that he has spent the better part of the past 12 months toiling over. Though there is currently a laundry list of people eager to work with him, Sumney opted instead to retreat to the woods in order to write, eschewing the relative creature comforts of L.A. for some Thoreau-style introspection. The intensely inward-looking nature of Sumney’s music is part and parcel of what makes it so fascinating—like listening in on someone’s most intimate thoughts.

“It’s the thing that I find the most fulfilling actually, to just go into the woods or go into the hills,” he says. “I was in a cabin in Big Bear [Lake] this summer alone for three weeks. I was really lonely at points, and at other times I felt really empowered. It is profoundly terrifying to be alone with your own thoughts and I suppose that’s why people, including myself, prefer to be distracted. I think that if you’re an artist, it’s necessary to be alone because that’s the only way that you can discover yourself outside of the external influence that is always being pushed upon us. If you don’t ever go into isolation or just be alone, you’re not really going to figure out what you have to offer.”

SUMNEY WEARS JACKET AND RING HIS OWN

Credits: PRODUCTION KIM POLLOCK AND YANN RZEPKA  DIGITAL TECHNICIAN MILK DGTL LOS ANGELES  PHOTO ASSISTANTS FRANK TERRY AND MATT HARTZ  LOCATION QUIXOTE STUDIOS  CATERING FOOD LAB

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