Acclaimed American opera singer Mia Dean has teamed up with legendary punk artist Steve Lake for an ambitious project.
Blood Moon Wedding is a joint venture between Dean and Lake into an eerie, apocalyptic soundscape – but neither musician is a stranger to exploring the unknown. A member of the influential English punk band Zounds, Lake was a pioneer of the post-punk movement in the U.K., while Dean has spent years at the forefront of Oakland’s opera scene, in addition to writing and singing for her alt-folk band, Antler Family. With both of their expansive, unique resumés, going a bit off the beaten path is almost to be expected of this duo.
Back in May, on the day of the Super Flower Blood Moon, their debut single and video, “Hot Blood In The Sun” dropped. Haunting spoken word, atmospheric soundscapes, and chant-like vocal melodies are the backbone of creating the otherworldly sound. The accompanying video is equal parts hypnotic and chaotic, playing off the subtle urgency of the lyrics; serving as a trailer for what is to come from the project, “Hot Blood In The Sun” is attention-grabbing and unsettling.
When the full Blood Moon Wedding project is released, a visual element will be included. Limitless creativity has allowed Dean and Lake to build not only a huge wall of sound, but also a cinematic imagination of the stories in their songs; this mysterious universe they have weaved into the project is expansive and unpredictable – and is almost certain to pique your curiosity.
We recently got to chat with Dean and Lake about the Blood Moon Wedding universe, their upcoming LP, and more.
Looking back on where you started as a musician, who or what originally inspired you to begin singing/playing, and how have your influences evolved over time?
Mia: My father was a cowboy singer. He sang songs like Hank Williams and played guitar. His mother was a pianist and singer though she had no formal training. She had an incredible gift. She would sit at the piano and sing concerts for us. I was always asking for “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack. I developed an independent interest in opera at a young age. I discovered it on television, and my family thought it was really strange that I would watch operas at five years old and was mesmerized. I was also really influenced by MTV.
Steve: It’s something ephemeral. I started off listening to 60’s pop records and country music at home, and then went through practically every genre of music I could find, from German experimental music to Robert Johnson. As soon as I started being aware of music around me, I wanted to do it too. The people who influence what I do are usually people who seem totally authentic and committed to their artistic vision. That could be Faust or the Velvet Underground or Leonard Cohen.
It seems you two come from very different musical backgrounds: Steve, a punk-rocker, and Mia, an opera singer. What inspired such an unexpected collaboration?
Mia: Zounds asked me to participate in a social distance video last year, which was such an honor. After the video, Steve asked if I wanted to try to write something together and I jumped at the opportunity. I didn’t expect that we would get as much energy and life out of it.
Steve: Yeah, it was very easy with Mia. One idea led to another until we had this quite ambitious concept going on. It’s difficult to work with other people on artistic projects because you are making yourself very vulnerable. You can feel rejected, and I really hate rejection. But we were both very receptive to each other’s ideas.
As individual musicians, what are your writing processes like, and what was the process like as a duo?
Mia: Writing with Steve was as if we were on a rocket ship. Ideas didn’t stagnate. I would send a verse and go to sleep, and in the morning Steve had sent another verse and a chorus. My mind was completely blown by these ideas that I never would have thought of myself. It was electric and extremely productive.
Steve: Yes, the time zones were actually advantageous. Generally we were working while the other was sleeping. I would do a verse then Mia would. Or we would change each other’s stuff. I would send something to Mia and she would juggle it around and I would do the same thing, and we both had total confidence we could do that.
Mia: There were a lot of emails that had a “this probably sucks and we probably won’t use it” approach. We were so nervous to share these undeveloped, raw ideas, but we did it anyway and it developed a lot of trust between the two of us.
Steve: That’s probably why I hadn’t written with anybody else before, because I didn’t really have that same feeling of trust. And also because Mia’s really great and talented. It’s a real joy for me to work with her.
“Hot Blood In The Sun” has a very dark, noir vibe; what are the inspirations and influences behind it?
Mia: Specifically, the eclipse that happened in May. Neither Steve nor I felt right about letting that pass without an offering to our muse. We were able to execute it entirely in one lunar cycle, which seemed fitting.
Given the complexity of the song, were there any steps in the writing/recording/production process that were particularly difficult?
Steve: There were parts in the video where I thought I looked crazy, but not in a good way. I asked Mia to change them, but she was committed. And then she played this number on me and she said, “You know, if you were working with David Lynch, he would demand 100% commitment, which means not always doing what you’re comfortable with.” So I trusted her judgment.
Mia: I thought he looked great. I taught myself Final Cut Pro while in process of making the video, which was time consuming and challenging, but extremely fun.
You two have a collaborative LP as Blood Moon Wedding in the works – is “Hot Blood In The Sun” part of it, and can we expect a similar overarching sound?
Mia: Blood Moon Wedding contains 10 unreleased original songs. “Hot Blood in the Sun” is not on the record, but it is about the record. The sound is similar. The biggest differences are that we are playing with a full band on the album and most of the songs are more standard duets.
Again, coming from almost opposite genres of music, what is one thing each of you has learned from working with the other?
Steve: The main thing I’ve learned from Mia is to be a bit more bold and to take chances. Her influence has made me less self-conscious about dramatic persona.
Mia: Being more willing to write about difficult or scary things, and also just to have more fun and be more joyous in the whole process.
You’ve both had incredibly accomplished careers so far. What would each of you say has been a pinnacle moment or two for you in your career?
Mia: I am going to claim this one. It’s an incredible, rewarding experience to have so many facets to your personality that have been compartmentalized for a long time, and to have them come together in the middle of your life is so illuminating. You suddenly see all the value. You’ve created this new thing but it’s actually just who I am and everything I’ve ever been interested in.
Steve: What is the biggest buzz for me is having other people sing my songs and I’ve been lucky enough on a few occasions for people to like my songs enough to cover them. My primary identification is as a writer and as a songwriter. And now working with Mia is great because there is someone who is really a great singer who is singing my songs everyday.
Are we going to see Blood Moon Wedding live towards the end of 2021? Or either of you two separately playing shows?
Mia: The last blood moon for 12 years is happening May 16, 2022, so we intend on releasing the record then. Zounds is headlining in London at the New Cross Inn on Nov. 12. Steve and I are planning to workshop Blood Moon Wedding at Rockaway Park in England late this year, which will result in one show.
Steve: When we tour it we want to present it properly. We don’t want to just throw it together in a hurry. So that is more likely to be next year. To be honest it will be a joy just to play in the same room together.