Grace Repasky and Maggie Geeslin are two-fifths of the Atlanta indie pop band Lunar Vacation; Daniel Gleason is the bassist of the newly Atlanta based (by way of LA) indie pop band Grouplove. Daniel produced Lunar Vacation’s first full-length record, Inside Every Fig is a Dead Wasp — out now on Keeled Scales — so to celebrate its release, the three caught up about its creation.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Maggie Geeslin: Dan, do you want to tell us about the studio we’re in?
Daniel Gleason: Yeah, we are in Big Trouble in Little Five Points in Atlanta, Georgia. I own it with TJ Elias, who engineered y’all’s record. It’s been open for probably, I guess, going on three years now. We’ve been working together for probably four or five years, and we tried to curate a spot that feels like you can kind of come in and be whoever you want and make whatever record you want — just sort of a free flowing creative environment. And hopefully we’ve accomplished that.
Grace Repasky: Oh, yeah, I think so.
Maggie: Definitely. I feel like everyone who’s been here’s like, “Oh yeah, we checked that out, it’s so cozy in there.”
Daniel: Yeah, it’s like clubhouse vibes. Grace and Maggie brought these light up chili peppers, and Hannah [Hooper, of Grouplove] has done artwork all over the walls, and there’s little hidden messages everywhere.
Grace: Every time I come here, I feel like I see a new little doodle. So many little oddities.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s a good space. It was really fun making that record for sure.
Maggie: How many records have you produced thus far?
Daniel: Full records?
Grace: Full records.
Daniel: I think yours would only be the second full-length record. It’s been a lot of EPs and singles. Honestly, it’s a lot of developing artists, so typically it starts off with a single or something. That’s not as much of a undertaking, because a lot of times you’re trying to figure out what the vibe of the project is, what direction it should go in. It’s not an established act that’s kind of already on the tracks headed in [a certain] direction. So yeah, it’s only the second full record, I think, that I’ve ever produced. That might be wrong, but right now it seems right.
Maggie: We made our first single here with you, “Unlucky” — not first ever, but first in the studio — in the fall of 2019. And then early 2020, pre-pandemmy, we kept making more songs.
Grace: I’m trying to think of why we came in in January, because after “Unlucky,” I don’t know if we were in album mode yet. Like, didn’t we just decide to make it after we heard “Peddler”?
Maggie: I think you had written “Peddler” right after we made “Unlucky,” and I think you sent it to Dan.
Grace: Oh, did I send it to you?
Daniel: Yeah, you had sent me a couple of demos, and I don’t think we were in full blown album mode. It was sort of just like, “Alright, let’s keep working. There’s a good vibe here, let’s see what else is there.” I think “Mold” started in that same time period — remember it went unfinished for so long? It was just sort of in pieces, and there was something obviously there, but we didn’t know what it was. But “Peddler” was like, “Alright, that’s—”
Grace: That was a moment.
Maggie: We had talked about that with our band, because people ask us why “Unlucky” is on the record — it sounds and feels so different from the record. At first, we were like, “This is definitely going on there. It’s our first fully formed song we have for this project.” And then I remember we were tracking “Peddler” — we were in the mixing room and Matteo [DeLurgio]—
Grace: Matteo did the swelling synths in the chorus and everyone just goes, “Woah! What is this?”
Daniel: Yeah, it was a breakthrough moment.
Maggie: Yeah, our band was kind of in shambles at that point. We’d never worked with a producer or an engineer, like tracking, so I don’t think we really knew our place.
Grace: Communicating ideas…
Maggie: Yeah. And full collaboration like that—
Daniel: It takes time, for sure.
Maggie: But I think “Peddler,” was kind of like, “OK, now we can all commit to making something.”
Daniel: Yeah. “Unlucky” is a great song, but once we had done more, to me it felt like — I mean, I don’t know, I’m a little too close to have really great perspective on it, but it felt like there had been a maturing process, like you guys had really grown as a band and as writers. And to me, “Unlucky” didn’t feel like it was at that level.
Maggie: Yeah, it definitely felt like people playing the part. We were like, “OK, Grace tracks her guitar, I track my guitar.”
Grace: Because we were playing live before, so we all knew how the song was supposed to sound. So we just came in and were like, “I have all the ideas, just put it down.”
Daniel: Yeah, it wasn’t as adventurous. And to me, as a listener, I don’t hear the adventure in that song as much as the record.
Grace: Yeah, there was barely any production risk.
Maggie: It was safe.
Daniel: It’s very safe.
Maggie: But that was a trial song, to see if we could work with you guys.
Grace: I know, I remember it was for super cheap, you were like, “You can just see how you feel.” And then we were like, “I love it!”
Daniel: Well, I think too, TJ [and I] had had our own conversations, and we both felt like we hadn’t gone far enough [with “Unlucky”].
Grace: I remember you guys said that, yeah.
Daniel: We had all talked about, like, “Yeah, I think we need to go further. You need to push for something beyond this.” And whatever that is, just that sense of the unknown, I think is is really inspiring to make, and I think that translates to a better listen, too. It’s like, Oh, wow, they didn’t play it safe, you know? And I think that comes across.
Maggie: I think so too. Someone was like, “It sounds so much more straightforward than your other songs.”
Grace: But intentionally. You can tell that everything in those songs is very intentional, and I’m so glad that came across.
Maggie: Those textures took so long to build.
Grace: The textures in the sample, even just drum sounds — literally, doing “Mold,” building up the drum from the bottom was just five straight hours of like, “How about this snare sound?” I was just going insane, like, “I don’t know the difference anymore.”
Daniel: Yeah, it’s tough. It’s very easy to lose perspective and you don’t know what’s happening.
Grace: I think “Mold” was the song that felt the most challenging.
Maggie: I had the most doubts about that.
Daniel: Well, it’s a credit to you all that you trusted us, because there are so many conversations of us just being like, “It’s here, it’s here, we just gotta sculpt it out!”
I think it’s really healthy as a band, or in any creative endeavor, to not know what the plan is, to have no plot and just be like, “Alright, we gotta figure it out and just try different versions.” And sometimes that frustration really helps — especially later on, I think, your instincts become sharper. You learn what not to do, which is honestly, for me, more important than learning what to do. Because the second that you’re like, Oh, I know exactly what to do, it starts to become a little bit like—
Daniel: Yeah, exactly. Knowing what not to do, is like, at least you kind of understand where you’re going to get caught up, or you’re going to go down a rabbit hole that’s just not worth going down.
Maggie: Yeah, we definitely went down some rabbit holes. But we learned! I feel like we were terrified going into making the record of not knowing what to do. But it’s so cool, because I’d say, like, half the songs on the record were written and finished while we were tracking. Which was so freeing, because usually we felt like we had to have—
Grace: Everything perfectly down.
Maggie: Yeah, and our technical abilities — I remember, I think maybe when we were tracking the lead chorus part for “Shrug,” you were like, “Just play guitar like you just learned yesterday, and you don’t actually know how to play guitar.” That was like a mind blowing experience for me, because previously, I think we were always trying to prove ourselves on how we can play, and like showing audiences, especially because we’re, like, young femme-presenting people. It’s like, “OK, we have to shred so people will respect us,” you know? But that’s soul crushing, when you’re just trying to prove to everyone.
Grace: That’s a bad perspective to have. I think when you’re playing shows that young, that’s kind of how you feel, because you have this kind of weird wall up, or you’re like, I’m going into a situation where I just have to be on alert all the time, because I know people are going to try and discredit me. It’s like a chip on your shoulder, you know? But coming in here, I didn’t feel any of that at all, which was really nice.
Maggie: It was almost encouraged to, like, downplay your abilities to get a more genuine sound. Play less notes and say more.
Grace: Yeah, and be more raw with lyrics. I remember there were so many times where I was like, “Is this stupid? Is this too weird?” And you guys were like, “Go with it!”
Daniel: Yeah. I think it’s expression over precision. We’re in the feeling business, you know? You have this thing inside of you that you need to get out, and you’re trying to communicate that to people. How do you best do that? How do you make them feel what you’re feeling? It’s not in a bunch of crazy notes. It’s in the honest playing and communication of that.
Some of some of that stuff, I’m definitely still learning it, and there’s times I still feel like I need to get out of my own way. When we checked the [Grouplove] song “Deleter,” I had the same exact discussion with Dave Sitek, who produced that record [2020’s Healer]. I was trying to play the bassline like, “I’m a pretty good bass player, I want to show you that I can play pretty well.” And he was just like, “Nah, you gotta play it shittier.” And I was just like, “How do I play shitty?” He’s like, “Stop thinking, just play it. Just play it hard, play like you mean it, you know?” And once I actually was able to remove myself from listening to the song and trying to play it really well, and I was just playing from instinct, I understood what that meant. I feel like that’s more of a journey for me, learning how to shut my mind off and just trusting that. Like I put the time in, my instincts are good.
Maggie: I remember for “Peddler,” I sat on the ground in the live room for probably an hour or two, while everyone was tracking bass and drums or something — it was like, Time to experiment. Because probably 75 percent of the parts on the record didn’t exist before we started tracking them, like lead parts and whatever melodies — that was really refreshing, but also terrifying at first. It was like, Damn, I have to get a guitar part in this one hour. But it was cool, because making something catchy and nice comes about very naturally. It’s not like I have to write, like, a Keith Richards lick in the studio.
Daniel: Yeah. I’m a pretty firm believer in like, the first thing that you trend towards as a writer is probably the way to go. It’s not always true, but I think the second you overthink it, and you worry about anything other than just what feels good and what comes out of you naturally, I think you can get tripped up.
I’m sure you all obviously picked up on this, but we like to just keep rolling — you chase the inspiration, you chase the moments, you chase the good vibes, and the second that you hit a stop sign, maybe you make a left turn, or you go somewhere else. But go with that flow as much as you can, because there’s really amazing things that happen when everybody’s just having a good time and loving the song. It feels natural, everybody’s inspired, you’re all in the same mindset. It’s like a group think.
Maggie: I don’t think we had to experience that until we made it.
Grace: It was always just like, “You have to suffer until it’s done and if you don’t come up with something you can’t leave, we’re working on this forever.” I remember here, I knew if I was like, “Oh, I just don’t really know what words right now” or like, “Nothing feels right,” you guys were like, “That’s fine. We can just come back to it later.”
Maggie: I feel like a cool thread throughout the whole record is Grace and I tracking guitars at the same time. That was really cool.
Daniel: I was very excited when we hit on that. It felt like it helped certain things have more of an energy that might not have been there.
Maggie: Yeah. We did that on “Purple Dreams.”
Daniel: And the stuff from Howard Finster is in there.
Grace: Oh, I forgot about that! There’s this place called Paradise Garden, and it’s the folk artist Howard Finster’s house. Maggie and I would go there all the time, and there’s this little — what’s it called?
Maggie: It’s an appellation…
Grace: Door chime?
Maggie: You drop a ball on a string, and then it makes all these fun noises.
Grace: I had this voice memo thing of us doing that, and so there’s a little ring in there. And then there’s also a sample of the MARTA train, from when I was coming back from school one day and I just recorded it. That ended up having such a significant thing — there’s references to trains in the record a couple times, which is kind of cool. It felt like, “Alright, we just went on this crazy journey of this album. Now we’re entering something completely different.” And I don’t know what it is! The very last lines of the whole record are just, like, no instruments. So it intentionally left a blank slate for the next album. It’s like, “What are we going to do?” Literally anything!
(Photo Credit: left, Violet Teegardin; right, Niklas Haze)