Los Angeles band Moving Units has been delivering challenging yet danceable original music to the masses for over 15 years. That is why the band’s upcoming CD is a bit of a head-scratcher: Instead of the a punchy disc of Moving Units songs, Blake Miller and the guys have decided on an album of covers of Joy Division songs called “Collision with Joy Division.”
It seems odd — until you listen to it. Then you will instantly understand that without the influence of Joy Division, Moving Units probably wouldn’t exist.
Mr. Miller discussed all things Joy Division and why he won’t be visiting the Lincoln Memorial when he and his band plays at DC9 March 1.
Question: Why did you decide to do an entire album of Joy Division covers?
Answer: The idea was originally pitched to us by a guy named Jeff Shuman who books a lot of really cool events and acts at a venue in California called The Observatory. He presented this creative challenge to us: “What if you guys do a night where you only play an entire set of your favorite Joy Division songs?”
He knew that band was a big influence on my ideas when this band formed. When I kind of wrapped my head around the idea of doing the show, it took on a life of its own.
Q: How did it lead to recording the album?
A: I got deeply invested in the music again and learning the parts, trying to immerse myself in the vocals and the emotions Ian Curtis was feeling or thinking when he wrote those lyrics and the way he delivered. It just seemed like a natural step to want to document that.
It also sort of served another purpose unintentionally in tightening up the band.
Q: Because the band is so revered, were you afraid people might think, “Who are these guys to cover Joy Division?”
A: To be honest with you, that was the first thought that went through my mind. I’ve been doing this for a while, but somewhere inside my head I’m still an insecure teenager who never thought anyone would care about what I had to say and what I wanted to do as a musician. Because I’ve lived my life and I’m not still that teenager, I just shook off those feelings.
I love this music. I know a lot of people who love this music. And I just want to enjoy it, not really overthink it. Once I committed to that thought process, I never looked back.
Q: What songs were the easiest to do? And the most difficult?
A: I think “Atmosphere” [was easiest] because it sort of washes over you. That song came pretty quickly.
The most difficult one was probably “Disorder” because the song is so powerful, so enigmatic and high-energy with a nonlinear arrangement. The bass line in that song is the equivalent of free jazz. The way [bassist] Peter Hook played on that song was so innovative and imaginative. It took a while to figure that out.
Q: Were there any you attempted but couldn’t do?
A: No. Basically I did a lot of homework before we even started jamming, kind of reviewing all the songs the band released, including rare stuff. [I chose] what I thought was the most exciting set. Once I committed to what songs we were going to cover, it was a smooth process of jamming until it felt like we nailed it.
I approached the music the way an actor approaches Shakespeare. The material is so strong I just wanted to let it do its thing.
Q: When you tour and play the D.C. show, will you just being playing the covers?
A: We’re going to sets, essentially. We will play like 12 Joy Division songs in the first set, then we will take a little break, then blast out into a dance party with the best of Moving Units originals.
Q: What to you made Ian Curtis such a brilliant songwriter?
A: I feel like he just was so real [in] such a raw, personal way. People who are fans of that kind of honesty and open approach get that. They feel the emotion. If you wanna be a real innovator and trailblazer who shares your own story and feelings, then you have to do what Ian Curtis did.
Unfortunately, the morbid reality was the guy just lived and breathed his art. And it was a heavy burden to pay.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Curtis committed suicide in 1980.)
Q: How would you feel if a band did an album of Moving Units covers?
A: I would be so flattered. People get too hung up on owning their work in terms of their emotional attachments to it. If you want to be an artist and express your work to an audience, then you need to let go. As soon as you do that, it’s such a liberating feeling. If your work resonates with another person and inspires them to want to perform it, that’s the highest honor I could imagine.
Q: Do you have any connections to Washington, D.C.?
A: I do have some history with that city. I went to college in Virginia, and while I was a freshmen went on a few road trips to D.C. On one of them I decided to do something really stupid, and I climbed up on the Lincoln Memorial. I tried to sit in Lincoln’s lap and was immediately arrested. On the spot. Suddenly I realized what a dumb idea that was. Fortunately they (District cops) realized I was just a dumb kid.
I’ve also had some really great shows there. I’m always surprised by how into the show D.C. fans are. You expect them to be reserved, but they really freak out.
Moving Units play DC9 on March 1. Tickets are $12 by going to Ticketfly.com.
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