Peaking Lights Boast Music and Parenting Skills Like No One Else

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Peaking Lights
Photo courtesy of the artist

[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. Follow him on twitter and also check out his archives.]

It’s time for the interview but, before it begins, more pressing questions persist in the Peaking Lights household.

“Should we put on Ponyo for the kids?” the psychedelic pop duo’s drummer-singer Indra Dunis asks her husband, beat conductor Aaron Coyes.

“They just watched Ponyo. How about we put on Raffi?”

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“What about My Neighbor Totoro,” Dunis counters, offering a different cinematic option from Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Resolution achieved, Dunis puts on a DVD for the couple’s towheaded offspring, 3-year-old Mikko and 18-month-old Marlon. The toddlers’ rambunctiousness temporarily quelled, the Echo Park Hills residents sit down to answer questions about their latest album, this month’s Cosmic Logic, released on Weird World, a subsidiary of Domino.

(Full disclosure: My sister works for the company doing publicity for the record, though my admiration for the group long predates her involvement.)

The fluid give-and-take approach to parenthood reveals as much about their music as a conversation about their chimerical sonic approach — one as bright and mystical as a Miyazaki concoction.

Unlike the three previous Peaking Lights LPs, Dunis and Coyes wrote most of Cosmic Logic in shifts, one writing while the other partner babysat. One would present ideas and then the other would add to them. It was not exactly efficient.

“When you’re in there together, the process is so much faster,” Dunis says. “You can do in 10 minutes what would take two hours otherwise.”

Toys and a child’s drum kit occupy most of the living room floor. Dunis has been teaching Mikko the basics, but she’s waiting until he shows active interest to further instruction. That said, Coyes notes proudly that both little Lights can already find the beat and keep tempo.

That’s unsurprising for the progeny of two inordinately creative musicians. The synthesizers used on all Peaking Lights records are homemade — among the roughly 100 that Coyes has constructed over the last decade and a half. Shelves of vinyl records and 45s line the walls; they offer evidence to the crate-digging approach that the duo brings to its music, minus the self-seriousness that often implies.

For their last record, 2012’s Lucifer, they released an alternate dub/reggae version. The far-flung vertices of their style are reflected in the decision to recruit eclectic remixers, ranging from Dam-Funk to Bay Area cloud rappers Main Attrakionz to Spanish house producer John Talabot.

Since moving to L.A. three years ago, Peaking Lights have become a fixture at events put on by Dublab, the avant-garde–leaning Internet radio station where Coyes hosts a weekly Friday afternoon show.

Cosmic Logic finds them trying to merge this underground approach with a pop structure. The closest node of comparison is the funk-reggae sheen of Tom Tom Club, but Peaking Lights have created an inscrutable analog glide that sounds like little else.

“We’ve always listened to pop music and wanted to keep evolving and developing our sound,” Coyes says. “We’d figured out the formula of how to jam out and keep things dynamic for 10 minutes. With this, we wanted to make short and playful songs that make people happy and have fun.”

“We started it right after Marlon was born, so it was a particularly intense time,” Dunis says. “We were writing in a new way and not always seeing eye-to-eye. Aaron wanted to push in this new direction and I was initially hesitant.”

The movie comes to an end. The kids start to stir and squeal. Without missing a beat, Coyes wordlessly stands up and grabs a pizza box to feed them before the next interview begins.

“We’re both opinionated on what we want to do,” Dunis adds. “So when we finally came together on the music, it offered a wonderful sense of accomplishment.”

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