The first time Bridgette Moody and John Seasons performed together, everyone in the room could tell they were watching something special. “We got the craziest response,” Seasons remembers. “People were like, ‘Wow, you two — you two should do something.’”
You can watch the performance, a cover of Animal Collective's “Bees,” on YouTube. It was at the Echo on Oct. 29, 2012, the final song in an entire evening of Animal Collective songs Seasons had put together with some friends. As Moody wails and Seasons gently harmonizes behind her over twinkling synths and processed guitar, you can sense the audience holding their breath. Moody remembers people asking them afterwards if they played in a band together and replying, “Not yet, but we should!”
Five years later (four years and 11 months to the day, actually), Moody and Seasons' band, Haunted Summer, are just now releasing their debut album, a bewitching 10-track collection of dream-pop, shoegaze and fuzz-toned psychedelia called Spirit Guides. (You can stream it in its entirety below.) For fans who were lucky enough to be present at Haunted Summer's birth, it's been a long wait. But for the couple, the time has flown by, a blur of tour dates and studio sessions in multiple cities. There was a wedding in there somewhere, too.
“It was right after the EP came out,” Seasons remembers, referring to Haunted Summer's debut EP, Something in the Water, released in September 2013. They tied the knot at sunrise on a beach in Malibu. “She walked up as the sun was coming up. It was pretty amazing.”
Both L.A. natives (he's from Highland Park, she's from Eagle Rock), Moody and Seasons had known each other for years, but didn't get involved romantically until shortly before that Animal Collective night. At the time they were in other bands, which they now decline to name. “I'd rather not give them any free press,” Seasons quips. “I never felt creatively respected,” Moody says of her former group. “I just never had the freedom to explore my own musical tastes.”
Haunted Summer began in earnest right after Thanksgiving of 2012. “We were all grubbed out and feeling good,” Moody says, laughing. She and Seasons recorded a jam session into GarageBand and quickly discovered that their musical connection was just as strong as their romantic one. “It felt like there were these weird, telepathic moments,” Moody recalls. “We couldn’t believe how well these unplanned things were coming together.” The song that spontaneously emerged from that session, “Young Enough,” found its way onto their debut EP more or less unchanged. “We just mastered the GarageBand track.”
Over a warped soundscape that hints at Haunted Summer's Animal Collective origins, Moody sings about casting off old loves for something new — obviously, and touchingly, serenading her new partner. “Whatever you say will make sense to me, babe,” she croons. “You're always like the stars/I find you smiling.”
“There was definitely a weird 'us versus the world' vibe for quite some time in those early days,” Moody says now, “and that specific song kind of encapsulated, in a real pure, simple way, how it felt … how scared we were, but also hey, if all we need is each other, then we got this.”
Inspired, they began making demos, recording tracks as they wrote them and discovering that their chemistry enabled to capture lightning in a bottle over and over again. “If you do it in the moment when you’re excited … that moment, if you record that, to me that’s precious,” says Seasons. “That’s like gold.”
From their demos alone, they began getting tour offers — so quickly that they had to turn one down while they scrambled to put together a band. “It was surreal,” says Seasons. “We were getting these opportunities that in 10 years we never got with [our] other bands.”
An unintended but welcome consequence of their constant touring schedule, opening for everyone from Islands to Carla Morrison to Deafheaven, is that they haven't played many shows in L.A. Their recent appearance at Echo Park Rising was one of only a few hometown gigs over the past year. But they've enjoyed escaping the L.A. fishbowl. “We never felt the need to attach ourselves to an L.A. scene,” says Moody, “probably because we were so bent on getting out of the scene we were stuck in for so long.”
Today, Haunted Summer is made up of what Seasons calls a “touring family” of supporting players, all listed on the band's Facebook page. Over beers on the back patio at Block Party, a bar near his and Moody's home in Highland Park, he introduces me to one key member of that extended family he calls “the George Martin” of Spirit Guides — bassist Be Hussey, who was charged with mixing tracks recorded over a period of three years at multiple studios into a cohesive album at his Comp-ny studio in Glendale.
At the time of our interview, not many people have heard Spirit Guides in its entirety, so they're eager for feedback. “Does it feel cohesive? That’s good to know,” says Hussey, sipping an IPA.
“It took so long because we really just wanted to be happy with it,” Seasons says of the album. “And we weren't happy with it until we got to sit down and work on it intimately with this guy.” He tips his beer at Hussey.
Hussey definitely deserves a beer or three for his contributions. Though a different set of musicians performed on every track on the album, it all hangs together seamlessly — thanks in large part to Moody's increasingly assured vocals and the couple's knack for hiding catchy pop melodies in their music's murky depths, but also because a deft hand clearly made sure the ethereal birdsongs and filtered vocals of “Haircut” and eight-minute feedback seance of the title track sounded like the work of the same band.
At Echo Park Rising, a four-piece version of Haunted Summer — featuring Bill Sanderson on bass and Dante Johnson on drums — closed out their set with that title track, and its epic swirl of guitars and soaring vocals seemed to turn the air inside Taix Restaurant's tiny Champagne Room a thrumming shade of amber. Maybe the song is channeling the high desert sunsets that paint the sky at Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, where they recorded the track with Eagles of Death Metal's Dave Catching on bass, Kyuss' Chris Goss on guitar, and everyone, in Seasons' slyly apt euphemism, “on some magic.” (Think mushrooms, not card tricks.)
“We’ve always been very sincere to that song,” says Seasons. “Like, ‘Hey, you were conceived in a weird way and an abstract kind of thought process, so we’ll play it that way, we’ll record it that way.'”
Though “Spirit Guides” is the obvious standout, the album is full of moments that showcase Haunted Summer's growth. “Sour Grapes” weaves melancholy guitar chords into a lovely meditation on friendships broken and mended. “Every Step,” which Seasons says was knocked out in about 30 minutes after being heavily road-tested, rocks with shoegaze-y layers of fuzz and distortion. The dewy “Pool of Tears,” which was recorded at Henson Studios in Hollywood and built around a Paul Gaugin quote (“Be mysterious, be in love”), might be what Topanga Canyon folkie Linda Perhacs would have sounded like if she had fronted an '80s synth-pop band.
Cohesive though it may be, Moody loves the way Spirit Guides captures some vibe from each of the many places it was written and recorded. “Some of those tracks literally scream where they’re from. It’s awesome to me.”
Haunted Summer play a record release for Spirit Guides at the Hi Hat on Saturday, Sept. 30 with Bodies of Water, Livingmore, Avi Buffalo and projections by Mad Alchemy Analog Liquid Light Show.