Moscow Noir is the alter ego of Toronto based musician/singer/producer Lesther Gutierrez. A product of his surroundings – shaped and moulded by his diverse city – he was exposed to a multitude of genres that helped form his sound. Early on in his career, he worked as a broadcast designer for Canada’s CTV where he designed show intro/animations and special effects for television shows and brands. Intrigued by the possibility of the worlds he could create by combining his love of art and music, Gutierrez taught himself about production and recording.This intense personal journey would lead him to experimenting with electronic sounds and would eventually result in the birth of Moscow Noir.
Lesther is the writer, composer, producer, singer and lead guitarist of Moscow Noir and he created all of the material for the EP before he put the band together. The EP was recorded in Lesther’s home studio. Lesther is also the visual creator behind Moscow Noir artwork, branding design and animation. Rounding out the lineup is his brother Sylvain Gutierrez (bass guitar/backing vocals) and friend of 11 years Steve Rice (drums). Richard Gillespie (keyboards) and Mike Formusa (guitars) are recent additions that will round out the live touring lineup. Dark, deep mood, affecting tracks, reflect a layered electronica soundscape infused with raw guitars, drums and haunting vocals. A journey drawn from rock, house music, experimental and trance, Moscow Noir is complex, hypnotic and evolving with inspired hints of Joy Division, Moderat, Radiohead and Muse. Anthemic to beat driven to quiet self-reflection is the Moscow Noir experience.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Lesther Gutierrez to discuss his roots in the world of art and music, finding his creative voice as and artist and the genesis of the Moscow Noir experience.
Let’s start at the beginning. What got you hooked on music early on?
I think it was being able to create a journey or a story that could be told so it can be both felt and heard. My background being in the visual arts and animation, which is what I studied in school, I was used to creating stories that were all visual, so creating a story to be absorbed through the ears and without being able to see something was something that really, really pulled me in. I think that was one of the drawing factors for me.
What can you tell us about your influences and the artists who had a major impact on you?
When it comes to visual influences, you the greats like Dali and the world of the abstract and darker fantasy stuff. I think that trickles into music as well with things like Joy Division, The Cure, Radiohead and The Smiths. The music was darker and tone was moodier and it was the moodier sounds that really attracted me to those artists.
What went into finding your creative voice for this project?
When it comes to music and art, it is so saturated when it comes to different influences or styles that trying to find something that was a little bit different and brought a different perspective to it was one of the things I wanted to carve out. With Moscow Noir, it was a way I could bridge experimental electronic sounds that you would hear more in Europe and bring that in with a little more of the rock side. Merging the two brings a familiarity in the sound but, at the same time, something a little bit new. That was one of my reasonings in the beginning for it.
What started you down the path to bring Moscow Noir to life?
It happened when I started doing some tests and early live shows at a small bar. There were two parts that really excited me. The first was the process of making the songs, whether it was experimentation with electronics, figuring something out on the bass guitar or the synth bass. That whole process was something I really enjoyed. I thought to myself, “If I could do this for a living, I would be in heaven!” The second part came when I started playing the songs live and seeing the reactions from people, I felt such enjoyment. The energy that I felt was something I couldn’t really describe and something I knew I really wanted to pursue. At that point, I really embarked on a journey to create the EP and songs for an album, without even thinking about it in that sense. It started happening very organically.
As the journey progressed, were there goals you wanted to achieve musically?
Yes. The main thing was that I really wanted it to be a little different. I was hoping that when it came out that it would stand out and have its own foothold in terms of the genres of music that are out there. Like I said, I wanted to create something that was familiar yet new. I was hoping that when it came out people wouldn’t really know what to do with it. It’s not something that can be very mainstream or perhaps it comes off as too experimental. The fact that it would make people question, that is the goal of Moscow Noir. When I do the shows, we create a lot of custom visuals that tie into every song so when you are watching the whole set live, you are taken on a musical and visual journey of what Moscow Noir is about.
What were the biggest challenges when it came to creating these songs?
Initially, the challenge was having ideas but I wanted to work with a band where a great guitarist, bass player or synthesizer worked together to create these ideas. I found out that most musicians I worked with were either one side or the other. By that I mean, they either didn’t listen to too much electronics or just listened to rock, so when I came with my ideas, a lot of people didn’t understand it. That was probably my biggest hurdle. What I ended up having to do was teaching myself how to synthesize, play the bass, play the piano and all of these different things. That was the biggest set of hurdles I had to face in the beginning. What was really hard for me was trying to find the right balance of what would work. The thing is, when you listen to an electronic song on its own, there are certain structures of the song that make it what it is and give that genre its own impact. Then you have a rock song with another unique structure that makes them what they are. I found one of the biggest challenges to be not diluting either side. It was really easy to go too far out on the electronic side and experimentation or go too far the other way. If you went too far in either direction, it was easy to neuter the special X-factor of either side. Finding that balance was definitely a challenge.
What can you tell us about the process for crafting these songs?
It really depends. It usually starts by playing a particular instrument. If there is a melody that comes out of it that I really enjoy, I will start putting words to it. If I start playing on the keyboard and start adding effect to a melody that I really like, it starts the springboard to it. From there I start thinking about textures and lyrics. It usually starts with one instrument; either the guitar or the keyboard. From lyrics, I go into structure and from structure I move into experimentation with sounds and textures and so on.
You came from a design background. What tools did you take from that previous chapter and bring to your music?
I did a lot of animation where I modeled in 3D and then I would composite them in After Effects. When I was able to create a scene or composition, I had foreground, depth of field and all these other concepts that I was able to visualize when I was making a song. I would look at it as, “What would create the depth of field in the mood in this part of the song?” Or, “What would be in the front or background blurred out?” It was the visual components that really helped me with my music because I was able to visualize the moods that I would feel for a certain part of a song. Then, obviously, using all of those tools when it came to the visual aspect of the live shows allowed me to use all the tools I had in the past, whether it was the EP cover, the single art cover or the animations you would see in the show. Everything came into play!
You also brought in very talented players to help with the live side of things. One is your brother and the other a long time friend. What do they bring to the table?
One of the things that I really love about playing this stuff live is that when you hear it, it takes on a different energy. My brother and the drummer are incredible at what they do, so whenever they play live they will add to whatever is created. I think it is awesome to hear something a little bit different than you have heard it previously. I think they bring a complexity when it comes to the live aspect. When you are watching it, it is cool you are hearing the song you know but you are also hearing all of these cool, newly added things that are very organic. I think it really brings out the color in all the songs when the live players play their parts.
So many things can be said about the state of the music industry. As a relatively new artist, what excites you the most about being a working artist?
What excites me most is trying to stand out. When you are in this field, you have to have your own identity. I think bringing that identity to new ears is one of the things that excites me the most.
Where do you see yourself headed in the future with Moscow Noir?
Where I would like to see myself is playing in different countries and bringing the whole experience of Moscow Noir to anywhere we can go. Hearing the music is one thing but to see bands live with the visual components, it brings a new depth to what we’re about. Eventually, I would love to have the Moscow Noir sound be picked up by people who are niche listeners. I hope a broader spectrum of people can embrace the merging of two different genres as opposed to sticking to one specific genre. I’d love Moscow Noir to break that barrier down.
How have you evolved during the process of bringing Moscow Noir to life?
I have become very comfortable combining sounds that you wouldn’t normally hear together, so I think my production skills in the studio have gotten stronger. I have gotten stronger at honing in different elements, something that has been developing over time. Before, when I used to write, it was mostly just guitars. Now that I have been able to create all of this, it has allowed me to see the bigger picture. When I create something, I can kind of see where things would go or what would fit in certain parts. I have gotten really comfortable with the production side of things.
What is the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
There were moments when I thought no one would understand the concept I was trying to create. I almost came to a point where I said, “Maybe this isn’t in the cards for me.” I dove in and taught myself the things I needed to do in order to accomplish something. So, even if things seem bleak, go in full force and figure out how you can do it, anything is possible. You can actually do it yourself. If it can be done, you can do it!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.