Moon Boots on new album Ride Away and the power of building your own scene

On March 17, Pete Dougherty, perhaps better known as Moon Boots, releases his third studio album Ride Away. Headliner sat down with the DJ, producer and keyboardist to talk creativity, the art of collaboration, and how he arrived at where he is today…

Featuring an array of collaborators old and new, including the likes of Nic Hanson, Black Gatsby, Steven Klavier, and Cherry Glazerr, Ride Away sees Moon Boots stretching his creative legs to the fullest. His signature clubby sound sits as ever at front and centre of proceedings, but the variety of collaborators pushes and pulls its 10 tracks in ever new and intriguing directions. One such example can be found on single Come Back Around with Cherry Glazerr. On the surface, the alt rock LA outfit aren’t the most obvious candidates for a collaboration on such a track, yet singer Clementine Creevy’s vocals have never sounded more at home.

In essence, Ride Away is a record that draws elements from Dougherty’s first two albums First Landing (2017) and Bimini Road (2019), as well as his many years spent as a gigging DJ, and fashions them into something new yet every inch a Moon Boots record.

To find out more, Dougherty joined Headliner over Zoom from his New York studio to discuss the origins of Ride Away, his upcoming tour, and the influences that have shaped him as an artist…

When did work on this record first begin? And how did you balance it with a busy DJing diary?

Well, it wasn’t that hard to side line the other stuff because there wasn’t anything happening! When I started working on it, it was the beginning of 2021. I released my second album in 2019 and I was touring that before the pandemic hit. The albums are a chance for me to explore a lot of different genres and styles and moods. So in early 2021 I started working on Ride Away. It was a long process and up to this point I have tended to be a perfectionist in the studio, but now I am a dad I’m going to try not to do that too much! It’s not really feasible.

I worked with a number of collaborators, some of which I have worked with in the past who are friends at this point. People like Nic Hanson, Black Gatsby, Steven Klavier. And I brought in some new people, like Ross Clark who is a really amazing guitarist and plays in the band St. Lucia.

Where did you record the album? And what’s your process for starting a project like this?

I have a studio where I have all my gear setup. I start by making dozens of instrumentals over months and I’ll take my favourite ones and start developing them. Then if a friend is coming into town, I’ll play them a bunch and we’ll start a session. Sometimes it’ll start with a phrase they have that will turn into a lyric and then it grows from there. Working with vocalists, the ideas tend to come quickly, and the best ideas usually happen pretty early on. Generally, you have to strike while the iron’s hot. Once the bones of the song are there, I usually try to mess around with the beat and instrumentation and add different things. If we need to do another session then it’s usually a matter of redoing backing vocals or doing little things to sweeten it. Those are the basics of how it works.

I like taking something that isn't from this world and putting it on top. Moon Boots

What makes for a good collaborator? Do you have specific collaborators in mind before you start creating?

Normally I just try to keep my mind open and see where things go. I like to see where the music leads me. When I start working with an artist, I always prefer to do it in a room together, so I try to do that as much as possible. But there is still something to be said for sending someone something, letting them do their thing and trusting them with it. It can feel slightly less collaborative, but it does work sometimes. There are a couple of songs on the record like that which turned out great and I don’t think they would necessarily have been better had we been in the room together.

How did the Cherry Glazerr collaboration come about? It’s an interesting blend of styles and genres given their alt rock roots.

I knew about [Clementine’s] music and our managers knew each other, so we had an in. One of the hardest things is being able to touch base and then getting schedules to line up, so there are always a couple of hurdles to leap over. But it worked out and I always wanted to do something like that. I like getting people who are in the indie and rock worlds and putting those kinds of sounds on electronic music. When I was starting out as a DJ there was DFA Records and all the indie rock electronic stuff. I liked that. I love proper house music vocals, but I like taking something that isn’t from that world and putting it on top. I love that and am drawn to that for sure.

How are you going to take these songs on the road and translate them for the live stage?

I haven’t done any live shows since 2019 because it was such a huge undertaking. I was not ready to consider doing it at a time when shows could just suddenly be cancelled at a moment’s notice. What I’m doing now is using a couple of different synthesizers pretty heavily in my production, and that helps with the live show because I can dial it in with the same patches. Those are Dave Smith Instruments - the OB-6 and the Prophet 6.

I produce in Logic but for the live show I prepare in Ableton. If I want to recreate parts of the track - which I end up not wanting to do because you want to make it more exciting - I have the session running, all the different patch changes. I try to have everything coming out of hardware as much as possible. There are only a couple of tracks that are pre-recorded audio. I’m sending sequences to the gear, automating the control changes, filter cut-off, effect settings, so I’m doing that, playing piano... It’s actually a fun opportunity to play a lot of piano as that was really my first love in music. Then I’m doing vocals and I have this Roland choir synthesizer that can do extreme sounds and choir sounds and you can sing into it like a vocoder. That’s a lot of fun. We like to change things up so they don’t necessarily sound exactly the same as the album. You want to take what is recognisable but make them more interesting. Things that may be too much for a recording can work out really well live, so it’s a matter of figuring that out. And when it works it’s amazing! And other times you have to rein yourself back in.

You need to build your own scene, build your own audience, and put in a lot of time. Moon Boots

What are your earliest memories of music? And when did it first really resonate with you?

My parents have a bunch of photos of me when I was about two years old, and I loved this xylophone they had. I would just play this thing all the time. And we always had a piano in the house. I was very grateful to have lessons from when I was five years old, but I was never pressured into it. Music just sunk its teeth into me from a very early age.

What were some of the biggest influences on you when you first started making music?

As a teenager, definitely Radiohead Kid A and Amnesiac, and also OK Computer and Hail To The Thief. They’re all so good. The first couple of Chemical Brothers albums, Daft Punk, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin. There wasn’t as much electronic music easily available if you were a CDs guy, which I was at the time.

When did you first start gaining real traction in your career? Was there a tipping point from hobbyist to full time artist?

I graduated from college and gave myself a year to not have a real job. I was tutoring during the week while trying to get things going in music. I was in Chicago and playing in a band called Hey Champ. It was like, let’s give this a year and see what happens. At the end of that first year the band got signed to Lupe Fiasco’s label, and that set me off down the rabbit hole of music. Things didn’t really work out there, but I was able to pay my bills by DJing in restaurants and hotels, doing five- or six-hour sets, which allowed me to produce in my own time. I was doing that for several years before I could fully do my own project. It’s been gradual but for better or worse I never had another career to fall back on, I didn’t have a cushy career with a company credit card I could go back to!

What would your advice be to any aspiring DJs or producers?

It’s so hard to give general advice because it needs to be tailored to your goals and strengths, and not everybody has the same strengths or talents. But you always need to push yourself out of you comfort zone. I was not a natural self-promoter but you can’t be an artist without promoting yourself. If you’re not going to promote yourself, who will? There is a way forward for each individual but in general I‘d say try to find people who you can collaborate with and work with, and don’t think it has to be on a big label to get any attention. You need to build your own scene, build your own audience, and be ready to put in a lot of time.