Songwriter and poet Dusty Santamaria met multidisciplinary artist Moira Ichiban on a full moon night in Portland. They fell in love, bowed out of their urban lifestyles, and ran away together to form an art focused rock band in the Southern California desert. The couple released their debut album, “Love Under Will,” on their own Voodoo It Yourself label in early 2018. They spent the remainder of the year touring the Western United States and Europe.
These days there are plenty of couple-based musical acts due to the convenience of the configuration. If you’re a musician that tours consistently it’s difficult to maintain a relationship with a significant other who is left at home much like a maiden waiting on a sailor voyaging across the ocean, a trucker transversing the interstate, a cowboy out on a cattle drive, etc. Why not make your musical/business partner your romantic partner as well?
Convenience aside, Dusty and Moira do meld together into a true band; one that has created its own idiosyncratic universe of sounds and visuals for the audience to explore. Dusty thrashes on guitar and swivels about the stage spouting densely symbolic yet playful lyrics while Moira’s rudimentary drumming style gives their songs such a primordial sense of urgency that one can’t help but be beckoned to the dance floor. Their album and zine artwork incorporate Dadaist cut-and-paste techniques and Roman Catholic iconographic motifs. You could tie a longlist genre descriptors to what they sound like — punk, surf, gothic western, garage rock, doo wop, “voodoo wop” — but whatever you want to call it their sound is nothing short of magic.
Indeed there is something rather occult about the duo. Sure they sport gothic attire but that doesn’t mean anything in this hypermodern era where signifiers can be adopted and disposed of at will. When I say occult I mean they carry a mystical approach to performing.
I called Dusty and Moira in the midst of the recording sessions for their second album in Oakland — it wasn’t going so well. They had just made the difficult decision of firing their studio engineer after the first day so they found themselves with a stretch of free time to wander the San Francisco Bay area which consisted of them climbing the roof of the Chinese Culture Center and seeking out the few dive bars that hadn’t been consumed by tech fueled gentrification.
Lately I’ve been interested in thinking of the stage as a sacred, ritualistic space, akin to a magic circle a sorcerer would outline on the ground in order to conjure spirits forth from a nether realm. It’s a space where special rules are observed and others may or may not be permitted to enter. A sporting field would similarly fit this description. Here’s what Dusty had to say on the matter:
“Magic is the first belief system of humanity and is going be the last belief system of humanity and everything in between is just filler. That’s the basic nature of how we operate. I think that making rules and guidelines for an experience is what humans do. We make meaning out of things. That’s our overall function. Squirrels hoard nuts and humans ... humans make meaning.
“The idea of the stage as a ritual space is something that Moira and I have been really getting into. Wherever we play we like to make it known that that’s the case now. You can make a magical space for yourself and other people can be involved but there can be some kind of static unless it’s under consensus. At the risk of making ourselves sound foolish we’re going to say, ‘This is the space that’s happening and we invite you all to participate.’ even if nobody pays attention. You start to get consensus if you do that.
“I like the theatrics of performing. With just two people the music can become pretty predictable at a certain point for music minds so you have to put something else into it. That dictates what we do. More often than not, the audience will look into it and they too will want to participate in theater of the magical space. Then you have the ritual of why people go out and do these things in the first place ... which is what? Which is to experience humanity together. I think it’s a really important thing to think about that in performance especially now that people can entertain themselves electronically forever. There are plenty of things to do on the internet. I really stand by the idea that the performer and the audience in that moment are one entity. They are one fluid conglomeration of life ... in a space ... dictating what happens there together. That’s what really gets my rocks off.”
Dusty & Moira perform at the Great Pacific on Friday, September 21st.
James Dean Kindle is the East Oregonian’s entertainment columnist, the executive director of the Oregon East Symphony and a Pendleton musician. Contact him at email@example.com.