Lunar Corp’s Dandyano Zentveldt creates a lush and inviting world on his debut album, Tourism. Beyond the effervescent, gentle atmospheres, Zentveldt’s knack for wistful, memorable melodies stands out. Vaporous arrangements drift beneath us as we’re transported from world to world in a cloud of musical spells.
The spine of Tourism, though, is the emotional depth and intentions connecting each piece and grounding this music like an aural root system. Zentveldt’s moves are always contemplative, reflecting his inner thoughts in sonic form.
What are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?
We used to play a lot of music in my household. My mom would always play all the soul classics every weekend. That sometimes bugged us because we wanted to watch Saturday morning cartoons, but in hindsight, it definitely shaped our taste and feel for music. She used to play records of The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and a lot of Marvin Gaye. I was a huge Michael Jackson fan. My sister was infatuated with Madonna. When I was six years old, Michael Jackson was on his Thriller world tour and played a big venue in the Netherlands, and somehow, my mom and uncle got us tickets. Never was I so excited for anything in my life up until that point. When the weekend of the concert came, I got terribly ill but begged my mom to go anyway, so she took me. After the opening song (Thriller), I fell asleep during the entire concert, but I still vividly remember that. I was so scared when all those werewolves entered the stage, and that maniacal laughter started haha.
Did you always want to play and make music?
In some way, yes. I always wanted to write and play songs. I wrote my first song when I was seven; it was just a sort of an 80s pop tune I had written down in a notepad. I remember singing it to an uncle, and he did not believe I had written it. I showed him my lyric sheet and all, but he wouldn’t budge haha. My mom took me to an MC Hammer concert around that same time, and it was clear to me that I wanted to make music after watching his performance and the reaction of the crowd around me.
When did you first start to create your own sounds and songs? And what pushed you to start creating?
I was around 12 years old and started messing around with a children’s guitar that my little brother got. Like really a plastic toy guitar with 3 strings on it. But I was fiddling with it a lot, and at one point, it actually sounded pretty decent haha. My mom asked me if I would like a real guitar to practice on. We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, so it wasn’t that we went to the store and just got one. A couple of months later, I was robbed walking home from school. My Discman, a stack of very important CDs, my allowance and my public transport ticket got stolen, so I came home very sad. It was then my mom offered to take me to a musical supply store and pick out a guitar as a way to console my sadness. So we went, and I picked out this cherry red Peavey beginner’s set with an amplifier, cables, neck strap, and what I then believed was the greatest guitar of all time. I took about 4 lessons at the community center in the neighborhood and, after that, taught myself to play. Like everybody else, I started making music with a friend on a cracked version of Cubase before getting a cracked version of Fruityloops. We made hiphop for a couple of years, but after that started making dirty electro after finding a discarded electric organ at the scrapyard. Some of those songs are still floating out there on the www somewhere. After that, I played in punk bands, a Britpop band, picked up keys and synthesizers, and started making my own electropop songs. That eventually evolved into making ambient music.
Your new album, Tourism, is out soon [out now as of February 3 – ed.] on Dragon’s Eye Recordings. I haven’t stopped listening to it since it came onto my radar. When did you begin work on this album, and what overall mindset and approach did you have while composing this music?
Thank you so much for that compliment. That means a lot to me. It’s a pretty scary feeling putting music out there. So in the summer of 2022, I pitched an album to Dragon’s Eye Rec, which was turned down due to it containing some samples that were never going to get cleared. But I guess they saw something and proposed I make another album. They proposed a release date, and I accepted it. I anticipated it to be full winter weather when the album comes out, so I was trying to make a winter-y album. I believe that was also the idea I pitched to Dragon’s Eye.
I wanted to make something cold, isolated, watery, and chilling. But that’s not my style haha. I really did not like the first batch of songs I made. I couldn’t work with the limitations or conceptual borders I made up for myself, which was a little frustrating. My music has always (since that first guitar I got) had a certain warmth to it, so I felt I was walking away from what makes Lunar Corp special; a warm and inviting quality. But I also had difficulty coming up with another concept for this album. Just doing a scrape on my hard drive for unreleased songs, bundling them together, and calling it a day was also not an option. For this to be my debut album, I felt like I really wanted to craft a journey. A listening experience. Not a collection of pretty wavey air.
So I went a couple of months not making any music – like I did not touch a synth or a piano for months on end but just walked around thinking about music. Thinking about sounds and shapes. To me, thinking about making music is almost as important as making music. I was traveling and listening to Ki Oni’s Indoor Plant Life and started playing with the idea of how traveling or going on a journey can be transformative. It can help you grow as a person and shape how you think about life, places, and people. I then began thinking about how to capture that feeling: “Do I want this album to play while people are traveling, or do I want it to sound like traveling itself?
While still on various travels in the fall of last year, I started making field recordings of the places I went, with the idea of making songs around them. So, for example, the chirping birds in The Ardennes forest in Belgium, the rainy inner city of London, and the always busy streetlife of Amsterdam. I started making demos and tape loops on a portable synthesizer that I had hooked up to a really old Sanyo tape player; listening to those tapes on an old Sony walkman really solidified and contextualized the idea. Every song represents a feeling of motion and movement. The field recordings scattered throughout the album just add to the idea of traveling. I hope.
So many aspects keep drawing me back to hitting play on the album, but the biggest thing is that there’s a beautiful, soothing undercurrent that creates a sonic space that feels warm and safe. Two questions… was that an intentional approach? And more generally, how do music and sound play this role for you in processing emotions and thoughts?
I’ll answer that last question first: the aforementioned album that Dragon’s Eye turned down was the first ambient album I made, and basically my first try at ambient (that album is still releasing on another label tho, on cassette and CD). At that time, I was dealing with a heavy bout of depression that therapy, nor meds helped me recover from. In that same timeframe, a good friend and I were exchanging songs and samples with each other to work with and make some music. So I sent him a 3-minute guitar sample that I made with Chase Bliss’ Mood pedal. He said it was beautiful but a bit useless to him, haha, and suggested I start making ambient music. That night I made the first Lunar Corp song, and subsequently, every night after that, I sat down, made a song, and searched for dialogue from my favorite movies (the unclearable samples) to fit with the music. After those ten days of hyperfocus and a deep dive into my own psyche – and ambient music, the album was done. And so was my depression. A long-winded way of saying my music (and music in general) and sound play a very big part in my thoughts and how I feel. When I get in the zone and make these songs, it feels like time is a weird concept that does not exist. In my little studio, I’m surrounded by a lot of plants, and I don’t know, it’s just such a happy place for me. Being with my plants, surrounded by my synthesizers, a classic upright piano, and my guitars. Being there always reminds me of what that place is capable of healing.
Now to answer the first question. The approach was and wasn’t intentional. Like I said earlier during this interview, my music always had a soft, soothing, and warm feel to it. My ex-girlfriend used to say she always, every time, wherever she was, recognized my guitar playing due to how sensitive my stroke and picking are. Creating a rich and lush atmosphere is mainly the center of every Lunar Corp song. I have sort of a checklist: Is it oddly beautiful? Does it make me feel happy? Can I zone out to it but still be engaging with the sounds? Then yes, it’s a Lunar Corp song.
There’s also real transportive power in Tourism. I love the part of the description that says, “Dandyano Zentveld transforms the physical world into something auditory, inviting each of us to become eager sightseers with Lunar Corp as our guide.” Sound has such a special, unique way of building new and imagined worlds, and your music does that so well. What are your thoughts on the transportive aspect of sound and how it can create spaces for shared experience?
What a great question. With the use of field recordings and the sometimes decaying or fleeting sounds of my instruments, I’ve tried to conjure a sense of place and time, but something more than just the physical world. For example; for the final song of the album, Hope Ltd, my aim was to create a sound or mood that feels like harmony. Just balance. Just all living things being together and finding a groove where all can happily co-exist. It’s the answer to another song on the album, Fear of a Dying Planet. While still carrying the optimism and earthy resonance of a Lunar Corp record, I did my best to make that song sound like what empathy for the Earth feels like. Being empathic towards its situation.
Anyway, everyone can completely disregard everything I’ve just said. Music, and ambient specifically, is a very personal experience. Ultimately with Lunar Corp, I’ve tried to make something warm, something that makes the mind wander. So wherever my music takes the listener, that’s where I’m going. Please excuse the cheesiness.
What challenged you the most with writing and recording Tourism?
Sequencing for sure haha. I never really understood how difficult it is to sequence an album perfectly. I have so much more respect for my favorite albums now I know how tough a decision it is to decide what song goes where. I’m still not 100% sure I’m satisfied with the way it’s sequenced now, but at some point, you just gotta let it go. Another thing I found difficult – a bit of a cliche – was killing my darlings. There are nine songs on the album, but I made about 25. I had a piano piece, just four minutes of classical playing – no synths, no reverbs, no fancy pedals – that I really loved. There’s a returning motif on that song that’s so inexplicably melancholic yet optimistic. I feel like that song is the most accurate description of me as a person and as a musician. Until the morning I sent the album in for mastering, I had doubts about it. I eventually decided to leave it off. In the context of the album, it just sounded out of place. But that was a tough decision for me. Besides that, making this album was a fun and didactic experience for me, with little to no challenges in the process.
I love the choice of field recordings you used on the album and how they imbue the pieces with a different texture and buoy the emotional impact of this music. What draws you to particular field recordings and makes you want to capture something? And how do you go about choosing specific recordings for particular songs?
There is a piece of field recording on one of my songs that’s so subtle it can be missed easily. It’s the sound of us walking in the forest and our slightly winded breathing (it was a long hike) adds a certain life to that song. Combined with the other sounds of that recording (the birds, the crunching fall leaves, the soft gusts of wind), it brings a certain voyeuristic quality to something that already feels very personal. While listening to music, I often imagine the artist sitting in a studio, room, or practice space, making and writing the songs. Interwoven moments of my own personal life and moments hopefully add to that experience.
How did you end up working with Dragon’s Eye anyway?
I was listening to a lot of ambient music that summer, and I was really getting into finding new artists on Bandcamp or looking up suggestions from Reddit’s ambient threads. After discovering Dragon’s Eye, I listened to almost their entire catalog. After learning that Dragon’s Eye was a place that actively seeks people of color and other groups of marginalized people, I started emailing with Yann. I immediately felt so accomplished and appreciated when he expressed interest in my music. I had never before released music professionally, so I asked him a lot of questions haha. But he was very kind and accommodating with his time and answers and really guided me through all of it. Kind of like a big, older brother. It was often in the middle of the night when talking to Yann, which also added a certain feeling to it. I would make music all night and evening and then play back what I had made while drinking tea and waiting for a reply from my record label. I felt like that kid again who wrote his first song and couldn’t wait to sing it to my cousins and uncles, and other family members at gatherings.
Lastly, since it’s January, what are some good or bad memories that you’ll take with you from 2022? And what are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
A very special moment to me was coming up with the idea for Tourism. When it all clicked (the field recordings, the concept, the cover art), that was such a great eureka moment. When I sat down for the songs, everything went so fast. I bet a lot of musicians have that feeling. That you are just a vessel through which the music finds a way to the physical world. Last year, when that sense of purpose really got into focus, was the first time I felt that. 2022 will always have a special place in my heart for that.
I look forward to the summer, watching a lot of movies (it’s going to be a great year for film), traveling to France, Spain, and Scandinavia, and having three Lunar Corp releases lined up for the first half of the year. Haha, that sounds kind of exhausting, doesn’t it? I’m also looking forward to my empty schedule for the second half of 2023.