Tom Lugo is a prolific artist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is involved in a number of musical projects including Stellarscope, Panophonic, MAYU, Under the Wire, and others. His DIY approach is inspired by his love of punk and post-punk music. Tom was kind enough to answer my questions about his various projects, his inspirations for his various projects, and what’s coming next for bands such as Stellarscope.
Hello Tom. Thanks so much for spending time answering my questions. Somewherecold interviewed you back in 2005. Can you talk a bit about where you’ve been at musically since then and basically what has been up with Stellarscope in that intervening decade?
It is an honor and pleasure my friend. Many things have happened since the last interview. I have released a ton of music with all of the music projects I am involved in, collaborate with many international musicians and artists, curated the Popnoise Festivals, coordinated a plethora of shows, helped organize some tours for several national and international bands, and have released a variety of benefit compilations and bands with my label Patetico Recordings.
As far as Stellarscope, we have been on a consistent creative path. We have released ‘This is who we are’ (2009), ‘Call me destroyer’ ep (2010), ‘Stellarscope’ –self titled cd (2011), ‘Dream while drowning’ (2013) under the band name Drowning Dreams, ‘March of the lonely’ (2013), ‘The end is near. I’m not prepared’ (2014), ‘Shades of Sadness and Sorrow’ (2015), and our latest effort ‘Standing In The Shadow Of Your Ghost’ will be released this year.
In 2003, you released Panophonic Alumbra. The single, “I Can’t Come Home”, just came out in November of 2016. How has your process changed over those years in writing and recording for this very personal project?
Since Alumbra I have released 10 full-length albums and 4 eps under Panophonic. The process is still the same though the technology has changed. When I first started recording I was using a tape multi track recorder then I moved into a digital multi track recorder. Eventually, I invested in Pro Tools and a M-Audio interface system, which is what I am using now for recording. As far as the process is concerned, I always have these sounds in my head that haunt me until I let them out. I am constantly recording ideas, experimenting with new sounds, and creating new drum patterns. My approach to recording is different than most people because I don’t have an end goal per se; I am not looking to write a song, the song will write itself. I typically record all of the music before I write lyrics. Most of the lyrical content comes to life when I least expect it, it’s a beautiful thing.
You are involved in a lot of musical projects including Panophonic, Under the Wire, Stellarscope, ShiShi, and others. To say that you prolific is an understatement. How do you balance all these projects and what drives you to work in the varied sorts of genres you express yourself through?
Thank you for the kind words, they are truly humbling. I can’t say that I have figured out a perfect formula on how it all works out. Sometimes I obsess over recording for weeks at a time and there are times when I don’t feel like picking up an instrument. I treat each project as a different vehicle to express myself and the collaborative ideas, treating each project as a living organism of its own. All human beings have the ability to do more and be more than they do, they limit themselves but building artificial walls based on their own fears. Life is about balance, you can accomplish everything you set out to do.
In all the various work you do, you bring to the table what feels like a punk or post-punk aesthetic. Do you see that as a thread that goes through your artistic endeavors? If I’m off base, is there another influence that you might put your finger on that shines a light on this sort of consistent aesthetic?
One of my first loves was punk. At an early age I identified with the esthetics of the music and the scene. Do it yourself and a fuck it all attitude!! I have never waited for anyone to do anything for me; I have always carved my own path and made things happen in every aspect of my life. I taught myself how to play instruments, build websites, sound engineering, graphic design, print screening, marketing, tour management, show/festival curation, just to mention a few things. By no means am I an expert at every single aspect but I strive every day to learn some more and get better at my craft.
Life is too short to wait around for others to do for you so you must do for yourself. You control your destiny. The power of change, growth, and becoming who you are truly meant to be lies within all of us. Sorry, I got a metaphysical…hahaha
Stellarscope’s last album was Shades of Sadness and Sorrow. Can you talk about the writing and recording of that album and the themes that are inherent to it? Also, how do you see that disc in the larger Stellarscope catalog?
It is an introspective look into the state of mind we were in. The past couple of years have been hard for us as individuals. We have dealt with loss of loved ones, failed relationships, financial loss, and a life threating illness. So the album is a reflection of what was going on in our lives at that point in time. Writing music has always had a therapeutic effect; it helps us channel the negative energies out of our minds and consciousness.
Is Stellarscope working on new material and, if so, will we see something new this year? If there is new material forthcoming, can you talk a bit about the songwriting and approach you all are taking in constructing a new album?
Standing In The Shadow Of Your Ghost is our latest effort. The album is completed and it was scheduled for a February 14th release but due to some financial issues and personal circumstances the release has to be pushed back. We recently released the first official single titled Only Strangers Now.The overall feel of the album will be in line with what we are known for… depressive happy songs; masking pain, despair, and isolation with sing-along melodies, feedback, delay, and tons of distortion. This new album has a more homogenous approach to what we have done in the past. The songs dive into the current state of affairs, loss, despair, and new beginnings. The concept was to deliver a piece of art that a broader audience would identify with.
We have worked on this album longer than any other album we have released. Typically we just release music; we don’t care much about making everything sound professional because we are constantly creating new songs. While many artists focus on perfection, which is an illusion anyway, our primary focus is giving birth to as many songs as we can while we can.
Standing In The Shadow Of Your Ghost is a new chapter for us, stylistically as well as in production.
You have a few projects with one other individual: SUPER TOYS with Joey Levenson, Under the Wire with Jason Elliss, ShiShi with Jamie Lugo, and now MAYU with Gardy Perez. Can you talk a bit about those projects, if they are ongoing, and how their history? How are these projects different in terms of approach than your other projects?
SUPER TOYS is with incredible guitarist and sonic manipulator Mr. Joey Levenson, who spends his time between South Korea and Japan. Joey also played with Dean Garcia on SPC ECO for a while. We decided to start a project after he collaborated with me on a song titled “Lizard Attack”. We have recorded several songs throughout the years and hope to deliver more in the future .
Lizard Attack https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a95uXfOP4w
Under the Wire was a project started by Jason Elliss, who is an extremely talented young producer from Philadelphia. He approached me about collaborating on some song concepts he had. I really liked his approach and decided to work on some concept music with him. We have released 2 eps, one titled Existential and the other titled Everything that haunts me’.
Shishi was a project I started with Jamie Lugo, who was my wife at the time. I had created all of these songs and I convinced her to sing on them though she had never sung on anything prior to it. The project was well received though we only recorded the full-length album titled ‘Eternal Bliss’ and we also had a track on the “Tribute to Cocteau Twins” released by The Blog That Celebrates Itself Records.
The newest project is under my alter ego Ulises (which is what my family and friends in Puerto Rico call me) with my longtime friend and my guitar mentor Gardy Perez and it is called MAYU. Gardy and I have been friends since the early 90s playing in an alternative band in Puerto Rico called Arnold Layne; he also collaborated with me in my early recordings and heads the incredible Puerto Rican shoegaze band Un.Real, which collaborated on several Panophonic songs in the past. We decided at the end of 2016 to collaborate on some additional music and it since has become a project of its own. We released our first single “Quiero Despertar” and an exclusive remix for the Rock Back for Haiti compilation in December of 2016. Not that we were seeking validation but when you have Nick McCabe, of The Verve fame, singing you praises, you know you are on the right track. LOL
“I Can’t Come Home” is your most recent single from Panophonic. What inspired the new single and can you talk a bit about your writing and recording process in relation to this particular track?
The inspiration for the new single was a life changing event in my life. The feeling of loss for what you once held dear and the process of moving on and letting go. I wanted the song to convey the darkness felt during that period, and for the ending, I wanted for the sun to peak through the storm clouds. I also wanted to contrast different styles of music. If you listen closely you will hear a little shoegaze/dreampop, a little pop, a bit of post-punk, dirty south hip hop beats, and a little dance music to finish it off.
Through your record label, Patetico Recordings, you put out several compilations that support causes such as aid for relief in Haiti or issues in Nepal. Can you talk a bit about your activism and why these sorts of issues are important to you personally and as an artist?
I am a firm believer in paying it forward, to use the little bit of influence and resources that I have to help out those who are in need. I have been involved with non-profit organizations locally and abroad for many years. When Japan was hit with a massive earthquake several years ago, I decided to put together a compilation to generate funds for the victims, the support from the artist community was so immense that the compilation wound up being and 8 volume compilation that included some of the biggest names in our scene. Since then we have released Rock Back for Nepal, Rock Back for Ecuador, and Rock back for Haiti.
Who do you consider your greatest influences, whether they be musical, visual, or literary artists?
My musical influences range from post-punk to shoegaze/dreampop, grunge, and industrial music, from hip hop music to jazz, from indie rock to indie pop, from punk/hardcore to metal. However, what influences my writing the most is everyday life, inner struggles, pop culture, indie films, the non-fiction books I read, and visual art.
Thanks so much for doing this Tom. One last question: What’s next for you in terms of your music and art?
The future is a blank canvas that I intend to paint on with music, melodies, and poetry. Music is not what I do but who I am. I will continue creating until the moment I leave this beautiful planet of ours.
Thank you for the opportunity and the friendship. Wishing you and your readers success, happiness, and peace.