There are certain people in the world who need to be in our lives. For me, one of those people is Moses Sumney.
In March 2014, I discovered the Los Angeles-based artist when I came across a Facebook post from a friend. At the time, I was DJing in college, and so one week later, I played his song “Plastic” on the air.
That particular version was recorded through a four-track recorder Sumney received from TV on the Radio guitarist David Sitek. The cassette tape made the audio sound voyeuristically personal, and despite fantastic looping, the bedroom recording sounded bare and vulnerable. It reminds me of a simpler time for us both.
In 2015, a publicist for the Hollywood Bowl asked if I was available to speak with Sumney for his upcoming show at the historic venue later that summer. I remember the thrill of hearing new tracks and covers (like his rendition of Laurie Anderson's “O Superman”) that trickled online, knowing that soon I would be speaking with him about his art.
I became struck by his otherworldly presence and sound, constantly thinking of new questions. Unfortunately, later that month, his publicist informed me that my interview request would be delayed. Bogged down with press, Moses wanted to hold off on additional interviews until he was "a bit closer to releasing his debut album."
Despite the change in plans, my interest didn’t fade. On July 30, I was in attendance for his very first show with a band behind him—he had never headlined before and had never charged someone to watch him perform, either. I remember him asking the crowd why we decided to come to the show. Alone, drink in hand, I found his demeanor to be a charming form of self-deprecation.
While on stage, Sumney discussed the human condition of feeling sad even when the sun is shining and everything appears perfect. Sure, there's someone having a good time somewhere, but it’s not you who’s having the fun. That was exactly how I felt moving back to LA after college. I got the exact job that I wanted and I was living in a beautiful, coveted city, but I’d never felt so depressed in my entire life.
Listening to Sumney sing, it felt like he knew exactly what I was feeling.
“I know what it is to be broken and be bold" —Moses Sumney, "Plastic"
At the end the show, Sumney covered an Elliott Smith song. He dedicated it to Smith and Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse and anyone in the world who knows how to feel things intensely. That’s what his music has always provided for me: an outlet to feel something ridiculously powerfully—one of my specialties.
That same night, I purchased his hand-packaged CD, complete with demos, which he had burned himself and accompanied with hand-drawn art. I kept the record as the only disc in my car until I sold the vehicle last year; the CD lives on at my parent’s house.
Later that summer, during Toro Y Moi's set at FYF Fest, I noticed Sumney in front of me in the crowd. He inadvertently sprayed water on my shoulder, a blessing amid the blazing heat. Knowing I'd probably mention the failed interview attempt, I couldn’t muster the guts to introduce myself. The next day, Sumney appeared onstage with Solange and Blood Orange's Dev Hynes. They covered Nina Simone's “Young Gifted and Black,” one of my all-time favorite live music moments.
From that point on, I decided I'd wait until his debut album came to fruition before making contact for the second time.
Five months passed. It's January 2016. Still no album. And I lost my job. Loneliness and a fear of failure turned into unhealthy habits. My generalized anxiety eventually became so crippling that I became very sick. I don’t remember a lot of what happened in the first half of 2016, but my stomach hurts just typing these words.
Eventually, a more healthy me became the editor of a hip-hop website called Rhyme Junkie, which helped keep my mind busy. Just a fan at this point, no longer as a potential reporter, I saw Sumney play a show at the Getty Museum that summer.
“I’m going to play a lot of the songs from the new album that I’ve been working on since Jesus walked the Earth,” Sumney, the son of two Christian pastors, said with a grin. “And the album will come out when he returns. So thanks for riding with me.”
That same evening, Sumney debuted “Doomed.” He joked that the song is what we all are before mentioning that all of his material is written about death. Sumney was candid, noting that it’s a crazy weird thing to write a song in your bedroom while crying and then have people sing along to it while smiling. He was open about his depression; so open that the most natural reaction was to laugh, even if it was uncomfortable.
Later that summer, I traveled to Chicago for Pitchfork Music Festival. As you may have guessed by now, Sumney was in the lineup. He joined Sufjan Stevens for a cover of Prince's "Kiss," a perfect live music moment, especially as Sumney matched his peer's falsetto while singing the iconic “you don’t have to be rich” lyrics. Considering his Twitter bio has, for years, read 'performer and poor person,' the message resonated.
I began to worry, though. Was the album ever going to come out, or was he just going to deliver incredible features and live performances with his unparalleled mystique? Sure, his Lamentations EP, released in October 2016, was a beautiful body of work and something to hold fans over, but the wait for his official debut continued. I wondered, too, if Sumney was even sure if this album would ever drop.
In a recent interview with Complex, Sumney made clear he felt the same way:
“Having that much attention before even putting out a debut was really stressful. It didn’t have the most positive effect on me. I ended up second guessing a lot of things. I changed directions a lot of times over the course of making this record, although I eventually ended up in the right place. I think it definitely made me more conscious of what people expected of me and what people wanted to hear or wanted to see me do. In the end I had to realize that it was about what I wanted to do. It was just a bigger challenge to follow my own instincts.”
On September 22, 2017, Moses Sumney's debut, Aromanticism, was finally released.
Before penning this article, I made one final push to see if Moses was available for an interview. Unfortunately, his representative declined, citing burnout from his press run. Initially, I was frustrated, but after pressing play on the album, I realized I didn't need to speak with him—the music answered all my questions.
Aromanticism feels like a tour of the human brain. It’s chaotic, sexy, raw, introspective, and waxes poetic. Above anything else, it's surreal finally being able to listen to a project that was years in the making.
So much of the depression that I’ve felt over the past few years stems from feelings of either loneliness or loss of love, both major themes on Aromanticism.
As I look back on the moment I first discovered Sumney's music, I realize how much I've changed as a person. Mentally, I'm almost unrecognizable. Aromanticism is a reminder that I was never alone.
My anxiety has calmed significantly, but it’s still part of who I am. And so is the work of Moses Sumney. Maybe one day we'll speak.