Geography of the Moon is Virginia Bones and Andrea Rubbio, an extraordinary duo who have won over audiences across the UK and South East Asia with their unique blend of sounds that mix vocals, guitars, looping and a dramatic stage show. We are lucky to have them in Cambodia again this year, gigging madly across Phnom Penh and the rest of the country. They sat down with LengPleng on a balcony and talked about the past and the future.
Their first musical efforts were in a trio called Secret Spaceship, which then stripped down to a duo known as Future Sandwich.
VB: Eventually we decided to change the name, because Future Sandwich makes people laugh.
AR: And makes me hungry.
VB: People were, like, this is really cool, haha. But we decided it’s not really representative of the music we play.
AR: You don’t see that as the main act at Glastonbury: Future Sandwich.
VB: What would look better on a big poster? So we changed the name to Geography of the Moon – it takes you somewhere else. The name comes from a song that I wrote, the song that actually started something: I played it to some people, friends of both of us, and maybe a month or two later Andrea was looking for artists, and the guy said there’s this girl from France, she’s pretty good, you might want to book her – so he got in touch.
Geography of the Moon – after the growing pains of a houseboat full of mushrooms, a significant piano, grueling transportation of equipment from gig to gig in taxis all over London (AR: Uber, if you are listening, you should sponsor us!) – grew into a remarkable and compelling sonic experiment that changes night to night and is never the same twice.
VB: We always play according to how we feel, which is defined by how much space we have, how many people are in the room, what we did that day or the day before, everything. If there’s not much space you will hear that in the sound, and if you’ve got a dancing crowd you will hear that in the sound. If I’m happy the gig is going to be happy, if I’m angry you will hear it.
AR: People sometimes don’t know this, but they think we argue on stage – and we do actually argue on stage.
VB: But it’s part of the show. Everything is part of the show.
AR: The last headbutt was a real headbutt.
VB: All of them were.
Their close communication allows for a very loose approach.
VB: We sometimes use setlists, but most of the time we don’t.
AR: Go with the feelings.
VB: We have improvised most of the gigs, so they’re all different.
AR: I start a note, she follows, I follow her, she follows me, and then when we have a percussionist – it’s all just naturally coming out.
VB: We play how we feel.
AR: An average might be 60% songs, 40% improvised.
VB: And a lot of the time we will play the same song – like yesterday Andrea started to improvise and I sang some songs that we already have but in a completely different way.
AR: Also because the crowd yesterday was exactly the same as the crowd we had three days before, exactly the same people, so we wanted to please them, not play the same songs.
VB: But you also don’t want to bore yourself. We do very free form gigs. There’s no telling what’s going to happen until you get up on stage.
As you may expect from such an outfit, the composition is shared fluidly.
VB: I write all the words and sing them, and I also write some of the songs, but I’m not a very good guitarist, so Andrea will hear them and re-arrange them. And some songs he writes all the music and I just use words that I’ve got.
AR: Or sometimes we compose live. When we improvise, we have a loop station, we can record what we’re doing. If we like it, I save it in the bank, and the day after….
VB: And then we turn them into a song as well.
AR: One of the songs, Pick it up and put it down, we wrote it in a really different way, and at a gig down in Kampot, a drummer, Clint, jumped on the stage and changed the song, and it was unbelievable, really, really cool. We didn’t have time to arrange it, put people remembered. So there are some songs that I would like to re-record and re-release in different ways.
This year the duo have been teaming up with Ernie Buck on the drums, who offers his own perspective.
EB: For someone who’s been outside of the band looking in at what they do, I think simplicity is key to why crowds get so into it. The primal sort of state, the way they get together, if they’ve had a day of arguing that comes out in the performance. And simple melodic songs. I’m just a big fan, really. The first couple of gigs we played together we hadn’t rehearsed, I’d just listened to their records several times, and really loved it. They trusted me to get behind the kit, and we made it up as we went along by watching each other wiggle.
Last year their first trip to South East Asia resulted in some extraordinary gigs.
AR: The first gig we played in Asia was in Vietnam in Da Nang.
VB: No one clapped. We didn’t know that the Vietnamese don’t clap, they just politely listen.
AR: So we did three sets, and nobody moved, nobody said anything.
VB: Do they hate us? It was terrifying. We didn’t really know what was going on, but we had to keep playing for the time. And when we finished, people came to us: what is this? What do you call it? And some kids said this is the best gig I’ve ever seen in my life, you remind me of Nirvana…
AR: The first amazing gig we ever did was at Otres Market [Sihanoukville], a great stage, I miss it forever. And the first time at Oscar’s on the Corner when we shocked everyone with our crazy show. We started playing and everyone was talking, and then they shut up and said what’s that? I was scared a bit, but I didn’t really care because I was really drunk on Beer Lao. That was very, very good.
And also in Vietnam, people singing our songs.
VB: We played a lot of gigs in Vietnam, and we had a lot of fun, and people were singing back to us.
AR: This is all a dream or a nightmare. I couldn’t hear what I was playing because everyone was, like, Pick It Up, Pick It Up. And we’d never played in Hanoi before, so it was weird. And the time we almost broke Banyan Tree, the first time we had Clint the drummer, in Kampot. Chiet [Ukham] was expecting 40 people, then double that came, and then triple, and quadruple, and there were too many people. And the place was really shaking, and some people wanted to get on stage, and I had to kick a guy in the face to stop him. Chiet came to play tambourine – even though he wasn’t on the mic, he was just happy like a toddler.
The next big thing is a big thing indeed – the Jai Thep festival, outside Chiang Mai, 31 January – 2 February.
AR: They call it the Glastonbury of Asia. It should be massive. It’s good to go back on a big stage as well. I miss big stages a lot.
VB: When we play little gigs I go away in my head – okay, there’s 600 people in front of me, I’m singing in front of a big, big crowd – and then I come back and oh, I’m in a bar.
They also commenced, on the day of this interview, the recording of their next album.
VB: We’re going to release it next year – there will be a fundraising campaign soon, because we want to make it perfect and beautiful and as amazing as we possibly can.
The fundraising campaign has now been launched. In the meantime, check their sounds out:
You can find Geography of the Moon live at Oscar’s on the Corner on Friday night, The Vine on Saturday night and Sundance Inn & Saloon next Thursday – and keep an eye on LengPleng.com for updates on their never-ending tour.