Devotion to music has driven Spacemoth’s Maryam Qudus—a performer, composer, and now sought-after producer—for as long as she can remember. At age twelve, she traded chores for guitar lessons; at sixteen, she took on after school jobs to pay for voice lessons, learning to drive so she could take herself to both. Qudus is the first-generation Afghan-American child of working-class immigrant parents, who she describes as encouraging, but apprehensive about her earliest creative pursuits. “Afghan culture has informed my identity with so much wonder and beauty, but has also challenged me”. Being a female musician was not common in the Afghan & Muslim community, and women who chose that path received a lot of heat,” she explains. “I did it regardless of cultural acceptance and my family’s approval. I knew if I followed my dreams, I could start breaking cultural barriers—both Afghan and western—and hopefully pave the way for those around me to feel like they could do the same.”
DOE EYE, Qudus’ first project, found quick success with radio play, magazine features and blogosphere buzz following its first EP. The follow up, 2014’s T E L E V I S I O N, was a lush collection of indie pop and spacey rock produced by John Vanderslice at his legendary San Francisco co-op-turned-studio Tiny Telephone. Working with Vanderslice opened new artistic avenues for Qudus: “It was the first time I’d been in a studio where I felt the producing process clicked with me. I realized the studio is an instrument and if you know how to use it, you can take advantage of that in really cool ways.” She began studying at Bay Area recording arts non-profit Women’s Audio Mission, eventually interning both there and at Tiny Telephone before becoming a staff engineer at both.
Studio tricks picked up from clients like Toro Y Moi, Sasami & Tune-Yards gave new inspiration for her own arrangements. And in between sessions, she was able to toy with electronic ambience and tape experimentations for her own project, resulting in her first self-recorded & produced EP, 2017’s b-room, while also writing for a new solo project. After five years of work, Qudus is ready to introduce her newest project: Spacemoth.
First single “This Shit,” with deadpan delivery, eerie harmonies, and octave-jumping synths (reminiscent of two of Qudus’ favorite projects, Broadcast & Stereolab), was written after the election of “the idiot president,” as Qudus recalls. “An unfolding series of events left me hopeless about the state of the country I live in: women’s rights were in jeopardy, Muslim citizens were barred from entering the US, and Black and brown bodies experienced continual violence at the hands of law enforcement, white supremacy emboldened and legitimized.” Overwhelmed and broken, she wondered, as the chorus goes, “When is this shit gonna end?” Paired with b-side “Who I Was” and stunning visual collaborations from Stephanie Kuse (who, in an homage to Qudus’ love for op art, created the colorful single cover and also the glitchy projections of the music video), it was a strong re-introduction to Qudus as a leveled-up writer and producer.
Spacemoth’s newest releases, “Asking For You” showcase her love of Devo’s “short-circuited punk rock,” Kraftwerk’s programmed rhythms, and early Brian Eno’s “delicate songs put in a weird frame.” In a Kimber-Lee Alston-directed video, an homage to Daft Punk’s “Da Funk” allegorically works through an intense reality: the fears that women disproportionately carry in a world of omnipresent harassment. The song was written after a teen neighbor of Qudus was assaulted on her block in broad daylight. “You always have to watch your back,” Qudus explains. “When I sing ‘Asking for You,’ I’m asking for people to stop hurting women.”
It’s a lot for one person to write, engineer & produce on their own, and while Qudus does a demonstrable bulk of her work alone, she recruited a handful of close collaborators to step in on these songs; among those credited are drummers Liam O’Neill (Hazel English) & Jason Slota (Thao & the Get Down Stay Down), bassist Nathaniel Brenner (Tune-yards, Naytronix), percussionist Andrew Maguire (Luke Temple), and Qudus’ husband and longtime collaborator Beau Sorenson (Bob Mould, The Dodos) as mix engineer.
As an artist who has spent the last decade refining exactly what she loves in music, it’s no shock that the bulk of the performance on Spacemoth songs comes from Qudus herself, who favors vintage synths like the Yamaha CS50 and Korg Polysix alongside tape manipulations, creating unpredictable, stretched out, and springy sound beds. As she continues work on Spacemoth’s first album, she’s excited to take her years behind the boards and reels on other inventive musicians’ projects and apply that experience to her own imaginative songs. “I finally have the skills and knowledge to make the sounds in my head come to life,” she says. “Spending the last few years discovering what kind of music I want to make has been worth it; I feel like I am finally making music that embodies who I am.” From these first few releases, it’s clear Spacemoth is a project with limitless sonic potential, and it’s anyone’s guess what gorgeous, clever songs she’ll turn up next.
Written by Sadie Dupuis