In late August, local musician Maryam Qudus released "Asking For You," a song that straddles Devo electro-punk energy and washed-out surreal soundscapes. It has both driving energy and a psychedelic, otherworldly flair. An odd tone, no doubt. Add to that a less-obvious element: the lyrics, which were written after her neighbor was assaulted.
"I really love songs that have that contrast of a subject matter that's really heavy but with music that isn't as heavy or fits within a different frame," Qudus says. "To deliver a certain message, the framework in which you deliver it can be so important. I thought about that when I was writing this song. Just being aware that it's a very sensitive subject, that if I made it incredibly sad, that it would actually be harder to listen to. That was part of the idea."
The song is also intended to emphasize empowerment. Women shouldn't have to feel scared to walk down the street alone, or always be objectified. There's a little bit of venom in the words, in how the narrator takes the point of view of how the attacker views women he sees, and how obviously wrong that is.
Much of the power of the song comes from its nuanced production, from its superbly layered complexities that twist the listener in unexpected ways through unusual and often shifting moods created by the combination of seemingly disparate elements.
It's in the production that Qudus shows the most growth as an artist. Though she's played music for a long time—people are familiar with her project Doe Eye—she's worked the last half-dozen years as an engineer, mostly at Tiny Telephone, Women's Audio Mission and on freelance projects.
Qudus feels her time working as an engineer transformed her music, so much so that she decided she wanted a clean slate as an artist. Earlier this year she debuted her first single as Spacemoth. Early next year, she'll release her debut LP.
"I was ready to start fresh with the music that I was making," Qudus says. "It felt like going through the whole process of learning to work with other artists, learning so much about recording, production and being able to apply that to my own music. It felt like my music was reborn. It needed a new framework."
She learned a lot about communication while working as an engineer. Conversing with artists about the musicians they liked as they tried to illustrate what recording sound they wanted helped her learn how to communicate her own ideas better and to pinpoint the sonic details she wanted in her music.
"Sometimes I'll get bands that say, 'I really love Radiohead or Flaming Lips, and I love Neil Young.' Similar music in ways, but very different," Qudus says. "Okay, what aspects of these artists do you like? Do you want to sound like Neil Young or do you just like the way his acoustic guitar sounds?"
In the past few years, she's listened to a lot of Devo. She didn't want to copy the group, but she likes how Devo's raw, punk feeling is mixed with sequencers and synthesizers.
Her first song as Spacemoth, "This Shit," was a slighter harder-edge song than "Asking For You," but still a bizarre expression with dreamy overtones and a straightforward, fist-pumping beat. She wrote the song shortly after Trump took office, as she contended with the new realities of his presidency, like the Muslim ban and the assault on women's rights.
"I wrote that song then, but it's interesting how much it still relates today, and still connects to what's happening, I think even more," Qudus says. "We go through waves of shock and getting used to the new normal. And then shocked again."
Before the lockdown, she was writing some new songs, and thinking a clean slate might be in order. After the pandemic hit, she didn't have engineering work for a few months. She was able to work on new music and focus on this project.
"I tried to make it a time where I could just be as creative as possible, even though my brain was melting with the reality of the world," Qudus says.
Now, as she fine-tunes her debut album, she debates which songs she wants to include. She loves everything she's already released as Spacemoth, so there's a good chance much of it will be on there. But there's no guarantee.
"I really love those songs, so I feel like they could fit with all the other songs I'm working on right now," Qudus says. "Part of me feels guilty putting songs on an album that I already released, because I want to give people new music. I have to figure that out. We'll see what happens."
For more info, check out www.spacemoth.space.