With their 2011 breakthrough album Mazes and its follow-up Circles, Moon Duo used the repetitive beats of a drum machine as a bed for their vintage synthesisers and psychedelic guitars.

But the addition of a new live drummer on tour suggests things are about to change for Portland-based musical and life partners Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada.

“It was important to keep things fresh,” says Yamada, while on a break from the road in an Italian petrol station.

“One of the things about playing some songs with programmed beats is that you can feel like you’re playing the same song over and over. It can be a good challenge but it can also be restricting – we wanted to break away from that a bit. We needed to find a drummer who was a good fit.”

Their Berlin-based manager found Vancouver-born drummer John Jeffrey.

“He is terrific,” says Yamada. “We will try to work with him on recordings in the future.

“It’s nice to have options – whether we use live drums or programmed drums, or a combination. We have a lot of possibilities we didn’t have before.

“We have had time to do this two-person thing pretty fully, as far as our original intention was to be able to perform all over the world. It has been an important learning experience for us.”

Saying ‘yes’

Moon Duo grew out of Johnson’s frustrations with his other San Francisco-based band Wooden Shjips.

“It was hard to take advantage of all the opportunities that came to Wooden Shjips,” says Yamada. “You have four guys with significant others, families and jobs – it was hard to get everyone free at the same time to do things.

“Ripley said we should start a band that could say yes to everything!”

The pair took inspiration from seminal synth duos Silver Apples and Suicide.

“They were inspirational not only because of the sounds they made but also because although there were only two of them, they could still rock,” says Yamada.

Things started happening for Moon Duo with their 2011 album Mazes, which followed their debut EPs Escape and Killing Time, picking up word-of-mouth popularity and critical acclaim.

Across eight tracks it defined Moon Duo’s sound – combining space rock guitars and synth drones over insistent Krautrock beats, particularly on the title track and closer Goners.

Yamada admits the pair didn’t let the positive reaction to Mazes faze them during the recording of its follow-up.

“It’s hard not to get too caught up in hoping for the same next time around,” she says. “Ultimately you try not to think about it and focus on making the record you want to make.”

Unlike Mazes, which was made piecemeal in San Francisco around the couple’s day jobs, Circles was made in an intense concentrated period while Yamada and Johnson were living in Colorado.

“We had left San Francisco and started touring quite a bit,” says Yamada.

“When we went to the house in Colorado, we knew we had to write an album and record the basic tracks in a certain time – it was a very focused experience. The place where we were living was very isolated, which really added to the concentration.

“I respond really well to deadlines – it’s easy to dwell over tiny details if you have all the time in the world.”

Circles of life

The record, which builds on the territory established by Mazes but on a slightly more widescreen scale, takes its themes from an essay penned by American lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson, where he describes the universe as being made up of circles, starting from the eye to the horizon line.

“Right before we started recording I went on a meditation retreat,” says Yamada. “Both of us meditate pretty regularly.

“When I came back, Ripley had read this essay and it spoke a lot to the way I think about life. It’s the idea of existence being in these circular patterns – from the simplest to the grandest scale.”

It linked in with the repetitive nature of the music, with its Motorik drumbeats, and the influence constant touring had on the pair’s sound.

“We spent so much time in vehicles on the road over the past couple of years,” says Yamada. “You get into this different mental state when daily movement becomes part of your routine.

“You’re constantly watching the asphalt fly by.

“Repetition in music is something I’m really interested in. Gertrude Stein played with repetition in language: ‘A rose is a rose is a rose’.

“You can repeat something over and over, and with each iteration it evolves – each repetition is different and changes while you listen to it.”

  • Moon Duo play The Haunt, Pool Valley, Brighton, on Tuesday, August 20. Doors 7pm, £10. Call Resident on 01273 606312.