Christian Moreno’s pandemic year turned into a time of artistic expression and discovery.
With the lockdowns in place and his well-worn roles as a music teacher and orchestral performer stolen away by the COVID-19 virus, Moreno took the opportunity to explore some facets of his creativity he’d long been curious about.
He showcases the treasures from that journey with “Jeux,” the second EP from his solo project Geekd, which he started when the world shut down.
The six-song release out today finds the musician settled into his new role as a songwriter and exploring his new boundaries. A percussionist at Schaumburg High School before attending DePaul for music, Moreno’s path seemed to be in orchestral music. But he long dreamed of writing his own music.
“I had played in rock bands before and had always wanted to do that, but as a drummer it was kind of an unusual path to want to go down,” he said. “So I never really thought of myself as playing guitar and singing.”
With all but his private lessons gone and his professional freelance work with Marriott Theatre, Porchlight and the like dried up because of the pandemic, Moreno had all kinds of newfound time on his hands. So he left the drum kit behind in favor of a guitar and a mic and followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a songwriter in a cumbia band in the ’70s.
“In my band that I first was in — Where’s Fernando? — I had written some songs for it and we recorded some and it was great, but I didn’t want to be playing drums in the back, not having my voice heard, not having my songs out there,” he said. “So during the pandemic, I did lots of painting, lots of songwriting. And it just kind of clicked one day, ‘Y’know, I can probably go in and make some recordings of this.’”
The sophomore EP veers even further from Moreno’s orchestral training than his debut did, leaning sharply into ’90s alternative with a heavy slathering of psychedelia and shoegaze influences.
“You talk to anyone who knows me, they know I’m such a fan of Smashing Pumpkins,” he said. In 2018, when Moreno found himself stumbling over some of his choices, he listened to “Gish,” the Chicago rock band’s 1991 studio debut. “It changed my life. I finally knew at that moment I wanted to go into songwriting. And at that point, I also connected again with my dad in that world, where before we weren’t on the same page, and then we suddenly bonded over music because musically we aligned. It was this combination of being in a world that I didn’t want to be in anymore and this pandemic giving me time. And I realized, this is the time to do it. Just try it. Try and if it fails, whatever.”
Now that things are starting to open up more, Moreno thinks he’ll probably go back somewhat to what he was doing, but he plans to put more emphasis on his newfound artistic outlets — songwriting and visual art — bringing much more personal satisfaction to his intertwined creative endeavors.
“The studio is like a canvas, and it’s been amazing being there and recording everything and seeing how the engineers work. It really is just painting sound,” he said. “I love painting. I don’t really have an idea of what I’m doing all the time. So I’m just kind of throwing colors onto the canvas and watching the world unfold. And as you’re doing it, you’re inspired in the moment, and then you start seeing where it’s going and you’re not sure what’s gonna happen. It’s exciting. It’s all just color, and I think that I go about creating them both in the same way.”
For Moreno, now is a time for experimentation.
“As an artist, I also really believe in that idea of, not limitations, but when you’re in a world where you’re not bound by rules, the best art can come out. That’s kind of where I was in both areas,” he said. “But I knew aesthetically what I wanted. I think with a lot of my music, I try to come from an inner child-like, dreamlike vision of not being afraid, which is what I wasn’t when I was a kid. I was afraid of making mistakes.”
But as Moreno has seen over the course of the last year or so, not allowing others’ limitations to hold you back brings out work that’s raw and more truthful, more genuine, both to the ears and the eyes.
“I think the biggest thing holding a lot of people back in general is just the fear of what others think. Going into this next record, most of that fear went away. But then there is a little bit of doubt that settled in, wondering ‘Can I do this again? Am I able to do this again or was it an accident?’” he said. “I think it’s natural. And I’m constantly kind of battling it, even as a painter. My first 10 paintings were really, really, very visceral, and as I got more and more into it, I realized that I was wondering, ‘Now that I have some of these techniques down, is it going to hold me back?’ But I think that’s just part of the process.”
Moreno is taking on that fear — from both sides — when he presents some of his visual work and performs his new songs as part of the Separate Waves II art showcase at Chicago’s Throop Studio (1500 N. Throop St.) this July. Geekd headlines the first night of the two-night art show, playing with Whüzy, mjae and Caleb Reeves on Friday, July 16. The second night features Jake Victor, Andy Danstrom and Press Snooze. The show, which starts at 6 p.m. both evenings, also includes visual artwork by Stevan Dedovic, Kelly Cunningham, Margaret Griffin, Debby Cunningham, Sean Griffin, Jenn Lawhead, Andy Warren Jepson, Maria Villa, Nicole Prather, Sam Corzine and Zelda Louise.