The NYC subway system… It’s more than just turnstiles, rats, and fear of homicide. Though the packed cars, shrill stops, and occasional stench of bodily fluids/gas certainly don’t scream “inviting atmosphere,” one can stumble across a fair share of talent vying for the commuter dollar. In my 3 years as an NYC resident, no act made me turn my head, or shake my butt, more than Moon Hooch.
This trio, consisting of drums and 2 saxophones, play a self described style called “Cave Music,” which must mean rocking the bejesus out of the 14th Street platform near every time I took the damn thing, making the whole experience (dare I say) pleasant… Definitely not a term one uses frequently when discussing public transport. It’s only fitting that the opening to their eponymous debut starts out with that ever-so robotic female voice alerting every hipster in Union Square that their beloved/despised L train is approaching.
Currently on the road supporting Lotus (!), the group will follow these dates up by supporting They Might Be Giants (!!), and will be on the road through April (!!!). Bad ass concept, bad ass story, and some bad ass tours. I caught up with drummer James Muschler prior to their gig in Syracuse, NY to talk about busking, some of their more interesting underground experiences (there are MANY,) and what’s next for 2013.
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! Thanks for making life as a commuter in NYC a bit more pleasant for me! If you could, introduce the members in the group… Who is everyone, what do they play, and where does everyone come from?
J- Mike Wilbur (tenor saxophone) grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts and moved to New York 2 years ago. Wenzl McGowen (tenor saxophone) was born in Spain, lived in Austria and Germany, then moved to Portugal, and has lived the past three years in New York. I, James Muschler (drums,) grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and moved to New York 3 years ago.
G- How long has Moon hooch been an active group, and how did you all meet and get started? When did you making the decision to perform underground in NYC subways? Were you able to make pretty decent money during your times on the platforms?
J- We’ve been active for 2 1/2 years now. The three of us met while attending the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. The band actually formed accidentally, in a sense. The first time the three of us played together was outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, with a bass player. At that time, Wenzl had just returned to New York from working on a Caribbean cruise producing electronic music for 6 months.
The knowledge he gained on that cruise sparked the band’s fundamental concept – playing electronic music with acoustic instruments, and as we continued to busk in the following months, the three of us experimented with this new idiom and developed something distinctive, and made enough money to pay rent and buy food doing it!
G- Wow… WAY ahead of the curve for most musicians! Good work! So, can you tell us a bit about your tunes in your own words. How do you come up with the new jams? Do you write a lot of them before you perform, or was a lot of it written through jamming?
J- The compositional process is always different for every song. Sometimes a song takes a few minutes, sometimes a few hours, and sometimes a few days or weeks, and they almost always ends up sounding a little different than how we initially imagined or intended.
It could start with an idea that came up during an improvisation, or it could start with an idea or concept that is transcribed for music, or it could start with one of us bringing a musical idea to a rehearsal and expanding on it. Sometimes, one of us will write an entire piece on our own.
G- Ok right on. Now, you currently have a self-titled record out, and will be on the road through April supporting Lotus and then They Might Be Giants, both awesome gigs to have! What else do you currently have in the works for this year?
J- Well, we’ve recently decided that we want to be more than just a band. We want to use Moon Hooch as an outlet for expressing and acting upon potential solutions to the many problems in our society. For example, we promote localized consumption, organic farming, and sustainable food industry practices by advertising local food co-ops in every city we play in while on tour – This is just skimming the surface, and there will always be much to be done to improve our world.
The three of us are influenced by a lot of different styles. Wenzl is really into house, dubstep, jazz, among other things. Mike is into contemporary classical music, electronic music of different sorts. I’m into Indian Classical Music, drum and bass, among other styles. We’ve been really digging the radio while on tour.
G- Can you give us a few examples of any bands or artists in particular that influence your style? Are there any buskers or acts you think we should know about?
J- John Coltrane is a big hero for the three of us. As far as subway players go, banjo player Morgan O’Kane is a fantastic. He’s also a great guy. There are many others. Drummer “Showtime” is also great.
G- Nice… I’ll be on the lookout when I’m down there for sure! You guys always brought the party to the subways, so I have to ask… Are you guys a party band, or generally pretty mellow? What kind of beers and booze do you want people bringing up to you onstage this time around?
J- Haha, well, our music is definitely party-friendly. “Mellow” is not a word I would use to describe our vibe haha, and I actually don’t like to drink very much, especially when I play. Mike and Wenzl are the same way. When I do have a beer, I enjoy a nice dark one.
G- What should your fans, both old and new, expect of the performances when you guys hit the road, and what should some of the first time listeners expect to see when you take the stage?
J- We’ve been experimenting with integrating electronics into our performances, so expect some electronic sounds here and there. We will continue to work on the set throughout the tour, so every show will be a little different than the last.
G- If you could give only 1 song from your catalogue to someone who’d never heard your music before, what song would you give them and why? Do you have a personal favorite song you’ve written?
J- My personal favorite of ours is “Bari 3” – that composition really speaks to me. I also wrote most of it, so you can realize the correlation there. I suggest new listeners check out “#9” – that song has always been referred to as “the classic” Moon Hooch song.
G- Do you still jump back into the trenches to give subway performances, or are you guys past that now?
J- We will always enjoy playing in the subways on Friday and Saturday nights. Got to keep music in the streets!
G- Yes… Very cool! M. Doughty, Lotus, and They Might Be Giants are all great acts to play shows with I’m sure, but are there any specific bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future? If you could curate a 3-band bill, who would you pick to share a stage with?
J- It would be a fantastic opportunity and an honor to share a bill with some great electronic music artists in the future. Bassnectar would be sweet!
G- What is the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date, both on the subway and above ground? Where was it and what was it like?
J- The craziest subway memory I can recall was Halloween 2011. There was a costume dance party down there like no other! It was quite an experience.
As far as our above-ground performances, I’d say that when we played at All Good Music Festival. Woooooooo man! The energy and positivity was insane! It was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.
G- Lastly, as a group that start below ground to begin with, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
J- Be persistent, and recognize opportunity when it reveals itself.