Poor Moon: Good dancers on lonely streets

To call Poor Moon an indie-folk-rock band would be a great disservice. True, the band delivers reverb drenched vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar. True, they play loungy and smooth rock songs. But more than that, there is a craftsmanship to the songwriting, arrangement and instrumentation that isn’t often found in the overused and overworked genre.

Christian Wargo is an indie-rock veteran. The 31-year-old New Jersey native has been making music with countless genre defining bands like Fleet Foxes, Crystal Skulls and Pedro the Lion, and is back in the limelight as the chief singer and songwriter for Seattle’s Poor Moon.

Wargo met fellow Fleet Foxes member Casey Wescott (both of Seattle), while living in Chicago when Wescott was on tour with a former band. Shortly thereafter, he met David Bazan when he was passing through with Pedro the Lion, who was interested in collaborating on a record with Wargo. They began construction on a home studio for Bazan, and a record that would never be officially released. Through Bazan and Wescott, he was introduced to a community of like-minded musicians and opportunities that have spanned the last decade.

For years, Wargo has been writing and accumulating a vast collection of unused songs that he shared with Wescott and brothers Ian and Peter Murray. “It just came together because I had a ton of songs,” Wargo said. “We passed demos back and forth between the four of us because we love each other’s music.”

Sketching sounds out in his bedroom with drums, bass and keyboards, Wargo would deliver fully formed demos to his bandmates. Westcott and the Murray brothers would then chime in to help create the vibe and feeling they had for the song before re-recording it together.

“Some of the sounds from my demos ended up on the final record,” Wargo said. “There was some magic in the 3 a.m. recording at really low volumes without the best recording quality. Some of it just couldn’t be recreated.”

Wargo and Westcott have been collaborating musically since the inception of their now defunct indie-pop band, Crystal Skulls, and throughout their time together in Fleet Foxes. The two have developed a musical language, allowing an easy exchange of ideas without talking things into the ground.

Wargo values the understanding the two have. “He just gets what I’m trying to do,” Wargo said. “I don’t have a background in music theory, but do have an appreciation for composed music with a lot of attention to detail, so we had to find another way to share ideas.”

Wargo joined Westcott in Fleet Foxes in 2008 just before the completion of the band’s Sun Giant EP. Although his role wasn’t entirely clear, he was excited about pursuing new sounds and ideas. “Casey and I totally rearranged a couple of tracks, and I was stoked to take the vision of this band and use new elements I thought were really cool,” he said.

He continued writing songs in a similar vain that he hoped would become Fleet Foxes songs, but eventually became Poor Moon songs instead.

“It’s not like those songs didn’t make the cut,” joked Wargo. “It’s just that Robin, (Pecknold, singer/songwriter for Fleet Foxes), has such a singular vision. The songs just have to come from him, he is Fleet Foxes.”

It was an appreciation for an acoustic and organic soundscape that ultimately shaped the aesthetic of Poor Moon. Former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman provides sparse drumming throughout the record, while Wargo, Wescott and the Murray brothers provide lush harmonies and unique instrumentation, including guitar, mandolin, mellotron, vibraphone and samplers. The band remains a four-piece but is joined on tour by a bass player and drummer.

Wargo doesn’t ignore the obvious comparisons to be made with Fleet Foxes. In fact, he embraces them. “You can’t spend five years touring in a band like that and not love it and pick up some stuff.”

While Fleet Foxes were in the midst of recording Helplessness Blues, the boys of Poor Moon took time to record what would become their debut EP, Illusion, and their first self-titled full length all at the same time. Their EP was released in March 2012 followed by a slot at Sasquatch Music Festival and two and a half months of touring before the release of their full length this fall. Wargo is excited to see the band grow and continue to explore new sounds.

“With the first record, you’re discovering your sound, expounding on that, and hoping to draw on the strengths of the band,” he said. As they tour, Wargo is taking note of those strengths and preparing to integrate them with new songs he is writing and preparing for Poor Moon’s second release. But he admits it’s difficult to plan at this point.

“We’re going to keep touring and I’ll write some new jams, and eventually we’ll feel like we’ve completed the cycle of this record and we’ll record again,” he said. “We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing, and see where it goes.”