Moon Hooch: A non-stop dance party

by Brent Cole

It’s a rare occurrence when you stumble onto a band whose sound truly sets them apart from their peers – a band that take from their influences, twist and break down the sounds, rebuilding them as their own. One such band is New York’s Moon Hooch, a three-piece consisting of two saxophonists and drummer who have taken jazz and turned it on its head, creating a touring dance party – a full throttle good time with every note they play.

PHOTO BY ERICA HERNANDEZ

PHOTO BY ERICA HERNANDEZ

The members of Moon Hooch, saxaphonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen along with drummer James Muschler, met while students at the New School in New York where they played conventional jazz and to little fanfare. As the band developed, McGowen dropped out of the jazz program and began teaching himself how to produce electronic music. With that  direction not yielding any results, the band decided to go in a different one. They didn’t set out to become a three-piece with unusual instrumentation.

“The stripped down instrumentation was totally accidental,” Wilbur stated. “Wenzl and I just happened to both play tenor sax and it was only by coincidence that we met up with James in the park and started dance parties.”

As the band worked on their sound, they found the perfect Petri dish: the New York City subway system. The trio played and their audience grew. “Busking in the NYC subway helped us in so many ways,” stated Wilbur. “We learned to be able to turn ‘on’ whenever and throw a dance party.”

It helped them gain fans, quickly, too. “We also got more exposure than any other way we could have imagined as a young growing Brooklyn band.” Unfortunately, as they have grown, the rarely play the subways and have been banned in Williamsburg by the NYPD.

Much like their music, which breaks the rules, Moon Hooch doesn’t follow any pattern or rules in creating their sound. “Sometimes one of us will have a whole song pre-composed either on sheet music or in Ableton Live. Other times we will come up with a hook through improvising together and slowly cut off the fat until we have a cohesive song.”

In 2012, Moon Hooch released their critically acclaimed, self titled debut, which landed on the top 10 jazz rankings. Over the next two years, the trio toured consistently, opening for such varied acts as They Might Be Giants, Lotus and Galactica and played “more shows a year than I can count,” Wilbur said. They also performed at the famous NPR Tiny Desk Series, an unforgettable experience. “Playing at Tiny Desk was really kick ass. Bob Boilen is also a really cool guy. It’s so inspiring to see someone interested in seeing young musicians grow.”

Last month, the band released their follow up, This is Cave Music. Recorded and mixed in 10 days, Wilbur said the recording went smoothly. “We finished recording in about five days and finished mixing in five days because we have played these songs so much in our live set we only had to do a few takes of each before we were happy with it.”

While music is obviously at their core, Moon Hooch is also driven by their passion for food and the politics of the world. A trio of vegans, the band has a cooking blog off of their website where they talk about different recipes (often ones they’ve discovered on the road) and cooking while on tour.

“Food is what literally fuels us. Without good food we cannot be good bodies that perform well. We need lots of clean energy to perform our long and exhausting sets! If we ate junk food it would be like fueling a racecar with dirt.” Finding good food while on tour, though, can be a daunting task. “Sometimes it’s difficult to find a good co-op or farmers market in the USA since most cities have been completely corrupted by corporate domination,” stated Wilbur, adding “I believe the human race is at a point where we all need to start focusing seriously on bettering ourselves and elevating our consciousness. A great majority of the planet is still stuck in the archaic mental patterns of aggression, competition and domination. If we all shift our conscious attention to compassion, empathy and understanding for not only humans but also the planet itself then maybe our grandchildren will live on a planet with clean air and water. The downward tenancies of those who came before us must be broken down and this can only start at an individual level. As a band we hope to spread the message of light and bring people together through the joy of music.”

As for the future, Wilbur states it’s nothing something he focuses on. “I also try not to think of the future very much. I really enjoy the present moment and put my focus in the now as much as I can. The present moment is the only place where art can occur.”

Wilbur cites the likes of John Coltrane (whom Wilbur states he’s deeply indebted to for the “profound amount of searching he did throughout his life in the realm of music”), Sonny Rollins, Alena Spanger, Bach Aphex Twins, and John Cage as some of the major influences on him and the band.

Catch Moon Hooch on Oct. 18 at the Wild Buffalo. For more about the band, see moonhooch.com.

Published in the October 2014 issue of What’s Up! Magazine