Moongrass: Nooksack delta band of brothers

by Brent Cole

Comprised of five childhood friends, Moongrass is a band with a bond – five voices working together as one. With the release of their second album, Shadow in the Country, the boys appear primed to shake up the Bellingham roots scene.

Work on the new album began before the band toured the West Coast last fall – they laid down some initial tracks prior to heading out. The tour wasn’t set up the way many bands operate – cramming as many shows into as few days as humanly possible. Instead, the five piece went down for the month and found themselves with days off – playing every weekend and some weeknights. The mix between on days and off days made for an interesting tour – they were able to work on their craft, playing for people and growing as a band, while also enjoying themselves on stage and off. The five piece who had grown up together, found a new level within the band.

The band includes: Taylor Merlina (acoustic guitar, percussion, vocals), Cole Melcher (electric guitar, vocals), Tom McKay (bass, banjolele, vocals), Elijah Watson (banjo, percussion, vocals) and Willie Reavis (harmonica, percussion, vocals).

A large part of Moongrass working on their craft was refining their new songs which they brought on tour. Though they already had some tracks, they continued giving their songs the growth they called for. However, after returning from the road, the boys realized they’d grown more than anticipated and the new recordings had to be scrapped.

They began working on the new album again in February at Eli’s studio in Ferndale, this time taking a different approach than their previous effort.

“This time around, the songs are more complex,” Taylor stated. “They’re wanting other parts we couldn’t do in a live show.”

Moongrass decided to forego the more live oriented sound of All the Wrong Notes in All the Right Places, instead starting with a scratch take, then building from there, using overdubs, different instrumentation (like keyboards) and separating their instruments in the studio.

“Last time we took this live take approach. We mic’d ourselves, but we didn’t isolate ourselves. We recorded a more live sounding recording. This album we wanted to be able to isolate each track. With the last album, we wanted to be able to replicate what we did, live,” Taylor stated. “That wasn’t really in the plans this time. We wanted to go all out with it.” He added, “This time we were more careful with the sound.”

While the album was recorded by all of the members in Moongrass, Eli was the primary sound engineer – he grew up around studio equipment and has a vast knowledge of what goes into sound. “We always take advantage of that,” said Taylor with a sly laugh.

The recording of the album wasn’t consistent through the months prior to its completion. The band might record in a burst, other instances they took time in between takes, coming back to the recording. The five of the members all have full-time jobs and lives, so recording in a short concise burst wasn’t realistic, nor desired.

“I’ve done recording day and night, recording a record in a week or two and that’s really cool but I also really like having fresh ears every time you come back into the studio.”

Shadow in the Country will officially be on the shelves as they host their CD release at the Green Frog on June 26. From there, the band will kick it into high gear, playing regularly around town and the Pacific Northwest, then hitting the West Coast and southwest states for another, much longer tour in October.

“We’re heading down the coast in October, coming back around Nov. 22.”

As part of touring, Moongrass likes to keep their musical venue options open, going so far as busking if they feel like it will be more financially feasible. “It’s all fair game,” Taylor said with a laugh. “We have places that are specific busking days – we’ll know a spot in town where we’ll make more money instead of playing some dive to no one.”

With five songwriters in the band, everyone brought forward compositions for the record. According to Taylor, the writer will usually bring in the framework of the song as well as lyrics with a general idea of how other instruments should sound. But from there, it’s pretty fair game what the other band members will come up with.

“Every song I’ve written and put on the table for Moongrass has turned out better than the original idea,” Taylor said.

He is borderline giddy about how the new record sounds, but also quick to point out the awesome cover art done by local artist Don Reniss. “He’s an amazing artist,” Taylor said, “so the album art is really good.

That concept of different voices and one sound, is part of what defines these long-time friends – Moongrass operates and feels less like a structured band, instead the sound of friends getting together and creating music.

LIVE SHOW: Catch Moongrass at their CD release party for Shadow in the Country on June 26 at the Green Frog, with The Sky Colony and special guests. They will also perform on June 21 at Baconfest! (Depot Market Square), and July 11 at the ANT Farm. For more details, see moongrasstheband.com. 

PHOTO BY Krister Castro

Published in the June 2015 issue of What’s Up!