I was super pumped when I learned that I was going to get to interview Moon Taxi at South by Southwest this year. Having been a fan for years, I’ve seen them live quite a few times (it doesn’t hurt that I’m from Nashville, Moon Taxi’s city of origin). I loved them first as a local band, and later, once they blew the hell up, as a big, badass, international touring band. Check out our interview below to read about their newest album, Mountains, Beaches, Cities, as well as what is next for them (tour, tour, tour!!).
Vinyl Mag: You have a really busy year coming up. I know you’re playing Red Rocks with Umphrey’s, and you just played Conan. Tell me more about what projects and events are you excited about.
Spencer Thomson [guitar]: In April, we’re doing a pretty big tour with a band called The Revivalists. A lot of that is on the East Coast; we’re excited about that. We’re doing a couple nights in Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., Charlottesville – we’re stoked for that. After that, it’s pretty much straight to festival season, which we’re excited about. We’re doing Hangout, Wakarusa, Mountain Jam, and Counterpoint…I think some others.
VM: You’re playing a ton of gigs! Are you guys working on any new material?
Spencer: Yeah, we’re trying to balance it. We’re doing a month of touring and then spending time at home writing. We just started writing pre-production for the next record. Very early stages right now, but that’s the goal – to spend the rest of the year half touring, half working on the next record. Hopefully, we can put it out early in 2015. That’s the plan now, but we’ll see. Things always change.
VM: Can you tell me a little bit about the name “Moon Taxi?” I’ve always wondered where that came from.
Spencer: Honestly, the story changes every time someone asks. We booked a gig before we even had a name. Some friends of ours had a band, and they asked us to open, but we barely knew any songs; this was like a really early incarnation of the band, but they had to put something on the flyer to include us. Somehow, “Moon Taxi” came up. Then, it just stuck forever.
VM: Can you tell me a little bit about the evolution of the band? I know you started out in Nashville and played a ton of gigs and got this great following, especially with frat parties.
Spencer: We started playing together in college. Once we were all done is when we really started hitting the road a lot. We spent a lot of time touring. We were touring on a live album, and the sound back then was a little different. It was a little more “jam-band-y” than it is now.
VM: I remember those days.
Spencer: The good ‘ole days. We spent a lot of years touring when we weren’t really satisfied with anything we had done in the studio. We kind of had a revelation that we really wanted to hone in and focus and start making great studio music and put as much time and effort into that as we were into playing live. That was around 2011. We changed the way we wrote and thought about records a lot. Then we made the record that came out in 2012, Cabaret. Finally having a studio record that sounded good – that we were proud of – really opened a lot more doors for us. We got more attention than just playing live. Obviously, we still play tons of shows, and that’s how we’ve gotten our name, and we’ve made a lot of progress that way. I think we’ll always be a band people want to see live, but now we’re trying to balance that with also having really good studio records. I think that combination has really helped us get to the next level.
VM: What is your favorite memory from recording your latest album, Mountains, Beaches, Cities? Where did you record? I love the album art, by the way.
Spencer: Oh thanks. This guy from Australia did it. He just sent us an email and was like, “If you guys need artwork, let me know.” We looked at his stuff and were like, “Alright.” Everything he’d send would be spot on from the first time. His name is Samuel Johnson. We do a lot of the groundwork [for the record] at my house. We spend a couple days in a big, proper studio. This one we did in a studio in Nashville called Sony Tree. Then we mixed it with the same guy who mixed our last two records, a guy named Anse Powell. The majority of the time spent making the record, as far as recording goes, actually just happens in my house, which was a big change we made. Previously, we’d sit together, write songs in a practice room and jam it out. That really wasn’t getting us the result we wanted, so we stepped back, and now it’s more of a nuanced approach.
Trevor Terndrup [guitar]: We do a lot on the pre-production side. We get these songs pretty much done, and then we just got to go into the studio and fill in the blank pieces, which is bass and drums. One of my favorite moments was in the song “Beaches” – at the end, it has this altro sequence that really peaks at a nice point and has a more live feel. It goes from a very studio-oriented song to a live version, but the transition is kind of seamless. That was one fun part for me, getting in the studio and trying to peak out live.
Spencer: That song, also, we recorded this nice ambient noise at the beach from the balcony.
Trevor: I didn’t actually get credit for my best boy grip – best man grip, actually. I was holding the mic out there. To capture the sound, you really need the proper mic technique.
Spencer: And placement.
Trevor: Placement is key.
VM: Could you each tell me about your role and what each of you brings to Moon Taxi?
Tommy Putnam [bass]: In the early days of the band, I booked all the shows and took a booking agent, managerial role. I still do a lot of that; I work closely with our booking agent to make sure the shows that we’re doing are fitting and we get paid enough money. I do a little bit of writing, too and just keep the bass down.
Tyler Ritter [drums]: Other than being Tommy’s bodyguard, my job is mostly just to complement what these guys write as close to their original vision of the song as I can and still put my voice on it, because I’m not one of the people who’s bringing an original song from the beginning to the table. I’m usually there at the end trying to put my flavor on it, but I’ve still got to keep it within the original mindset of the writer. I like doing that; it’s fun. It’s cool to adapt to other people’s tendencies.
Wes Bailey [keyboard]: I play the keys. That’s all I got.
Spencer: I’m an alcoholic. I’ve got some vices I’m dealing with, and I’m shaking. I arrange all of our travel, and I launder all of our money.
VM: So how is your “South By” going so far?
Tyler: There’ s a lot of walking and trying to get into things that you’re not allowed into. I do find it upsetting that people with badges that work for the bands can get into whatever they want very easily, and the bands that actually provide them with a source of income and a job aren’t allowed into places. You really could get into anything, you just have to bullsh*t your way into stuff.
VM: I’ve learned that a clipboard and a walkie-talkie are a great way to get into something. Just act like you’re really stressed out. So how many shows are you playing for “South By” this year?
Trevor: 7 or 8. Just shy of 10.
VM: Which ones are you most excited about?
Trevor: That’s a tough question. I mean, what’s your favorite child?
VM: Touché. So, are you more of a barbecue or taco person?
Trevor: I actually like rainbow trout.
VM: Where did you find rainbow trout?
VM: Oh! Lambert’s is great. Good, solid place.
Trevor: Yeah, with this lime quinoa salad with big hunks of avocado.
Spencer: We’re trying to keep our barbecue and tacos to a decent amount.
Trevor: Yeah, we’ve got to keep this figure going on.
VM: Tell me something really crazy about Moon Taxi.
Trevor: Well the name of the band came from…
VM: Let’s see if it’s different.
Trevor: It was a late, late night in Nashville, and I was trying to hail a cab, and I was having zero luck. It was one of those nights where nothing was going my way.
Tyler: So, Spencer got really mad on Trevor’s behalf and pulled out a gun and started shooting everybody.
Trevor: That later became the Moon Taxi trials, and there is still an ongoing investigation.
*Be sure to catch Moon Taxi on their current tour!!
Apr 16 World Cafe Live Philadelphia w/ The Revivalists Philadelphia, PA
Apr 17 Brooklyn Bowl w/ The Revivalists Brooklyn, NY
Apr 18 Brooklyn Bowl Brooklyn, NY
Apr 19 930 Club w/ The Revivalists Washington, DC
Apr 25 Counterpoint Music Festival Kingston Downs, GA
Apr 26 Civic Theatre w/ moe. New Orleans, LA
May 17 Hangout Music Festival Gulf Shores, AL
May 30 BottleRock Napa Valley Napa, CA
Jun 05 Wakarusa Music Festival Ozark, AR
Jun 06 Mountain Jam Festival Hunter, NY
Jun 29 Electric Forest Rothbury, MI
Jul 03 Sumtur Ampitheater w/ Umphrey’s McGee Papillion, NE
Jul 05 Red Rocks Amphitheatre w/ Umphrey’s McGee Morrison, CO
Jul 11 Carolina West RibFest Asheville, NC
Jul 26 Equus Run Vineyards Amphitheatre Lexington, KY
Aug 22 Raleigh RibFest Raleigh, NC
Aug 23 High Point Hopfest High Point, NC