Moon Taxi consists of Trevor Terndrup (vocals, guitar), Tommy Putnam (bass), Spencer Thomson (guitar), Wes Bailey, (keyboard), and Tyler Ritter (drums). Before their show in Madison on September 25th, I was lucky enough to get a few minutes with Wes and Tyler for an interview. The interview was recorded and I was able to transcribe it to here.
Me: Thanks guys, for doing this. Wes Bailey and Tyler Ritter, keyboardist and drummer (respectively) of Moon Taxi. You guys formed at Belmont in ’06, is that right?
Me: First album was Live Ride?
WB: First album was Melodica. That was our first studio album, and then we waited a few years until 2009, with Live Ride, then we waited a long time, til 2012, then we released Cabaret, and we followed that up a year later with Mountains Beaches Cities.
Me: So, how would you describe how your sound has developed and changed with your first two albums, and then moving forward with your most recent 2 albums in the past year?
WB: Well, I think back then, we didn’t really focus at all on making a studio record. It was solely relying on the live setting. And then one thing lead to the next, a few bad tours lead us to the next logical option which was making a great record. We worked for about 2 years demoing and recording Cabaret, and learned a lot through that process, and we were able to record our last record fairly efficiently.
TR: The demoing process was really one of the main things that changed how we write songs. We went from writing in a room all together, like Wes was saying, for a live setting, to sitting in Spencer’s apartment on a computer and starting from scratch, making all these songs. Some got scratched and some ended up making it on the record, and just starting a good skeleton of a song and piecing it all together.
Me: When you formed at Belmont, were you doing it just to do it or were there always aspirations of becoming a nationally touring act?
TR: There were always aspirations for bigger things. You gotta realize, too, Moon Taxi existed before Wes and I were even in the band. There was a different drummer, but it’s always been Trevor, Tommy, and Spencer, and they had Moon Taxi, and the drummer left and I came on, and Wes came on about 6 months later. And, I think, I can speak for Wes too on this, we both realized going into it that it was something serious. That it wasn’t just, “Oh, let’s play some bar gigs and make a little bit of money.” We were in it for the long haul from the get-go.
Me: Correct me if I’m wrong, but, you all studied some form of music at Belmont?
WB: Actually, no. Tyler, Spencer, and Tommy studied music. I studied music business. I did private music lessons also but I was music business. And Trevor was a management / philosophy double major.
Me: So pretty much, with all that, you had a cohesive understanding of how to get a successful band going.
TR / WB: Yeah. Definitely.
Me: With your album, Cabaret, Matisyahu has a verse on the song Square Circles. How did that relationship start up and come together?
WB: At the time we had 2 managers. 1 worked with a company called Artist Organization and Matisyahu was a part of that management group. And his subordinate was our day manager, and is now Matisyahu’s full manager. So we had that connection. We actually recorded his verse in Square Circle’s at Hangout Music Festival. On the tour bus. He literally walked off stage on came right on the tour bus after his set and we knocked it out in about 30 minutes.
Me: Very cool! So also with that you guys have toured with him. I’m curious how you approach a show coming in where you’re an opening act for someone like Matisyahu, or tonight, Michael Franti, versus when you’re out with a headliner spot at a festival like Hangout, or you had a big crowd at Forecastle, or even you’re own headlining show like Live on the Green. Does it vary?
WB: We take it all very seriously, we do our best, we bring as much energy as we can into each show, not depending on how long the set is or how big the crowd is. You know, you’re hanging out with us 15 minutes before the show, we’re not like in a huddle or anything (laughs). We’ve done it so many times we know what to expect and we’re pretty comfortable with it right now.
Me: Okay. So do you try to think of different set lists?
TR: These kind of shows, we have only 30 minutes, so we cater our time slot to what we think the crowd might be like. Honestly, with Michael Franti it’s different than what we might do with Matisyahu. We’re not playing as much darker, minor material as we might do with Matis. We’re still playing songs we feel are powerful and you know, we’re gonna draw people to our records.
Me: The song, Beaches, on your new album, has a more electronic intro. That sound wasn’t featured much on Cabaret or Live Ride. Is that more of an evolution, going with the trends of today?
WB: That one was cool because we had started that, as like Tyler was saying, as a demo, those drums that are on the album are the demo drums. And we jammed on it live and realized we like the demo drums, and we also loved Tyler really pouring the form and space into the latter half of the song. So it’s both, very electronic intro to Tyler just doing his thing.
Me: One more question. I got a chance to listen to your New Years Eve show, and you have a very cool, unique, of now what seems a tradition you guys do: a medley of the top hits of the year, about 7 or 8 minutes or so. What inspired that idea? Was it an original concept?
TR: That was your idea (to Wes).
WB: Well, yeah. I think it was 2008. We’ve been doing it a long time. 5th one coming up. We should probably start on (laughter). Cause they take a while to put it together. There’s a lot of work that goes into that. The origin, in 2008, in that year, Kids by MGMT was the big song, and it was a Gaga song…
TR: Poker face.
WB: Poker face! And I realized those two had the same chords, so I thought let’s try to mesh these together. And then, oh we wanna play this song too, so it’s like let’s just play a little bit of everything. So, Spencer and I started to demo it like we demo our records. Write down the ideas, foundations, got together and piece it together as a band pretty quickly.
Me: It’s very cool. I heard that and thought this is something special.
WB: Yeah, it’s cool, lot of work, but it’s something we look forward to for the new years show.
TR: Wes and Spencer demo the whole medley in this track, and they do a really great job picking out all the big hits from across the board. From a really Top 40 vantage. But sometimes we even throw in some really obscure songs. Like I think the first one had a Mastodon song in it.
WB: We pick songs that we like, and a few that we absolutely hate. One thing we always try to do is cap it off with a big kind of joke hit of the year, kind of like the “Hide your kids hide your wife” (laughs).
TR: Call me, maybe.
WB: Gangnam style too. Always the really goofy songs. But we always try to end it on the really weird note. And it’s always the last song of the first set, and then we come back for the ball drop. So yeah it’s a fun tradition.
Square Circles feat. Matisyahu: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCJNZQpRLjE
2012 Medley: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=231suYG0jNs