Not long ago a band called Moon Hooch appeared on my Spotify. I had never heard anything like it before and was transfixed. The genre-busting three piece comprises of the double threat of Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen on saxophones with James Muschler jamming out on drums. As luck would have it, they were playing a concert close to my house. I got the chance to sit down and talk with these mad geniuses about their work.
MT: How did you guys get your start as musicians?
Wenzl: We didn't really meet all at the same time. There were sort of weird interactions that slowly led to a moment where this group formed. We never had intentions to form this band. But rather, we were trying to make it based on our own beliefs and making money for food and rent and this and that. James and I met at the New School. Mike and I never really got along. We had really opposite worldviews and opposite approaches to music. And for some reason I judged him very harshly when I met him.
Mike: He was vibin' me out.
W: I was vibing him out. Because I thought he had too much uncontrolled energy and I just couldn't be around it. Like, musically.
MT: I see, you guys were like hot and cold.
W: Yeah, but then slowly hot and cold mixed and we became warm.
James: So the first time we played together was on the street. Wenzl and I were busking and Mike was there on his horn. And that was the first time the three of us had ever played together as a group. We were playing on the street to pay rent. We were playing without the intention of forming a band. People started asking us what we were called and one day Mike blurted out “Moon Juice” just spur of the moment. So we went by Moon Juice for a month, but there are a few other bands called Moon Juice so we change it to Moon Hooch.
MT: How did you transition from busking to playing venues? Basically, how did you get "discovered"?
W: Usually you think you need to get "discovered". But it's not really like that. For us, it was more like climbing stairs. One conversation leads to another thing which leads to an event where you meet people which leads to another thing. We would play in the subway a lot, which exposed our music to thousands of people. And then we got an email saying “hey, we're looking for a band for this TV show.” So we became the house band for Hamish and Andy's Gap Year. And that was just because some talent buyer saw us on the subway. And then we got an email from Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing and he invited us to come on a national tour with him. So we played 25 shows back to back all over the country, which was crazy for us to go from playing on the subway to a national tour.
MT: I've literally never heard anything like your music before. How do you guys develop songs?
M: It's different every time. Right now we're just all producing individual stuff on Ableton. Sometimes we'll improvise together.
Mike Reveals a Unique SongWriting Technique
W: I think our music has been changing a lot recently. We've always had the question of how to integrate electronics. That's really been something that's been occupying us since the beginning of the band. Initially, I tried to write a program that would pick up the kick drum and translate the information into MIDI information and now we're using Ableton with a click track and we've stuck with that. This has given us an opportunity to expand exponentially in all directions to the point where we could become a different band. So now the question is how do we integrate electronics and still remain Moon Hooch? The answer is that Moon Hooch is an entity that makes music.
MT: So the majority of your songs are instrumentals, but there are a few vocal tracks mixed in. Are you guys trending in a more vocal-heavy direction?
M: Totally. I've been rapping and singing for a while now.
MT: That was actually how I was going to follow up on that question. When I first heard your music the first thing I thought was “this would be amazing to freestyle over” and so I wanted to know if you've talked with any rappers about having them do verses over your tracks.
M: Yeah. Me. We also have a bunch of vocal songs, like six that I sing on. This set doesn't have that much rapping, but the next set we do will probably have three songs that I'll be rapping on.
MT: The lyrics of “Mountain Song” are pretty incisive and thought provoking. Would you say that you guys try to stand for something?
J: We definitely stand for something. We don't even try to, we just do.
W: I remember when we were playing a music festival three years ago and we were backstage and we were treated so nicely. James had just come back from India and had seen all of this poverty and people starving and was really emotionally shaken by it. We have so much wealth here and we just drown ourselves in it while other countries are starving.
M: We just over-consume. This festival was so gluttonous and there was so much waste. Way more than any of these artists needed was being thrown at them.
Moon Hooch goes deep on their veganism.
W: I think it's an addiction that society has. We're addicted to goals. Because we're a goal driven species. Right now we're confusing economic growth with personal growth. So we all want more money, more power, more wealth, more status. I have really successful friends and they're worried they're not successful enough, but they can afford whatever they need. They don't ever say “Wait a minute, I'm here right now enjoying this moment.” It's just the worry in itself. And all of this obsession with material wealth ties into our veganism, this addiction with material pleasure is tied to the insanity of eating meat three times a day, which is destroying our planet.
MT: What words of advice do you have for aspiring artists?
W: Be happy with life. And from that, what you're supposed to do in life will emerge.
M: Take every experience as it comes. Don't necessarily view each experience as a good experience or a bad experience, but rather an experience in itself. Try to be in the moment in that experience. Know that you'll learn something from it even if it feels like the worst thing in the world. You'll come out on the other side better. Always.
J: We were talking earlier, Mike and I, how one grows out of suffering. A lot of artists suffer in one way or another. Whether it be either dissatisfaction with the art their creating, or turmoil in their lives or their emotions getting in the way since, you know, artists can be emotional people. Even when you're hitting your low point, that's where you grow the most once you come out of it.