Moon Hooch captured the imaginations of thousands with its infamous stints busking on subway platforms and elsewhere in New York City: two sax players and a drummer whipping up furious, impromptu raves. This happened with such regularity at the Bedford Ave station in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that the band was banned from playing there by the NYPD. The trio’s subsequent tours with They Might Be Giants, Lotus, and Galactic as well as on their own have only broadened the band’s appeal. Wherever Moon Hooch plays, a dance party soon follows.
Hornblow Recordings and Palmetto Records are now proud to release Moon Hooch’s second album, This Is Cave Music, on Sept 16, 2014. The title refers to the term Moon Hooch coined to describe their unique sound: like house music, but more primitive and jagged and raw. Horn players Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen do this by utilizing unique tonguing methods, or adding objects — cardboard or PVC tubes, traffic cones, whatever’s handy — to the bells of their horns to alter their sound. Not to be outdone, drummer James Muschler gets swelling, shimmering sounds from his cymbals, and covers the head of his snare with a stack of splash cymbals to emulate the sound of a Roland TR-808 drum machine’s clap.
Wilbur was raised in Massachusetts, and Muschler in Ohio; McGowen grew up in several different European countries. The three met while students at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, and they found in each other a common work ethic and holistic philosophy. Moon Hooch are committed to environmental and agricultural sustainability, and they’re such fans of Michael Pollan’s groundbreaking The Omnivore’s Dilemma that they visited the farm that Pollan profiled in the book, Polyface Farms, in rural Virginia while on tour in 2013. Moon Hooch literally caused a stampede when they set up and played their song “Tubes” in the pasture as cattle swirled in the background. (The trio lived to tell the tale, and the “Cattle Dance Party” video has been viewed nearly 200,000 times and counting on YouTube.) Muschler also maintains a blog called Cooking in the Cave (cookinginthecave.net) where he chronicles the band’s vegan tour-van culinary endeavours — it’s amazing what these guys can do with a hot plate.
While their self-titled first album, which cracked the top 10 of Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart, approximated the band’s acoustic approach to dance music, This Is Cave Music takes their cave music hybrid further into electronic and pop music realms with synthesizers, post-production work, and even singing added to the mix. “We aren’t trying to do it for the sake of reaching a wider audience,” McGowen points out. “We are doing it because it’s where our passion has evolved to. This album is a culmination of that.”
The source material was, like the first album, mostly recorded at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn by Jacob Bergson, with McGowen on contrabass clarinet and baritone saxophone, Wilbur on tenor saxophone and vocals, and Muschler anchoring things on percussion. Everyone was involved in the digital additions. “We spent a lot of time on tour producing the set, running all the live sound through Ableton software, and manipulating the studio sound on our computer while in the car,” Wilbur explains. “We could just pass the computer around and work on it for hours.”
Listening to this music, it’s easy to become emotionally invested. It may not always prompt you to strip off your clothes, but the emotional impact on both the musicians and their fans is visceral and undeniable.