Versatility by definition is an adjective used to describe something or someone as a variable or changeable, as in feeling, purpose or policy. I could not think of a better term to describe the three piece band out of Brooklyn known as Moon Hooch. Each member is from a completely different background. Wenzl McGowen (Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone and Contrabass) was born in the Canary Islands. Mike Wilbur (Tenor Saxophone, Vocals and Synth) was born and raised in Brockton, MA. James Muschler (drums) was born and raised in Cleveland. They came together while studying at New York’s prestigious New School. This is where Moon Hooch found its feeling, purpose and the policy with what they call Cave Music in the city’s subways. Fresh off a European tour, James Muschler took some time to culture Mother Plug Music on Cave Music and just how versatile Moon Hooch is!
Hey James, how are you doing?
JAMES: I’m doing great, how are you?
I’m good! Thank you for asking. So you guys just got back from touring in Europe?
James: Yea we did. It was awesome! The crowds were really receptive and crazy! And actually the first time we toured over there was about three years ago and we’ve been to the EU about four times since then. But, we had never been to Italy, Norway, or Scotland and we got to go this time around.
You guys covered a lot of ground this last time, what was your favorite part of the whole experience?
James: My favorite place was probably the south of Italy. It was towards the end of the tour. It was just really beautiful and the promoter had hooked us up with this house on this vineyard and there were olive trees everywhere. It was just really beautiful and the places we were playing were not a long drive from this house we were staying at. So it was cool! When we were at the house we were practicing and walking around the vineyard, playing saxophone out in the sun and playing music, all kinds of stuff.
James: Yea and the people that were helping us out in Italy would pick us up or show up with a bunch of food and be like, “Hey! let’s cook!” (LAUGHING) The food was really amazing. They treated us extremely well over there. We went to this restaurant and they told the chef that we were vegan and so he cooked this traditional long Italian meal with pasta and a series of entrees and dessert and it was ridiculous! It was all super creative. He made this fresh pasta with this sauce that was all based on Broccoli Rabe. And you wouldn’t think that would taste insanely good but it was insane!
That sounds like something you would see in a movie. So going from kind of being established and travelling the world as a full band to going to back to where you guys got your start on the subway platforms in New York. What’s it all like for you?
James: Yea, (laughing) playing the subway is a bunch of really good memories. Playing down there just brings a bunch of really good energy, it’s amazing! It’s all these different New Yorkers, from all different kinds of backgrounds, young and old. They all take the subway and hear music and it just sort of brings everyone together. Brings everyone on the same frequency you know!
Did you have a favorite platform that Moon Hooch played on?
James: Yea, the Union Square L Train platform, definitely! That was the best one.
That is a busy little interchange! Speaking of busy I read in your bio where you traveled to India to further develop some of your skill sets…
James: So, yes, I have a guru that I studied with in New York and I ended up travelling to Calcutta to study with him further. I did this on the last part of my trip. The first half of the trip I went to Varanasi and I studied with two people while I was there. One guy I studied with in the morning and another guy in the afternoon. And that is where I learned to play the Tabla.
What exactly is a Tabla?
James: So it is a two-piece Indian drum. The left hand drum is made of metal and the right hand drum is made of wood and the membranes are made of goat skin. Basically, there is a black circle that is made of a combination of plant resin and iron dust and all kinds of stuff and it manipulates the frequencies when you produce your hand on different places of the drum, both your right hand and left. It’s a 400 year old tradition and it’s a really deep and rich kind of source of inspiration.
That is a really unique experience, what was your favorite part of your travels in India?
James: Varanasi is incredible. It’s the oldest city in India so it’s got this very old and mysterious kind of gloomy and deep vibe. It’s very spiritual and what I mean by that is, when you are walking down the Ganges River at night time and the mist is rolling in off the river, there are all these old Indian buildings you get this feeling, it’s just kind of crazy!
Wow, that seems like an experience you will never forget. Just by you describing it to me, I want to go! So moving back to present day, I read where the guys (Wenzl McGowen and Mike Wilbur) have sometimes used traffic cones and attach them to the bells of their horns to manipulate the tones. Is there anything unique you have done with your instruments?
James: Yea, I like to stack my symbols mostly on the membranes of drums. So you can put one symbol on and hit the bell which vibrates through the drum and also deadens the sound of the symbol so you get a completely different sound instead of just hitting the symbol. And so you can experiment with stacking the symbols and having the heavier symbol on the bottom, resting on the membrane and then a lighter symbol stacked on that. So basically, I like to move symbols around the drums and other metal objects and it produces different sonic textures.
So I guess, would it be safe to say the drums are your favorite to play?
James: Actually, I can’t say I have a favorite. I like all the instruments I know how to play. It really just depends on the time of day. I feel most comfortable with the drums, tabla, saxophone and guitar.
Nice! And then I know you guys consider your music “Cave Music” and then going a step further, you even have a blog titled, Cooking in the Cave. So I just wanted to know where does that phrase come from, how did you decide to dub that as your music and sort of operate out of what you guys label as your “cave?”
James: Laughing, Okay so I guess the back story on Cave Music is a friend called me and left a voice mail and the voice mail went exactly like this: “Hey James, I just decided on this new style of music, it’s called Cave Music. It’s more wild, more free, more jagged, more natural to live it.” And then that was the end of the voice mail. Moon Hooch had been around for like a month at that point and I don’t think we even had a name at that point. So, yea it’s just been cave music ever since.
So where is your cave, is it your music or do you guys actually have a spot that you refer to as your cave?
James: Well, we all live in homes now and essentially we play house music. But, our approach is a little more primal and accoustified. So we play house music, but we have a primal approach so it’s our music.
Very cool! I get it now. So what’s your favorite song to play off of your new album, Red Sky?
James: My favorite to play is “Psychotubes.” It’s just like the most all out intense expression of the album. Which is always fun! It’s an experience!
That is a great one! There is a lot going on for sure in [Psychotubes]. Now, on the first episode of the Moon Hooch video blog, between the notes, Wilbur said Radiohead was kind on the forefront of his inspiration right now. Do you have anyone that is inspiring you?
James: Yes, I’ve been listening a lot to Death Grips. You should check them out!
I will keep them on our list! I’m excited to see you guys perform live at Imagine Festival coming up! Do you have any particular bands that you are excited to see!
James: You know I have not had a chance to check the lineup out, but we are looking forward to performing down there and being a part of all of it!
Yes, it’s going to be an adventure for sure! Well thank you so much for your time and safe travels over the next few weeks!
James: You too Sara Jane! And thank you!