Grateful Web Interview with Moon Honey
Moon Honey, the New Orleans born quartet, is celebrating the release of their first full album, Hand-Painted Dream Photographs, with the completion of their US west coast tour. Moon Honey’s love of the symphony and poetry is evident in the beautiful lyrics throughout this record and in the orchestrated tracks. Violinists, harpists, horns and choirs have sat in with the band. Make no mistake – there is rock element in this record especially with members rooted in progressive rock and the guitarist’s influence by Jimi Hendrix. Though ostensibly progressive and complex, the record’s sound, in addition, is fantastically comforting and nostalgic. Watch the video “The Ship” and listen to “The Two Fridas” – both from their album listed in Moon Honey’s website: http://moonhoneyband.com/videos. In the interview below, Grateful Web (GW) sits down with guitarist and vocals, Andrew Martin and Jessica Ramsey, at one their west coast tour stops in Denver – with predicted, heavy snowstorm looming in the area.
GW: So, how was the drive to Denver, Colorado?
Andrew: It was so much better than the last time we were in Denver.
GW: Why is that?
Andrew: We went on a west coast tour [in Denver previously] and we’re from Louisiana. So, we don’t know what snow is -- what snowy roads are. The last time it took us 17 hours to get to Denver and our show ending up being cancelled. So, the fact that we’re actually here and we’re playing tonight…
GW: I’m glad you guys made it. There’s bad weather coming in.
Andrew: Yeah, we’re driving out over-night.
GW: Get out of here as fast as you can.
Andrew: Yes, that’s what I heard – two feet of snow.
Jessica: Yeah, we can’t drive in that.
Andrew: We were spinning around in the van on ice – ran into people, cars, and the median. We were just snow amateurs.
GW: Yeah, you need an all-wheel drive or a front wheel drive here.
Andrew: Yes, we don’t know about that.
GW: Well, let me start from the beginning. How did you guys start out?
Andrew: Jermaine, the drummer, and I had been playing together from an early age. We both became obsessed with progressive rock: Yes, King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra. Then, there is the psychedelic side. I’ve always been obsessed with Jimi Hendrix. We just made this maximal music. We were trying to blow our mind along with everybody else’s and see how much we can put in one space.
GW: Right, like in decibels?
Andrew: Yes, that too. We were very naked. We were using music to cover ourselves up because we didn’t have a singer. We didn’t have anything at this point – it was just me and Jermaine.
GW: The drummer and…
Andrew: And me, a guitar player.
GW: Did anybody sing?
Andrew: When we wrote our first album, no one sang.
Jessica: When I met them, they had a four track EP that they had already recorded that I ended up singing over.
GW: We wrote the most complex progressive rock album. I can’t even listen to it. It’s so complicated. Jessica, who never sang a word in her life, decides that she can sing over this thing. We’ve been trying out singers all around town.
Jessica: No, I just was coming over to paint your guitar cabinet.
GW: Yeah, I heard about that [from Moon Honey’s biography where Jessica ended trying out for the band].
Andrew: Yes, she was coming over to paint my guitar amplifier. I asked if she could sing and she was nervous. She brings out this book of poetry and she just starts convulsing over the music. I was like this is so absurd.
GW: So, Jessica had no singing background at all.
GW: That’s amazing. So, is your background poetry, literature, the arts…?
Jessica: I was in school for fine arts. Yeah, that’s the way I approached it.
Andrew: That’s why it was her lack of experience and the lack of knowledge that the way music should work that allowed her to break every single boundary in the music, which was what we were trying to do. None of us knew what music theory is – anything like that. So, it was a very freeing experience to hear this girl in her most…
Jessica: raw (laughing)
Andrew: Raw form. It’s the most human…
GW: Right. When you say “break the boundary”, do you mean not popular stuff?
Andrew: There were no rules. There were just no – I don’t know if you ever hear our album [Moon Honey’s latest album, Hand-Painted Dream Photographs].
GW: Yes, I listen to most of it. I was very impressed. There were no patterns.
Andrew: No, there’s nothing.
GW: I love the pauses and the different tempos within the song – fantastic.
Jessica. It’s nice.
Andrew: Like I said, it was already written and recorded before she came to it. It was already done and she turned it into another thing.
GW: It was a four track EP [Moon Honey’s first EP, Lemon Heart Opera] and you recorded the vocals over it.
Andrew: Yes. And then, she just became like this weird storyteller – a Disney narrator that kind of blew all of our minds I guess.
GW: I hear you guys have a love for the orchestra?
Andrew: We became really great friends with a guy name Dave Hinson, who kind of turned into our mentor. He plays in the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. He started bringing his symphony crowd around us. We started exploring Debussy, Shastakovich and all these thing. As a rock-n-roll child, you don’t know exists. And, that music is way more complex than any…of The Who albums you can buy.
Jessica: We were getting --I wouldn’t say criticism-- people saying your songs are too long, your songs are too complex, your songs are too this and that. Then, you go to the orchestra and you can see these movements where people sit still for twenty minutes.
Andrew: It’s the most patient music ever. And, they’re taking you into worlds and it’s never ending. These people are doing this hundreds of years ago. Why can’t we do that in 2014? So, we just got inspire to go in that direction of orchestrating everything and adding instruments. I started to get away from the progressive rock thing. And, move to more layering and more accessible ways of convincing people that they should like our songs.
GW: How is that different from progressive rock?
Andrew: I guess it’s not.
Jessica: Yeah, I guess anything can be progressive.
GW: So, did you bring some of that sound -- the orchestra – into the new album?
Andrew: Definitely, we had cello players, violin, viola, the whole nine yards.
Andrew: Flute, saxophone – yes. When we play in Baton Rouge, we have all those things with us. Obviously, we can’t bring those musicians on the road.
GW: I listened to “The Ship” [from their LP Hand-Painted Dream Photographs] on YouTube.
Andrew: Oh yeah.
GW: Man! I think you guys had a violin player on there. You had a three piece – I guess choir.
Andrew: The last show we did a full horn section and strings. We had a harp player.
Jessica: That was fun.
Andrew: I think we’re moving kind of more…slowly back. If you’re a Rock & Roll band, you turn back to the classics.
Jessica: Oh yeah, song crafting, ballads.
Andrew: Song crafting. And it wasn’t until last year, I realized how good bands like the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell were at writing songs. It kind of made me want to get away from the constant changing of…seven minutes of just hectic chaos. And, it kind of gives me something --- it gives people something -- to attach to, to attach themselves to.
GW: So, is it maybe more for the fans to latch onto or is it more for you guys?
Andrew: I think it’s more for myself to latch onto. It gets exhausting after a while. You can’t go to sleep to that music.
Jessica: It’s also just what’s coming out of me right now.
Andrew: [Looking at Jessica] I guess talk about your words. Once we found out Jessica could sing…
GW: That’s one of the things I wanted to bring up. You can pull out any track on the album - the lyrics have a lot of depth. Is that your lyrics?
GW: I’ll read an excerpt from a track [excerpt from “The Ship” track]:
i’m done with death
i paid my debts
i did my best
decorating a wreck
but this is not my fantasy
weaving tinsel through debris
sugar can’t grow
from seeds sown salty
in the sea
brought by wind and beast
i refuse to sink
GW: You’re album is filled with this. Thanks for publishing the lyrics on your website (http://moonhoneyband.com/lyrics). What inspires you?
Jessica: What inspires me? Well, those are all stories. Really, they’re personal. That song was actually about a car ride that we had together and there was some argument about music. We hit a rabbit.
Andrew: Which we’re both vegans.
GW: Oh, no.
Andrew: So, there’s a certain death that takes you over when you’re the one that…
Jessica: Well, yeah. But suddenly, everything is quiet. It seems so silly that you weren’t paying attention and you were fighting. And, I can relate that with so many things that has happen to me. So, that’s where that song comes from. I feel like that’s what most of them are like. I love poetry. E. Cummings is my favorite. I’m really inspired by people like Joanna Newsom and Joni Mitchell. I think they’re amazing lyricists.
Andrew: What’s funny is that she didn’t know who those people were when she started with this band.
Jessica: A few people kept saying you sound like Joanna Newsom. I looked her up and was like whoa! I love it.
Andrew: I guess the more, the better. The more she developed at lyricism, I was like whoa! I need to back off. We don’t need to play our instruments this loud, this neurotically. There’s a force to be reckon with in front of our band. And, we don’t need to be playing swords with each other.
GW: There’s a balance with the vocals.
Andrew: You learn to balance. We learn to balance. I learn how to sit back some.
Jessica: It’s really fun for me because he always writes the music and gives them to me. It’s my job to express what’s going on already. I already have a landscape so I get the mood – and decide what I want to write about.
GW: So, this is the process – the music first, then the lyrics?
Jessica: Sometimes, I write melodies and give them to Andrew.
Andrew: She wrote the melody for the song “Fox At The Aegean” on the album [from the LP Hand-Painted Dream Photographs].
Jessica: But, he’s the virtuoso [laughing].
GW: Does Jermaine and Jeff get into that.
Jessica: Not really. Andrew brings the music. They’ll write the rhythm section.
Andrew: We sort out I guess the tonality and theme of the song before it reaches the band room.
GW: Regarding the description of your sound, I got this quote from Moon Honey’s Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/moonhoneyband):
"You guys sound like Jimi Hendrix with a…"
Jessica: “Disney character for a vocalist." [We’re all chuckling].
GW: Is that a compliment?
Jessica: Yes, totally! That’s our favorite.
Andrew: Well, our favorite review is NPR (National Public Radio). Bob Boilen says [Andrew and Jessica both cites in sync] “cotton candy dipped in peyote”.
GW: I saw that review.
Jessica: A lot of people tells me I sound like Snow White.
Andrew: This guy runs up to me after the show and he just can’t wait to tell me. We’re in San Diego in the store. And he says, “you guys were…that was so amazing…it was like Jimi Hendrix with a Disney character singing”.
GW: It’s cool describing your music -- I read New York Times and NPR’s [description of Moon Honey].
Jessica: Thank you for doing all this research.
GW: Yeah! I had a difficult time with some of the adjectives [in these reviews of Moon Honey].
Jessica and Andrew: “John Pareles” [from New York Times review of Moon Honey]
Jessica: Yeah, it’s intense.
Andrew: That’s rough.
GW: I’m going to tell Mike [GW Publisher/Editor] that I can’t do this – match adjectives for adjectives with these guys.
In your performance, you have film reels, light shows, etc?
Jessica: It’s a maximal album. So when we throw our hometown shows, we just think about everything.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean everything. Our last show, we did a Leonard Cohen cover with a harp player. Unfortunately, we can’t bring that on the road. We have a light show but it’s really difficult playing smaller clubs – to even fit the six of us on stage.
Jessica: We had dancers. We’ve played at the planetarium once. That was awesome.
Andrew: We played with the whole laser light show happening above us at the planetarium.
Jessica: I have a bunch of old projectors and splice up old films I find online. That’s one of our videos.
GW: Which video is that?
Andrew: It’s called “Lady Lazarus” [from their LP Hand-Painted Dream Photographs].
GW: It’s on YouTube?
Andrew: Yes. [http://moonhoneyband.com/videos]
Jessica: It’s kind of a dance party that turns into a narcotic scene.
Andrew: She found all these crazy tapes, spliced all this stuff together…you have to see it.
GW: Ok. What’s a “choreographed dome projection”?
Andrew: That was the planetarium. That was a big, special show. We served this big science theater out in Baton Rouge. That was a big deal for us about a year and a half ago.
GW: Did someone have to run that separately?
Andrew: Yes. We covered Beatles across the universe with stars – kind of cheesy, but sweet.
GW: How was that concert?
Andrew: It was unbelievable.
Jessica: It was really cool – really cool.
GW: Funding and Kickstarter – that video was funny. (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/223756321/moon-honey-formerly-twin-killers-new-album)
Jessica: Oh, you saw that video [laughing].
GW: What was that experience like?
Jessica: It was definitely a confirmation that people are behind us.
Jessica: It’s kind of like blindly -- trying to be open – asking people for their help. That was a beautiful part of…
Andrew: It was a fun experience for us. I think a lot of people have this idea that Kickstarter is – and it is for some people – a thing that you just hand over money to a band. And, they go blow it on something silly.
GW: You guys had almost a business plan on there.
Andrew: We’re not on a label. We’re paying for a publicists ourselves – which is Marisa who I’m sure you contacted. We got the best guy in the United States to master our album. His name is Steve Fallone. He did The Strokes, TV On The Radio, the new Tame Impala, etc.
Jessica: We started the album pre-sale so we’re just paying for the album. I still have a couple of paintings left to finish.
GW: I was just going to ask [about the rewards for funding Kickstarter].
Jessica: Actually, the painting, of course, they’re my own close friends that got them – the ones that are going to get them last. So, everybody else is taken care of.
Andrew: When we were on our last tour if you paid $100, we come to your town and cook for you. So, we had to cook for someone in Dallas.
GW: Nice! Who did the cooking?
Jessica: I do.
Andrew: She’s an extraordinary chef.
Jessica: I cooked a couple of meals for some bands. That was fun.
Andrew: That was fun.
GW: I noticed the total cost [to make and promote an album]. I can’t believe the cost! Why didn’t you ask for the full amount?
Jessica: I think I was just so focus on wanting to get the album to people. I don’t know.
Andrew: If we ask for the whole entire – “hey, can you pay off our career?” – it’s kind of like...you know.
Jessica: I just wanted people to feel like they were getting what they paid for.
Jessica: Instead of asking, “can you buy my band”? I did put all the costs down because I wanted people to know that if we did reach our goal we’re still going to push it.
GW: At one concert I attended, the band was requesting donation for gas & food for their next gig. Is that something you can relate to?
Andrew: Absolutely. I mean no -- I would never say that on stage. I would not refuse if someone were willing to help.
Jessica: We really don’t make money.
Andrew: We pay for people to hear our music.
Jessica: Yeah. And, getting our gas covered is the number one expense for us. We can always like crash on someone’s floor.
Andrew: Especially, touring the west coast. This is our second time. A lot of bands don’t tour the west coast because it’s the hardest to do.
GW: Because of the distance between?
Andrew: Yeah, we’re driving nine hours a day in a 15 passenger [van] getting nine gallons a mile.
Jessica: And, our last tour we came out with $1000 but it all went into van maintenance.
Andrew: There’s no money in it. It’s just passion.
GW: Yeah, I saw the distance between the towns – Kansas, Nebraska, etc.
Jessica: Sometimes, we have nights – last night – where I cooked for everybody just because they let me do it in their house. And, I also had packed 15 frozen, crock- pot meals that we were cooking.
Andrew: Yeah, we pre-frozen a bunch of food before we came out. I just have to pre-fill the ice everyday, put it in the crock-pot…plug it into the van…
GW: You guys are both vegans?
Jessica: Yes, we are – nobody else [in the band].
GW: So, it would be hard to find a place [in a vegan restaurant where this interview took place] like this?
Andrew: Yeah, it’s very difficulty everywhere else besides Nebraska.
Jessica: And Texas.
Andrew: That’s another reason I love the west coast. It’s just like the…
Jessica: The health.
Andrew: Yes. Louisiana is the opposite – it’s how fast can I get fat and drunk.
Jessica: We’re the high maintenance members of the band. Not only are we vegans, we are so particular. We are here and everybody went to get fast food.
GW: This must be nice then.
GW: How was South by Southwest (SXSW)?
Jessica: It was great. SXSX is crazy. It’s so nuts!
Jessica: All these bands.
GW: How does SXSW work? Are you invited?
Andrew: Yes, we got invited. We were an official showcase act this year. The shows were packed. Our official showcase was in a tiny room and people were really into it regardless of technical issues [microphone sound/vocals]. But, there were lot of flaws [technical issues] and people got to see us in our most naked form. We were just barely playing.
GW: Did you get half an hour?
Jessica: Yes, we got a half hour set. We got to see some really amazing bands that we love. And so, it was a great experience.
Andrew: We saw St. Vincent.
Jessica: We got to meet Ann Powers [from NPR].
GW: You got exposure.
Andrew: The week before we were on All Songs Considered. It was good to meet those NPR people. [Regarding SXSW] It was really a learning experience. It was our first time.
Jessica: We’ve played unofficial shows.
Andrew: It couldn’t have gone worst and it couldn’t have gone better.
GW: I hear you guys were well received.
Andrew: Yeah. We played an unofficial show the night before. We played a song and a half because the breaker kept tripping. I ended up just smashing the guitar…and going insane. And, people liked that.
GW: It was part of the act.
Andrew/Jessica: Yeah [laughing].
Andrew: People were like, oh if you’re not going to play, yeah just smash your instrument -- We’ll like that.
GW: You got an album out (LP), Hand-Painted Dream Photographs. It took three years?
Andrew: Probably, three years to write and record.
GW: You state it was a struggle on your website.
Jessica: Oh gosh, yeah.
Andrew: A lot of bands come up with a verse and a chorus – cool, repeat it, done. That’s a song. For us, it’s like how are we going to make this part sound different than this part, this note needs to be different than this part here...
Jessica: And, most bands that don’t have a budget…working like we are in deep…and we recorded it in our home.
Andrew: Then, we were also dealing with one of my idols who mixed it -- Greg Saunier from the band Deerhoof. We were communicating through email and he was mixing our album.
GW: Ok, you would upload it.
Andrew: Yeah, we send it to him. And so, we’re going back and forth. It was a crazy, frightening, wonderful experience. When we finally got pressed on a vinyl, I was like I can’t believe this is real!
Jessica: I feel like most bands are staged during their first LP. Think of it as demo almost, and kind of do a half-ass job. And, we just spent so long…aiming to make a masterpiece I guess.
Andrew: We were looking at this like it was going to be a timeless record. That’s what we were going for. We might not have the budget. We might not have a label. We have might not have this…
Jessica: But, we’re going to take as long as we need.
Andrew: We’re just going to go for it.
GW: Did it help that you worked in your own studio?
Andrew: You can become way too self-indulgent when you’re by yourself in your house – tracking guitar parts for hours and stacking things on top of one another.
Jessica: No one there to say, “alright!” [snaps her fingers].
Andrew: I need someone to tell me, “Look dude, you got one more shot”.
GW: Where as if you rent a studio, you got to get out of there.
Andrew: You got an hour to get a song done.
GW: What’s next for Moon Honey?
Jessica: We got some new songs. We’re still trying to get this album out – we hit the west coast twice in a row.
Andrew: We’re going to keep pumping this album as much as possible.
Jessica: We’re going to the east coast, hopefully Europe…this year.
Andrew: We were talking about going to Europe this year.
Jessica: Keep writing and pushing our new album.
Andrew: We’re also trying to put ourselves in a different climate for writing this next album. We’ve been spending time in New Orleans soaking up this voodoo culture, this kind of magic thing that New Orleans has. It’s like this spicy, soulful, spirit, gumbo vibe.
Jessica: That we can’t eat.
GW: Is that a good thing – the whole New Orleans vibe?
Jessica: It’s mystic…voodoo priestess…
Andrew: It’s a mystical place. It’s a different country. It’s like Spain, France, Haiti, Jamaica all mixed together. You learn a lot from being in the city just from walking the streets and hearing the clashing sounds…
Jessica: Jazz, blues.
Andrew: Of jazz, blues and music just hitting you from every direction. It’s a really colorful experience. I also fell in love with parts outside of Los Angeles on this tour. I think we’re going to maybe spend some time in California writing too.
GW: Use LA as another home base?
Andrew: Yeah, so we’re thinking about just going there for a little while and see what happens. We’re just getting started.
GW: Whatever you’re doing on this album, keep it up. It’s great!
Andrew: Thank you.
GW: That’s all I have. I appreciate your time.
Jessica: Thank you so much.