By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Adam Adams.
What Moon Things of New Paltz, NY are what you would call “seasoned veterans” of their respective music scene in the Mid-Hudson mountain town they dwell in. However, this is not to say that they are necessarily tied down to the place; rather, it just so happened to be where the three members met and felt their past projects were most easily understood.
With drummer/sometimes vocalist/sometimes guitarist John Morisi recently graduating from the SUNY school the town only slightly reluctantly revolves around, the trio can really go anywhere they please. They have a June tour right around the corner which will flow right into scattered summer dates in the Midwest, where they don’t have to worry about paying rent so they might just find a home somewhere on the road. BTR was able to speak with lead singer/guitarist Jake Harms and the aforementioned Morisi as they were in the middle of booking their June dates with nothing but time on their hands.
To give a little bit of “scene” context, all three members have played extensively in the New Paltz area for quite some time. Harms was the singer/guitarist of indie/punk outfit the Nelsonvillians, Morisi was also the lead singer/guitarist of folk-punk band Year On a Mountain, and Chris Kehoe was the bassist of the long-running punk-affiliated indie band Aficionado.
All three of these bands were well-known by those who weren’t privy to the frat scene and got their kicks in dank basements. It seems that now New Paltz has become a nice town in which they got their start, rather than become their entire lives. They have kicked around “Brooklyn” or “Seattle” to start anew, though their label Hot Grits Records is based in Athens, GA and they are just starting to cultivate a fanbase around there. Harms claims that “this probably could exist anywhere,” so once their touring schedule cools down, it’s anyone’s guess where they’ll end up.
Getting your start in a college town can be an extremely fortunate yet tricky endeavor. Fortunate because you have essentially a built-in group of people who are dedicated and passionate about music (New Paltz being such a musician-friendly town) but tricky because those same people tend to do this thing called graduate after a certain amount of years. It’s an ecosystem that’s somehow always kept alive yet with different parts each year.
“We basically made our record in New Paltz, in the context of New Paltz, and then took it 1,000 miles away [to Athens, GA] to finish it and I think that was another way that we added a really brilliant set of hands on the mixing of it but we took it out of it just being a New Paltz record. That was important for both of us because we had these bands that were the bands that everybody goes to see in New Paltz,” says Harms. “I think that’s the thing that’s funny to both of us about it that we think that What Moon Things has fans here but we think that we also just have fans of us. I think Nelsonvillains and Year on a Mountain are people’s college experiences and I’m super happy that that’s the way it is but I don’t want What Moon Things to just be somebody’s college experience again. I think we both want it to be something bigger and more sustainable.”
What Moon Things is still shaping their identity, and a big part of that is both embracing what they liked about their past bands and creating something new out of those. Harms claims that the year before he started the band, he had been trying to craft the perfect “break-up record.” Little did he know, at the same time Morisi was attempting the same. They pooled together their collective malaise to create what they will be releasing as What Moon Things’ self-titled debut LP. In the way that “the new stuff” differs from “the old stuff,” Morisi says that there is “more of a creative process… a much better creative process. There’s much more talking about what’s actually going on in the music rather than just blowing your load all over.”
With Jake’s way-aforementioned previous band, Nelsonvillians, the sole LP they released, Our Evil Inside Joke, was a multi-faceted tale of love, drugs, and Minneapolis–all too much to be unpacked here. The record flowed in a narrative sense, and as What Moon Things is slated to be somewhere between a continuation and a departure, the two have chosen to leave behind the overarching storylines.
“This album, there’s recurring images. There’s a lot of recurring vampire imagery on this record as well as astronauts and decapitation but it’s a lot more surreal than anything that we’ve done. It just turned out that way. ‘Astronaut’ is probably the most straight-forward of any of the songs and the most autobiographical and the last song is a story about my boss. I would say in a funny way, instead of being an epic overarching narrative, I would say this record is more about a moment in time,” says Harms on What Moon Things’ direction. “We mention nostalgia only once on the record but I feel like the record is nostalgic. And it also rocks really hard.”
Their trajectory almost derailed a few months ago as the band was gearing up to drive down to Austin for SXSW, when Harms sliced his hand with a circular saw at his job. As a carpenter’s helper, he had been “doing something in an unsafe way.” This has had a few minor and major consequences for What Moon Things. For Jake, he’s been “chillin’” getting workman’s comp and being able to focus on music though it’s not all the same. Morisi says they’ve all had to do “a little switcheroo on the instruments.” So for the band’s day-to-day life, it’s not really an uphill battle. They had to cancel their SXSW dates though, which the band has mixed feelings about as Harms explains.
“I don’t think we would’ve changed the world by going there but we would’ve gone on a first tour as a band and been on the road for two weeks and seen the spectacle of it which I was really excited for. We were pushing pretty hard. It wasn’t exactly the most feasible thing for us to go to South By but we had that stubbornness. John had to take off a bunch of school, he wasn’t really feeling too great about it. For South By, in those first two days we were driving one ten-hour drive, one twenty hour-drive. I think we feel okay about not doing it. I don’t think big breaks exist.”
It’s somewhere in this ambivalence about injuries, big breaks, and storylines that What Moon Things’ identity truly shines through as not so much a continuation of past efforts but rather, fashioning a narrative of their own.
Become who you are with What Moon Things by clicking here.
Check out What Moon Things’ music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.