By Jess Goulart
What Moon Things, a power duo out of New Paltz, New York, crawls into the deepest, darkest hollows it can find and dwells in them. With their slow, churning atmospheric rock, Jake Harms (guitar, vocals) and John Morisi (drums, vocals) don’t invite you down their back alleys of soundscapes and addiction so much as lure you.
Their new self-titled record harkens back to the sort of slow motion car crash that was Brand New’s Deja Entendu, if it were less glossy, harder, and more transfixing. By the album’s closing track, “Sun, Where’s The Fire”, you find yourself surprised at just how good bleeding out feels.
BTR caught up with Harms and Morisi to talk about their obsession with vampires and the new sound of their next record.
BTR: Let’s start with some background. What got you guys into music?
Jake Harms (JH): We both grew up listening to grunge: Eminem, Nirvana. We met three years ago and John plays, like, seven instruments, and I play three, so when we record we just track everything the two of us.
John Morisi (JM): I was lucky enough that my mom bought me a drum kit when I was eight years old.
BTR: Wow, brave mother…
JH: Yeah she really let you go wild… my parents got me a guitar and an amp when I was 11, and that was pretty much it.
BTR: You guys are on a pretty big December tour right now, how is it going?
JH: It’s going really good, we just played eight shows. We played in Philly and DC, and we’re about to play in Brooklyn. Really excited about that. We’re stopping after the new year, but then in late January we’re starting to tour for about two months. We’re working with a group called The Agency Group, which is a NYC based booking agency.
BTR: You guys must love touring!
JM: Yeah, we like touring…
JH: Yeah it’s a weird thing because you’re really far from home and it’s uncomfortable and smelly, but I think that it’s the only way to really go out and get people into your music. I think the digital media part of it wouldn’t exist without going out and playing a lot of shows. That’s how we feel about it.
BTR: Your self-titled has some really great atmospheric rock and dark tones, was that a theme? Any influences on it?
JM: Yeah, that was kind of a theme, we listened to a lot of Tycho and we’re really influenced by The Pixies…
BTR: How about Billy Corgan?
Both: Oh yeah.
JM: Giant influence.
JH: Yeah Smashing Pumpkins for sure–Siamese Dreams is one of our most played albums of all times.
But yeah, without being too explicit, I would say that weird haziness in our personal selves played a big part in wanting to make atmospheric music. We both have been in pretty punk bands. John was in a folkier punk band and I was in a thrashier punk band and we both wanted that feeling of being in the middle of a huge room with a hole in it. Because a lot of people that make pop punk make it really shiny and really clean [but] we wanted to make something very woozy sounding. And make it slower, too. It was almost an exercise for us to try to not make up-beat, fast music, because we played a lot of basement shows and people love fast music, but it also shuts your brain off a little. You just nod your head to it.
We wanted to make something more thoughtful, not to say that people who make fast music aren’t thoughtful, but I do think that it’s harder to be minimal than it is to give [a song] a bunch of stuff.
BTR: Can you tell me more about that writing process?
JH: I think it’s totally random, we don’t really have much of a process. Sometimes the music comes first, sometimes the words. We sing and play chords as we feel it. But we’re both songwriters so we write a song and bring it to the other person and talk about it and then collaborate from there. It’s a really long editing process. It’s funny to think about which comes first, because it’s pretty much all up in the air and changing until it’s recorded.
BTR: What was the recording process like for What Moon Things?
JH: You mean like effects? We definitely use a lot of effects…
JM: Reversing things…
JH: Yeah, like reversing things, reverb, distortion. I would say our stuff is pretty processed but we definitely have a blend of touching things a lot and then not touching things a lot, so it’s not all super processed.
We basically recorded it in our bedroom. To get a higher fidelity sound out of a record that was recorded on my really crappy equipment we had to do a lot of post-production stuff. Our buddy Scott Nicholas mixed it for us and he probably did a lot of stuff to the record that we don’t even know about to bring it out of the lo-fi setting. Also, getting stuff mastered is kind of cool because you have this thing that is really raw and lo-fi sounding, and then you get it mastered and it’s like all of a sudden your lo-fi record is as loud as every record in existence. It’s like you’re putting lower-fi on a higher-fi setting and it tricks people’s ears.
BTR: Anything in the works for a next record?
JM: Yeah, we’re 12 songs into the next record.
BTR: Any release date?
JM: Not quite there yet but…
JH: We’re aiming for next summer. When we put out our last record it was finished about 10 months before it came out, so we’ve been writing this record since last November.
BTR: Is it staying in the theme of atmospheric rock?
JH: (laughs) It’s a dance record.
BTR: Oh, totally diverged then!
JH: Yeah, it’s got our first hip-hop song on it. And there’s very little distortion. It’s very glossy–it’s different, but it’s still us.
BTR: Did anything inspire that transition?
JH: We only listened to Outkast and Biggie Smalls. And then just ‘cause we tour so much and see so much noisy rock and roll, and when you see a band that’s assaulting a crowd sonically it’s just… people naturally… don’t move that much. But we’ve seen really groove-oriented tracks and what it does to a crowd… it is pretty amazing. I don’t think that we’re only going to go make music like that, but it’s something that we both think is cool when it happens.
JM: Yeah, a lot of old rap, we really like that ‘90s rap.
BTR: Last question, do you guys also really like vampires?
JH: (laughs) John has like 17 songs about vampires that I won’t let him release.
JM: We only have like one vampire song on the record!
JH: Yeah ‘cause we’re only allowed to have one more, and I had to put my foot down.
All photos courtesy of What Moon Things.