A two saxophone, one drummer lineup playing mostly instrumental, often challenging music is probably not a path most would take to win widespread acclaim. But both the honest (if edgy) bounciness of their music and the unadulterated joy they deliver their muscular sound is attracting new fans to New York City based Moon Hooch nightly.
For those old enough to remember the late avant-garde saxophonist Thomas Chapin, Moon Hooch’s energy and stage movement will sound and look familiar. When asked if the band views itself as Chapin did, that the band is a conduit rather than creator of music, drummer James Muschler said he’s still trying to comprehend music itself.
“My whole life I’ve always felt music was something that came out of people and other things, like birds, rocks, and the wind” said Muschler. “The idea of tapping into it is like tapping into that cosmic music that was always happening around us. From the time I was a little kid, I always appreciated the sound of birds and the sound of wind, and equated that with music.”
Muschler and bandmates Wenzl McGowen and Mike Wilbur met at the progressive New School in New York City, which openly “cultivates fearless risk takers who go beyond the edge of the stage.” Moon Hooch has embraced that mantra. From its start on the streets and subways of New York City to opening for established acts including They Might Be Giants and Beats Antique to headlining their own shows, the trio fearlessly gobbles up fans that would make their jazz counterparts envious. Muschler suggested Moon Hooch may be tapping into an energy jazz musicians are missing.
“Jazz is currently dominated (for the most part) by an intellectual revolution for the last 20 years” said Muschler. “Jazz musicians are playing very complicated harmonic and rhythmic things that aren’t so relatable, where I think Moon Hooch is tapping into this dance music idiom. We have all these influences … from jazz music and music around the world. But it all relates to this idiom I won’t say is ‘four on the floor’ dance music, but that’s a lot of what we do.”
That the threesome visibly enjoys playing live also factors into their appeal. Muschler said the on-stage energy isn’t a conscience thing, at least for him.
“I feel like the first few songs of the Moon Hooch set is like an immersion, like something into a pool” said Muschler. “It’s like getting into a zone where nothing else exists except for the music.”
Muschler also credited their days busking on the streets and in the subways of New York City for refining Moon Hooch's live show.
“A lot of it was for 10 minutes at a time until the next train came” said Muschler. “So we had to figure out a way to bring the music to a space where we kept people interested and drew people in and make crowds form. All of that was trial and error. We started off with that happening on some level, but we tried to hone in and get the biggest dance party we could down in the subways.”
The Moon Hooch dance party continues October 21 in Champaign-Urbana at The Canopy Club’s Red Room. Doors open at 8:00 p.m. with the show starting at 9:00 p.m.