Mike Wilbur of Moon Hooch Exclusive Interview
Comprised of Mike Wilbur on tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone, Wenzl McGowen on Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Contrabass Clarinet, Tubes, EWI, and James Muschler on drums, Moon Hooch describes their music as “Cave Music / ˈkāv myo͞ozik / It’s like House, but its more wild, more jagged, more free, more natural to live in.” Their muscular beat-driven sound can get anyone dancing and is a captivating experience for die-hard “live instrumental” music lovers and electronic music lovers alike. Taco talked a bit with Mike over the phone about the band before the formal sit-down interview being conducted with all members this Saturday. Listen to their new single here: www.moonhooch.com , astoundingly performed with NO synth instruments.
Where are you from and how did you end up in New York?
I am from Boston, Massachusetts. I went to UMass for a year and the vibe wasn’t really right for me so I decided if I want to be a musician I should just go where musicians go, to New York. I kind of threw myself in the fire, I auditioned for a new school, for jazz, and went there for three years. Then I dropped out and went on tour with Moon Hooch. That’s why I dropped out.
When did you start playing instruments and what influenced you to play your particular instrument?
I started playing the saxophone in the fourth grade, I was eight years old. I don’t know…I don’t remember exactly why I decided to play the saxophone. When I was eight years old, it was the coolest looking thing. It was nice and shiny, it was super loud, and I guess that’s it. A bunch of my other friends were doing it. I got a big loud sound right away and was like “this is awesome, just go with it.” I kept playing and never remembered it being too much of a struggle for me, until I switched over to a tenor saxophone, it’s not as loud, though and didn’t get as much of a rise out of the kids. I was getting a really big sound out of the alto and then my band director was like, “well, we need a tenor player, and since you have the lung power you might as well play tenor.” So I started playing tenor and it’s been a love affair ever since.
Your band describes the music being influenced by house music. Where does this influence come from?
Well that definitely comes from Wenzl. Wenzl, before the band became a band really, was producing house music and working on a cruise ship and he was really into house music and learned how to use the OakenLive, which is an electronic music production software and started using that really heavily. He got into house music into New York, started teaching James, the drummer, house music, then he started a band called the Atypicals. They primarily house-y, lcd soundsystem kind of vibe. He lived next door to me, and I would hear house music blasting through the walls, and I was never into house music really, I was more into the freaky, avant-garde type music. Him and James were playing on the street, and I needed some money so I was playing on the street also, but not playing house music, playing free jazz and stuff. So one day I was busting with this other guy, Max, and he was in Madison Square Park and hears this Wenzl guy. So we started playing in the park and Wenzl and James were playing the house beat, and we came in just playing E flat. So we did that, and that was the first time we ever played together. And it drew an immediate crowd around us, just the energy between the three of us was great, man. Another time we played in the subway, and we played en route all the way to the subway, really simple house beats, and it was the catalyst to this crazy subway rave that night. It was like magic, it’s crazy. We saw a train and people started dancing, throwing money. We’re like “fuck…we should keep doing this.” Then house music started to change.
How often did you all play in the subway and could you tell me a little more about that?
We played in the subway quite a lot, we still do, actually. We’re all pretty strapped for cash, always. It was paying our rent and we loved it, we loved getting our music out there. So we just kept doing and are doing it, and some days are better than others depending on where we are at. Emotionally, energetically. But, yeah, the subway’s cool. It’s fun to get down there and just start basically an underground rave. Sometimes the middle of the day. You’ve got old guys dancing with valley girls dancing with a gangster dude, you know. It’s cool.
Which subway pays the best?
Uhh…we usually go to James square, L train, that usually does good for us, especially at night. On a Friday night there’s usually a lot of people there.
If you want I don’t have to publish that so no one hits up your favorite station.
Oh, no that’s okay. Everyone knows that’s the spot.
What’s your favorite venue you’ve played so far?
There’s a few. I would say, for me, we have residency at The Knitting Factory, that was really fun there. Every month we really got to work on our live show and perform it at a nice venue. It’s not my favorite venue, necessarily, but we’ve done a bunch of tours and it’s hard to remember what’s the best one. The one that sticks out is Brooklyn Bowl, the 9:30 club was really tight. First Avenue In Minneapolis was pretty dope, the sound there was great. House of Blues in Chicago, the sound there was really nice. The Independent in San Francisco…there’s some really good venues. Baltimore Soundstage was pretty cool. It was a good crowd, the crowd was awesome. And the venue was great.
Is there anybody you ever wanted to collaborate with?
I’m a weird guy, I like….to be honest with you, I don’t even know that many bands. I practice too much. Most of the bands I’m really into are past or dead people. I’m into some weird music, a lot of electronic music. I really want to collaborate with a DJ. I’d like to work with Brian Eno.
So I take it you’re really into electronic music?
Yeah, real into electronic music.
So what’s coming up for the band in the future?
We’re opening next year for They Might Be Giants, a national tour. It’s going to be sick. We’re opening for Lotus at the end of December.