Horn and percussion trio Moon Hooch has gone from playing impromptu subway platform sets in New York City to touring the country with the likes of Beats Antique, They Might Be Giants and Lotus, as well as selling out their own headline shows in major venues across the U.S. and Europe.
Their unconventional sound features two saxophones, a drummer and a whole lot of electronics to get crowds bouncing with fervor at every show.
In advance of their performance at The Mangy Moose on Saturday, May 21, Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen of Moon Hooch joined us recently over the phone in the KHOL studios.
The following interview was recorded on May 16 and has been edited for clarity and brevity.
JACK CATLIN/KHOL: I wanted you guys to tell us about those early days and what it was like performing down on the platforms of the New York City subways. And specifically, how did it grow to the point where I read the cops had to shut you down?
MIKE WILBUR: We were really hustling. Like we were down there pretty much every day, all day. And on the weekends we were literally down there for like eight, nine hours. You know, we played so much in the subways that when we would get out, we’d be counting the money at home and blow our nose and just black soot would come out into the tissue. It was nasty. So we developed the style down there and into a rapport with each other and an energy together that was infectious to the people that were listening. And we learned kind of what would make people dance. It got to the point where, you know, a few people would start dancing and then, you know, 100 people start dancing. And it was actually kind of dangerous at points because it’s a subway platform. So if you’ve ever been in New York, there’s a train on either side of the platform and they come in fast. And if you fall on the tracks, you’re probably not going to survive. So in retrospect, the cops probably had a good reason to shut us down in those days because we were pretty much throwing raves on the subway platform. So, yeah, that’s how it got to that.
KHOL: And you have certain songs that are obviously written for the dance floor and some are not. Like your latest single is called “One Planet” and features the voice of famed astronomer Carl Sagan. Can you touch on the inspiration behind that track and how it all came about?
WILBUR: Well, one of our good friends is Carl Sagan’s grandson, who’s a producer, rapper and musical artist. And he was pretty close to his grandfather and also had access to his grandfather’s archive of speeches. He loves Moon Hooch and loves that we’re environmentally conscious and trying to make as much of a change as we can. So it was really his idea. And then he came to our place in Massachusetts, where we’re staying now, and recorded us and put the whole thing together.
KHOL: Well, that’s a good segue to my next question. You’ve said you have a commitment to consciousness, environmentalism, veganism, philosophy and peace that aren’t separate from your commitment to music, but actually integral parts of it. Can you expand on that for us?
WENZL MCGOWEN: Our music, we like to see it as something that allows people to express themselves and to work up a sweat and get into like a heightened state of consciousness and heightened sort of connection. You know, that’s an energy that’s really powerful and we want to channel that also into environmental projects. So that the inspiration that we create by playing live also flows into tangible results, like planting trees and things that will help society transition to a more sustainable way of living. So right now what we’re doing is we’re raffling off trees at shows. And then every fan that gets a tree, we take a photo with them and then we use the money we make from that to organize tree planting events.
KHOL: So how excited are you to come back to the Tetons and what can we expect from the show on Saturday night here at the Moose?
WILBUR: We’re very excited about that area and the wild nature. We love Yellowstone National Park, you know, that whole area up there. So we’re really excited to see that again. Yeah, it’s going to be a wild party.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Moon Hooch.
This coverage is funded in part with an Arts For All grant provided by the Town of Jackson and Teton County.