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Interview: Moon Taxi Keyboardist Wes Bailey talks Elton John, Songwriting, and the Windjammer

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As someone who attends 100 shows a year, it is without fail EVERY year I clear my schedule and IG message blast everyone when the Moon Taxi gigs in Charleston are announced. The week leading up to these shows involves me doing an ungodly amount of diaper changing, house cleaning, dinner cooking – all in the vein of the wifey hall passes for these shows. They are that good live.

Quite a few people have never heard of this fine band, but once you see them, not only are you hooked, you’re immediately to every person you meet raving about them asking “How have you never heard of them?!?!” The first time I saw them was in 2016 at the (RIP) Brickyard Kitchen on James Island…a show keyboardist, Wes Bailey, remembered. We chatted a lot about live shows and he had an incredible memory of which songs they’ve debuted at Charleston. There was “Classics” at the Jammer last year (a treat since the song was released February 2023). I remember “Too High” at the Music Farm before it was released. Charleston has been a long time tour destination dating back to early tours at the Pour House.
I caught up with Wes via Zoom who has been unwinding in Northern Michigan dealing with all the fun things of home maintenance – leaky bathtub, no hot water, fruit flies. Hopefully this chat was a nice distraction and calm before the busy life of touring and festivals begin.

I run into some people that have never heard of your band and ask me to play a song. It’s a bit of pressure given your catalog is so big and varying. I usually go with “Red Hot Lights.” What’s the first song you play to get them hooked?

Wes: “Oh nice one. I’m partial to the new stuff because it’s the most exciting and I’m not tired of hearing it. “Too High” as far as the older ones, but for the newer ones I’d pick “Lay Low” from the new record or “Set Yourself Free.” Those two capture where we’re at now and our overall vibe. They encompass all things Moon Taxi to me. Someone more into rock might be into “What’s Coming Next” – it depends on the person I’m playing it for.”

I do love “What’s Coming Next” and those riffs – I hear a slide guitar. Does Spencer play that live?

Wes: “Yea, Spencer is a fantastic slide guitar player, and banjo player, and many other stringed instruments. He’ll probably play that slide solo live. I’d imagine in Charleston we will play that song live because we have three nights to fill and want make each show somewhat unique. The first place we played “Set Yourself Free,” the song, was at the Windjammer, so it’s a nice, little test market for us. Everyone is forgiving there and the vibes are high. That’ll be fun to play and have it released.”

That’s one of my favorite things about you guys. You change your setlists night to night. How soon before a show do you make your set lists? Are the three nights at the Jammer pre-made before you get on the bus?

Wes: “No, not really. It’s kind of like the Taylor Swift thing where she’ll have her steady songs she needs to play every show. We have five or six of those that go over really well. Too High, Morocco. We have different sections of the set that are open for alternating, older songs, songs that excite us at the moment, or trying out a brand new song. The set list usually happens the morning of because we need to get that figured out by sound check.”

The list of who produces which of your albums seems to alternate with Spencer (Moon Taxi lead guitarist and producer) and other producers. Who produced the new album, Set Yourself Free, having this previous producer list in mind?

Cabaret: Vance Powell (The Raconteurs) at Sputnik
Mountains Beaches Cities: Spencer produced
Daybreaker: Jacquire King / Blackbird studios
Let the Record Play: Spencer produced
Silver Dream: Spencer / Busbee / Drew Folk (“Say”)

Wes: “It was a combination of Spencer and a friend of mine I brought into the fold. Spencer is more in demand now than he’s ever been. He’s got quite a few other projects he’s working on so I thought out of courtesy to him and it’d be exciting for us to work with someone new we hadn’t worked with into the fold that I could vouch for. Brennan Aerts, who was in a band called the Vinyl Pinups. They had a song that went viral probably ten years ago on SoundCloud. They got signed to a major label and dropped. But now he’s just this incredible producer and writer. He and his wife still do the Vinyl Pinups thing. Fantastic producer that’s become a really close friend of the band. He produced Lay Low, Classics, Sunbeam, Dream Your Life Away…and Spencer did the rest. I did one called “Flipping Channels.” Spencer will always be the Executive Producer of the band. He has the most technical ability.”

The song, “Classics,” is classic Moon Taxi. Keyboard hook, Trevor being Trevor with the vocals. How did that song come together?

Wes: “During Covid in mid-2020, I was getting into producing some trip-hop, jazzy – basically jazz tunes I had written on the piano and trying to turn them into a cooler vibe. I just really liked that melody and thought the chords and arrangement were really cool. I can send you the jazzy version, It’s really cool.

We kind of hit a wall with some ideas and were six months into writing and recording for the record. To be honest, we weren’t terribly excited about anything. We had gone to the studio a couple times and didn’t leave on a high that we wanted. I thought many people aren’t going to hear this track and maybe there’s a different life for it. So, I stripped a lot of the production away and just had the piano part. I just riffed my own vocal melody over it – what I do for a verse. Spencer pretty much to the syllable took that and wrote the lyrics you hear now.

The chords are kind of weird. It reminded us of the Blue Album from Weezer – mid-90s Buddy Holly vibe. We went way too Weezer with the demo. It was Brennan who helped us meet in the middle. Bump the tempo up, have a different swing drum feel to it, so he could take it down on the Weezer scale a few notches for us. The chorus hits so nicely and it’s become one of the better live tracks. Actually, the first time we ever played it, I’ll never forget, was at the Windjammer. 

I noticed no music videos came out this album.

Wes: “Yea, we kind of have a sour taste from music videos. They’re so expensive. We’re kind of bitter towards the last album because we ultimately picked the wrong single to do a video for that kind of did nothing. Stay – I love that video but when you saw it, it just kind of tanked. We had a blast shooting it. The cast was amazing. The label had some uncool to us approaches for how to market that like a TikTok way. God bless the bands that can do that, it’s just not our thing. There was a TikTok dance Trevor had to learn. If a song is really cooking, and it’s obvious it needs a video, we’ll do it. Hell, I’d shoot a video for “Lay Low” at the Windjammer.”

(the conversation switched Elton John and the Farewell tour)…

He’s the best. I went to that tour as well. The stuff he’s doing while he’s singing. He’s played these songs so many times I think he wants to keep it fun for himself just so he can rip. It’s like Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Bernie Worrell craziness happening underneath his fingers but he’s singing these pop songs. It’s amazing. I would give anything to hear an isolated piano track from his live shows because it is just unbelievable what he’s playing. Comping pianos is what it’s called. Its unlike anyone has ever done or will ever do. He is a master. And for any big time Elton John fans, you got to listen to this BBC session on Spotify.

Ben Folds mentioned it in his blog. It’s a live performance from like 1971 and they do a version of “Burn Down the Mission” … to quote Ben Folds, “It is the best rock piano playing of all time,” and I completely agree.  It REALLY jams. It’s a long jam and so many unique ideas. Inventive. Exploratory. A master class for rock piano.

The one thing missing (in my 10 beers deep opinion from shows) is Spencer coming out like CC Deville or Zakk Wylde style and standing on the monitor for guitar solors. He’s crushing perfection in the back no doubt about it – just you’re all going nuts and his guitar solos are ripe for theatrics.

Wes: “I don’t know what came over him the last year. He’s been coming out front. It’s amazing and gives me chills every time he does it. We’ve been doing a cover for 4 Non Blondes – What’s Up, and he’s been walking to the front. It’s great. I don’t think he’s used to it and his cable is always getting tangled. (laughing) It’s fine. He’s a little rusty at it.

Personally, I’ve put too much pressure on myself leading up to shows. I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I am now. Our friends at the Future Birds…you go to one of those shows and it’s like they’re drinking with you. It’s so natural like there is no stage. It just feels like you’re at a part and I love that. It made me realize we don’t have to be so uptight and perfect. It’s relaxed me where I’m pumped and just want to have a good time. The Windjammer is the most fun place and I always close down the bar after. I think this is the best record we’ve made and I’m stoked to play it all live. “

You can check out their ~50 upcoming tour dates starting in Charleston, SC, August 4th-6th 2023, here:



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