Moon Taxi is one of those bands that if you’ve ever seen them live, you’ve immediately downloaded their music, played it relentlessly, and signed up for all future gig alerts. However, ask any friend or family member if they’ve ever heard of Moon Taxi and the definitive answer is ‘No.’ What?
Moon Taxi has been dominating the festival circuit since their Bonnaroo breakout in 2012. The past twelve months alone they’ve played the larger stages at: Coachella, Lockn’ Festival, Outside Lands, Forecastle, Summerfest, Firefly, Hangout, Volapalooza, Beale Street Music Festival, and Austin City Limits. Their live shows are a non-stop dance party with catchy hooks, jaw-dropping solos, and fist-pumping covers of Rage Against the Machine.
Moon Taxi is rolling into Charleston, SC, this weekend for Umphrey McGee’s “Chucktown Ball,” an annual charity bash that expands two nights. I had the chance to catch up with Moon Taxi’s bassist, Tommy Putnam, who attended high school with lead singer, Trevor Terndup. The two of them moved to Nashville in 2002 and by 2006 had Moon Taxi in place.
Writers on the Storm: So many legends from Bruce Springsteen, Dolly Parton, Snoop, Jack White, and Lionel Richie have recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, TN, where you recorded your latest album, Daybreaker. Is there anything you can put your finger on why the music comes out so good?
Tommy: “Well, they have the best equipment in the world. We also had a producer, Jacquire King, who is accustomed to using that equipment…and knows how to mix so everything sounds good, vibes good and mixes well. When you put a good band with a good producer in a good studio, you’re going to get good results.”
A lot of the musicians I interview that are grinding have gone to solo acts due to how hard it is to make money or they’re funding their own albums via Kickstarter. Having done the struggle, is there advice you give bands?
Tommy: “We didn’t make any money for a long time and now we’re not rich by any means. We’re doing OK. It’s a struggle and you got to be smart with the decisions you make. At first, I think you got to reinvest the money you make back into marketing, supporting yourself, and growing your brand. Ideally, after a while, that will start to pay off and you’ll have more than what you need to put back into your band. That can be for a van and a trailer. There’s a lot of expenses that go into the front end. Once you get passed that, then you can start selling some records and making a living.”
With Trevor and yourself being from Alabama, has there ever been a desire to record at Muscle Shoals?
“I watched a (Netflix) documentary on Muscle Shoals, and after watching that, I really want to try it out. A lot of the stuff they get there has more of a Motown, soul feel, and we’re more of a modern, electronic oriented. I would love to do a song there to experience the vibe at that place. The magic of that Muscle Shoals house band was that if a band can click together, can predict each other’s movements, and like the same music, it’s going to have rhythm and soul.”
Speaking of that, going back to your college days at Belmont University, where you and Trevor used to be the house band at dorm parties for a rap duo, with all the major festivals you’ve done, have you ever asked someone like a Fetty Wap or Kanye West to come out for a live song and be like a white, The Roots?
“No one’s ever asked us. No one like that. It’s kind of funny. Rock bands are really famous. Kanye West is very famous. I’ve never felt like we sell tickets, records, or any merch because we’re famous. It’s because we make good music and put on a good show and people come and have a good time. So, when it comes to that….people like Fetty Wap, Kanye, and the superstars, they have no idea who the fuck we are. They only relate to other people who are famous.”
What about getting involved with the Bonnaroo Superjam?
“Yea, we would love to do that. I would love to do that next year. But it’s up to the organizers of Bonnaroo.”
You guys cover Rage Against the Machine all the time…what’s your thoughts on Prophets of Rage and what they’re doing and their music?
“I think it’s incredible. I’m going to go see them when they’re in Nashville next week. If this interview was next week, I’d have a really good answer for you. But I think it’s going to be awesome. I saw where they played Skidrow in L.A. It’s a well-known junky portion of L.A. A lot of people are on heroin and various drugs over there. They actually organized a very small and impromptu show on Skidrow for these junkies, which I thought that was really cool. You know, these people have mental problems and they threw a rock show for them.”
Have you ever considered writing songs like that to reflect the problems going on in the world and get a little political?
“You know, I want to stay out of all that stuff. We’ve never really thought of ourselves as a politically minded band. We’re not trying to ruffle any feathers. If there’s something blatantly honest that sticks out to all of us, we’ll write some lyrics. I’m sure we could write a song about it, but we’re more about having a good time and all the positive things that go on in your life. We don’t like to focus on the negative.”
Speaking of that, what’s in store for 2017? Another album in the works?
“Yea, we’re writing for it. We’re hoping to get some demos done by the end of the year and in the studio by the beginning of next year ideally. It’s a process. We’ve got some songs in the pipeline. And then they’ll get edited and re-edited and we’ll have something out next year.”
Are you recording at Blackbird again?
“I don’t know. We’re talking about all those things right now, so I don’t have any firm answers for you. But we are working on stuff and I like what’s coming.”
You’ve had a few songs in commercials, most recently your song All Day, All Night, which was used in McDonalds’ breakfast campaign. Is it ever hard hearing it while you’re watching TV?
“I don’t watch a lot of TV. I do think it’s hilarious. I really like McDonald’s breakfast. I’m sorry if you don’t, but I feel sorry for you because it’s pretty fucking good. Anybody that claims we sold out…first of all, we like that breakfast. Two, we didn’t make any money from it. It went straight back to paying off our record. So, you got to do these things to get your music exposed and get your stuff out there. I think it’s gotten a lot of exposure for us. It’s funny. Everybody talks about the McDonalds commercial, but we had a BMW commercial that was on all the time and no one ever talks about that.”
Yea, their breakfast is pretty good.
“HELL YEA their breakfast is good!!! And it’s all day all night!! We didn’t really have much blow back. There was a little bit. In general, all of our fans were really excited. So, again, we’re positive.”
Any surprises at the Chucktown Ball gig this Friday night I can pass along?
“You never know what we’re gonna do.”
What about going out with Umphrey’s McGee?
“If they asked us. We’ve played with them a bunch. We’ve never had one of them come out with us. So, that’s a good idea.”
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