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Interview: Moon Taxi Talks About Their Long Grind to Success and Their Many Charleston, SC, Shows

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This weekend is one of the better music weekends in Charleston I can remember the three years I’ve lived here. Moon Taxi, an indie rock band from Nashville, who has been pumping out quality hits album after album, is visiting the intimate Charleston Resort Harbor this Saturday night. That’s right…a band that played the big stages at Bonnaroo and Lock’n Festival this summer are playing the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina. Sand, beers, and incredible rock music…that’s a perfect Saturday night.

For those not as familiar with Moon Taxi, their most recent hit, “Two High,” has eclipsed 100 million Spotify streams and reached 26 on the Billboard charts. Their high energy shows consist of a hit-packed set worth well more than the $25 ticket price. And on top of that you parlay that with the show being outdoors, on the water, and with an incredible 7-piece funk band from Boston, Ripe, opening for them. I can assure you they too are also well worth the price of admission from how hard I danced at their Pour House show earlier this year.

I got the chance to chat with Moon Taxi bassist, Tommy Putnam, about their long grind to the top, their  many many years of playing all the Charleston, SC, venues over the years (Bill Murray mention of course), and their life now that they’ve signed with mega label, RCA.

It’s been a little over a year to the day since you signed with mega label, RCA records. Looking back on that year, what stands out on what they’ve done for you in comparison to maybe indie labels in the past.

Tommy: “There’s a lot more support, especially in the radio world. When we’d go to radio with previous records and songs, we’d have one guy. His name was Nick, and he was fantastic, and he worked his butt off. But with RCA, they have regional people and hot spots throughout the country like in San Francisco and L.A. and other territories, so they really help us get the word out. So, we’ve made a lot more fans then we ever would have and that was the point of signing with RCA anyway – to just try and get our music out there more.”

I know your buddies with lead singer, Matt Schultz, of Cage the Elephant, who have been with RCA for a few years. Did he help sway your decision with RCA?

Tommy: “A little bit. So, there were a lot of labels that were talking to us. The decision to go with RCA, one part of it was they had a lot of success with bands from our area. Not just Cage the Elephant, but also Walk the Moon, who is from Ohio. Kings of Leon is Tennessee area, Cage. But yea I asked Matt about it and “What do you think of the RCA guys?” and he said, “Yea, they’re excellent. Let me know if you have any other questions.” It just felt right.”

With you guys now RCA, I dream of Moon Taxi and Cage the Elephant small club tour.

Tommy: “That’d be awesome!”

Charleston, SC has been a consistent and regular stop for you guys the last five years despite being way off I-95 and not a regular stop for a lot of touring bands. What is it about Charleston that has you guys continually booking here?

Tommy: “We started at the Pour House. Kind of a dive bar…we crushed it there. Got some fans and starting making some friends. Then after playing there so long we had a bunch of friends there so it just makes sense to go down there and hang out and put on a good rock show.”

Wait. I didn’t realize you guys played the Pour House! I live a mile from there now. I know you guys played Music Farm, Brick House Kitchen for 105.5 The Bridge’s party, Riverfront Park for Trondossa and the Chucktown Ball, North Charleston PAC opening for Umphrey’s McGee…does anything stand out from those shows and bouncing around the town here?

Tommy: “Man, you got em all. Pour House we probably played four or five times. One day we played Zach Brown’s festival during the day and then played a night show at the Pour House. We were exhausted.”

Of all those Charleston gigs is there one that stands out?

Tommy: “Probably that last time we played at Music Farm. One of my buddies texted me that Bill Murray was at some bar and I went straight there right afterwards. That was pretty cool to seem him but he didn’t really talk to me. He was actually in Nashville yesterday doing some Grammy event. But yea, I’d say that one because it was raucous.

I remember that show because you played “Two High” for one of the first times ever. It wasn’t even on any digital streams yet. I quickly became that annoying person taking video because I knew right away this was a song off the not yet released album.

Tommy: “Oh yeah? We were probably testing it out. Was that the last time we were there? (pause) Sorry, my dog is licking my backpack…not sure what that’s about. GET OUT OF THERE!!”

 So, I recall [lead singer] Trevor at 18 years old attended Bonnaroo as a fan in 2002. In 2012, Moon Taxi made their festival debut playing “That Tent.” In 2015, you played the [very large] “Which Stage” at day…then this year you play the “Which Stage” at night on the final day, a very prominent spot. Can you talk a bit about the grind to get there? I don’t think a lot of the new fans understand what you guys have been through to get to this top spot. I recall you telling me about the time you guys had a tour where almost all the shows were empty bars.

Tommy: “We actually went to the first three Bonnaroos together. 2002, 2003, 2004. And we vowed we’d never go back until we were playing. And I actually broke that promise in 2009 or 10 and started going again. Then the 2012 show…we just finished that last tour where we were playing max 10-15 people a night. But all those little groups of people, especially in the South where we’d have 150-200 people show up in Nashville and the surrounding areas, when we finally got to 2012, all that hard work had paid off and we had 14,000 people standing up there. By far the biggest crowd we’d ever had. All that hard work paid off. So, here’s your 14,000 people where you worked so hard to get to…put your money where your mouth is and we put on a great show. After that, people started coming up all over the place.

We went on this tour with Matisyahu immediately after that and there would be twenty people at our merch booth saying “We saw you at Bonnaroo!” and we were like “Oh man, that worked.”

It’s still unfathomable to me you played 10 person bars with how energetic your shows are with Wes and Trevor’s solos, your catchy songs, and your incredibly accurate Rage Against the Machine covers.

Tommy: “Yea. It happened. I’m not lying about it! It definitely changed us. It was one of those things that was like, “Even though there’s ten people here, give those ten people the best show they’ve ever seen,” so they remember.  We’re just so grateful that we got all these fans and this work paid off and we always put on a good show for everyone that comes.”

[Guitarist] Spencer produced and mixed your last album, Let the Record Play, which has seen great success. Are you sticking with the hot roller for the next album or do the A&R folks at RCA prefer a different path?

Tommy: “We haven’t really decided yet. All options are on the table. We’re just starting that process right now. I don’t really have an answer yet for you on how we’re going to make the record. Right now, we’re just writing and trying to get some songs going.”

Upcoming Tour

SEP 27 THU – Sprint Pavilion, Charlottesville, VA
SEP 28 FRI – Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, Wilmington, NC
SEP 29 SAT – Charleston Harbor Resort + Marina, Mount Pleasant, SC (w/ Ripe) – $25
SEP 30 SUN – Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh, NC
OCT 6 SAT – Red Rocks, Morrison, CO
OCT 7 SUN – Catskills Festival, Bloomingburg, NY
OCT 24 WED – Brooklyn Steel, Brooklyn, NY
OCT 26 FRI – Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA
OCT 27 SAT – 930 Club, Washington, DC
OCT 28 SUN – 930 Club, Washington, DC
DEC 31 MON – Nashville Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, TN


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