Wenzl McGowen, a man without a country–but with a saxophone and surfeit of creative musical and ecological ideas–heads up Moon Hooch, a two-sax-and-drum trio who initially came to prominence underground … as in New York subways. Born in Spain, and living in Austria, Germany, and Portugal, McGowen grew up on a tiny, isolated farm, home-schooled, initially finding his passion as a painter, then playing saxophone (the instrument a legacy from his grandfather) and reading all day. But his band isn’t as insular or precious as that early existence might indicate.
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Moon Hooch, rounded out by saxophonist Mike Wilbur and drummer James Muschler, gelled while students at NYC’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Moving to the Big Apple was “the biggest shock after being born,” says McGowen, in his indeterminately accented English. Music proved his savior, but after playing jazz for two years and practicing eight hours a day at the New School, McGowen quit, bullshitted his way into a cruise ship job (friends who played clarinet and flute aced the phone audition “as” McGowen), and while sailing the high seas, he met a DJ, began collaborating on electronic music, producing shipboard shows, and selling songs to the cruise line.
Back on terra firma, he moved in with college pals Muschler and Wilbur, and the seeds of Moon Hooch were sown. “We do the opposite of what a DJ does,” explains McGowen. “A DJ has recorded music and does live effects, we have recorded effects–we play to a computer–but the music is all live, so it gives us the musical freedom of jazz, but the precision of a DJ. We bring the two worlds together. The result is a live, jagged, infectious, danceable and acoustic sound they’ve dubbed “Cave music.” The title of their upcoming second record (due in September) is the aptly titledEntering the Cave.
“The concept of playing electronic music on sax was my idea,” Mc Gowen notes. “But it started to mix with the band members’ musical backgrounds. Mike playing funk his whole life brought the dancey energy. We all are music nerds and developed this language of Cave Music influenced by minimal techno, house music, dance music, Dubstep.” Moon Hooch’s sound and vibe –which inspired near-raves on subway platforms [as in dance party, not kudos, though both are apropos]– earning tours with Soul Coughing, They Might be Giants and Lotus -plus the ultimate nod–their own cover bands!
As for their place in the larger music mien, while they have the “L train lady” voice and subway sounds on their debut, Moon Hooch eschew any Brooklyn hipster scene. “It’s hard for me to take a movement built on superficial appearance seriously,” says McGowen, who lives in Peekskill when not on tour. “The movement we’re really part of is ecology, very much talking all the time about how to make a better earth, how to live sustainably, how to support local farms, how to shift from a fossil fuel based industry to solar industry the future of our economy,” says the woodwind wunderkind. “That’s what interests us; connecting the people who want to rethink the system.”
Moon Hooch play Friday, May 2, at Brooklyn Bowl, 8 p.m. $12.