Even if Jake Harms and John Morisi, the affable songwriters behind NYC’s What Moon Things, would be perfectly lovely guests at your summer BBQ, you’d be forgiven for waiting until dark to play their band’s record. What Moon Things (2014) introduced one of the most promising young guitar bands in years, a dynamic album possessed of eerie quiet, bursts of dissonance, and a rousing, anthemic spirit throughout. Harms’s guitar sets shoegaze fires and lets them cool into smoldering melodies, while Morisi drums with elemental, brute-force thunder. Now readying their second record — tentatively titled Swim — for release on NYC-based indie Grand Jury, What Moon Things are touring the country this summer, including a stop at Brooklyn’s Palisades on July 9. Talking in Tompkins Square Park, Harms and Morisi reflect on their music’s place in the city and elsewhere.
“We’re just all alone in the dark out there,” Harms jokes. Originally based in New Paltz, Harms and Morisi are still finding their band’s place in New York City’s indie and D.I.Y. communities. “But What Moon Things never really harnessed a New Paltz community,” Morisi says. Harms elaborates: “I took our last record from New Paltz and drove it a thousand miles down to Georgia to get it mixed with my friend Scott [Nicholas, producer of What Moon Things and the upcoming sophomore effort]. We thought it was cool to take our record we made in this tiny little town and get it totally out of the context of where it was made. But then, being in New York City brings so much new energy.”
The band took Harms’s recording-road-trip idea even further on this new album, writing and recording in half a dozen cities. “We wrote this record in six different places,” he says, “and we were writing it before we put out the last record. We got to do a month in Athens last August doing live tracking — twelve hours a day for a month, and we got three songs out of it, written in just a weed-fueled haze. Then a bunch of stuff in an apartment in New Paltz, and in John’s apartment here in the city, and some stuff in John’s dad’s basement in Staten Island….It’s crazy how many different sounds and aesthetics there are going on in these songs.”
Those sounds will make Swim a “bigger, more expansive version of the last record,” says Harms. “I keep thinking it’s more upbeat, but no, it’s still pretty dark,” he laughs. “Dynamically, it has a broader range,” adds Morisi. “More beats, more drums.” And the band’s been pulling from more disparate sources this time around, as Harms explains: “We’re a groove-oriented band, and the new album is inspired, along with the other postpunk stuff, by a lot of Nineties-era NYC hip-hop. We’re not part of the rap scene” — “Yet!” Morisi interjects, laughing — “but John’s trying really hard.”
He laughs, but the association isn’t a crazy one — so many of the bands called to mind by What Moon Things, from Fugazi to Modest Mouse, have their own hip-hop influences scattered into the more typical guitar-rock template. “[Modest Mouse’s] ‘The Fruit That Ate Itself’ is basically a hip-hop song,” Harms points out. With their penchant for stoned grooves and the fierce dynamics of earworm guitar licks butting up against empty space and sudden squalls of noise, What Moon Things can’t avoid comparisons to indie titans like Modest Mouse or cult heroes like Polvo or Archers of Loaf. But Harms and Morisi aren’t bothered by the baggage an association with a band of the past might bring — except, maybe, for one.
“The person that did the PR for our last record pushed so hard to put Brand New’s name on those little RIYL stickers for the album, and we were like, ‘Fuck that.’ ” He laughs. “Modest Mouse is fine. It’s just a way for people to have an ‘in’ to the music, so they’ll want to hear it. But once you spend time with something, it becomes its own thing, on its own terms.”
It’s remarkable that a band can appear so fully formed, with a sound at once familiar and all its own, but What Moon Things have done just that. Taking the music on its own terms is a no-brainer. With songs as evocative, as unpredictable, as those Harms and Morisi have released so far, younger bands will likely be jumping to have “RIYL: What Moon Things” written on their own debuts soon enough.