A little over a year ago, the Baton Rouge psychedelic rock band Moon Honey played an emotional (and absolutely packed) farewell show at Chelsea’s Cafe. On the heels of a successful appearance at SXSW and a raving review for their debut album Hand-Painted Dream Photographs in the New York Times, lead vocalist and lyricist Jessica Ramsey and guitarist/composer Andrew Martin were leaving LA (the "Bayou State") to play their musical cards in L.A. (the "City of Angels").
Now the 225’s favorite fantastical rock act is returning to town as part of a six-week East Coast tour, this time with two new members, Logan Baudean on drums and Anders LaSource on keyboard and synth bass. Friday night’s show with home-grown folk rock act Minos the Saint and Portland’s Bearcubbin’ will (amazingly) be Moon Honey’s debut at the Spanish Moon, although Jessica and Andrew have played there in the band’s previous previous iteration as “Twin Killers.”
When I called Jessica for an interview, the band members were just arriving at their hotel in Brooklyn. This tour has covered a lot of new ground for Moon Honey, including cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and New Haven. “Crowds are being really receptive, and shows just get better and better,” Jessica said. Although the band’s general touring strategy is to select a local act they pair well with in hopes of finding an area’s most receptive fans, this time around they’ve noticed some people in the crowd are already familiar with their music. “It’s strange. There have been a few people that came out and said I heard you on NPR, or through a friend, and it’s definitely different. It’s nice to know that people are discovering us online.”
Also different for this tour are Jessica and Andrew’s ornate costuming (show above), designed by L.A. artist Corinne Loperfido. Andrew recalled, “Jessica put a post out on Craigslist looking for some sort of avant-garde, surreal clothes maker, and a million people wrote her within a day because that's how desperate people in L.A. are for jobs like that.”
Corrine stood out as the hands-down best of the group. “Her work struck a chord because it reminded me of New Orleans. Sort of a Mardi Gras goddess thing going on,” said Jessica. Turns out, Loperfido was in fact inspired by New Orleans, having previously lived there (and, btw, she taught bounce dance classes with none other than the queen Big Freedia).
When asked why the group chose to incorporate costuming, Andrew commented, “I'm all for playing music in every day clothes. But when you can make it theatrical, when you can give something people they don’t see every day-- something shiny and sparkly and overwhelming-- then hopefully they leave with more than, you know, looking at me in an American Apparel shirt.”
In addition to costuming, the band also incorporates artful visuals and lighting designed to draw the audience into the dreamlike, surreal atmosphere pervading the bands music. “I think if you were to play our music in a stark-lit room, everybody would be freaked out.” Andrew said.
Accompanying visuals or no, Moon Honey’s music is definitely unconventional and challenging, with all members of the band displaying high levels of emotional expressiveness and technical prowess. Each song is complex and well-composed, suggesting a creative process which includes layers of thoughtful structuring. Yet, when I asked Andrew how he developed his guitar technique, he described a sort of anti-technique:
“It was pretty much a consistent lack of knowledge, and practicing that over and over again. And figuring out ways to not really have a set direction, but get good at feeling rather than knowing.”
As my non-musician’s brain strained to understand this answer, I pressed for him for more specifics. He explained:
"I grew up in this whole line of thought that well, Jimi Hendrix really didn’t know music theory-- which probably isn’t true-- but I would buy his tablatures with the audio CD's, and I would just learn all of his guitar solos note for note. So that was my first start... but it was pretty much everyone’s first start. It’s nothing new to say Jimi Hendrix was an influence on you.
Other than that, I started playing music in a pop punk band in Baton Rouge." [author’s note: the band was “Common Curtis”-- Andrew says I “shouldn’t even list it because it was so terrible.” But as part of a BR music blog, I feel obliged to do so for the sake of local music history :) They used to play The Caterie all the time. Anyways...] Martin continued, “I was so tired of playing inside of the box that I jumped as far outside of the box as I possibly could. And that’s kind of where I’m at now. Just finding the deepest way to express myself. Moon Honey has cultivated a style where we can just go for our soul.”