Moon Hooch: Transcendence, Dance Music, Saxophones, & Drums

By: Will Baumgartner

The sensational New York-based trio Moon Hooch have generated a huge international buzz with their joyful, intense, explorative, dance-friendly music; a buzz that has grown from their early days a few years back playing on subway platforms in NYC to touring with the likes of Beats Antique, They Might Be Giants, and Lotus, all while selling out their own shows at venues across the nation.

Moon Hooch.

Moon Hooch.

This Saturday, October 29th, the trio will play Boulder’s Fox Theatre, and there are still some tickets here. Currently, the crew is touring in support of their wonderful third album 'Red Sky'. The group, which consists of saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen plus drummer James Muschler, create vast soundscapes and irresistible dance party music with just these three instruments filtered through a bit of electronics. Their music is in large part an outward expression of their own spirituality and activism: they all meditate and do yoga, practice conscious eating habits, and are constantly involved in work with organic farmers and other groups working toward social and cultural change. With these things in mind, I sat down with McGowen and tried to gear my questions toward the seemingly unlikely connection between their ass-shaking music and their spiritual and cultural efforts. The result was a conversation that, like their music, was both fun and thought-provoking.

First things first- is there a particular meaning behind the name Moon Hooch?

No, actually there isn’t. It means something, but we came up with the name kinda randomly. One day we were playing in the subway and people started dancing, and we were kinda surprised because we weren’t really planning on starting a band. So a person asked us what the name of our band was, and Mike just randomly said ‘Moon Juice’. We went home and googled it and there were four other bands with that name. We looked up synonyms for juice and hooch was one of them, so we went with that.

Watch Moon Hooch's music video for "EWI":

How has your music changed since your debut album, which came out in 2013?

We started out playing in the subway and that was completely acoustic. When we started playing in bigger rooms, I wanted to use more bass, and that’s why we started using the traffic cones, which we put in our saxophones. It creates a bass frequency that makes the subwoofers in clubs respond more. I also bought a contrabass clarinet, which goes as low as 33 Hz, and we have come up with this intricate system of using electronics as spice but not substance. We produce all the sounds acoustically, and then process them through a computer, and that gives us the ability to emulate the sounds of drops and buildups that are common in electronic dance music.

You've talked about incorporating the energy and activity from your surroundings into your music. What's the difference between doing that in the subway and onstage in front of a paying audience? What are the similarities or constants between these two settings? 

The similarity is that you have to give everything you have and be in the moment. If you’re thinking about something else, whether onstage or in the subway, the crowd will respond less. So I think it’s pretty much the same. Maybe onstage you’re a little more focused because people are there and giving you their attention, whereas on the subway you have to grab people’s attention.

Like more and more musicians these days, you've been very vocal about your spirituality, and publicly involved in activism. How do your yoga and meditation practices affect your music? What are the causes you're most involved with as activists? 

It’s a systemic problem we have: culture has spiraled out of control based on domination, greed, fear, and competition, and that has manifested in so many ways. Anywhere you look, you’ll find a manifestation of that core issue. For example, the fact that forests are getting cut down is because we value trees more as a commodity of profit rather than as a breathing, living organism that helps our planet and our species stay alive. It’s a very selfish mindset that leads to this. And that’s only possible because people have become so hardened; they don’t feel their heart as much anymore, and actually don’t really care.

We have so many layers of fears and insecurities and our own issues that really prevent us from caring about others. In the school system, you can find the same sort of issues. We’re getting trained to be functioning members of society; that’s really the main goal of the school system. It’s not really to help a child explore their own purpose and find out who they really are. Most people coming out of school have no idea what they want to do or who they are. This sort of culture is robbing us of our identity.

I see us as spiritual beings: we are consciousness in human form. And as such, we are actually not that interested in material things! These things are all conditioned into us. They’re conditions of being in a body, and in this culture that we crave money and power and all these things, but our true purpose lies in unfolding our loving potential. That’s what spirituality is for me: a way of navigating through all these negative fears and habits and finding our true selves. You can do that through yoga, meditation, music: through anything that allows you to train your focus and clarify your intention. I think you could be making burritos and have very spiritual experiences. If you’re fully present with the burrito, and the people you’re serving, then you have overcome some layers of social conditioning and have found a peaceful place in your heart. These ideas can be manifested in so many different ways, and we try to do it through our music.

Do you feel that you're making a difference in terms of raising consciousness in your fans? In what ways do you try to spread the word about your causes, and encourage people to embrace spirituality? 

I think a lot of people at our shows actually have spiritual experiences, whether they call it that or not.They have experiences that lift them out of their normal state of being. A state of being is essentially an agreement between the mind and the body, a way we interact with ourselves and our nervous system that feels normal to us, that we identify with. And I think that music can heighten the moment to the point where we break out of that and suddenly experience something beyond what we’re used to. I think many people use this experience to question themselves, question society, and grow as beings. I’ve certainly experienced this transcendental state through music, and thought, ‘Wow, I could feel that way all the time if I learn to find a way to transcend all these forces in life and really be expressive.’ So overcoming these things is something our fans do while listening to our music.

What do you want audience members to take with them from your shows?

[I want them to] realize the experience of being free and in the moment that they get at our shows can always be attained by working patiently and diligently [whether it's by] having a daily meditation practice, daily yoga practice, mindful eating, playing music... Whatever it is, being in the moment is something you can practice. And by creating a new state of being, which is really our old state of being, we can create a peaceful society. I think inspiring others to grow in this way is activism.

The album art for Red Sky.

The album art for Red Sky.

I’m totally looking forward to being at The Fox show this Saturday, in the moment, and personally dancing myself silly! What's next for Moon Hooch? Do you plan to go back in the studio anytime soon?

Yes, we do! After this tour, we’re actually renting a house in the desert in Joshua Tree, California for two weeks, and we’ll be working on new music there for our next recording.  

Make sure to get your tickets to Moon Hooch at The Fox for this Saturday here. And keep up with the band on their website

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.