July 3rd, 2009 | Interviews

greg lutze

Download: The Moondoggies “Changing”


(from Don’t Be A Stranger out now on Hardly Art)

Moondoggies’ Kevin Murphy—and bandmates Robert Terreberry on bass, Carl Dahlen on drums and Caleb Quick on keys—are hauling their three-part harmonies, finger-picked guitar licks and Rhodes piano south to L.A. from Seattle. It’s an ageless American sound—as casually accidental as it can get. This interview by Christina Nersesian.

You started as kind of a punk band and then you went to Alaska and came back making music with this whole Byrds and Eagles vibe going on—so what happened in Alaska?
Kevin Murphy (guitar/vocals): I moved to Bellingham, which is an hour north of Seattle and I lived there for about a year. It was during a time where our old band the Familiars were dying and I don’t know—we weren’t listening to that kind of music as much. The drummer had hearing problems so he stopped playing the drums and starting playing the banjo. We were just kind of listening to a lot more bluegrass and things like the Band. It was just kinda like—‘I want to get out of this college town and focus on some music on my own.’ It was more about getting myself more disciplined, I suppose. I moved up there because I had nothing else to do. I was interested in Ketchikan because it’s pretty isolated being an island and I had a friend who had a job for me and a place to stay for free. I could save up money and jump on the ferry and ride up there. It seemed like a good opportunity to go see what that place was about.
When you guys started to play the bluegrass-y stuff, were you tapping into anything you heard growing up?
I think things are just coming around full circle. I grew up on the Beatles and Nirvana, definitely. I was discovering a lot of stuff but nothing was very unfamiliar. I just started digging more and more into it. I still like some of the louder stuff that I listened to in high school. I started to really hear a lot of those brilliant, older songs and suddenly you realize you haven’t heard anything and you keep digging.
You guys had a residency at the Blue Moon as you were developing as the Moondoggies—what’s that place like?
That place is a real historic Seattle shit-kicker kind of place. You got the old timers and the hardcore drinkers. It’s one of those places where it feels they should have chicken wire onstage so people wouldn’t hit the musicians with bottles. When you walk in it just smells like old bar. As the Moondoggies, that wasn’t our first show—but that’s where we were playing frequently, unless we got a good spot elsewhere. We kind of cut our teeth on the whole Blue Moon—kind of feeling it out. That’s probably where we played the most for a long time. It was cool because there was nothing pretentious about that venue. You just have a lot of real people and then your friends. There would be people who would come there and just be like, ‘Ah, I can’t stand it—I have to leave!’ But it’s a very genuine good shit-kicker bar. It’s one of those places where you’ll be sitting there joking around and some crazy old drunk lady will just lie down on the floor next to you and start sleeping. We met a lot of old timers who were just like, ‘Yeah, your music really brings me back…’—people being really drunk but also very sincerely letting a lot out. There were never any knife fights there or anything. There was this guy who would always play the harmonica off to the side whenever we played there—even if it’s not in the same key. He’s just jamming out on the harmonica. That guy’s in there every time I go in there. I think he works there but when he’s not working he’s still there. We played a secret show there two weeks ago. We wanted to raise some money for this trip so we just had them throw us on at the end of some other people’s show.
Was harmonica friend there?
Oh yeah—in full effect, too.
How did you guys hook up with Hardly Art? That’s the first label you’ve ever been on, right?
Yeah—actually, there are two people who work there and one of them I had known from when I lived in Bellingham. We had just recorded the album out of our own pocket. I just gave him the CD since he was like, ‘Uh, I heard they might want to hear it.’ So I just gave him the recording—it wasn’t mastered or anything. He calls me later and is like, ‘I think I have good news.’ So I dunno—we were all, ‘Are they sure they got the right band? They probably heard something else.’ Then we went in there and it was just kind of mind blowing. You go and it’s in the Sub Pop office and it’s just insane—they were giving us a tour and we were shaking hands—Mark Arm is there and we shook his hand. We were like ‘Oooh my God!’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, don’t fuck it up!’ and starts laughing at us. We were just like—‘Aaahhh!’
I guess a lot of people are liking it—you guys got a nod from Rolling Stone. What did that feel like?
We actually went there and we recorded for that Smoking Section blog. They haven’t posted it so maybe it didn’t turn out very good but it felt very strange—another one of those, ‘Uh, we’re not supposed to be here’ kind of moments. It was kinda chaotic in there. You go through security and they take your picture and you have to wear it—I dunno. It’s weird.
Was Sasquatch your first music festival?
The week before we played in Boise at this music festival—Sasquatch was our first big show. I got the email that was like, ‘Hey, you guys want to play Sasquatch?’ and I was like ‘Ah, shit!’ The festival in Boise was called Eagle Island—a very hippie thing. There were people playing Bob Marley songs before us and we thought, ‘Ah we’re going to totally kill the vibe.’ And they kind of hesitated when we first started and then they started doing that where-my-body-takes-me hippie dance.
That’s a pretty good description of the hippie dance.
It’s like—‘I don’t decide where to move my body, the music decides!’
Are you guys excited to play a Fourth of July show? That’s going to be a real crowd bringer.
Yeah, it’s going to be real cool. I figured we’ll have at least one show where there will be people. I don’t know how I feel about being in L.A. on the fourth though because I’m used to blowing up fireworks and doing a barbeque and stuff. I’m more worried about the Michael Jackson riots. I actually told someone I was going to L.A. and they were like, ‘Well, be careful of the Michael Jackson fans mourning right now.’ I’m not really worried. What does he think is going to happen there? People just running through the streets? ‘Michaaaael! Nooo!’
I think everyone’s sort of flocked to Santa Barbara to the ranch so as long as you manage you bypass them coming down the coast, I think you’ll be okay.
I’m gonna try and find it. Dress up like Peter Pan and hang out.