194364-adding-color-to-a-world-of-music-andy-crofts-of-the-moons

Adding Color to a World of Music: The Revival Rock Stylings of the Moons

"Don't let the bastards grind you down!" encourages music industry veteran Andy Crofts. As frontman for British rock band the Moons, Crofts seeks to spark creativity and musicality in a throng of eager fans.
The Moons
Live at Bush Hall
Schnitzel
2015-07-10

As the charismatic frontman for the Moons, British guitarist, singer, and songwriter Andy Crofts is a driven man on a mission. Currently on tour as “Modfather” Paul Weller’s keyboardist and documentary filmmaker, the confident, sharp Crofts seeks to spark creativity and musicality in a throng of eager fans.

Crofts had an unassuming start with music: a friend of his found a discarded acoustic guitar in a dumpster when Crofts was a child. Borrowing his friend’s oddly-stringed guitar, Crofts began teaching himself the rudiments of the instrument, which sparked a lifelong passion. After honing his craft in various bands, Crofts found himself a member of the On Offs. During his time with them, Crofts recorded demos and released them through his MySpace page. When the On Offs disbanded, Crofts forged ahead, using his demos as a foundation. He declined to release music under his own name, favoring the solidarity of a band, so the Moons was born.

The Moons’ sound has been described as an amalgamation of psychedelic, British pop, indie rock, and classic rock. Influences range from the Rolling Stones to Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys to David Bowie are infused, sans mimicry, throughout. Lyrics speak of the peaks and valleys of Crofts’s daily life, and his thoughts about aspects of society.

Acid Jazz Records picked up the Moons’ first album, Life on Earth. Released in 2010, the debut disc featured friend and collaborator Paul Weller on piano (on “Wondering”) and lead guitar (on “Last Night on Earth”). In 2011, the Moons adventured across Europe, chosen to support Beady Eye. The band recorded its second album, Fables of History, in 2012. Produced by Jan “Stan” Kybert and mastered by Howie Weinberg, Fables of History netted the band a tailor-made record deal through independent rock label Schnitzel Records.

Signed on a new moon, the 2012 deal enabled the band to release music in a variety of formats to a larger audience. Mindwaves, the Moons’ third album, was released in 2014, again through Schnitzel. As with both previous releases, Mindwaves featured some changes in band personnel, with founder Crofts remaining the central figure. All three of the Moons’ releases landed respectably on the UK Indie Albums charts, a remarkable achievement for any band. The band’s latest collector vinyl release through Schnitzel is Live at Bush Hall. “Celebrating a splendid selection of songs” from the band’s three releases, Live at Bush Hall showcases a band working through a raw, rollercoaster gig.

A Rickenbacker-toting Crofts waxed prosodic about the band’s new album and the show from which it came. Reflective and articulate, he shared some of his inspiration, methods, and madness for bringing his music and vision to fruition.

* * *

You’ve got a new album! They’re like children: it’s mean to try to pick a favorite. May we talk a little bit about Live at Bush Hall?

Bush Hall is a small venue in Shepherds Bush, London. It has a beautiful interior with red lighting and chandeliers. I personally think it sits on the fence between a “good club gig” and “something more special”. For a band like the Moons, it seemed like the perfect place to record our live show, so we booked it in. It was also [Moons guitarist] Chris Watson’s birthday that same day, so it had more of a special meaning.

Okay, what happened?

It’s all kinda funny really, because on the night of the show, so many things actually went wrong for us. We had two guitar amps die during the set. To top it off, my voice was sore as hell. I originally thought it was a write off, and not going to be good enough, but after cutting out all the awkward silences of guitar amps exploding and such, it actually turned out a great gig.

As for my voice, it sounds fine, and I think I was maybe more worried that I should have been. The only song you can hear my voice struggling on is “Jennifer (Sits Alone)”. We nearly took it off the album, but then I thought “Sod it! Let’s leave it in”, as that’s how it was that night, so who cares. Apart from a few things working against us, it actually turned out great.

You ended up with a presentable show after all.

We decided with the record label that it would be cool to just put 500 copies out on a nice coloured vinyl, and let it become something more special for fans. The vinyl is a marbled red and white 180g beauty, and the cover artwork is by a fabulous artist called Ethan Morrow. I originally came across his artwork, and thought it was perfect. I feel [the artwork] resembles people watching and observing the Moons, kind of leaving us exposed, I guess. I thought it resembled being live and exposed from a raw performance.

Is this a multi-tracked live recording? Because it’s super clear; it sounds great. If you hadn’t left the inter-song banter and applause in, I’d think it was a “live in the studio” recording for sure.

Yeah. It took some editing to make it sound better and clearer. We managed to reduce a lot of spill, and it gave it more punch. On the night of the show, we didn’t have a mic in the crowd, so although we enhanced the crowd’s volume, what you can hear is mainly from the stage mics. It all just turned out better to mix the show this way, as it wasn’t the kind of gig where you had that big spill like an arena show. Bush Hall is only 500 capacity, I think, so it’s just a big club gig.

I’ve got to hand it to you. The mix and engineering sounds great, even on an average computer system.

I’m pretty happy with the mix. The show had lots of problems, so it took some editing and mixing to make it flow better, but we got there in the end. I took care of mixing the album, and, as always, there are many things I could have done better, or things I have missed. At the end of the day, it’s a raw show, it is what it is. We use a few different guitar pedals that give us some cool different sounds, but there may be a few different tones due to changing guitar amps during the set.

Such great spring reverb! How important are “the details”: subtle things like dynamics or changing chords to your composition? At first listen, the songs seem fairly uncomplicated, they bring back a looser, glory days of the ’60s rock vibe.

That’s the way I have always written my songs, and it must come from my admiration for my peers on the music world.

Dynamics are very important to me. In general, I like lots of contrast in my songs, but I sometimes like to just turn up the drive and let rip. It depends on the song though, as I seem to have two sides to my writing. One side is punk inspired, but the other side is more musical and melodic. The latter being my fave, I think. It feels more natural to write melodies and harmonies. Chord changes just go with the territory. never think about them when writing; I just let them fall out of me, just like my melodies. Sometimes I think some chords have been used to death, but then the melody is so good that it adds a different spin, and makes simple songs come to life. Effects like spring reverbs and delays are my pride and joy, my favourite sounds. I can make my guitar sound like a ghost though all of that, and I love those spooky sci-fi vibes in my music. I am very passionate about my music, and only write what comes as a natural instinct to me. If it feels like I’m forcing a song, I usually scrap it.

You managed to have something ready for the very first “Worldwide Record Release Day”.

It wasn’t originally planned that we would release anything on the worldwide record release day, although I’m pretty happy about it. If we are involved, that’s cool.

Moons-wise, it’s nicely career-spanning.

The live album is a nice collection of songs taken from our three studio albums, Life on Earth, Fables of History, and our most recent album, Mindwaves. I didn’t put a lot of thought into the setlist for the album, it was just the songs we’d been playing live at the time. If I was to actually put a “best of” together, that would maybe be a little different. I think the live album gives a good mix of our songs though, played in a very rough and ready way.

Why a live album? It’s your fourth, but it’s your first live disc. Are there special circumstances around this?

I wanted to do a live record just to mix things up a bit, and take a short break away from the studio albums. Maybe I thought it was easier to do a live album, as the songs were already written, so ‘you can just stick the record out’ and so on, but it was a bit harder than that. Mixing the album took some work, due to the live problems, but it was all fun in the end. I didn’t wanna get too precious about it, as it’s just a live album. I didn’t want to do something cheesy like U2 or Coldplay or something. I just wanted a raw gig with all my bad guitar playing. [laughs]

Would you do it again?

I’m not sure I’d do another live album, unless it was really a controlled show in a studio with a small audience, or something like that. Who knows though, I may change my mind one day. Maybe an acoustic show with strings …

You guys would have done well as the Goons! As sharp-dressed thugs, creeps; the “mental visual” seems so unexpected that it’s funny …

[laughs] I love the Goons. Funny you should mention them, because it was the Goons that reminded me about naming our band the Moons. When I was a kid, I always liked the idea of a band called the Moons, and then years later, I had forgotten all about it, and was looking for a band name. I turned the TV on, and there was a documentary about comedians the Goons, and I was like “Oh yeah!” it came back to me. I was sure I’d call us the Moons after that. It’s certainly not the best band name in the world, but we have all seen the moon, and we all have that in common. It’s something that sits in the sky every night, and is totally taken for granted. If another moon was to appear in the sky one night, it would be front page news! I think our moon is beautiful, and we should all look at it more.

How long have you been active in music, performing and writing?

I’d say about about 20 years in total. That would include being in rubbish bands, and learning my craft, and such. I have been involved and playing for quite a while. I will create until the day I die.

What I’m noticing on your albums is how nice the tone sounds, especially the drum sound. It doesn’t have a triggered electronic sound at all: it sounds very human, acoustic, genuine. Then you have the instruments and layers nicely balanced. Is that from really picky mixing, or what?

Maybe from being really picky in the mixing, but also from just having good taste. Yeah, I’m not a fan of cheesy clicky drum sounds or triggered drums. I love real drums and real ambiance. I like the kit to have balls, and not sound like a ’90s white funk band.

“Heart and Soul” has a vintage glammy Bowie swagger.

The glam thing was a big phase I was going though on Mindwaves. I’m always on that trip to be honest, but I really wanted a few sounds like that. It was kind of a nod to my idols like Bowie and Bolan. I’d never want to try and compete with them, as I am just not worthy, but I’m a fan, and I wanted some of that vibe. I started writing “Heart and Soul” at home; it came to me instantly. I plugged my Rickenbacker into my amp and just started playing, I had most of the song within an hour, I reckon. I think the middle section came later. I wanted a minimal drum sound, like just a kick and snare in the verses, to make it very clean and raw. We play it slightly different live, to make it swing.

What are your favorite genres of art outside of music?

You mentioned that you would practice art, if not for music. What are your favorite genres of art outside of music?

Art has always been important to me, in many formats. I grew up as an only child, and I think I found a way of expressing myself through the arts. Over the years, other then music, I have dropped in and out of drawing and painting, which I love to do. I find myself more involved with photography and filming lately. I’m currently making an on the road documentary film about Paul Weller, which I intend to finish and release by the end of the year. I’m no pro at all, but I think I have my own style. I do feel a constant need to create, and get really grumpy if I’m not doing something. Every year I say I am going to do an exhibition of my photography, but I never get around to doing it. I’d maybe do photography exhibition and tie it in with some of my film work and music/poetry to make it more of a creative experience.

The music you’re composing seems to reflect on an era gone by, when guitars were guitars and not virtual instruments, when drums were acoustic and not synth-based. It’s very “hand-crafted”, or “human”, or “organic”. How is the advance of technology influencing the creation of your music?

That’s a tough one, because music and the technology that goes with it has come such a long way. My music seems to have this thread to the bands of yesterday, because that’s the music I love the most. When I think about all the bands that inspire me the most, it is always [the] real guitars and drums that appeal to me. I’m not ignorant to other types of music. There’s lots of stuff I like and often listen to, but I always tend to go back to my favourite bands. Virtual instruments do have their place though: when I’m doing demos at home, I use lots of them to get sounds I like. It’s just a matter of doing it all with taste. Even when I use synth type sounds, I always tend to use older sounds, even if it’s an ’80s synth. It depends on the song I’m working on, and my current mood.

For all that it isn’t, and all of it’s shortcomings, the internet is a fantastic music discovery vehicle, and it sure makes life easier! Besides it’s flaws, do you like this digital age? What do you find is the main strength of the internet, music-wise?

It took me a long time to understand the internet for what it is actually good for. In general, I think the internet is fantastic, and all that knowledge at your finger tips is pretty amazing. Being able to talk with people [around the world] so easily like this, is really mind blowing. I also think it has been the death of the music business. It’s great to discover new music, but so much music has and is being downloaded and streamed for free, that artists like myself have no chance of ever actually selling records like the old days. Everything has gone back to DIY, and bands/record labels have had to take this on for any chance of moving forward.

The internet’s masses can be a little intrusive.

I find that you have to keep your fanbase close and look after them. The internet has taken the magic and mystery from artists. It now feels like you can talk to them via Facebook, Twitter, and all that, so their lives are exposed. It’s not all a band thing. It was also great when you couldn’t access all the info on a person, and it made you more appreciative when you found out something new.

You’ve got a pretty fierce DIY ethic with self mixing and self producing. What made you decide to “do it all”, so to speak, with Mindwaves this time around?

One thing I learned through my years doing this, is that nobody wants to help you in this business, unless you are already successful or of any importance. I’ve become a “jack of all trades, but master of none”, if you know what I mean. With this in mind, I had to learn how to design and make posters and artwork, how to book gigs, and basically be a manager. Most bands these days will be in this position, as that’s what’s pushed upon us. The good thing is that you can give the fans a hands-on approach that makes them feel closer to the music. The other side is that sometimes you just wanna do music, and not all this boring stuff.

As for mixing and producing, I see this differently, as I love playing around with music, and I’m a bit too much of a control freak to just leave my music with someone else. I’d really have to trust someone for me to do that. In general, I like to have some control over what happens, so that’s why I have started mixing my own stuff. There are a few producers I would like to work with in the future for sure, but in the meantime, I will sit behind the mixing desk. I’m always learning, and still have lots to learn. I feel I can get a good sound across and make things sound interesting. I sometime mix songs for unsigned bands cheaply, as I like to help them out, and also like to practice at the same time.

You had help, but at least you “kept it in the family”.

With Mindwaves, I and [Moons drummer] Ben Gordelier did the album ourselves. I’m good at the sounds, and Ben is good at all the editing and stuff. We work well together. I had prepared a lot of the song parts at home, and then I took them into the studio to build on. It was fun to do. I still would have done a lot of things differently in hindsight. DIY has become the way the Moons work. It’s not easy.

So many bands talk about their material like it’s not going to pass muster. Then you guys tell people “We write good songs, and… they’re damn strong.” Where is that coming from, so to speak?

I am both of these things. I think I can write a good song with a catchy hook, but I do also make music for myself. I obviously love it when people like my music, because it makes me feel stronger. At the end of the day, if nobody could ever hear my songs, I would still write them and record them in the same way. I think of them as my music diary, the legacy I will leave behind for my family, however big or small it might be. If you try to always make music to please others, you will constantly be swimming against the tide. Stay true to yourself, and people will feel those vibrations from you.

You’re generously giving back to the underground scene by offering to mix unsigned acts. Live at Bush Hall and Mindwaves are sort of business cards in that respect.

I guess they have become calling cards, but they were never intended that way. I do like to help out some unsigned bands where I can, but I would also like to work with some signed bands with a bigger profile in the studio, and get an album down. I have some good ideas, and can help people with arrangements and melodies. Maybe that will come next, but it depends on the band, as I would have to like their style first, and see potential with my ideas. I am also in no rush to do this, as I want to work on more of my own music.

I had a conversation with someone a few years ago about how to describe color to the blind, and one of your comments recalled that memory. You described a mental synesthesia in regards to music and color, and mentioned that you see yellow as happy or sunny, black as sad. Could you elaborate on that a little?

Yeah, it was much stronger when I was younger, but I still have these feelings. I just think I am more used to it now. When I was younger, I would lay in bed and I could see flashes of colour in front of my eyes that would connect with any music ideas I was thinking about. I used to write songs in my mind like that, and kind of arrange the parts by just thinking. I’d then get up in the middle of the night, play quietly on my guitar, and sing a melody into my tape recorder without waking my mum. It’s very hard to explain, because it may just have been my imagination, but that’s how I felt.

That has to be a tremendous boon to your creativity.

It’s not always literal colours that have feelings. Sometimes it can be weather that affects me, such as rain. I love it when it rains, and I am behind some glass with a guitar or piano, as it bring me lots of inspiration. I don’t know how, but it reaches deep inside, and helps me write. I remember I once stood at a bus stop, and it was a freezing cold morning. The sun was out, with some snow on the ground. All I could think of was writing “a song in the key of D with a crispy thick electric guitar sound” because it felt like it connected with the weather at that very moment. Anyway, it all sounds a little weird I know, and it’s very hard to explain without sounding like an idiot.

It sounds like you feel you have a pretty hefty musical-inspiration debt to Brian Wilson. What specific elements of his and the Beach Boys’ sound do you find most enticing, and which elements draw your ear most?

I couldn’t believe it when I first heard Brian Wilson talk about something similar. Once I got into his music even more, I could totally understand what he was doing. Brian Wilson has become one of my idols, and I respect him very much. I first listened to Pet Sounds when I was younger, and it took a few plays to understand. One day I put it on, was laying on my bed, and it hit me how amazing it really was. It was more than that, and it blew my mind beyond belief. I could hear all of his colours in his music, and thought it was the most beautiful record. After that, my approach to music changed for good. When I heard the Beach Boys’ Smile album, that did the same for me. It was just fantastic. I could almost eat the sound like an apple, as it has so many layers, and texture. Brian Wilson was only one of the people that “taught” me music though. I’d be nothing without my other teachers: Lennon and McCartney, Ray Davies, David Bowie, John Sebastian, Marriott and Lane, and all of the Motown bands.

How important is flow, or sequencing, on the Moons records?

I usually write a bunch of songs around the same period of time. Soon as I do this, I class them as a whole, and tend to think of them as something that will be on the same album, as they are all coming from the same place and vision. When I wrote Mindwaves, half of those songs came to me pretty quickly, and I knew there was an album forming. If I was to make an album of songs that were just anything, I think the listener may get a little lost. I prefer an album to be a moment in time that’s captured, before moving on to the next.

Who has really caught your ear as an innovator? Are artists going about this wrong?

I have been getting into a French band for a while called La Femme. Some of their songs are interesting, and I like the way they use guitars and electronica. Some of the songs have like a spring reverb guitar sound mixed with some cool synths. The singer Clemence really adds something special with her voice. Nobody is doing anything wrong, that’s for sure. Music has no boundaries, and anyone can make their own path within it.

How much is really “new” these days, in the world of rock?

As for what’s new, I’m not sure. I feel like everything is a pinch from the past in some way or another. I mean, The Strokes for instance were the biggest thing when they came along, but they were still a flashback to the sound of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Not long ago in England, there was an ’80s revival, and so on.

What are artists doing right?

I would love nothing more than for someone to come along and do something that is completely original, but I’m just not sure. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by yesterday, and I like to think that people like myself can take inspiration from it and move forward. To me, a good melody is a good melody, and it doesn’t matter what you compare it to. People are too quick to pigeonhole these days, instead of just enjoying the music for what it really is.

My theory is simple: I’m not trying to change the world, I’m just trying to add a little colour.

Mindwaves has a lot of crazy synth effects going on, almost in lieu of guitar solos. That accomplishes the task of bringing to mind the decade of psychedelia, but also modernizing the songs. Do you compose with those parts or breaks as core elements, or are they more of an added layer or color thing?

Sometimes I have a part in mind, but lately, I put the song together and then try a few different sounds out, to see what interests me. I sometimes get bored of guitar solos, and like to change it up a bit. The synth sounds are old Korg keyboards, and Moogs, as I really wanted some cool ’70s stuff in there. Mindwaves certainly was a good [sonic] move for the Moons, and I think we managed to keep good songs whilst trying other sounds out.

How important is spontaneity in your composition and playing?

Very important to me, as I rely on my natural instinct when writing. I don’t like to push myself too hard, as I think my inner mind knows more than me. In the studio, it’s different in the way that we can be spontaneous, whilst deliberately trying different instruments. We can kind of just press record and see what happens. I like doing that, as new parts can just spring up from nowhere.

Where do you sit in the debate of style over substance?

I think style and substance work well together, but for some bands they may look good, but they don’t have any tunes. I think if you try to be cool then you’re not. Just be yourself and play your guitar!

How do you “keep going” through the bad days, like if you’re ill, or feeling discouraged or down?

You just have to carry on and not get down about it. If I’m ill, I may play some guitar whilst laying on the sofa watching tv, but I doubt I would write anything. The music business is a cruel place, and feeling discouraged is a demon I have had to deal with many times. One thing I have learned is that it does pass, just like writer’s block passes.

Do you have any advice for bands who might be “on a brink”, poised for success or failure, can you inspire them?

If you’re on your way up, don’t let it go to your head. Remember where you come from. For bands that feel discouraged, whatever the odds, you have to stay focused, and keep believing in what you do. People will knock you, and that goes for press too, but just rise above it. If you truly believe in what you do, then nothing else matters. Don’t let the bastards grind you down!

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