Interviews

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.

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.

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