Moon Taxi Marries Person and Professional On ‘Daybreaker’

Once known primarily for its live shows, Moon Taxi continues its glide toward become an established--and memorable--studio band.
Moon Taxi
Vagrant / BMG

“It feels like our entire career has been on the road,” says guitarist Trevor Terndrup of Nashville’s Moon Taxi. Even if he were a man given to exaggeration Terndrup’s assessment isn’t that far off the mark. Since coming together in 2006 the quintet has performed over a thousand shows. Terndrup would probably be the first to say that he lives for the thrill of playing live but admits that the group started honing its studio and songwriting chops a few years ago in the hopes that fans could better appreciate the two worlds Moon Taxi occupies.

“It was really when we put out Cabaret (2012) that we started focusing on putting out records we could really be proud of,” he says, and adds, “We poured our hearts into this record.”

It shows. The band’s new release, Daybreaker, is the portrait of a band that’s moving forward by leaps and bounds.

Whether songs such as the dance floor number “All Day All Night”, the country-tinged “Run Right Back”, or the anthemic album opener “Year Zero”, it’s clear that this is a band that’s committed to offering fans the ultimate listening experience in the space of the album’s eleven songs.

There are moments of sonic density—parts of truly catchy songs—that require and reward deep listening, times when more than a little fleck of gospel music finds its way into the mix or a moment or two when you can’t tell if you’re listening to a contemporary or classic rock band. For Terndrup and his bandmates—Spencer Thompson, Wes Bailey, Tyler Ritter and Tommy Putnam—that was the point.

“It’s about producing sounds that you might not necessarily achieve in a live setting,” he says. “We had time to consider what elements would make for the best songs. But playing that stuff live is different. Something that’s great in the studio might not translate live. But in the studio you get a chance to take a step back, take an extra listen. I do enjoy that but I’m more of a live, spontaneous performer. It’s fortunate that we have some great, patient people in the band who help me to step back and take an overall listen to what takes place in the studio.”

In the season of the song, when some writers and even musicians themselves are championing the single and the EP and steering clear of the expensive-to-produce album, Terndrup says his band is keen to keep the album as art form alive.

“I really appreciate people who take the time to digest a full album. I’m that way as well. I don’t think that it’s a dying breed,” he says. “I think there are people out there who only have that one single on their iTunes and listen to that all the time. But I think making albums is something that we’ve always wanted to do. We’re record guys. We want to make great, cohesive works.”

In keeping with the theme of cohesion, a number of songs on the new record focus on life on and off the road and the guitarist/vocalist says that the band members were aware that there were recurring themes emerging as they worked on the songs.

“The songs are reflective of being home and about our personal lives,” he says. “I think it’s more honest and introspective.“ And the clear emphasis on honing the songs and making a piece of work that has a lasting impact is also present. In the end, he offers, the songs are all any musician has. “We’re only going to able to play live shows for a certain number of years,” he says, “the songs are going to be the things that outlast us all.”

As for the writing itself, Terndrup points out that despite an idea that was floated in the press early on, there are only three major writers in the band. “I would say that Spencer and Wes and myself are the main idea sparkers and then we all fan the flames of the idea,” he says. “We do try to adhere to that democratic system of everyone being able to contribute. But not everyone’s a songwriter. That’s something that we used to say but it’s just not true.”

Conveying his own emotions in songs may be one thing but having to convey those felt by others is another and so, he says, there are times when that democratic process challenges everyone’s vision and abilities. “I’m in a unique position because I have to sing it and internalize the words and the melodies. Sometimes it’s not going to end up the way that the other guys may have thought it would,” he offers. “So, in that sense that’s a real collaboration. I’m filtering it through my brain. But the whole process goes smoothly out of respect for everyone else’s musicianship and their abilities and who they are as people. We’ve had the same lineup for about eight years now so I think we have a good way of dealing with all those personality types.”

Although he’s tight-lipped about his influences he’s less tight-lipped about his instrument of choice, saying that he feels like there’s a reason that the electric guitar continues to endure.

“I think some of it is that the spirit of those original rock ‘n’ rollers lives on and that every suburban kid wants to pick up a guitar and learn it. I think it’s also that sense of freedom that it gives you, that sense of rebellion,” he says. “And you’re able to pour your angst into three power chords and the truth. I think that that will still resonate with people, despite all these big bass drops and all the electronic stuff. I think the guitar will endure. I don’t think that anyone’s going to pick up a laptop and say, ‘Oh yeah! This is my ticket to rebellion.’”

At the same time, he says, he and the other Moon Taxi men aren’t averse to offering listeners hints of the latest electronic gadgets.

“We do like to incorporate new technology into our sound but we like to blend that with old guitar harmonies, the occasional banjo,” he says. “We’re trying to strike a balance between that new and old approach as well.”

And no matter the technology on hand Terndrup says that he band has a very traditional goal in mind with its music: “I think the ultimate goal is to please people and leave people either changed in a positive way or an introspective way. I write for other people. I want them to sing along, even if it’s just a catchy melody with nonsensical words,” he says. “They can interpret them however they want but I think the audience if very key to our writing process. We want them to be changed—in a positive way.”