“Define and confine” no longer, according to the Seattle rockers, whose new album turned out to be an exercise in freedom. They started a new tour this week.
BY ERIC SWEDLUND
For the Moondoggies, Adiós I’m A Ghost (Hardly Art) serves as a literal farewell.
The Seattle band steps into its third album untethered from its past, from its sound, from the coincidental association with the harmony-rich alt-country resurgence that threatened to define and confine the Moondoggies during the band’s early years.
And, like a ghost, the band is now free to reconfigure itself into whatever shape it sees fit.
“On this record, I like to just call it rock ‘n’ roll because rock ‘n’ roll is an all-encompassing thing,” says singer-guitarist Kevin Murphy during an interview that touches on how the band redefined its creative process, incorporated new members and worked in the spirit of a surprising set of influences.
“I think it’s more of us just getting comfortable and being able to embrace a lot more ideas that are coming out,” Murphy says. “For us, we’ve always been in this alt-country thing because of the first record having some of that. But we feel there’s more to us than that and we have other ideas that don’t necessarily fit into that. It’s been more of an evolution of incorporating different ideas into our songwriting and just rolling with it.”
Formed in 2005 in Everett, Wash., the Moondoggies released debut Don’t Be A Stranger in 2008 on Hardly Art, an imprint of Sub Pop, which was introducing a new crop of local bands like Band of Horses and Fleet Foxes to the masses. Tidelands followed in 2010, but soon after bass player Bob Terreberry left the band. Jon Pontrello, who played drums in a previous band with Murphy, filled in on bass for the Tidelands tour, but Murphy says there was a jolt of turmoil that led to the band reassessing things.
In the end, Terreberry returned to the band and Pontrello stuck around as a multi-instrumentalist and the five-member Moondoggies (including Caleb Quick on keyboards and Carl Dahlen on drums) set out for the legendary Bear Creek Studios nearby to record Adiós I’m A Ghost.
“I see this band as a collective of friends who like to write together and draw things out of each other,” Murphy says. “We all kind of like each other’s style so we encourage each other to write as much as possible. I write a lot of skeletons on my own, but I like hearing their ideas. We have a pretty open policy when we’re sitting together writing and hearing each other and never really saying no to anything.”
With the band bent on experimenting and creating outside any boundaries, Adiós I’m A Ghost is a broad-spectrum rock record, with both raucous, wildly careening songs and those that are softly gorgeous.
“We sound like we sound because someone jumps up and says ‘What if we go in this direction?’ There was more of an idea going into this album as far as having a lot of different aspects of who we are,” Murphy says. The album’s visual component – a through-provoking cover with four boots seeming to grow multi-storied buildings where legs should be, with a fifth empty boot in the middle – comes from Murphy’s cousin, Seattle artist Drew Christie, an illustrator and animator responsible for the Moondoggies’ “Empress of the North” video and several projects with Light in the Attic Records. (Murphy: “[Christie had] made that and everybody asked ‘Where is the fifth one?’ so he added that and I thought it was really perfect as far as the ghost aspect.”)
The aforementioned new energy permeates the album. So even when the Moodoggies turn to their past strengths on songs like the soft and spooky acoustic “Pride” and the folky ballad “Stop Signs,” they’re informed by the spirit of a band that’s shed its skin.
“I think it all sounds like the same band, but it’s also OK if it wasn’t 100 percent cohesive. Fans will be OK with things always expanding. People will still get the idea and if anything, I hope it opens it up for listeners. I’m a big fan of Pink Floyd always sounding like themselves but changing from record to record. Blonde Redhead was a band I really loved that seemed to make interesting record every time that weren’t always the same.”
“Put this foolishness behind,” sings Murphy on “Stop Signs,” a song that distills the band’s embrace-the-uncertain-future mentality and proscribes a little recklessness in the process: “We just roll right through stop signs.” Meanwhile, the album’s title comes from a line in “Back to the Beginning,” a song with a bit of a deceptive name that urges, in keeping with the albums’ spirit, “don’t you go back to the beginning.”
“I felt like I wanted to have more variety in the songs we typically write,” explains Murphy. “We’ll usually have a lot of songs and scrap some things. This time we made a conscious effort to engage and find some of those ideas that have been floating around.”
Photo Credit: Hilary Harris
10.09.13 – Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock Social Club & =
10.10.13 – Madison, WI – The Frequency &
10.11.13 – Chicago, IL – The Empty Bottle &
10.12.13 – Pontiac, MI – The Pike Room at the Crofoot &
10.13.13 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Tavern &
10.14.13 – Toronto, ON – Horseshoe Tavern &
10.16.13 – Cambridge, MA – TT The Bear’s Place &
10.18.13 – Philadelphia, PA – Milkboy & @
10.19.13 – Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel &
10.20.13 – Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506 & (tickets)
10.21.13 – Atlanta, GA – The Earl &
10.25.13 – Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s & (tickets)
10.26.13 – Dallas, TX – The Foundry &
10.27.13 – Austin, TX – Holy Mountain &
10.28.13 – Norman, OK – The Opolis &
10.30.13 – Denver, CO – The High Dive &
11.03.13 – Wenatchee, WA – Erickson Residence
* – w/ The Quiet Ones, The Country Lips
^ – w/ Quiet Life, Gold Leaves
# – w/ Pickwick
% – w/ The Maldives
+ – w/ Neko Case
$ – w/ Jeffrey Martin
& – w/ Rose Windows
= – w/ Is/Is
@ – w/ the Bailey Hounds