How Moon Hooch Went From Subways to Ted Talks

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Imagine the most amazing dance party you’ve ever been to, but instead of a DJ keeping the party bouncing, it’s two saxophones and a set of drums. The dance party you’re imagining is a Moon Hooch concert. We talked to band member and saxophonist Mike Wilbur before his show in Dallas.

Q: First, can you tell me about the name Moon Hooch?
A: This band was almost a joke, it was just a way to make money, and we weren’t serious. So when people started asking our name I said “Moon Juice” then we went home and checked out Moon Juice and there were like six Moon Juice bands so we flipped through a thesaurus and found hooch. It was very symmetrical.

Q: How did you start playing the sax?
A: I picked up the saxophone when I was 8-years-old. There was a really cool guy who looked awesome playing saxophone. I just knew that’s what I wanted to play. He played “Sing, Sing, Sing.” It was loud and hip. I don’t miss classic jazz but I miss playing improvised music. Classic jazz was never my favorite. I got into jazz because my dad gave me a really old, rare John Coltrane bootleg. I didn’t like it at first but I grew to appreciate it. Coltrane became my idol.

Q: How did Moon Hooch Start?
A: We didn’t want normal jobs; we don’t fit into society very well. We were a bunch of heady jazz musicians that weren’t into accessible music. So we started playing on the street and doing what we love and people started dancing. There were big dance parties on the subway and we thought we should do something more so we started throwing raves in warehouses. Mike Doughty saw us playing in the subway and asked us to go on a national tour with him. So immediately we went from subways to real tours.

Q: Can you tell me about life on the road?
A: I’ve been on six or seven national tours. It’s exhausting and amazing. It’s a real blessing. It’s definitely a test of mental and physical stamina. I bet I burn up to 1200 calories per show. Right now, I’m in a relationship, I have a lady back home. We tried the whole open-relationship thing. It was difficult, definitely brought out some downward tendencies but we learned a lot. At this stage in the game we really love each other and I don’t feel the need to hook-up with people. I put all of my energy into music right now so it’s important for me to focus on that.

Q: You recently finished a TedTalk about your set-up, can you tell me what makes it so different?
A: We record all of our own music to a click track and we have automated tempo changes. So it’s basically a score from A-Z playing the whole thing through then afterwards we go through and draw automations of audio effects on each track. So they turn on and off throughout the set. It’s the same thing every night. It’s a composition. So it’s kind of like a reverse DJ. A DJ takes audio and adds live effects, and we take live instruments, and add recorded effects.

“This Is Cave Music” is out on iTunes but if you’re new to Moon Hooch you should watch their tiny desk concert for NPR below.