The recently relocated psychedelic band is on tour to get tight before Austin.
It has become hip to not care about South by Southwest—It’s too big; it’s too corporate; it’s just a party. Moon Honey is not one of those naysayers. This year, the band will play Austin during SXSW for the third or fourth time says singer Jessica Ramsey, and this is the second time the psychedelic band originally from Baton Rouge will be an official part of the festival with a proper showcase. When Moon Honey plays One Eyed Jacks on Sunday night, it will be a stop on the band’s tour leading to SXSW.
“Usually it’s five, six or seven parties in a week and we get really exhausted and have fun,” Ramsey says of the band’s SXSW schedules. “You’re on the bill with so many different bands that you diversify your market and meet people that you never would have before.”
Normally, they assemble and practice a solid 40-minute set that shows off the band’s strengths, but that doesn’t mean they always get to do it. The soundman botched the sound so badly that Moon Honey only played two songs with functioning sound. “Our guitar player freaked out, smashed his guitar, then handed out free CDs,” Ramsey remembers. The upside of the disastrous night is that a number of people who saw the show felt bonded to the band by the experience and are now hardcore supporters.
One success the band has achieved can be directly attributed to SXSW. NPR music critic Ann Powers saw and loved the band at SXSW last year and drew attention to them during one of the NPR “All Songs Considered” nightly SXSW wrap-ups. This year, one of their songs appears on NPR’s “Austin 100” streamable, downloadable compilation of 100 songs by bands that will play SXSW this year.
“Sometimes I still get people saying, I heard you on NPR,” Ramsey says.
The band began life as Twin Killers, but after they had recorded Hand-Painted Dream Photographs, Ramsey, guitarist and principle songwriter Andrew Martin, and the rest of the band had second thoughts about the band’s name. “Twin Killers” sounded like a late ’90s, semi-retro punk/hard rock band, while Moon Honey’s music is more ornate and orchestrated with structures that owe more to prog rock than The Stooges.
Ramsey was not a part of the first incarnation of the band, but when they needed words to go with the music they’d written, the band members brought her in to write words and sing them to compositions they’d already written. Martin and then-drummer Jermaine Butler were big fans of Yes, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and King Crimson, and the music they had written was pretty dense. “It didn’t strike me as insurmountable because I didn’t have any prior experience,” Ramsey says. Her background was heavy on Joni Mitchell, Grace Slick, and Fiona Apple, and she grew up in Baton Rouge with a large country family that listened to Christian music. “I grew up in a large country family and we didn’t listen to too much rock ’n’ roll.”
Ramsey and the rest of the band shared an affection for Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, and the songs that she added lyrics to found their way to market in 2010 with the release of Lemon Heart Opera.
Moon Honey is writing new music, but the band is no hurry to record or start playing it. They tour a lot, and each night they’re playing songs from 2013’s Hand Painted Dream Photographs are new to someone. For now, they’re content to look for the right situation. “It’s a slow process for us that we don’t want to rush,” Ramsey says.
Any thoughts about a new album had to be put on the back burner when Martin and Ramsey relocated the band from Baton Rouge to Los Angeles. Moon Honey lost a few members in the move, and finding replacements in Los Angeles has been harder than they expected. A lot of the good players are already in demand and working, and many of the musicians in the garage rock scene weren’t good fits. The first few weeks of the tour have given the new lineup a chance to gel before Moon Honey plays Austin or returns to Los Angeles—a city it has yet to play. “We wanted to get out on the road and get tight together, get stronger as a band,” Ramsey says.
Martin and Ramsey fell love with the West Coast on a previous tour, and that partly inspired the move, but equally influential was the hunt for a place where audiences connected more strongly and in greater numbers to Moon Honey’s music. Ramsey still talks affectionately about Baton Rouge, and it is where she grew up, but she thinks the band hit its ceiling in a city that thinks about LSU football first. Despite that, Ramsey saw a lot of creativity and talent while playing in Baton Rouge, and she felt well-supported by fans and other musicians.
“It feels great to have this Louisiana backbone,” she says.