Last week we had the opportunity to catch up with James Muschler, the talented percussionist from the up-and-coming live dance music outfit, Moon Hooch. For those of you unfamiliar with Moon Hooch, they’re a trio comprised of two sax players, Mike Wilbur (left) and Wenzl McGowen (right), and a drummer, James (center).
Moon Hooch started out at the New School in New York City, and made a name for themselves throwing impromptu raves in the NYC subway system, most infamously off the Bedford L stop. They’ve produced two studio albums, and are currently perfecting their third project. These days, you can find Mike, James and Wenzl at festivals all across America, including Camp Bisco 2015, and notably the upcoming Catskill Chill festival in Hancock, NY. We are covering Catskill from September 18th-20th, and are excited to see Moon Hooch back in action – get your tickets here.
Sound Fix: Hey James, thanks for taking some time to speak with us today, appreciate it.
James Muschler: Hey man, no problem.
SF: So kick things off, tell us where you currently are right now. You’re based in Brooklyn, is that where you’re at?
JM: No actually right now I’m in Cleveland at my folks house.
SF: So you’re from Cleveland, but now in New York. What prompted that move and what’s your take on the New York music & arts scene?
JM: Well I love Brooklyn, the scene, and I love the stimulation. I moved to New York when I was 18 because I wanted to study music, and I got in to the New School. I wanted to be in New York City more than anything, because I knew that’s where a lot of the great music was happening.
SF: We’re based in New York as well, and we completely agree, it’s the perfect backdrop for a music brand and band. We actually saw you perform back in January while opening for Lotus at Terminal 5. More recently, we saw you guys perform at Camp Bisco. A good portion of our following are loyal Campers, so we’re interested to hear your take on the festival and a bit about your Bisco experience.
JM: It was a great festival, we had a lot of fun. It was more organized than festivals usually are, which was great. I remember that the performance was a lot of fun as well.
SF: We loved the addition of Honeycomb, the beatboxer, to the latter half of your set. It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. Tell us about your relationship with Honeycomb and how that happened at Bisco.
JM: Oh man, he is so talented.
SF: As a drummer, you must have loved the layers he added to the rhythm of your set.
JM: Oh yeah, absolutely.
SF: So back to the origins of Moon Hooch, how did you guys meet, and how did you decide to put together a trio with the unique dance music elements that define Moon Hooch?
JM: Well Wenzl, Mike and I, we were all attending the New School of Jazz Music, so we all have deep backgrounds in jazz. However, Wenzl left the New School one year to produce electronic music on a cruise ship, and he also played sax and clarinet as part of the cruise ship band. He was doing that cruise for 6 months, and when he came back, he had all this new knowledge of house music and producing. So we were busking on the street together, and he was playing loop-based dance riffs, and I was drumming a house beat. That was the first kind of seed, you know? Then one day, Mike happened to be around with his horn. Mike and I had played together previously too. We were in the same ensemble at the New School. So we had played together, but the first time Mike, Wenzl and I ever played together was on the streets. We played in sort of that idiom, you know, of electronic dance music with horn riffs. With Mike there we were able to do bass and harmony. So that’s really how it all started. People reacted in a very positive way, and we decided to just keep doing this.
SF: It’s actually funny, a few years back a friend of mine told me about this cool group, Moon Hooch, that he had seen throwing an impromptu rave off the Bedford L stop in New York City. So that’s the first time I ever heard of Moon Hooch, and ever since then I’ve been following your band. In that vein, tell us what it’s like to play in the underground, and how that perhaps helped shape your current sounds.
JM: Oh man, it’s crazy down there. You never know what you’re going to get. Because there are so many crazy people in New York – especially late at night. As soon as midnight hits, on the weekends, it’s over. People coming back from the bars, people are already crazy, but now they’re crazy and drunk. The craziest thing that ever happened to me down there – it was 3 in the morning and we were playing off the 6th Ave L stop, and we were just about to start packing up. Then this guy who was super enthusiastic about the music leaned in to whisper me something and actually licked my ear. I whipped back, and he moved away just screaming “Sorry, sorry, sorry!”
SF: That scares me because I live off the 8th ave L stop. I’ll try to stay away from those ear-lickers in that case.
JM: Yes I’d strongly advise that, stay away if you can. They might catch you by surprise though.
SF: So when I think about the subway, I think of a cave. In previous interviews, you, Mike and Wenzl have been known to categorize your music as “Cave Music.” Have your subway experiences helped craft that genre, and can you explain a bit more about what Cave Music is?
JM: Well the subway definitely changed our sound as we responded to the sounds of the subway. The subway is really reverberating, and it allowed for a chordal texture whenever a fast melody or harmony was played. So by doing arpeggios, you get kind of a chordal texture that resonates nicely. So that’s really the original Moon Hooch sound – boomy drums and wild reverbs, you know? But now we emulate that, but a little more strategically with the Ableton Live set. We’re able to turn on reverbs and turn it off whenever needed. But Cave Music as a genre? How it was coined? Actually, our mutual friend coined it in a voicemail that was sent to me. My friend Mike sent me a voicemail that went like this: “Hey James, I just thought of a new style of music. It’s called Cave Music. It’s like house, but more jagged, wild and free to live in.” End of voice mail. He left that message for me literally a month after Moon Hooch started, and we didn’t know what to call our music, so it kind of just stuck from there.
SF: So we’ve talked a bit about Bisco, we’ve talked a bit about your origins, but now looking ahead, we’re covering Catskill Chill. We’re trying to talk to some of our favorite bands on the lineup before the festival. That said, how did Catskill Chill find you, or vice versa, and what are your plans for the festival?
JM: To be honest, I’m not 100% how we got signed up, but our set is going to be a full hour and a half long set starting at 6:30. So yeah, there’s going to be some new tunes in there showcased from the new record. We’re introducing some new instruments, in fact, Mike’s going to be rapping!
JM: I’m going to be playing the tabla, which is an Indian instrument. So yeah! We’re going to be premiering some brand new instruments and music for Catskill Chill. It’ll be fun.
SF: So kind of hitching off that – I’ve seen through Instagram that there’s a new project in the works. Can you tell us about what’s up next from Moon Hooch?
JM: Well, I can speak for the three of us, that we feel most strongly about this album, from the three we’ve done. We’ve already finished recording it, and we think it sounds great. Whereas the first album we really really like because it was raw, and it was an accurate representation of Moon Hooch at that time. The second album, we stuck our foot heavily into the realm of electronic music, and as a result, it sounded a bit static. And this third album is a great blend of both. It’s super wild, super free, super fresh, but it’s also really refined, and the composition style is more interesting, and I’m happy and proud of it.
SF: That’s great, looking forward to it. Do you have a name for the album yet?
JM: Ummm, no we haven’t figure that out yet.
SF: One other curveball question – will Honeycomb be featured on any tracks?
JM: Oh, that would be awesome, but no!
SF: So before Moon Hooch was formed, did you get a chance to check out Catskill Chill and Camp Minglewood as an attendee?
JM: No, never got a chance unfortunately!
SF: Similarly, before Moon Hooch, or even now, what shows and concerts do you like to attend? Who are your biggest musical influences?
JM: Well, I’m a big fan of Indian Classical Music. I’ve been to this place called the Chhandayan Center in New York to see a lot of Indian Music there. That place is cool. It’s run by my teacher actually. They have concerts all the time of the highest caliber, with musicians from India coming over. I also used to go to this place called The Stone in the Lower East Side. I used to go see a lot of experimental, avantgarde music there. In the apartment that I lived in with Wenzl and Mike for 5 years we used to put on shows that weren’t Moon Hooch. It was this cool musical community of 12 or so artists in one house, we played a lot of music there and saw a lot of shows there as well.
SF: So I just checked out your vegan cooking website, Cooking in the Cave. Tell us about that side project, and a bit about your eating habits! Are you a vegan yourself? Do you hold to that edible philosophy?
JM: Oh yeah! And I am, I’ve been a vegetarian for about 5 years. I’ve been between going Veg and going Vegan for the past five years, and at the moment, I’m a Vegan. I don’t know what is man! Sometimes I just love cheese. If it’s good quality cheese, and I know where it came from, I’ll eat it. It’s easy to find good cheese where I currently am in Cleveland because it’s right next to Pennsylvania, which as a ton of small Amish dairy farms. But yeah, so how did Cooking in the Cave start? Well I grew up cooking, and I love to cook, and I was cooking a lot on the road. I have this 14 inch Cuisinart electric skillet, and I cook grains, and I make stir fries, and I make oatmeal in the morning sometimes. Then I started getting creative with the recipes, and would document the ones I liked on that site. I actually haven’t posted a recipe in a long time, but I have plans with this upcoming tour.
SF: So this is kind of a weird question. I’ve been playing alto sax for about ten years now, and I know from my journey that I had an interesting high school experience with music and jazz. I was forced to play in the marching band to play in the varsity jazz band, and I wasn’t quite old enough ever to catch the cool sax shows that I would’ve liked to see, but could still catch older-crowd sax shows at jazz clubs in Boston with my folks. Tell us about your high school music experience. What was yours like?
JM: Oh nice! I had a really supportive music program at my high school. They were awesome. I was a part of the high school symphony, and I played percussion. So tympani, marimba, snare drum. I was also in the jazz band, and played drum set. I was motivated to start practicing drums seriously when I didn’t get into the jazz band the first year, and I really wanted to get in. So I started practicing jazz drums intensely for a few months leading up to the next audition, and I finally got in. Once I was in the jazz band, there was this great instructor, named Ryun Louie, who came in and he was there to coach the rhythm section, but he was also a percussionist and coached the drum line, playing the snare drum there. So I started learning my rudiments, getting classical proper technique down. Then I stgarted taking lessons with this guy Jamey Haddad, playing frame drum and the drumset. He really opened my world to Brazilian music, and music from all over the music, as well as jazz. My jazz band director was great, everyone was very supportive leading up to the New School.
SF: That’s awesome, have you heard of the Essentially Ellington High School Festival in New York? It’s an invitational festival for the top 15 high school jazz bands across the globe to compete and get lessons with the entire Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. We were invited one year and got to play with Sherwin Irby, Ted Nash, all those guys.
JM: Oh yeah! I know of that festival, and of Ted Nash. My mom is friends with someone who lives in the same apartment building Ted does in New York. Random fact! I think, currently, Ali Jackson is the current drummer in the orchestra, at least the last time I checked.
SF: Cool man. In line with that, who is your favorite drummer of all time? If you had to choose.
JM: Well, there’s two, can there be a tie?
JM: One’s name is Tyshawn Sorey, and the other is Dan Weiss, who was actually my teacher for a few years.
SF: So you mentioned you have a tour coming up. Tell us a little bit about this tour.
JM: Well the first part of the tour will be in Northeastern US, then we’ll be heading across to the Midwest, and then we’re going through Missouri, and then we fly to California for a festival, then we fly back to Missouri, then we drive through Kansas to Colorado, then we’re in the Pacific Northwest for a week and a half. That will be five weeks into the tour, and from there, not sure what we’ll do from there.
SF: So it’s been about a half hour, and before we part ways I want to open up the floor to you. Anything else you’d like to share with our readers and your fans?
JM: Well, I’m really grateful to be able to do what I do, to be able to go on tour and play with such phenomenal musicians as Mike and Wenzl, and I’m really grateful there are so many people that love our music!