JPR Live Session: Moon Hooch

Apr 20, 2018

If any band is a poster child for turning the power of positive thoughts and intention into reality, it’s the explosive horn-and-percussion trio Moon Hooch. In just a few short years, the group — Michael Wilbur, fellow horn player Wenzl McGowen, and drummer James Muschler — has gone from playing on New York City subway platforms to touring with the likes of Beats Antique, They Might Be Giants, and Lotus, as well as selling out their own headline shows in major venues around the country.

On Red Sky, their third and most adventurous album to date, the band uses everything they’ve learned from their whirlwind journey to push their sound to new heights, bringing together the raw, transcendent energy of their live performances and the sleek sophistication of their studio work into a singular, intoxicating brew that blends elements of virtuosic jazz, groovy funk, and pulse-pounding electronic dance music.

It was two years ago that the band released This Is Cave Music, an exhilarating thrill ride that earned rave reviews from critics and fans alike. NPR hailed it as “unhinged” and “irresistible,” praising each musician’s “remarkable abilities” and naming their Tiny Desk Concert one of the best in the prestigious series’ history. The album followed their 2013 debut, which had Relix swooning for their “deep bass lines, catchy melodies and pounding rhythms,” while the Wall Street Journal celebrated their “electronic house music mixed with brawny saxophone riffs.

Though the band—whose members initially met as students at the New School—turned heads in the music industry as relative unknowns with a charismatic, unconventional sound (they play with unique tonguing techniques and utilize found objects like traffic cones attached to the bells of their horns to manipulate tone, for instance), they were already a familiar and beloved sight to straphangers in New York, who would react with such joy and fervor to their impromptu subway platform sets that the NYPD had to ban them from locations that couldn’t handle the crowds.

While the band’s busking days are behind them now, the lessons they learned from all those platform parties helped guide their approach to recording Red Sky. “What we discovered playing in the subway,” McGowen explains, “is that the more focus and the more energy you put into the music, and the more you listen to everything around you and integrate everything around you into your expression, the more the music becomes this captivating force for people.