Monday, September 26, 2022

Blending synthetic and organic worlds: Moon Taxi talks ‘Silver Dream’ ahead of GFLA show

Moon Taxi will park at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Thursday. (Photo by Don VanCleave)

In early 2020, Moon Taxi was set to begin the next chapter in the band’s burgeoning career. A new album, “Silver Dream,” was wrapping and a single, “Hometown Heroes,” had been released. The group began to tour ahead of the album’s planned summer release.

Of course, the pandemic got in the way of those plans and touring, and the release of “Silver Dream” went on hold.

LAST YEAR: In Photos: Moon Taxi and Sparkle City Disco at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater

“Back then we just didn’t know what was going to happen,” singer and guitarist Trevor Terndrup explained in a recent phone interview. “We got to the fall and we were like, ‘Should we put the album out or should we just set a future release date?'”

The band decided by Christmas, if things weren’t reopening in the Covid shutdown, they would move forward with an early 2021 release date, “which is ultimately what happened,” Terndrup said.

The Moon Taxi frontman said in normal times, the band would have road-tested at least some new music before releasing the tracks. Now that touring has resumed, the group has been figuring out how the “Silver Dream” material and the new single “Mission” fit into the live show among the other six albums they rotate through setlists.

“The new songs, we’re just trying to figure out how to present them in the best light possible,” Terndrup said. “We’ll continue to hone in on what we’re going to do there.”

The time away from touring wasn’t all bad, Terndrup noted. In particular, the pandemic had a silver lining in its timing. Terndrup’s family expanded during that time.

“I became a dad during the whole quarantine phase,” he said. “That was my big focus. I was able to give my wife literally whatever she wanted, wait on her hand and foot.”

As such, he said he was “very much connected” to domestic life and just as much disconnected to Moon Taxi fans and to the road.

“Sort of a flip flop to what things normally are in my life,” he said. “So it was kind of nice to have the coin flip the other way.”

Moon Taxi has found success as a touring band, its roots planted in 2002. High school friends Terndrup and bassist Tommy Putnam moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University and formed Moon Taxi with guitarist Spencer Thomson and drummer David Swan.

The group didn’t really ramp up until 2006 after Swan left the band and was replaced by Tyler Ritter. With keyboardist Wes Bailey joining as a fifth member, Moon Taxi released their debut, “Melodica,” in April 2007 on their own 12th South Records.

Gradually, they built a following with cross-country tours and appearances at a number of major festivals. Moon Taxi released three more studio albums between 2012 and 2015 and gleaned exposure through a few song placements in commercials (McDonald’s, BMW) and sports broadcasts. They also made appearances on late night shows like “The Conan O’Brien Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman.” 

In May 2017, Moon Taxi released the single “Two High” from the band’s fifth album, “Let the Record Play.” The track picked up millions of streams on Spotify and from other online sources.  

Soon after, Moon Taxi was being courted by a number of labels, including RCA, which signed the group.

Moon Taxi were in the early stages of writing what would become “Silver Dream” in 2019. Initially, it would be the group’s first major label album, and as part of the process, RCA suggested the band’s three songwriters, Terndrup, Thomson and Bailey, travel from their Nashville home base to Los Angeles to write for a week with a half-dozen seasoned songwriters. Such sessions are a common practice for major labels, which aim for the collaborations to produce a hit song or two.

The songwriting trip turned out to be time well-spent, as the band created a lot of new material.

“We probably wrote about half of the songs for ‘Silver Dream’ just in six days,” Terndrup said. “So it was fun. I definitely think it sharpened our skills as songwriters. But moving forward, I don’t know if that’s really going to be how we continue to make music; it was definitely a good learning experience.”

Moon Taxi and RCA parted ways, Terndrup said, due to differences in how the two parties viewed the group’s career path. “Silver Dream,” released on BMG, has a modern pop sound, though still vibes with Moon Taxi’s former albums.

The group always crafted songs with hooks, although blended in rootsy elements and a bit of jamband feel. Songs like “Light Up,” “Palm of Your Hand,” “Say” and “Live For It” are tailored to pop radio airplay with buoyant melodies, perky synthesizer and synthetic instrumental backing. 

“It does feel like it is geared toward modern pop, rock radio,” Terndrup said. “We have a good history of getting our music played, so that’s the idea but not a huge departure.”

He noted some songs sought to blend the synthetic and organic worlds. “Hometown Heroes” stands out, a track based on a mandolin guitar lick.

“Then it’s supported by these like kind of synthy bass lines and it does have real drums,” Terndrup said. “So it’s a nice push-pull of modern, slick production with some good old Tennessee strumming guitars.”

The music feels a little more tailored for a mass audience, with some songs dripping in autobiographical elements. “Hometown Heroes,” for instance, was written as a tribute to the long-term friendship between Terndrup and Putnam (although it’s general enough to also be seen as a tribute to first responders).

“Take The Edge Off” evolved from its initial intent as a fun drinking song during a Los Angeles writing session with Busbee, the hugely successful songwriter who passed away in September 2019. Terndrup said he presented a catchy idea of the song to Busbee who inevitably gave it deeper meaning.

“He kind of sat and thought about it for a second, and then just proceeded to like really dig real deep and talk about how life is, ultimately, not fair, but you kind of rely on these people to sweeten the bitterness of life,” Terndrup recalled. “That’s what ‘Take the Edge Off’ is — it’s people that you love. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, Busbee, you took this like kind of stupid idea that I had and you elevated it to this beautiful level.’ Anyway, I just think that’s something I will always take with me.”

Moon Taxi will perform at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 11. Tickets are $30.


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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