To say that Moon Revenge’s sound inhabits a liminal space between classical and rock is tempting, and it’s headed in the right direction. The only problem is, after spending more time with their music, the traditional understanding of a musical spectrum in which classical and rock are far apart, or even opposites, starts to wobble and collapse. Indeed, the thing that most clearly sets Marie Parker’s newest project apart in Brooklyn’s dynamic indie music scene is the group’s ability to so constantly and skillfully blur these historically hard-and-fast lines.
Following the February release of their first single, “Radiant Color,” today marks the premiere of “The Notes/Arrived,” a double-single from their forthcoming eponymous debut album. The band has also confirmed that the album is set to be released in its entirety on September 21.
Songwriter and pianist Marie Parker grew up in North Dakota and lived in the Midwest until 2014, when she moved to Brooklyn to be closer to her music friends. Her previous musical project, which began as The White Foliage and later became Secret Cities, was active from 2004-2014, and, although Moon Revenge’s lineup is nearly identical–it still includes drummer/multi-instrumentalist Alex Abnos and bassist Charlie Gokey, and adds violinist Emily Kim Goldsmith–their sound has a noticeably more experimental, rhythmically ambitious bent than Marie’s previous work. “The Notes/Arrived,” which will close the album, starts abruptly with jazzy violin-plucking and then transforms into wistful, intimate piano that builds among cymbals and brass to a grandiose, ceremonious ending.
This week, Marie, Alex, and Emily gave their insight into the collaborative way the album was written, recorded, and edited. We also got to learn more about their musical upbringings, how the album translates to live performance, and what a Persian dulcimer is called.
Marie, you grew up in North Dakota and lived in the Midwest until 2014. What do you like about being based in Brooklyn, and what is difficult about it? What makes it the right place to be?
Marie: Honestly, anywhere my band ended up would’ve been the right place to be. 🙂 I never really considered moving to the East Coast until Charlie and Alex ended up here.
Personally, I’ve really grown to like New York — there’s so much going on. But then, there’s so much going on. Like, I can have whatever I want to eat and find whatever obscure event or class I want on any given night, pretty much. But there are so many options, and I still end up on the couch at home most evenings. Also, expensive–it’s really expensive to live here. BUT I get to jam with my friends whenever I want, so it’s worth it.
The sound of Moon Revenge differs from that of your last project, Secret Cities. How did your move to Brooklyn and the experiences of the last four years change your songwriting?
Marie: The sound is different because the songwriting method is different. Most of the Secret Cities music was composed by the three of us separately, as we all lived in different places, and then we’d try and piece everything together over the internet. On the other hand, for the first few years I lived in New York, I was roommates with Alex, and we had access to a 24-hour rehearsal space. So, Moon Revenge has been more of an in-person collaborative effort.
One of the things that sets your sound apart is the coexistence of elements from classical music and other genres like jazz and rock. Did you grow up listening to a lot of different types of music?
Alex: We each have really different musical upbringings, so that probably has something to do with the diversity. The music I listened to growing up wasn’t really all that diverse, but it’s definitely gotten way more so the older I get. I’m self-taught and grew up playing in loud bands and going to punk shows.
Emily: I come from a heavily classical background — both of my parents play classical music, and I’ve been playing since I was 4. Branching out into other types of music is a more recent step for me.
Marie: My parents are music teachers! Mom teaches piano, and Dad retired a few years ago from teaching choir (he was also in a rock band in college — The Embermen Five — who were popular in North Dakota in the late 60’s). My parents were also in a cover band when I was a kid — they mostly played weddings. So I had a good mix of pop and classical music exposure growing up.
You experiment with rhythm in all of your songs. For instance, if I am counting correctly, the opening section of “The Notes” is in 7/4 time. Is that rhythmic complexity intentional or does it come out organically?
Alex: You are correct! Most of “The Notes” is in 7/4. The process for that song could not possibly have been more intentional: Marie and I sat down to play one day, and she said “Let’s try something in 7!” and eventually that’s what we came up with.
We don’t always do it that way, though. Most of the songs on the record are the product of Marie and I jamming, adding, subtracting, and editing over and over and over again. That process feels really organic to us, so I guess the answer to your question in general is “both.”
How did you decide “The Notes” was going to transition smoothly into “Arrived”? Is there a special relationship between those two songs?
Marie: They aren’t actually related, lyrics-wise or motive-wise! We just thought it would be cool to blend them together, so we wrote in a sort-of-improvised transition.
Alex: I think we thought it would be fun to mash these two totally different types of song together and see if we could figure out a way to make them flow. Like a lot of other things on the album, we’re just trying stuff that seems like fun.
Marie: “Arrived” is more closely related to “Phrases That Remain,” which is the first song on the album, because it borrows a phrase from that song.
At Frontrunner we are especially interested in how musicians navigate collaboration in their local music scene. How did you choose Gravesend Recordings as your recording studio? How much of your process did they assist with? What else stands out from the recording process?
Alex: We actually recorded the album ourselves in bits and pieces over about 2 years in our homes and practice spaces. By the time we were done, we had been working on it so long and had added so many elements, we decided that having a different set of ears on it would be really helpful. Gravesend was an easy choice. Julian and Carlos, who run it, are friends of ours, and I think we all trusted them to be our “editors,” so to speak: to select the ideas that work best and de-emphasize the stuff that doesn’t.
Emily: I remember Marie was having trouble finding an in-tune piano and came home from renting a practice space frustrated because the instrument sounded bad. I asked her how far she’d be willing to go for an in-tune piano. My parents live in Westchester and there are two well-maintained Mason & Hamlin grand pianos in their living room. My mom fretted that the pianos wouldn’t be in their best condition because of the changing seasons, and it had been a while since they were tuned, but I knew that even at their worst they’d be a lot better than what we could find in the city. And all it cost was a Metro North ticket!
Alex: I have weirdly fond memories of recording those pianos. It was Christmas Eve, and I had just gotten knee surgery so I was sitting on the floor with my leg extended in a brace, in mild pain, listening to Marie play, hoping that our improvised mic stand wouldn’t tip over and crash. But the pianos sounded so good that I didn’t even mind all the negative stuff.
There are a lot of different instruments featured on your album. How did you decide which instruments to include on each track? And how did you find musicians to play them?
Alex: It was pretty easy, actually. We collaborated with people we already knew very well and used instruments that we happened to have lying around. We added Emily to the band, and she plays violin really well, so all of a sudden we had violin parts. Our buddy/Secret Cities bandmate Charlie got a crazy-looking semi-portable standing bass just before recording, so we naturally had to have him use it on every song. I got a santur (Persian dulcimer) from my uncle, so I added that to a couple songs. Deciding which instruments should show up when is something we talk about constantly while recording. Sometimes we’ll disagree on that stuff and argue a bit, but Marie almost always ends up being right.
Emily: It does make for some interesting arranging when we put together live shows, since we don’t have all the instruments available! It’s often a matter of deciding which parts are the most important to the song.
Marie: Currently, we’re experimenting with tuba in our live lineup!
Your full-length album is coming out in a couple months. When and where can we find you performing songs from it?
Alex: Our live set is almost entirely made up of songs from the record, actually. And we’ll be playing in and around New York for the rest of the summer, fall, winter, spring, and so on!
Moon Revenge’s debut album comes out September 21 on Bandcamp and other streaming platforms.