Last fall, shortly after Katie + I helped to open MooShoes Los Angeles—the first non-New York outpost of venerable vegan footwear store and longtime clients of our design studio—a very amicable, lovely couple came into the store and introduced themselves. Having recently moved to LA from the relatively small town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, they shared how excited they were at Los Angeles’ wealth of vegan and animal-friendly options and how excited they were that we opened up.
In passing, just before they left, the two mentioned that they were in a band together. Later, Amanda from MooShoes and I tried desperately to piece together context clues to figure the band out to no avail (we like to play detective during slower hours at the store).
Then, just before SXSW, NPR released their Austin 100—a mix of 100 songs from 100 artists playing the famous music festival (totally worth a listen and recommended, by the way). About halfway through, I nearly fell of my seat at the studio to see none other than our mystery duo—Andrew Martin + Jessica Ramsey of the Los Angeles-based band, Moon Honey.
I followed up with the two asking if they’d be down with an interview for this journal and they happily obliged, because, again, they’re amicable and lovely.
You can listen to their debut album—Hand-Painted Dream Photographs—in full below and read as Jessica tells us about the scene in the south, where the band gets its inspiration, and drug commentary as a compliment.
raven + crow: Alright, first things first—where does the name come from? Sorry, we have to ask. We’re in branding + marketing, so it’s always an obsession for us.
Of course! Andrew and I came upon it while at the Stax Museum in Memphis (highly recommended). The name was mentioned on a plaque as the nickname of a soul singer. Our band was named Twin Killers at that point, but we were in the midst of revamping and rebranding. The soul, talent, and determination featured in the museum had me feeling sensitive and open, and the name just resonated. I remember holding a band meeting and being overly persistent in changing the name, and I’m so glad we did. Moon Honey is much more in-line with the mystical, ethereal, intimate aura we want our music to convey.
No, I think it totally fits—well-chosen. I saw that NPR described your sound by calling you “cotton candy dipped in peyote”. Would you say that’s pretty accurate?
I haven’t tried the dish yet but am honored by the description. We take drug commentary like “What were you on when you wrote this?” as a compliment, because it usually means that the sound is alien and challenging to them. To have a psychedelic experience is to transcend reality and form new perspectives—something powerful music is also capable of. Cotton candy is so light, sticky and sweet, and I approve of the words juxtaposing something as heavy and mystical as peyote.
How did your sound develop, exactly, if that’s at all something you can track? I feel like your voice is so distinct and the music itself just serves to highlight that fact with it’s far-from-ordinary structure and shifts in form. Is that deliberate or more something that developed organically over time?
Organically, for sure. Our first EP together as Twin Killers, Lemon Heart Opera, was balls to the wall—I had never sung in my life (outside of the shower) and, when I met Andrew, he already had the whole thing written and recorded instrumentally. I wrote and recorded on top of the insane, super-progressive rock sounding project, and considered it my singing boot camp. After that experiment, Andrew began to open up his guitar writing style for my vocals, and we wrote back and forth together. We started visiting the orchestra and we began to form more fluid movements in the songs as opposed to abstract, chopped up pieces.
I can totally hear operatic or orchestral influences in your songs, especially in the singing. I saw that Greg Saunier of Deerhoof mixed your full-length. I can see a similarity in how you all and that band approach music, but how did you all initially hook up with him?
It was a cold call! We truly adore Deerhoof, and I sent Greg an email asking him if he would be interested in mixing our record. Can’t believe he said yes. I don’t know if he quite expected the layered, ridiculous monstrosity that was sent to him on a hard drive to New York, but the way he handled it changed the music in a beautiful way.
Yeah, clearly I don’t know what it sounded like un-mixed, but I can only imagine he amplified and complemented what was already there. How long have you all been playing together as Moon Honey then? I know you only recently moved to Los Angeles from Baton Rouge.
We changed the name right before releasing Hand-Painted in December of 2013, so almost a year and a half! We have been a new band since moving to LA and just got off our first tour together in March.
Exciting times, then! What’s Baton Rouge like though? The closest I’ve ever been was New Orleans.
You are lucky—New Orleans is wonderful! Baton Rouge is a big small town. The culture is similar to New Orleans, though the architecture is more suburbs with very little haunted southern antebellum charm. Going back to visit, I realize how slow and relaxing Louisiana is. LA can be frantic, as if everyone is jogging up an escalator at the same time, too crowded to pay attention to subtleties. I love all the ambition and drive, but it’s easy to fall prey to the panic attacks. It must be the humidity, heat, mud, and fried food in the south that keeps everyone moving at such a fun, slow pace.
Hah. No, totally know what you mean. Do you two constantly get people commenting on your lack of accent? Katie + I are originally from Virginia and we always get that.
Virginia is so lovely, and yes! I really wish I had a crazy Creole or southern belle accent and could feel less bland. I love when we tell someone where we’re from and they immediately start talking about the show Swamp People. Oh good, yes, you’ve really nailed the entirety of Louisiana.
Oh, yeah, you two totally look very Swamp People. Especially with that gator you tote around town.What’s the music scene like in Baton Rouge?
Small but loving. There is strong and thriving art community that pushes its way through the shadows of a college football Mecca. The scene is supportive, diverse, and rarely competitive.
Did you live there when Katrina came through?
Yes, and I remember how frightening the storm was and the realization of nearly an entire city underwater. We weren’t destroyed like New Orleans, but were highly impacted from the thousands of evacuees who moved in, most of them homeless and traumatized.
I can only imagine. I know you all played SXSW earlier in the year—how’d that go?
It was really fun this year! A smoke alarm interrupted an hour of our official showcase, but SXSW is so expectedly crazy that it didn’t phase us or the crowd. My favorite party we played was a pool party. We were in the hot tub 10 minutes after performing.
You should add that to your rider. Was it nice being back in that relative area of the country?
It was an almost free vacation. Our friends and family are all scattered through Texas and Louisiana, so everywhere we go in the south we are treated to the warmest hospitality and good times.
Southern royalty! I know you just played your first show in southern California at Brokechella too. Did our city welcome you well?
We couldn’t have prayed for a better debut! We went in not knowing what to expect, wondering if everyone would be drunk eating funnel cakes, dancing in loincloths, or conducting seances and stone meditations. Welcome is the perfect word—countless people came up and talked to me after our show about every subject under the sun, and I’m so glad they felt that open to us and our music. Even the people running the festival were extraordinarily friendly. It’s not so often that a promoter of a show or club manager has listened to your album or tells you they’re excited to watch it.
Aw, that’s awesome. Glad to hear it. And you’re playing LA tomorrow and again soon, yeah?
We are playing tomorrow night—Friday—at Non Plus Ultra (4310 Burns Ave) with Angel Deradoorian (of the Dirty Projectors and Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks). Also on June 5th at HM157 w/ Kera and The Lesbians.
Awesome—we’ll try to come by tomorrow night! So, quick aside—we first came to know you two through the vegan shoe store we run, MooShoes. No judgement, but are ya’ll vegan or just in the neighborhood?
Andrew and I are vegan and loveeeee MooShoes! I have a coin jar by the door that everyone knows is savings for my next pair of shoes. We went from living in a city with zero (I MEAN ZERO) vegetarian restaurants or stores, so our quality of life has expanded incredibly. We were rebel freaks in Louisiana, but here we really have to fight for that title. A goal of ours is to be more involved in animal rights and spread awareness as we continue to move forward in our careers, and it is so exciting to see more people hip to the cruelty free fashion movement.
Ah, man, that is really, really awesome to hear, Jessica. And—back to the band—you all released Hand-Painted Dream Photographs in 2013, right? Are you working on new material at this point?
We have lots of new music and just released a new single “Boy Magic” on Noisey! We’re can’t wait to share more.
Well, thanks a ton for talking with us—see you both soon!
Thank you and vive la MooShoes!
You can listen to Moon Honey’s album in full above, catch them at Non Plus Ultra right on the border between Hollywood + Silver Lake tomorrow night, and stay up-to-date on other happenings via the band’s Facebook page.