Tell Me Why: A Talk With Columbus’ Moon High

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Columbus-based folk-rock quartet Moon High performed at Donkey Coffee and Espresso on March 9 as part of the 6th annual Aquabear County Fair. The set featured songs from the band's newest LP, Six Suns, which was warmly received by the audience.

Moon High plays a signature brand of dusty acoustic folk, fleshed out with sparse flute and cello arrangements that fill out the vast landscape of their sound. It’s a sound that brings to mind hazy sunlight and timelessness, but also a pinch of the psychedelic, with David Fowler's plaintive vocals, Ryan Wells' electric tremolo guitar, Summer Sherman’s wandering flute accompaniment and Blake Pfister's use of soft mallets on his minimalistic drum set.

Released in 2008, Moon High’s self-titled debut album originated as a modest recording project between David Fowler and Ryan Wells, the band's leading songwriters. Six Suns takes the group in a different direction both musically and sonically, with the songs being pieced together over time, bit by bit. Perhaps it's this handcrafted approach to songwriting that gives Moon High's music such a unique aura. It's not rushed; its ready when it's ready. Slow-cooked, if you like.

Elliot Nicolson sat down with Moon High to talk about the band’s roots, their influences, recording their newest album and future plans.

WOUB: How did the band get its start?

RW: Well, David and I had been friends for a while. He’s been making music for years and years, and I had started doing some music, so we started talking back and forth about starting a new project. It became a recording project because we were in two different cities. As we were trading songs back and forth and getting together to work some stuff out, the project just kept growing and growing. Within seven months, we had a full record done and we were already working on getting a live band together. As we were putting out recordings on Myspace and the internet, people were increasingly asking us to play shows and we sort of put the pressure on ourselves to play live. It just grew from there.

WOUB: So how does songwriting work in the group?

RW: It's fluctuated. In the beginning, he [David] would write something and then we would work on it. And then I would write something, and we would work on it. It's started to evolve a little bit, especially during our live shows. Now it's more like David will come up with the core of the song, and I’ll sit down with him, lay down some basic stuff, get the direction going and then bring in whatever else we need, be it flute, drums or guest players playing things like lap steel.

WOUB: So where was Six Suns recorded? It sounds great.

DF: At my house.

WOUB: Wow, really?

DF: Yeah, I’ve been recording all my bands since I was about 14 [laughter].

RW: The first Moon High record was also recorded at home; different bedrooms, same process [laughter]. So yeah, it’s all home recording, which is great because we do get a lot of compliments on the quality of the recording. But it’s all done with pretty basic Pro Tools, mics and a room that’s not really ideal for recording, but we make it work.

DF: Yeah, we record everything in a cube-shaped room, which is the worst place to track a record [more laughter].

WOUB: On your website, www.moonhigh.com, you’ve posted a few reviews in which music critics compare your music to Neil Young’s. Is Neil Young a big influence?

RW: He’s probably one of the main influences on the band. We worship Neil Young in a way. I know he’s one of my favorite artists and David listens to him a ton.

BP: I’m currently reading Shakey, his biography [laughter].

WOUB: So we touched on Neil Young. What other artists influence Moon High?

RW: Well, we all listen to a ton of music. We take a little bit of everything.

SS: Yeah, the influences are broader. I don’t like any band being pigeonholed as a certain type.

RW: Yeah, I would say we're more influenced by elements of music. We really like harmonies, we really like melodies, and we really like organic sounds. But you're always going to sound like something else and your influences are always going to come through. To me, that’s good. I like drawing those connections. And that’s a part of why we do a lot of cover songs too; I feel like playing someone else’s song helps me think of different ways to approach songwriting. And it's just fun.

BP: And that’s a folk tradition, too. Folk singers are always doing ‘traditionals’ and covering songs.

SS: To offer a counterpoint, there’s an interesting balance because some of David’s primary influences are metal. His last band was an experimental rock band where he played loud drums and keyboards at the same time [laughter].

WOUB: So what’s next for Moon High? Any new albums or tour plans in the works?

RW: Well, we’re always recording. We don’t set any dates for a release and put ourselves in a corner. We're recording right now, if for no other reason than to freshen up our live set. And once we get enough of those, we’ll consider if they work as a record and figure that out. We try to play as many shows as possible and do short weekend tours, but we all work full-time jobs, so doing a real tour isn’t quite realistic right now. But we do try to get out to New York once a year, and we’ve headed out towards Chicago a couple times and circled Ohio.