Heading Down The Right Path
By Sean Claes
A few months ago Moonlight Social's debut CD, Heading South, arrived in the mailbox at INsite. Having never heard of them, I went ahead and popped the disc into the CD player. What I found was a VERY solid album both musically and lyrically.
At the core of Moonlight Social is co-lead vocalists and songwriters Jennica Scott and Jeremy Burchard. Scott is a little bit country and Burchard is a little bit rock and roll.... but this album is no Donny and Marie singalong. The tracks are about heartache and moving on, the trade-off of the vocals is enchanting and the wordplay is fantastic.
“Then what was that?”
She asks in the corner of some darkened room
Mulling to the tempo of a classic waltz
Where pretty people choose to digest petty thoughts
and talk about the weather.”
– Well, That Was A Mistake
I'm not the only one who's discovered them. In a very short period they have garnered the attention of some folks in pretty high places. So, I decided to take a chance to ask them a few questions in advance of their August 10 show opening for Alpha Rev at Threadgill's World Headquarters (301 W Riverside Dr).
Sean Claes: You guys first played togethert in February 2012, when you did a YouTube cover of Reckless Kelley’s “Wicked, Twisted Road.” How did you end up collaborating?
Jeremy Burchard: Well, we were both in Longhorn Band (the UT marching band). I played tenors on the drumline and she plays trumpet. I think Jennica had heard some of the solo music I was putting up online, and so we started talking about it. Once I saw a video of her singing karaoke, I knew I had to get her in front of a microphone.
We didn’t really know what we were going to do, and she told me about the song – so I looked it up really quickly and learned it. After recording that, we recorded a cover of Hotel California.
After that I went away for a few months, and when I came back, I asked her if she would be interested in singing with me for one show. We practiced some tunes and worked everything up, and though we kind of intended for it just to be a fun little side performance, something clicked. People started asking us what our “band” was called. It’s been our dream for so long to play music. We kind of looked at each other and were like – “wanna go for it?” And the band was born!
Claes: Jennica, you have that wonderfully powerful country-twanged vocal style. Tell me a little about your musical background.
Jennica Scott: I grew up in a very musically inclined family. Everyone can sing and most of us can play some sort of instrument. We all listen to a lot of different kinds of music, but more often than not, it’s country. I listen to all kinds of country, from the older stuff to the mainstream Nashville stuff to the more rough around the edges Texas country music.
I’ve always had a country twang in my voice… I don’t know where it came from, but I’m not complaining about it. I’ve definitely been inspired by big female voices like Martina McBride and Jennifer Nettles. I also love the fact that, in country music, females don’t have to have ridiculously high ranges to seem impressive. Singing country music, female vocalists get to explore the low range. I love that stuff.
Claes: Jeremy, your voice is that low-and- straight up rock akin to Staind/Bush/Seether. Plus you play several instruments on the album. Let’s hear about your musical background.
Burchard: I always had a sense of inherent curiosity about music. Ever since I was young I wanted to play anything I could get my hands on. And my mom loved me enough to let me give all the instruments a try. I actually started on viola, before moving to trumpet.
Once I went into high school, I really wanted to give drums a try, although all the band directors didn’t want me to. I started out in the pit in band and stayed after trying to learn as much as I could about drums. I eventually made the drumline, and eventually became a section leader. All the while I was trying to learn other instruments.
When I first got a guitar (which I got from a pawn shop, and am pretty sure was stolen), I got frustrated and put it down. I only took a few lessons, which I now regret. After it sat in the closet for a while, I picked it up one day and decided I’d try to learn my own way. Ever since then I’ve had this “I can do it” attitude about new instruments. It’s bubbled over into mandolin, banjo…even a little fiddle, etc.
I really only started singing because, when I started writing more serious songs, I was too embarrassed to have anybody else sing them. Ever since meeting Jennica I’ve been working more and more to really be a strong and aware singer…and just sing how I sing. Jennica is 90% of the reason I started paying close attention to harmonies. Now I love trying to figure it out.
Claes: What’s in a name? Why Moonlight Social?
Burchard: We’ve always wanted to convey a sense of honesty in our music. A “moonlight social” is what we came up with to describe the most honest moments in your life. Those times when you’re not held back by anything.
To me, they tend to happen at night. Maybe you’re laying down on the floor in a totally dark room, nothing but a little moonlight coming in through the windows. You’re there with a group of friends, or maybe just your closest friend, or hell maybe you’re just there with your dog. But you feel safe and open to talk about anything that comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be happy things, or dreams, or sad things, or anything specific. It’s just a moment when you’re “safe” to let it all hang out.
Claes: As a young band, you’ve quickly gained some pretty amazing support including getting tapped by Ray Benson to play a SXSW gig, winning a GRAMMY U Competition, and winning the 2011 Austin Chronicle Sound Wars. How did it feel?
Burchard: It felt great. Honestly it hadn’t really sunk in how quickly things took off. At the time of the SXSW thing, we had just barely decided on the name. We were still figuring out our “sound” and all sorts of things. Our EP wouldn’t be released until 2.5 months later. But when you receive validation like that at such an early stage in the game, it makes you want to push yourself harder.
I honestly don’t think we’ve “entered” any sort of competition or contest thinking “oh yeah, we’re winning this.” That’s especially true with the Sound Wars. It blew my mind.
None of these awards and competitions were an “end goal” for us, but at the same time, we knew it never hurt to enter them and have “industry people” hear the tunes. In the end, we just make music we like. It’s incredibly humbling to receive this support and know others like it as well.
So, we started the year figuring out the name, and ended the year having raised more than $16,000 to enter the studio with this awesome producer/musician Matt Noveskey. We’d done more in one year than some bands I know did in four. I can only hope that trend continues.
Claes: When you play live, do you have a full band or is it a duo?
Burchard: We have a 5-piece band for live shows. And I know we’d both love to add to that when the time comes. But we also never want to forget that it’s all about stripping it down to the basics – one guitar and two vocals. We want to always be able to play a show like that at any given time, because in the end it is about the dynamic between us as a duo and being true to the song – not letting the meaning get lost in all the excess.
Claes: When I received the CD the thing that struck me was the strong lyrical content. Do you collaborate on the writing?
Burchard: For this record, we’ve pretty much written songs every way imaginable. I write a lot, then we tweak it, she writes a lot, then we tweak it, I’ll start, she’ll finish, she’ll start, I’ll finish, email back and forth, talk about it in person, put bits and pieces together – “The Better Part” was written with us side-by-side for the vast majority of the song.
Claes: The title track starts the album off with a great country-edge.
Burchard: “Heading South” may be the best one-track answer to “what is your sound?” if there is a one-track answer. It’s got a little bit of everything, and a LOT of energy. Jennica rocks this tune. I love the folk instruments (fiddle/banjo etc.), but I especially love them laid over an edgier groove.
This song wasn’t originally going to be the first single – “Neither Are You” was (since we’d received so much recognition with that track). But the way the whole thing kicks off with this stadium rock-like drum groove and the huge downbeats and the interplay between the vocals and everything…by the end of mixing, it just seemed like the obvious choice.
Claes: One of my favorite tracks on the album is “The Finer Things In Life.” Tell me a little about that track.
Scott: This song is definitely a blast to do live, as well. There’s so much energy to it. I think you can tell how much Jeremy and I enjoy playing it live, too. We just kinda let loose and have a blast rocking the heck out of that song.
Burchard: That’s a fun track. That one, along with “So Long (San Antonio)” are becoming live-crowd favorites. I think lyrically that track may be the best example of our sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek nod to “romance,” which a lot of songwriters tend to treat with reverence. And this is a very irreverent song.
It’s also a good example of our “song structure be damned!” attitude when it comes to certain tracks. I kind of see the whole song as a big ol’ wink to our listeners to let them know that we’re very much here to break the rules, while still keeping it true to what Jennica and I do. Just when you think you have us pinned down…
Claes: Tell me the story behind “Well That Was A Mistake” (a pull-quote from the song is at the top of the story).
Burchard: This is kind of an oddball track on the record. It’s definitely a testament to us not trying to squeeze ourselves into any one thing, but instead just playing music we enjoy. We both enjoy a lot of different type of music. Without delving too much into the specifics of the song, I can say that the “darkened room” scene is not fictionalized…but I wanted to write it out more as letting the description of the scene describe the attitude of the “people” involved in the song, as opposed to what they say.
The very first part is written as an internal/external struggle about saying something you’re not sure you should, but you do all the while acknowledging you probably shouldn’t. The next part is what happens when you have that conversation…and the mid section is kind of that internal/external reaction. The whole thing is very train-of-thought oriented, a writing style that I hope works for this particular tune. I hope people find their own meaning in it and apply it to their own scenarios.
Scott: The first time I heard this song it immediately reminded me of a Panic At The Disco song. It’s long and has a lot of words and crazy structures. I was confused at first… but after we learned it and started practicing it, it sorta grew on me.
It’s another one of those songs that’s an absolutely blast to play live. You can never really get bored during the song either because it keeps changing on you! We like to keep people entertained with our music.
Claes: Much of this album seems to be lamenting the end of a long relationship. Was this album and exercise in therapy through music?
Bruchard: Music is always an exercise in therapy to me. But actually this whole album is about many different relationships, including relationships between your current and former self and struggles you have internally. So they’re not specifically romantic.
The first two tracks have nothing to do with romantic love. But if you see them that way, they totally should. I don’t ever want my particularly meaning in a song to trump anybody else’s. I think the listener needs to let it take on a life of its own to them. That’s what makes music so special, personal, and therapeutic in the first place.
Claes: How did you connect with Matt Noveskey (Blue October) who both played on and co-produced Heading South?
Burchard: Our lawyer introduced our music to him after we won the Sound Wars. Our first “meeting” was actually over the phone while he was on tour with Blue October. We had about 4 other producers we were considering at the time, but when we met with Matt, it was an obvious choice. Our personalities and philosophies went very well together.
Claes: Leading up to the July 21 release of Heading South you did Track-By-Track album preview YouTube post a week previewing the CD. Where did you get the idea of doing that?
Burchard: I was just trying to think of ways to build awareness, because we never wanted to release anything into “obscurity.” So I thought to myself, “what would I be interested in?”
And when we did a Kickstarter video to promote our campaign a few months earlier, people were really drawn to it. I’ve always been really interested in some of the behind-the-scenes stuff from bands. I think that it’s a delicate balance between not revealing too much and letting fans know that we’re human and want to connect with them. One of the most common things people say to me after a show is how much they like watching Jennica and I interact. I think they’re a little crazy, but whatever! Put us in front of a camera and who knows what will come out.
Claes: You’ve got a gig on Friday August 10 at Threadgill’s World Headquarters opening for Alpha Rev. What can folks expect?
Burchard: Bedazzled doves, I’m told. But seriously, we love playing live. Love it. We put our hearts out there every time. So you can expect us to give it our all.
Claes: What is next for Moonlight Social?
Burchard: So many things! We’ll keep working to create awareness for the album. We’re going to hit the road again in 2013. I know Jennica and I both want to really start writing more stuff too, though by-and-large a lot of people will really just be catching wind of us in the coming months/next year.
Claes: Anything to add?
Burchard: I’m glad you dig our stuff! It really is encouraging, especially for such a young band. And not just that, young people in general. It’s always nice to know we’re on a good path. It’s not always easy to be 22 years old and tell people you want to be a professional musician. A lot of eyes roll. But we believe in ourselves, and it’s awesome to know others do too.