Honky Tonk Hero: Mike Harmeier Talks Abbey Road, a Moonpies Documentary, and New Music

If I only had one word to describe Mike and the Moonpies it would be… Smooth. The band’s brand of country music is lean and polished from years of honing on the Texas dance hall circuit and if there’s such a thing as honky tonk perfection, the Moonpies last two albums have been it. 2018’s Steak Night at the Prairie Rose captured the cool of ’70s and ’80s country music without sounding trite– in fact, you could almost imagine you were discovering something new. The Moonpies surprise album of 2019, Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold continued to mature that sound with a whirlwind recording session at Abbey Road Studios featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and some of the bands best and most collaborative work to date. Currently on tour west of the Mississippi, frontman Mike Harmeier called in from the frozen wilds of Montana to talk about the Moonpies Macon gig on January 25th, and to share a few details on the band’s past, present, and future.

AI- Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold… It might’ve just been me, but it seemed like that album kinda came out of nowhere. I wasn’t hardly finished with Steak Night at the Prairie Rose— and I’m still not!

MH- We kept it a surprise for like a year. Basically, we cut it in a couple of days while we were over there in Europe and didn’t really tell anybody about it. We just decided that we wanted to try to put out a record a year and somehow we got that one done in time. So I think we’re going to try to keep up that pace, actually keep going like that.

Two days at Abbey Road then you had to bolt. On the third [day] they brought in the strings. Did you even have an opportunity to hear those mixes until they were done?

Man, I was in the airport in Iceland getting like text messages, video updates from our producer Adam [Odor], and he was sending me this stuff (laughs)! It was my first time to hear it– while I was in the airport. So it was really, really cool. I didn’t really have any idea what it was going to sound like before that. Me hearing it for the first time was a pretty surreal experience.

How’d you guys get ready for that? Or was it just, “Let’s just go on and do what we always do?”

There was some pre-production time that we took, in Wimberley [Texas] at the Yellow Dog where we normally make records where we kinda got together for like a week and wrote the record. ‘Cause I didn’t really have the songs. By the time we booked the Abbey Road stuff, I didn’t really have all the songs together. That was the first time for us that we kind of got together and wrote and kind of arranged everything together as a band before we went in. We had it in mind what we were gonna do and knew that we were going to have strings on it. So we tried to make the song arrangements where they were going to really benefit from the string stuff. It was altogether a different experience from the ground up for this record.

Did I see that while you were over there, you were filming stuff for a documentary? Is that something that’s still on the back burner? Did I miss it?

No. We were filming over there ’cause we did some festivals in France and Italy and filmed some of that stuff and filmed some of the Abbey Road stuff. We’re still actively working on that. We may even still be filming some more, currently. That’s kind of up in the air. We’re gonna to see how long that can go before… How much stuff we can capture.

When do you consider the beginning of the band, and how far back does this incarnation go?

I started it in 2007 and from 2007 to about 2009 or 10, it was kind of a rotating cast. Me and the drummer and the bass player were solid, but we had different guys coming in and out. I believe it was probably late 2009 when we found Zach [Moulton] and Catlin [Rutherford] on steel and guitar respectively, and it’s been pretty much the same ever since then. We changed out a bass player about a year ago, maybe two, and other than that, it’s been the same guys for pretty much a decade.

And for most of that decade, if I understand it right, you guys were doing what Dale Watson would call the Texas Boogie. You guys were just pretty much Lonestar State local, right?

Yeah, we did that for the longest time and then we started just independently booking stuff. You know we did the dance hall circuit a lot in Texas. I got a booking agency about five or six years in and that’s when we started doing more regional stuff. I’ve been really pushing for national and international the past two or three years. The past two or three years, we’re breaking 200 dates a year easy.

As you have been making these just wonderful country records, it seems to me that Americana fans are picking up on the more traditional sounding country music right now as opposed to, I guess what people would call country music radio fans. How do you feel about that?

I think that just kind of timed out right for us. We haven’t really changed a whole lot of what we were doing, you know, pretty straight honky tonk stuff. With more of the singer-songwriter thing that started to blow up with Isbell and Stapleton and Sturgill or stuff like that, it really opens doors for people to pay attention to traditional music more– and finding out that there’s a ton of people like us that have been doing that the whole time! It’s been really cool to be kind of a part of that happening all at the same time that we were able to tour and make records.

I saw an old interview where you were discussing your hero Gary Stewart and that hardcore honky tonk image he had– the reality versus the perception. This was some years ago, and you said that the Moonpies took a similar approach in projecting a certain image. What’s that image look like today?

We cleaned up our act a little bit (laughs), I guess! It used to be the weekend warrior thing and going out, and we were just having fun playin’ dance halls and doin’ that honky tonk hero thing. But now we’re doing theaters and clubs all across the country and a lot more dates and basically playin’ seven days a week. So we had to tone that down a little bit. But we still dress the same (laughs). We still pretty much act the same. Our alcohol intake might have gone down a hair (laughs)!

And you’ve got a family now too. What has that done for you as far as depth as a songwriter?

I wrote that song “Danger” for my son right as he was being born. Like it was maybe that first two or three weeks. You know, you’re always probably gonna write something about your kid, but that happened for me really, really fast. And it’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It’s interesting now because I want to write all these things about it, but it’s also really tough because I’m usually takin’ care of him most of the time, or I’m out on the road. So it’s a give and take on being able to write this stuff sometimes.

You say you want to try to do an album a year now, so what is coming up? Have you guys been working on some songs and getting ready to go back in? Are you going to be back at Yellow Dog? What’s the plan?

Yeah, we actually have something that’s pretty much in the can. We kind of wrapped it probably in November. We’re still doing some mixing and mastering, but we’ve got the songs in the can. Now we’re just kind of putting a plan together to how we’re gonna release this thing and what are we going to do and when we’re going to do it. We’re in that phase now, but we have something recorded already. It’s kinda just playin’ that out right now

After Abbey Road, what is this next album gonna potentially sound like? Is there going to be sort of a stylistic change or anything new?

It may be somewhat of a return to form kind of record. It’s a pretty honky tonkin’ record. It’s kind of a special record… It’s kind of a tribute kind of a thing. I wish I could tell you more about it, but…

Well, I hope that we can talk about it again once some more details have been released.

I would love to do that.

The Creek Stage @ The Rookery presented by Pretoria Fields becomes a Texas Dance Hall when Mike and the Moonpies arrive on Saturday, January 25th! Tickets are limited– so get ’em now!