From the opening salvo of “Paycheck To Paycheck”, it’s clear that Mike and The Moonpies have hit another gear with their latest album One To Grow On.
Retaining the satin smoothness of their previous releases, the Texas outfit delivers sweet honky tonk desperation with “Hour On The Hour” while dipping a snipped toe into Southern Rock territory on the family odyssey of “Brother” and the ultimate defiance of “Burn Out”.
The Moonpies excel at a hybrid sound that blends neotraditional with alt-country authenticity, and with cuts like “Growing Pains”, “Rainy Day”, and “Social Drinkers”, Mike Harmeier and company prove that while they are capable of commanding any stage in any venue anywhere, their natural habitat is the dance hall.
Throughout One To Grow On, Mike and The Moonpies maintain a frenetic pace, flowing freely from the tap, and holding nothing back. It’s the kind of album that takes the bump out of any road, encouraging you to skip the shortcuts and simply enjoy the drive.
AI- I want to go back just a little bit before One To Grow On because I’d really wanted to talk to you, about Touch Of You, and of course, with everything that happened, we didn’t get to that conversation. When you and I spoke before, that was still very much a secret, you were kind of keeping it under wraps. I was curious to know what you and the guys discovered about yourselves arranging and recording those songs. Sometimes you learn something about yourself when you’re tryin’ to get your own music done and ready for other people’s ears, but when you dive into, and then, in fact, finish someone else’s songs, someone like Gary Stewart, now that you’ve had time to live with it, what do you think you learned from the process?
Well, I think first off that we just realized that at our core, we’re a straight honky-tonk band, much like Gary’s thing was. That stuff was really easy for us to do. It came pretty naturally when we were makin’ that record, and really, I took a lot of the things I learned from that record with Gary’s melodies, ’cause I was singing all this stuff that Gary had written. Gary had an interesting way of moving those melodies around, and I think I’ve actually noticed that I’ve been doing that a lot more, especially on this One To Grow On record. So there was a lot of things that came out of that, but I think, like I said, at its core, we just realized that really our bread and butter was doin’ that barroom stuff.
How much of that album did you have to record remotely?
We did probably 75% remote. It was probably three or four songs that we had already cut prior to that, prior to kind of a lockdown situation. We had already cut those maybe when we were workin’ on the previous record. We’d been goin’ through this 20 or 30 songs for quite some time before we decided on the ones. So really, once we got locked down, we decided we were gonna make it more than an EP. It was just gonna be about four or five songs. We scrounged around about 10 more to go through that we got from Gary’s estate and picked five more to go ahead and knock out. We’d send our drummer in one day to go cut drums in the studio at Yellow Dog in Wimberley, and then we cut everything else from our houses and sent it back and forth to each other and did mixes and everything all remote.
What’d you think about that process?
It was interesting. I don’t think I would really want to make a record fully that way again. But we did utilize all of the stuff– you know, we all had to build our own home studio rigs in order to do that. [We] bought laptops, microphones, and everybody spent some dough on it. We had all that stuff, so we utilized a lot of it in doing pre-production for the One To Grow On record. I was makin’ demos at my house and then sending that stuff to the guys, and they could all track stuff in their own individual places. That was really a cool way for us to work out the pre-production for this record. I think it made this record something different as well.
You say you did the pre-production for One To Grow On remotely, but you were in fact able to get into the studio to record the way you normally do?
Yeah, we couldn’t get everybody together in there until later in that year. We pretty much had all the songs demoed out just doin’ remote pre-production until we got into the studio for about a week. Finally, when we got in there, we cut all of the One To Grow On record in about four or five days.
I’ll tell you, there is an urgency to the songs on this record that I don’t know I’ve ever heard on a Moonpies album before. You know that sayin’, “fit to beat the band?” In this instance, you are that band! It comes in just a little bit over 30 minutes, I think. You say you recorded it in four or five days– was it a matter of that frenzy of the songs? Or is that just the way you were coming out of the lockdown, just feeling all that energy and needing to drive forward?
I think that’s probably more likely. We spent almost a decade playin’ together 200-somethin’ dates a year and then with a year off and not really being in the same room together and doing that… Since we had these songs pretty much worked out– which we hardly ever do, pre-production is kind of a new thing to us– I think it was a totally different experience on all levels when we got back into the room to cut those songs. I’m glad that you mentioned that. It does come across that way on the record.
You say the pre-production really helped you do that. Do you think that’s somethin’ that you’ll continue to do goin’ forward with other projects?
I think so. We really started to experiment with it when we were workin’ on the Cheap Silver [and Solid Country Gold] record. We had to basically write all those songs just before we went into the studio in London because the guy had to write all the string parts for it. We really had to work out that stuff prior to the record, which had never been the case. I think we’ll use bits and pieces of that process probably going forward. But I still like goin’ in the studio and just seein’ what happens like we did with the Steak Night [at the Prairie Rose] record. That was just play the songs one time for the guys and then we just figure out what we’re gonna do, and we hit record! I still like that process as well. So maybe a mix of both, I think on the next one.
The automobile is really one of the main characters on One To Grow On. And aside from that classic representation of freedom and independence, I think there’s also an escapist aspect. I can’t tell you how many times that my daughter and I, my wife, we just got in the car during the pandemic to drive and listen to the radio. ‘Cause, you know, we couldn’t do anything else! Sometimes we were goin’ to a farm to pick up an order, and we’d go sometimes hit the brewery. I just opened the trunk and they’d pop the beer in back! But sometimes it was just to drive. Did you actually consciously make an album specifically designed to be driven to?
Well, actually I did! And I have a lot of the same sentiment as what you just said! We did the same thing– a lot of just drivin’ around Texas towns, little small towns around where I live. I think that was pretty inspirational over that year. And also just having this old truck, really. I don’t know, somethin’ was speakin’ to me about that, and I was tryin’ to write songs about all the songs that have been played in that truck since ’85 and the stories that truck could tell. A lot of it came from that vehicle. I think I always try to think about makin’ a driving record. Those are my favorite records anyway– somethin’ you can cruise to. I think I always lean on that. I know I tried really hard to do that with the Mockingbird record. This has some of the same vibe to it. So definitely, I was conscious of that when we made the record.
Let’s talk about that part of being home. You got to be “Dad” in a capacity that you haven’t before now!
Yeah, it was fantastic! A lot of people have a lot of different ways you could think about that year, but for me, it was one of the best years I’ve had in recent memory. I stayed home with my son and my wife for a time that I wouldn’t get to normally do. And got a lot of things done around my house that I wouldn’t get to normally do! It was a whole different lifestyle for about a year, and I got really accustomed to it. Enough so that we really rethought our touring schedules going forward, just ’cause I think we all enjoyed that time to get back to the real part of our lives. I think that’s gonna impact us for the foreseeable future.
That was gonna be my next question is if that made you reevaluate how you were gonna look at touring and performing live from here on out. Because I’ve noticed that with a lot of artists, particularly new parents who have just maintained hellacious touring schedules over the years, having that time down to really experience it has made all the difference. People I’m speaking to are tryin’ to figure out how they can do [both]. I think that needs to be across the board. I think that the cattle drive of live music, if you will, might need to slow down so that people don’t burn themselves out and do get to enjoy that part of life.
Man, I couldn’t agree more! In a lot of ways, it was a very eye-opening experience that I think a lot of us needed. I see the tour schedule changing already and the decisions that we’re making about the important things to play and when to stay home is all coming into focus for a lot of people. And I know we’re one of ’em.
You’ve been back out. What has that experience been like so far? What has changed that is noticeable?
It’s been interesting just because we’re unsure about every single thing, how it’s gonna turn out in different parts of the country– and seeing the whole country again for the first time with fresh eyes! It’s a little nerve-wracking, not knowing exactly what’s going to happen, or who’s going to show up! But we’ve been pleasantly surprised with everything so far. We had a great run on the West Coast and our Midwest stuff’s so far so good. It’s a lot more sing-alongs and people just really, really into it. We’ve had some of the best sing-alongs in our entire careers on this tour! It’s been a pretty exciting run, and we’re seein’ some fresh faces and some faces we have not seen in quite some time!
You’ve been rather prolific this last couple of years. Some people might make the argument that putting out as much music as you have in such a short period of time could be a detriment, but it doesn’t appear to be that case for you. And certainly not when you consider the quality of these last few records overall. It seems like you’re really hitting a stride unlike any other in your career so far. You guys have to be one of the best secret keepers in any genre, so at the risk of gettin’ shot down, what are you workin’ on right now?
Well, we do keep a lot of stuff under our hat, and I think like I’ve said before, we’re always planning the next thing before the other one even comes out. We were kind of caught off guard with the turnaround and what we were gonna do with this record. We came up with that on the spot to do it this way, and we had previous plans to go do one of those Stones-type, U2 records where you’d rent a house. We were gonna do it out in Southern California and record there for about a week and write a record there. We’re still very much into the destination recording aspect of a record. So I think that’s probably what’s gonna come up out of our sleeve next time. Or something similar to that. But we’re still workin’ on that one right now.
Is that somethin’ that you’ll document? Like with film?
I’m sure that we will. We tend to do that quite a bit. We’ve got some stuff, still, from the Abbey Road session that we’re holdin’ pretty tight to the vest.
I was gonna ask you about that! You brought up bein’ in London just a few minutes ago, and I was curious about what the status of that documentary was.
We’ve been workin’ with the same guys that shot that stuff, and I think it’s kind of up in the air about what we really want our finished product to be with that thing. So I think we’ll just keep on documenting stuff (laugh) and just see where it ends up! You know, I’d be interested to see the end result! And that could be two years, that could be 10 years! Who knows?