With one foot caught up in the roots of rock n’ roll and the other buried firmly in the 21st century, Willy Moon sure has been shaking things up.
His ferocious clash of genre and dapper style has brought a lot of notoriety in the press and beyond. Short and bittersweet, his music bites and leaves you curious, delivering an impact worthy of the interests of Jack White. If nothing else, he is interesting. Live4ever got together at SXSW 2013 to discuss the album, the music and the man:
“Well, my name is William. Willy is something my girlfriend started calling me when I was 18 or so. When I was a kid, I hated being called Willy. I used to get into fights over it – but when my girlfriend started calling me Willy, I kind of liked it. It was cool, so I stuck with it.”
Playing live since early last year, Willy’s varied musical influences have been combined to create a compelling amalgamation of a 50’s icon, explored in gritty contemporary music, mixing rugged retro rockabilly with artful hip-pop production – citing Sonic Youth, Outkast, the Ramones and some 60’s pop like The Beach Boys among a diverse diet of early stimulants forming his style.
“It’s driven by the way I used to listen to music. When I was a kid, it was the way I listened to music. I grew up in that generation, that world where I’d download individual songs off the net. I wasn’t really into buying full albums, it was just about finding songs.”
Moon, the entertainer, has successfully created something that looks and sounds almost new. This mishmash is as unfamiliar as the lunar landscape, but we like it. “I wanted to come up with a stage name, something that represented me,” he tells Live4ever.
“I wanted something that was related to space or the cosmos because when I was growing up I was really obsessed with science fiction books and stuff like that and, like every kid – maybe more than every other kid – I really wanted to be an astronaut. I was obsessed with the idea of being able to leave the planet, you know? And so, for me, the moon is a connection to the universe. It’s what I can use to make sense of the vastness of everything that’s out there, so it’s a really powerful symbol.”
The 23 year old Kiwi’s first foray into music was the release of ‘I Wanna Be Your Man‘ on MySpace back in 2010. Above a scratchy guitar line and coarse yet infectious drum machine rhythm, Mr. Moon trembles and hollers the vocal line in a 50’s manner; singing lyrics that on paper look more like something by The Crickets. Its simplicity seems to hark back to the genesis of electronic music, where a tenuous link between his seemingly disconnected styles exists.
“When I’d make mixtapes I’d always have hip hop and rock n roll and punk and some soul,” he continues. “I was always listening to different music and so I grew up with that in my DNA. It was the way I approached music. So it seemed natural and fun for me when I started making music, perhaps in a selfish way, to pull in all the stuff that inspires me and that electrifies me as a music lover.”
He relates much of his distinctive style in both music and fashion back to life experiences as a child. From an early age Willy found himself combining unusual elements to express himself: “I was always jealous of other kids because they had such nice threads. When I’d go to school, I always had weird shit!”
“I always had clothes from charity shops and that. But I desperately wanted to look like the other kids and have a skateboard and the cap and the hoodie and baggy jeans and the shoes and all. I didn’t have that stuff and I had to try and cobble together things, and it sucked.”
Moon’s appreciation for presentation, and taste for a sharp suit, developed while living in Berlin. A notably different depiction on Willy Moon, with long hair and a leather jacket, attempted to break from the common stereotype of a punk. “One day I just went a cut my hair and bought myself a really nasty, cheap suit! It felt good. It feels like me, for the first time. I feel really comfortable like this. And you know, I wouldn’t be wearing suits if I didn’t like it. It fits with the music and it makes sense visually but I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t feel comfortable.”
His music owes much to the style of artists such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, and the early blues legends; snappy, uncomplicated tunes that drew nourishment and brought a youthful pulse to the music that preceded. Yet, surprisingly, this inspiration was a late arrival on Moon’s music radar.
“That’s the thing, all the rock n0 roll stuff I didn’t really find or start listening to until I was eighteen or nineteen,” he reveals to Live4ever. I didn’t really know the music that existed prior to 1963 because that whole world was kind of cut off to me, but rock n roll was something I discovered when I was living in Berlin.”
“I sort of became obsessed with it. I don’t know why. I became obsessed with Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley and Little Richard and those guys. There was something so primal about it to me. I’d been listening to a lot of punk records and when I heard this stuff, I just connected with it. It was kind of punk before punk, and it’s fucking amazing!”
Moon has attracted a lot of attention – from the fashion world to Apple, along major players in the musical hemisphere, his arresting revivalist approach has brought him to the table of Jack White. So much so that he has released a single on White’s Third Man Label and supported him on a UK tour.
“He was always a big hero of mine,” Moon continues. I mean I went to see The White Stripes when I was fifteen or sixteen when they came to New Zealand. It was a music festival and it is still the most wonderful gig I’ve been to. Definitely. It blew my mind. So, years later when he and Third Man got in touch, it was incredible. As an artist, to have someone like that, one of your heroes, get in touch and to go on tour with him…I went on tour with him!”
Moon finds himself unconcerned by the potential success to be found in fashion or acting – we are glad to hear that music is his primary preoccupation. His dedication is unwavering. “I’ve a lot of interests, which is nice, but they’re all hobbies!
It’s nice to have hobbies. Hopefully one day I’ll have the opportunity to indulge myself in them, but for the moment and for the last two years at least, music has been my life. It’s been every waking hour and it’s even been in my dreams – everything has just been about working out how this all makes sense and how I can make records that inspire me and inspire other people.”
Jumping to the present day, Willy has embarked on the release of his first full album – ‘Here’s Willy Moon’ – a succinct introduction to his musical alchemy that can rightfully be described as cool; an essential component in his routine. Promoting his act to an American audience, and preferring the company of women to men, Willy is backed up by a striking female duo on stage – Gigi, the drummer since the beginning, and the new guitarist Juliette.
“I find that I don’t like being with all men,” he explains. “I don’t like the atmosphere. I like having women around. They’re a really nice presence. In terms of performance, I enjoy it when women are playing instruments, not just singing but playing instruments. It’s really cool to me and I wish more girls played instruments because I found out that not that many do!”
Following three packed shows at this year’s South By Southwest Festival, Willy embarked on a hectic schedule with a UK, European and US tours all booked in the following months. Beyond that, his aspirations are towards another record.
“It’s something that can’t be replaced – playing music to people, coming and playing shows to people is really different than doing the record, because I think when you’re in the same room and you’re actually singing to them, there’s a different connection. So I feel really happy to be out here.”
“My music has been inspired by so much American music and this country has given me so much music, that to play for American audiences is such a pleasure for me.”
Moon is not the originator and you can make comparisons that are both cruel and kind. Yet given that Willy Moon owes so much to the legends, and that most of their debut albums involved covers and imitative material, it would be unfair to accept that Moon will forever be a revivalist. Is this phase a musical schizophrenia before a more defined sound emerges? Next time round will he deliver content with more substance than pop?
Having had this much success given his limited previous experience, we trust there is plenty more to come from Willy Moon.
May 29 Portland, Oregon @ Wonder Ballroom
May 31 San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop
June 1 Santa Barbara, CA @ Velvet Jones
June 4 Los Angeles, CA @ The Troubadour
June 6 Salt Lake, City, UT @ Urban Lounge
June 7 Denver, CO @ The Marquis Theater
June 8 Colorado Springs, CO @ Black Sheep
June 11 New York, NY @ Gramercy Theater
(Photos: Live4ever Media)