If there's one thing Nashville jam rockers Moon Taxi can come together for -- no matter how far away all five members may be -- it's music. The quintet recently played guest DJs to a Nashville vinyl night at the Omni's Bongo Java coffee shop just around the corner from the Country Music Hall of Fame. "It's an event where everyone brings their records to this hotel in downtown Nashville put on by a local radio station," frontman Trevor Terndrup says. " I'm gonna bring Pink Floyd, Cat Stevens, this Bob Marley record that I love... I actually just started my collection."
Terndrup was spinning Pink Floyd's Meddle LP at home in Music City during our phone interview while bassist Tommy Putnam was just getting ready to tee up for golf further south in Birmingham, Alabama. The band is currently on a short break from touring and all members have been enjoying their time off uniquely. "People are doing their own thing," Terndrup explains. "It's like, we spend so much time together on the road that when we have time off, there's like a code of conduct. We just respect each other's space and if there's something that needs to happen for the band or for the business, we'll get together."
That still didn't prevent Terndrup from ragging on Putnam's golf game. Though Putnam somehow made it into a snazzy country club by way of a friend's father, he readily admits he's not the greatest golfer in the world. Terndrup regularly beats him. "Still, it's kind of relaxing," Putnam says. With a new album already finished and awaiting release, the band has little to worry about until they hit the road later this summer. Still, they pushed to put out the single "All Day All Night," a yearning, expansive track that elevates the Moon Taxi sound and pulls them in more of an indie rock direction a la Vampire Weekend meets Kings of Leon.
"We wanted to put out a song that was like a fan song," Putnam explains, "Not the focus track or single that goes to radio even though a bunch of radio stations have picked up ['All Day All Night.'] We were looking at this song on the album and I think it kind of sounds like it could be the eleventh song on Mountains Beaches Cities. It fits that vibe but also transitions to the new record really well."
Though the flowing guitar jangles and beach-soaked movement of the track itself exudes a bit of carefree positivity, Putnam says "All Day All Night" isn't exactly the happiest track in the Moon Taxi discography. Likewise, neither is their forthcoming album, which they've yet to formally announce a title or release date for. "There's a little bit of a darker edge," Putnam continues. "Some of the songs are a little more rock than Mountains Beaches Cities and I'm really pumped about that aspect. "Year Zero" is one of the songs we've been playing live a little bit. The recording's a little bit different but it's just an off rock song. It gets you pumped up when you listen to it."
Much has changed for Moon Taxi since the 2013 release of Mountains Beaches Cities. The band has a new PR team to represent them and actually mistakenly called me by one their names when we started our phone interview, a gaffe that was at once disarming and yet speaks volumes to the many moving pieces of the music industry. Both Terndrup and Putnam aren't exactly sure why they can't reveal more concrete album information or a bit about the track listings and album art though they're clearly excited for what's next. The band is already looking into video treatments for an as-yet-unnamed single.
This new record also gave them the chance to step away from the sound board and focus solely on their playing thanks to the help of acclaimed producer Jacquire King, who oversaw the whole LP and carried just as much heft as each band member. Terndrup says the recording process was ultimately democratic. "We totally vibed with him, really liked his work ethic," he says. "We're all kind of Type-A personalities and that can be a recipe for disaster but in that case we wanted it to happen so much that it was just a continuation of what we've been doing before.
"Like, everyone brings their personal story to this narrative and some parts work...some parts don't but everything's up for debate. No one's voice is louder than anyone else's and that's the same with Jacquire. His count was equal to mine or to Tommy's or to whoever else in the band. It was nice to have that outside perspective as well. He's got a great ear and he's Grammy Award-winning. We granted him a lot of power but he still worked with us in a group in a very democratic way."
King, whose latest Grammy win comes from Kings of Leon's Use Somebody, helped the group zero in on deeper themes of relationships outside of the road. Moon Taxi is truly one of the workhorse rock bands out there whose relentless touring schedule has jettisoned them to acclaim but now that the band is maturing both in sound and in age, they're focused on more than the miles to go between shows. "We're getting a little bit older and people are having these personal relationships," Terndrup explains. "The album's more about the struggles of being in a relationship with somebody. There are dark times but there are extremely bright times. The road is consistent, goes on forever; it's not going to bring you these moments of ecstasy and moments of deep down sadness."
One of their biggest highs as a band came from this year's Bonnaroo Music and Arts festival, however. Putnam and Terndrup were there for the first three fests and distinctly recall a Bonnaroo Thursday night without music and their own aspirations setting the tone of their festival experience. "We have a bunch of pictures of ourselves and friends but I don't think we have a picture of each other together," Putnam laments. "I remember we went to that first Bonnaroo and they didn't have music on Thursdays back then. So, Thursday night was just a huge party with drum circles and people unpacking. We went the first couple of shows [at Bonnaroo] together and we were like, 'we're gonna play this shit.'"
They did ten years later, hitting the stage Thursday night at Bonnaroo 2012 [Ed. Note: I was at that show. They killed it]. Moon Taxi returned this past June to the farm for a prime slot on the main stage. The three year difference was vast, a true marker of how far the band has come since catching fellow Nashville rockers Llama at Bonnaroo 2002, whose set inspired Putnam and Terndrup to follow suit. "We've never had what we call an infinity crowd where you just can't see the end of the people; like no matter how hard you try, you just can't see the last person of the audience" Putnam says, marveling at their rollicking daytime set. "We've had big crowds at night but you can still kind of tell where the end of the crowd is. During the day, to just look out and see a sea of people was pretty awesome."
"Every festival is an opportunity," adds Terndrup. "I feel like that's where we thrive as a band."
Moon Taxi returns to the festival circuit July 12 for the Ride Festival in Telluride, Colorado.