The South Austin Moonlighters are punching in at 10:00 Wednesday night to perform at TSTC in Waco. They took time out of their busy schedules (working two jobs) to sit down with Texas Music Cafe before their performance May 18th.
You were all seasoned musicians before you began "moonlighting" your regular gigs for South Austin Moonlighters. What were your regular gigs before S.A.M., and are any of you still a part of them?
Lonnie was in DEADMAN, Mike Zito, Phil Hurley was in Stonehoney, and Jimmy LaFave and Phil Bass were with Monte Montgomery. Chris Beall is the newest member and was a nationally charting solo artist.
Is it hard for you guys to find time to write material while being a part of other groups? What is your process for finding new songs?
LONNIE: Not hard at all. We each bring in ideas of songs—some fully realized, some not—to the table. All four of us write and sing, but in the end it ends up sounding like us. Like a band. Not like a back-up band with a song writer up front, but a true band. The respect for each other’s abilities to "add" to a song is genuine. We can't wait to get our hands on a new song! And vise versa; we can't wait to hear what the others contribute to our own songs. We are fans of each other, of music, and what’s best for "The Song."
PHIL H: Recently Phil Bass had a super raw idea for a new tune. Just a few chords and one line of lyric. We pulled out a notepad on a long drive to a gig and collectively threw out a bunch of cool lines until we had created a great song called "Hold On.” We created a musical arraignment on the fly in the studio without lyrics that its super vibey and cool. And the end result of the music and lyrics together may be the sleeper cut of the new record. It's bad-ass. I've never been part of a group that could create that way. Everyone’s vocal ideas were spot on as well!
PHIL B: It was a skeleton of an idea. Something I'd been tinkering around with on the piano. I sang it to the guys and the inspiration started flowing.
CHRIS: I feel like I'm a reporter sometimes. I report in a song the things going on around me that I find fascinating in some way. Lots of songwriters are that way. In this band we're all songwriters as well as players, so we're usually starting out on the same "musical" page to begin with. There's something to the idea Lonnie was saying earlier about the band not just "backing-up" a single songwriter who's standing up front with his hat on....it's this idea that we never stray too far from each others skill-sets when we come up with tunes and perform them. You know? Like, someone's not showing up with a power-pop ballad and a synthesizer going, “I think this one needs a little more sizzle!” We all know what music we play and what it should sound like, no matter which one of us (or if all of us) wrote it!
You started South Austin Moonlighters to have fun playing music. What does the band do for fun when you’re not playing music at home or on the road?
It varies. Music is our life and our career choice. It has a huge hold on us. Chances are it is music-related.
What's it like to release an album in Europe? Do you plan to play there soon?
People in Europe aren't as overtaken by technology—just yet—as we are here in Texas. Here we have all forms of entertainment at our finger tips in the comfort of our own home. We really would never have to leave our house for anything anymore with the internet. In Europe they still have an old school mentality.
They use technology too, but also have formed healthy habits like walking, bicycling, grocery shopping daily for fresh meats, veggies and fruits, and reading the newspaper. Working starts in the morning, four-hour lunch break, back to work around 4:00 and then work until 7:00. After that it’s communing at a neighborhood pub, coffee shop, eatery, and appreciating the arts.
They still appreciate the work that goes into making music. They flock to live performances, especially if you are from the USA—more specifically, Texas—and if you say you’re from Austin, they perk up. Its wonderful. We are working toward going to Scandinavia, Europe, and Spain. The album was delivered to our German Record Label last week. Its all in the works. Maybe we’ll visit in late summer or early fall.
Your new album, "Ghost of a Small Town,” is coming in July. Are there any tracks that stand out to you personally?
The whole record sounds amazing. Just when you think you like one song, the next one comes on and you think, “Oh, I like that one too." It really is the best work we've ever done and we’re proud of every note—every second—of that record. We can't wait for everyone to hear it.
You’ll have a chance to hear songs from “Ghost of a Small Town” and more May 18th at TSTC in Waco. The South Austin Moonlighters take the stage at 10:00.
*Photo credit: thesouthaustinmoonlighters.com