Moon Hooch is built on the Art-Blakey-with-a-groove drumming of James Muschler, framed by Wenzl McGowen’s and Mike Wilbur’s tenor saxophones, which establish groove, melody, and color.
WWBW: How’s the tour going?
Mike Wilbur: It’s really good. Last night was sold out at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s a short tour. Just five stops this time, but we play up to 200 shows a year. We have for the past seven years.
WWBW: Is your touring mostly in the U.S. or split evenly between stateside and international?
Wenzl McGowen: I don’t know how even it is, but I know I flew across the Atlantic Ocean about sixteen times this year.
WWBW: What kind of venues have you been playing?
MW: Mostly five hundred to a thousand-seat halls in Europe and here. It depends on the city. It’s usually clubs, but we do play large festivals.
WWBW: Do you have a playing strategy about a big festival with maybe tens of thousands of people and a smaller, more intimate theater?
WM: It depends more how we feel. I think it’s important that the three of us are on the same level. Before the show we try to get together, spend some time together, maybe sing a note together and feel each other’s voices.
WWBW: The chops required for what you guys do is pretty insane. Extraordinary breath technique, but the conditioning also has to be more extreme than your average ensemble player. What’s your daily practice routine when you’re not touring?
MW: I have a two-hour daily minimum to keep my chops up if we’re not performing. Right now I’m working on symmetrical interval patterns. It’s just picking an interval, stacking that interval and doing chromatic movements with it throughout the range of the horn. Then I’ll play tunes and practice jazz, playing patterns over changes and moving shapes throughout chord changes, that kind of stuff. I try to fit in overtone exercises, slip slurs, things like that, just for maintenance.
WM: Mostly the shows keep us in shape though. We haven’t really had the chance to take time off in seven years. Touring has been our life. Our sets are constant blowing for an hour and a half, longer sometimes, every night without a break.
WWBW: Mike, are you pretty rough on reeds?
WM: Oh, reeds. I’m the worst as far as being picky. Usually there’s only one reed in a box that I really like.
WWBW: Does it last when you find it, though?
MW: It does. It’ll usually last about five shows, maybe four. But sometimes I go way longer than I should and then I end up like, why am I so flat? Or why is it so buzzy? It’s because I haven’t changed the reed in two weeks. Sometimes the reed really settles in. I try to ride that out as long as I can.
WWBW: Has anyone approached you as an endorser?
MW: I endorse D’Addario. There hasn’t been any reed company I’ve found where every reed is good in the box. Some people, like Wenzl for example, he will play any reed. It doesn’t even matter. He’s totally “whatever” about reeds. I don’t know if it’s because of the overtone practice or what it is, but every harmonic in the sound really matters to me. So I need it to sound the way I want it to in my head or it’s going to drive me crazy. I find D’Addario reeds to have more usable ones for me per box than any other I’ve tried, and when I get a good one, it stays good a long time.
WWBW: Which of their series do you play?
MW: The Jazz Select Medium.
WWBW: Wenzl, which controller do you use?
WM: I use the Akai EWI.
WWBW: Where do the patches come from, the tones?
WM: It’s an analog synthesizer built in. I haven’t really programmed a lot. I’m still using the presets.
WWBW: Did you guys already have a pretty good idea of what you were after in high school and by the time you arrived at New School?
WM: No. I just realized I wanted to get out of the jazz scene because I just didn’t like this whole setup of musicians playing music for musicians. It didn’t make any sense to me. I want to play music for everybody. So I started to get into simpler music and electronic music and then gradually that mixed with things Mike was into and evolved into what Moon Hooch is now.
MW: I went through the public school system in Brockton, Mass. I was in band and wind ensemble and jazz band and marching band. I was a band guy. It wasn’t until college that I started to step outside the box in my thinking and my playing. Moving to New York City really accelerated my creative growth and being. I went to The New School and saw different ensembles with different combinations of instruments and I realized that anything is possible because there are no rules. And once you open up like that, things just start to happen.