The performance by Moon King that I witnessed was like a bomb going off; with focused passion and the abandon with which they perform their songs no one in the audience was safe from being blown away. They were, unreservedly, the best act that I saw at Camp Wavelength. It is the rare band that can cultivate such energy in an audience and have it reflected back.
Having first listened to Moon King’s latest album, Secret Life, before seeing them live I was not expecting such presence and energy. Instead I was expecting a far more relaxed performance by a more relaxed band. Suffice to say that the recording of this band and the band live are furious decibels apart. Another separation between recording and performance came in the energy of those onstage. The audience at Camp Wavelength was hanging onto every lyric and pulsing to every beat. The musical duo of Daniel Benjamin and Maddy Wilde, Moon King proper, along with their two touring musicians, opened the set with ‘Apocalypse’ and once the song reached its full rhythm the heart rates of those in the audience were never the same.
And lead singer Daniel Benjamin directly channeled that energy. Aside from the acts of showmanship that had him writhing on the ground, singing from and then jumping off of anything that he could, and talking with the audience, his connection with his audience is something only expert performers can achieve.
The embodiment of focused musicality and stage presence was also something that surprised me. During our pre-show interview Daniel seemed laid back and almost distracted during the brief conversation. He was drumming along with his hands to the rhythm from another band’s set during most of the interview and he was very soft spoken. The change from the soft-spoken interviewee to dynamic performer startled me. I sincerely hope that anyone reading this takes the time to be startled, in the best of ways, by Moon King live.
What follows is the interview between myself and Daniel.
Nathaniel: You’re a local Toronto band. What is it like playing this venue?
Daniel: Ahh… I haven’t been to the island much, which is strange as a Torontonian. But I really like it. It’s beautiful.
Nathaniel: Is it different playing in front of home crowds than other crowds?
Daniel: Definitely. I think especially with Torontonians. A lot of people are excited to see bands come from out of town whereas local bands have a lot of support, but people feel that they sort of own them. So there is the feeling that ‘this isn’t the only time that we’ll get to see them’ kind of mentality. And I totally understand that. But I like to go on tour and play for people that we don’t know, because to play for an audience that we have some friends in is the most terrifying thing.
Nathaniel: Because you know them?
Daniel: Yeah. It’s much more nerve racking.
Nathaniel: You have a very complex, multilayered sound. How does that come out in the studio?
Daniel: Well, I play most of the instruments myself and I like the way things sound building a structure so that everything fits in its own place. So when we have bass and stuff like that I think of it more in terms of frequency range instead of thinking that ‘this song has a guy playing electric bass’. I think ‘what can I do to fill this out, sound-wise’ and choose the instrumentation based on that instead of thinking in terms of actual instruments. I mean on recording its all electronic so I don’t really have to worry about…
Nathaniel: Tapes or overdubs?
Daniel: Yeah. And it’s not like we have to get everyone there together. It’s just feeling out how big we can make the sound, or how small, and balancing that.
Nathaniel: How does that work live?
Daniel: It’s totally different. It’s the simplest. It’s just whatever is the simplest.
Nathaniel: So then do you play guitar and play along to some recorded instruments?
Daniel: We don’t really use any prerecorded stuff live. There’s a lot of guitar, a lot of the guitars in are recordings are re-sampled and on the live obviously we don’t do that. We just try to keep it a simple as possible and make everything pack up very small so we can carry everything in one big box. And whatever can’t fit in the box we just won’t use. So if there is a xylophone on a recording then we don’t bother. I’ve tried to become very economical with the live show and very open-ended with the recordings. So whatever instrument can come in on the recording, in general, we just keep it simple.
Nathaniel: It must still be a pretty big box though.
Daniel: It’s actually pretty small. Like, the bass that we use for the live shows is actually a foot pedal, so we actually just have someone playing the bass parts with their feet and then he just plays guitar or keyboards at the same time. So it’s multitasking. Like I said, multitasking.
Nathaniel: So when you’re writing a song, because you have so many layers, do you have a method that you go through?
Daniel: That’s a good question. I think that pushing yourself to expand your question is sort of the fun of it. And like every sort of group of songs that I’ve written I try to start in slightly different ways. The newest bunch of songs that will be for the next record I’ve started writing based on piano loops, stuff like that, but then previous songs were more based on having the lyrics first or the guitar parts first. I think challenging your own method is where the fun of writing songs is. It’s good to have a formula but once you get a batch of songs using that formula you shouldn’t recycle it. The formula becomes tired. Developing a new formula is where the art is.
Nathaniel: Were you listening to anyone while you were writing this album?
Daniel: I think we get a lot of direct, immediate influence from the bands that we were performing with, on tour with. We were just on tour with Majical Cloudz before we made the record, and I think a lot of that was a big influence, for me anyway, that sort of intensity, emotional intensity instead of volume intensity, because I think that in the past we’ve focused more on having a big sound. But on this record I was focusing more on being intense and direct and quieter. And stuff like Julee Cruise and some late 80s stuff, in some cases more sparse, dreamy like pop stuff.
The stuff that I’m working on I’ve been doing a lot of piano loops and stuff is very much inspired by Harold Budd, that I really like a lot. And also some weird trashy European pop, almost like hair metal pop. I like a group called Roxette, this Swedish pop band. They’re really good. And Sheryl Crow.
Nathaniel: And Sheryl Crow?
Daniel: Yeah, her pop stuff. We’ll jam a Sheryl Crow song.
Nathaniel: Cool. Anything else?
Daniel: I’ve been listening to this band Blue Six a lot, there is a DJ Sprinkles record that I’m really into right now. It’s called Midtown 120BPM Blues. It’s really good. A lot of electronic music. And Sheryl Crow.
Nathaniel: Good luck with your set. I’m really looking forward to it.
Moon King’s latest album, Secret Life, can be purchased at http://moon-king.bandcamp.com/