Having left their native Baton Rouge for Los Angeles in 2014, indie pop outfit Moon Honey had visions of grandeur and high expectations for their promising future. And with good reason.
The duo’s debut album, Hand-Painted Dream Photographs, won them deserved plaudits from prominent outlets including The New York Times and NPR among others. All of this happened within months of the band’s principals, Jess Joy and Andrew Martin, joining forces in 2013.
Years after that promising debut, Moon Honey released their follow-up, Mixed Media on Woman, to less fanfare in September. So how did a group on the rise fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump, or did they?
Well for starters, it was due to circumstances beyond their control. Once they arrived in Southern California, the stars seemed to align for Joy and Martin. Having first met in Baton Rouge when Martin was going to enlist Joy to paint his guitar cabinet before realizing (over a bottle of wine and her singing handwritten poetry) that she could sing, a deal with an unnamed label led to John Goodmanson (Death Cab for Cutie, Sleater-Kinney, Blonde Redhead), whom they call “one of our hero producers” to helm the record. So far, so good.
The record ended up being a massive undertaking, and that doesn’t include the “hundreds of band members” they’ve gone through over the years. The songs were meticulously culled through with every note heavily orchestrated, analyzed and eventually overproduced.
However, due to management and internal issues, the record got put on an indefinite hold. Hung up in typical music biz turn-around (“It was basically wrong place, wrong time situation,” Martin says), Moon Honey was essentially paralyzed. They played a bunch of shows — in particular in their new hometown — and did some other things to keep busy, but as long as Mixed Media on Woman was sitting collecting dust, they were pretty much unable to build off their initial success, which was frustrating.
“Of course it’s discouraging,” Joy says. “But we were able to still play [shows] and figure it out. There’s this quote, ‘take your broken heart and make it into art,’ and that’s what we did. We took discouragement and write songs that are probably our best songs.”
“After it went through a bunch of different hands and being held up, we decided to release it ourselves and go on to the next one,” Martin says. “We’ve fully bounced back from that.”
Despite those hang ups, the new songs that Joy and Martin describe are ones they’ve been putting the finishing touches on. Due to fortuitous geography, they met up with their neighbor in Echo Park, Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, and got cracking on their third album. Though it’s still being mixed, Moon Honey plans on releasing it in spring 2019 preceded by shows around SXSW.
“The discouragement produced better songs, heartbreakers, you know?” Martin says.
Even so, Moon Honey is back and ready to get moving. The newer songs are the exact opposite of what comprised Mixed Media on Woman. The songs were done in Martin’s bedroom, with noise in the background and the tracks that were at one point going to be throwaway demos, which in turn led to a “rough and flawed” sound that has a “more Fleetwood Mac than King Crimson direction.”
“You can really our heart on these instead of our brains,” Martin says.
Going through the rigors has taught the duo that the only people that they can rely on through it all are themselves. They do everything themselves, from management to art direction to booking and even elements of publicity (even though they have a publicist. Based on what they’ve been through, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s all very challenging, but at the end of the day, nobody loves your child more than you,” Martin says. “There’s people who know how to teach your child different tricks, but in the climate of the music industry right now, it’s kind of fun to self-navigate and see whose buttons you can press. We believe in the music so much and we really mean it so it’s easier to look someone in the eye and say this is what it is.”
“Every artist I’ve ever read their story has gone through this where it took so much time to convince people that their original art was valuable,” Joy adds. “I know we’re going to keep creating and that’s my only option.”
Moon Honey performs with Purple Mountains Majesties and Lanitarians at The Wayfarer, Dec. 1, 8 p.m., $7. 21+. For full details, click here.
Daniel Kohn is a writer based in Southern California. With bylines in an assortment of outlets, Kohn primarily specializes in music with other interests ranging from sports to food. As a transplant, Kohn loves the beautiful weather and is glad he no longer has to deal with brutal winters. If you see him, say hi and of course, he’s always willing to down a beer or two…if you’re paying.