Moon Hooch explores consciousness with a knockout combo of jazz and dance music
Moon Hooch's music has all the manic energy of a city. The Brooklyn group's drums-sax-sax lineup rumbles like the New York City subway system, where the trio spent many hours busking when it formed in 2010. The way the band combines dance beats and avant-garde jazz is akin to a metropolis' relentless forward rhythm that's being intersected by speeding cabs running red lights.
But the nervous energy Moon Hooch exudes in its simultaneously catchy and edgy music is in direct opposition to the way drummer James Muschler and saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen live their lives off the stage.
Or even in their touring van.
Moon Hooch's members are avid meditators and they use this practice to stay mentally and physically fit during arduous tours across the U.S.
"Yeah, it’s not easy," McGowen said of touring. "Meditation, Qigong, and breathing exercises are what keeps me going. I try to transmute stress through present moment awareness. I don’t succeed always, but when I am enough present I can stay calm even if the situation is challenging. We usually get together every morning, sit in a circle, breath together and share how we feel. We aren’t doing that every day, but whenever we do it, it really uplifts the group dynamic."
McGowen was introduced to meditation by his bandmates and credits it with saving his life.
"When I met James and Mike they showed me how to meditate and we did it sometimes together before shows," McGowen said. "But I understood the benefits of the practice much later when I attended a hundred-hour silent-meditation retreat. After about seven days of continuous meditation, all my identifications were lifted simultaneously and I saw another reality for the first time. I felt like an eternal being looking through the eyes of a human. This moment changed me forever and is the source of inspiration that drives me every day."
Dedication to a positive, DIY lifestyle is something all Moon Hooch's members believe in, but McGowen has been the most active in sharing what he has learned from his studies and experiences in a variety of ways, including offering guided meditations and accompanying music, interviewing fellow consciousness researcher Tom Campbell, and giving a speech about how humans interpret reality at the International Youth Initiative Program (YIP) conference in his native Sweden. He's also the author of the fiction book The End of Fear, which engages the notion that we're living in a simulation -- an idea that's become discussed more in our computer age but has its roots long before the invention the microchip.
"It’s actually a very old idea," McGowen said. "Buddha pointed out over 2,000 years ago that reality is an illusion. I first came across that idea during intense meditation. I encountered some form of nonphysical intelligence that began teaching me about the nature of reality, saying that it was all information being organized by consciousness. It was a far-out experience, but I find it fascinating that this idea has a name in physics [simulation theory or hypothesis]. I wrote two books about this hypothesis because it has the potential to integrate science with spirituality. My second book will come out in a month or two."
Simulation or not, the environmentally conscious Moon Hooch isn't hedging its bets: The trio also does carbon-neutral touring and preps its vegan meals -- using locally sourced seasonal produce -- in its van, which is outfitted with a "pantry full of spices, a toaster oven, an electric skillet, a cutting board, a knife, and some other kitchen tools," as the group wrote on its blog cookinginthecave.net.
With such heady concerns in the band, it amazing how fun and carefree Moon Hooch's jams can be. Throughout three studio albums -- Moon Hooch (2013), This Is Cave Music (2014), Red Sky (2016) -- a 2017 live album, and several EPs, the trio's playful music is a vibrant life-force that doesn't take itself overly seriously, as reflected in song titles such as "Contra Dub Step" and "Booty House." In some ways, Moon Hooch's music is a release from consciousness, its sound tapping into a place where sound vibrations cause ecstatic movement and transport listeners to a trance dance deep in the unconscious.
But it's easy to imagine when Moon Hooch gets off the stage, packs up the van, and hits the road to the next club, the musicians' musings return to the mindfully spiritual as they listen to, say, Alan Watts talks and break them down in real-time.
"It varies, we also have the classic band dynamics," McGowen said. "Often I sit in the back with headphones on and meditate while listening to rain sounds. Sometimes we play random instruments or listen to Eckhart Tolle together."
Watts. Tolle. Close enough for cosmic boogie.
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.
Moon Hooch plays The Blind Pig on Thursday, October 17. Jaw Gems opens. Doors at 8 pm. Visit blindpigmusic.com for tickets and more info. The band also plays Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo on October 16 and The Intersection in Grand Rapids on October 18.