If there’s an impromptu dance party going on at the Union Square subway stop, there’s a good chance Moon Hooch is leading it. The Bushwick based band’s three members, James Muschler, Mike Wilbur, and Wenzl McGowen, all in their early twenties, have recently embarked on their first nationwide tour with Mike Doughty after being discovered on the subway.
About 15 months ago, Moon Hooch formed at the New School, where Muschler, a drummer, and saxophonists Wilbur and McGowen were studying music. They play in the subway twice a week, mainly for promotional purposes. “We’ve only ever booked one show,” said Muschler. “Usually after we play, the next day we get a couple of emails. If we’re lucky, they lead to shows.”
Doughty, former frontman for ‘90s New York band Soul Coughing, invited Moon Hooch on his month-long tour, which runs until November 19th. The musicians will visit Minneapolis, Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and D.C., and end the tour with dates at Brooklyn Bowl and Bowery Ballroom. McGowen said, “It’s completely different than playing in New York and for our fans. …When we play in New York City, we invite our fans and people know what to expect. Here they have no idea what to expect.”
Despite the older crowds, McGowen said the tour has helped Moon Hooch expand its fan base. “It seems we are reaching out to his fans and it’s a great experience to be on the road for the first time.”
Moon Hooch, whose music is upbeat and jazzy, is based on electronic and house music. When the band got together, McGowen said that people didn’t like their music until it was tweaked to include two-part harmonies for the two saxophones. “The energy between the three of us started working really well together. People were dancing on the subway platform. We said ‘Wow, this might actually be something we should keep doing.’”
Moon Hooch calls their brand of music “cave.” “It’s like house music but it’s more wild and jagged and free,” said McGowen. “It’s better to live in.”
Even though they’ve only been together for a little over a year, Moon Hooch has already put out a 13-track, self-titled album, and worked for a national television company. This past summer, they were hired by producers at “Hamish and Andy’s Gap Year,” an Australian show that was filmed at Greenpoint’s Broadway Stages, to be their in-house band. They got the gig after being seen on YouTube, since the producers wanted to hire some “buskateers,” or musicians who play for money on the subway.
Being a “buskateer” isn’t always so glamorous, but Muschler said that at least it’s interesting. “One time we were playing by 6th Avenue. It was three or four in the morning, and we had been playing for six or seven hours. We were about to leave, but one guy was psyched about the music and intoxicated and affectionate. He leaned into my ear and whispered something and licked my neck.”
Whether touring the country with a popular indie rocker or having close encounters with commuters, Muschler has savored his time with Moon Hooch. “I could just be playing restaurant gigs and have a day job. But because of Moon Hooch, I’m completely secure as a musician and I feel like I can really express myself in this band. It’s really a blessing. But I’m not religious. Maybe it’s not a blessing, but I’m really fortunate to be a part of this band.”