Interview: Moving Mountains
Watch me gush: Moving Mountains are one of âthoseâ bands. When you hear them, everything falls in to place just right, and itâs like youâve been looking for them your entire life. Life affirming, if you will. With songs full of massive highs, those moments that feel so perfect, itâs no surprise that the young, mostly-bearded four-piece from Purchase, NY have received glowing reviews, and been tapped for support slots with Kevin Devine, Caspian and their (and my) personal... (continued)
Watch me gush: Moving Mountains are one of âthoseâ bands. When you hear them, everything falls in to place just right, and itâs like youâve been looking for them your entire life. Life affirming, if you will. With songs full of massive highs, those moments that feel so perfect, itâs no surprise that the young, mostly-bearded four-piece from Purchase, NY have received glowing reviews, and been tapped for support slots with Kevin Devine, Caspian and their (and my) personal heroes, Thursday. Not bad for a band that started in high-school and never planned on going anywhere.
âThe band was started initially as a studio recording project between Nick Pizzolato [on drums] and I,â says singer and multi-instrumetalist-but-mostly-guitarist Greg Dunn, who kindly agreed to tell me all about Moving Mountains. âWe had no real band oriented goals, or intentions. We just liked writing together, and eventually recorded a whole record together.â
Describing themselves (but only when pushed to describe themselves in a stupid way) as the result of a head on collision between Thursday, Engine Down, Hammock and Eluvium, the then-duo instantly found a sound that suited them â their 2005 demo shows all the main elements of their style already in place and can be found floating around the net on various blogs for anyone whoâs interested, but the band hopes it wonât be heard by too many:
âIt was the first time I had ever dealt with audio engineering. It was recorded off an analog yamaha mixer into GarageBand,â says Dunn, despite the fact that although itâs clearly still a work in progress, with pieces missing and ideas that arenât yet fully fleshed out, itâs still a far better debut EP than most bands could hope to release.
Work on the album followed fairly quickly, and by 2007, Dunn and Pizzolato had self-released Pneuma, their debut full-length. An absolutely amazing record, and easily one of the best of the last few years, but they made the mistake of marketing it to the wrong group â those most pretentious and elitist of folk, Post-Rock blog communities.
âAll we received in the beginning were negative reviews,â says Dunn. âWhen Pneuma first got wave on the internet, people didn't know what to do with it. The post-rock kids hated it. I even read on some blogs that people were trying to remove the vocals from the record. A lot of people were trying to pull the record into places it didn't belong, and make it something it wasn't.â
It sat in a curious little niche â not quite Explosions In The Sky style post-rock and not quite Thursday style post-hardcore, and this is something the band admits: âIt always makes it harder to find a comfortable place to stand, but I'm happy we made it through all that crap, and are still making music we set out to.â
There was, however, one song that stuck out like a sore thumb on Pnuema - the simple acoustic folksy track Sol Solis. Itâs something that interviewers always seem to bring up, and Dunn has admitted to it being the most personal song on the record, and one he finds difficult to play: âIt had been through a few different versions, but never a full band arrangement. I had considered performing it live on a few occasions, but never followed through with it. I get too nervous.â
It does, however, contain most of the same themes as the rest of Pneuma which, although far from a concept album, is all very closely tied together by common imagery.
âIt was definitely something I planned to do - I was stuck in a "place" while making that record, so I naturally wrote about very similar things consistently. I wanted the lyrical content of the record to be specific in a sense, but applicable to everybody's own situations. I wanted it to be adaptable. To me, the references actually hold representation for something else. Like-wise, the record could mean something completely different to someone else.â
Moving Mountainsâ break came when they signed to Deep Elm, a label long renowned for releasing âsecond-wave emoâ records (if you accept that such a thing exists, but thatâs a whole other issue). Alongside bands like The Appleseed Cast, Moving Mountains fit right in and signed a one album deal for the re-release of Pneuma.
âWe felt it was a smart choice to help us get on the radar. The record had already been out, and gotten demolished by torrent, and file sharing sites. That was sort of our approach from the earlier stages - to really pump our record onto the internet and get it out. I think at one point we were the #1 most downloaded record on WHAT.CD, even above 50 Cent or Eminem. We felt signing with Deep Elm would also give us some weight, and legitimacy. We weren't planning on selling tons of records, or making money. We knew John, the owner, would help us get on the radar and be an "actual band". Deep Elm did a great job getting the record out, and we saw a huge boost in the overall awareness of the band.â
Although few labels would have fit the band better than Deep Elm, it still wasnât quite for them:
âWe've always been about doing things ourselves â self-recording, designing, promoting â so it almost felt unnatural to allow someone else to be handling stuff for us. At a certain point too, we found ourselves leaning into debt and investing lots of personal money into the band. We figured releasing a record ourselves was an easy and natural thing for us to do, and could help us make some money to put back into the band. Being on Deep Elm was a good learning experience, though. Most especially, learning first hand how much money a record label can make off an artist. Looking back and reading over old contracts makes your eyes bulge out of your skull, you know? I think a label like Deep Elm, as well as most labels nowadays, should consider the longevity and growth potential of an artist and focus less on pushing their "product", which is normally that 1 relevant record to whateverâs currently popular. I think we would have been a lot more successful on a label like Deep Elm if they invested more into the artists, and took less from them. But I guess that's how any record label has to survive nowadays. All in all, we're happy with our decisions, and how things have progressed to allow us to be where we are right now.â
Where they are is comfortably on Caetera Recordings, a label the band set up themselves and so far has only released the bandâs second album/first EP/second EP (depending on how you want to look at it, itâs a little fuzzy to be honest), last yearâs Foreword. Arguably even bigger and more ambitious than Pneuma, itâs cemented Moving Mountains as a band capable of big things, one of those bands when you just canât wait to see what they do next. It was also the first time Dunn and Pizzolato had written and recorded with new bandmates Frank Graniero on guitar and vocals and Mitchell Lee on bass. A perfect fit, they added extra weight to Moving Mountains already-powerful sound, and incorporated seamlessly in to the outfit â you might never guess that they hadnât been playing together all along. Of course, it did help that they werenât complete strangers to making music together:
âWe had all been in different bands in the local hardcore and punk scene,â says Dunn. âI had been in a band previously with Mitch, and Frank had been in a band with Nick. It all worked out very naturally. We're still exploring how to write music with one another - we all bring ideas to the table, jam them out and feel if they work.â
Youâd also be forgiven for thinking Moving Mountains were older and much more experienced â Foreword has the feel of a band who have been working on their style for a long time and have finally nailed it after long years of trying. But, nope, theyâre barely in to their twenties.
âWe're all students, except for Mitchell. He graduated with a biology major. Nick, Frank, and I all go to a small art school in Purchase, New York. I go for music, Nick for design, and Frank for literature. We're currently on a leave of absence to fulfil all the touring obligations we set up. We go to college as "students", but we rarely spend time indulged in any student body/activity. Last year we were gone almost every weekend doing north-east runs, or practicing. Producing, engineering, and mastering Foreword made me go crazy my last semester at school. I barely slept, but we all want to do this full time.â
Adding two extra members made it possible for Moving Mountains to play live, but didnât necessarily make it easy:
âIt's hard for us, as we spend so much time working our songs around to be a very "experiential" thing. Our songs are long, yeah, and we spend a good amount of effort into our live visual element. It's not like we can shout for suggestions, or take song requests - our "sets" are always completely pre-programmed, and completely thought out. For a while we were only playing 4 songs in around half an hour. We've since expanded on the set to lengthen it, though, after people were getting pretty irritated. I like to think we play a relatively short, but passionate set. Short and sweet.â
Their biggest live shows yet have been opening for Thursday, a band whose influence can be seen both in their music and Dunnâs habit of name checking them in interviews, and was clearly a big moment:
âPlaying with Thursday was one of those experiences that you feel like you should "wake up" from. It was a very big deal to all of us, as they were one of the biggest influences to us growing up. We got on that show through a mutual friend, who had suggested to Thursday that they should listen to Moving Mountains. Amazingly, the band had been familiar with us - so it worked out quite nicely. It's still crazy to me we'll be sharing the stage with them again in September.â
One of the things that indicates that a band is beginning to âmake itâ is when imitators begin to appear, and the heavy touring means theyâve started to come across a few: âI've certainly noticed and met bands who say we've influenced them. I think it's amazing, and still don't know how to deal with it.â
Thatâs something special about Moving Mountains: despite the fact theyâve released two of the best albums of the decade, Dunn, at least, comes off as completely un-arrogant and modest, a refreshing change from a great deal of UK Arctic Monkeys sound-alikes who are prone to inflated egos:
âI can't listen to my own band, mostly because I can't stand hearing the imperfections in the production work that I did. When we're writing, I listen constantly to our own music. But when we're touring a lot, I never listen to Moving Mountains unless we're performing.â
So what is floating their boat, record wise, at the moment?
âI've been really into the new Thrice record "Beggars". I've been getting most inspiration from older records I haven't heard in years. Records from Telefon Tel Aviv, Jeremy Enigk, Gloria Record, Milosh to name a few. Copeland and Helio Sequence's newest records were absolutely amazing. I feel like I haven't been able to get emotionally lost in a new record in a while, though. Once the internet approach really began popular, people focused less on making good music, and more on pushing their band. Consequentially, you're left with an overpopulated and saturated market of crap music. It's amazing, so long as you don't get lost within it.â
What, then, does the future hold? Moving Mountains no longer have to rely on pushing their music through blog communities thanks to multiple positive reviews and the continued weight of Deep Elmâs marketing behind them.
âIt's hard to say,â says Dunn. âI want to put our more records that I love through our label, and I think Frank's been working on a record that I've been stoked to help show to the world. A year ago I would have never imagined being where I am now. Things move fast when you don't expect them too. I guess I'd like to feel more secure in both my life, and the band. Right now we just feel grateful, and excited.â