Thursday, December 26, 2013

Chicago band Mooner bringing melodic power pop to Schubas Tavern

Chicago band Mooner's Americana-tinged power pop demands attention.

The band,, recently released "Making Americans," a song recorded by Mike Hagler, known for his work with Wilco and Neko Case. Mooner will perform Jan. 4 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

Shiloh and Innkeepers also are on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $8, available at

I had the chance to Mooner frontman Lee Ketch about the new single. 

Q - Great talking to you. In recording the single "Making Americans," what were your goals and do you think you achieved them? 

My brother David, who used to play guitar in the band, moved to Belgium at the end of this summer and we wanted to document one of his songs "Down on Marston Blues" (the b-side to the single) before he left. We also didn't yet have any recordings with our new keyboardist, Steve, and bassist, Taylor. 

We  recorded, mixed and mastered both the single and the b-side in two days, and it was very intense trying to get a sound we were happy with that quickly. When you're working on a budget, as we always are, you have to be able to make decisions quickly, know exactly what you're going to play, when to cut something that isn't working, etc.

Working under the gun can be good because you you usually get a leaner product in the end.

Q - How did you hook up with Mike Hagler and what do you think he brought to the recording process? 

We found Mike and his studio Kingsize by asking around about quality studios. The live room has 40-foot ceilings of steel and concrete and everything you put in there sounds magical.

Mike makes drums sound huge. He has an amazing selection of vintage amps. He's worked on records for some local heroes like Bobby Conn and Wilco.

It's amazing to watch him work. To me, it looks like he just haphazardly throws mics in front of the amps and drums but then when we go up to listen to the takes and everything sounds perfect.

He also knows what to do to keep the sessions moving.  There's not a lot of sitting around.

If someone has an idea, we're able to try it a few minutes later. He's totally affordable and works super fast.

I can't imagine going anywhere other than Kingsize. I wrote a more detailed report of the session:

Q - It seems like there should be a story behind the band's name. Is there? Do you think the name has garnered interest in the band?

My then girlfriend/now wife and I were driving around Clackamas, Oregon and she suggested it after I said I wanted an "-er" name like Weezer. I wanted a name that was evocative but still abstract enough so that when people think of Mooner they just think of the band.

When you say Weezer you don't think of a guy who wheezes, you think of the band. Same with Wilco, it used to mean farming suppliers, but now everyone knows it as a rock band.

I like how the name is kind of ridiculous but also has a dreamy, weird quality to it.

Q - Who are the band's biggest influences and how do you think they have influenced your music? How do you think Mooner's music has evolved since forming in 2009?

Everyone in the band has diverse musical interests and I think that's really cool. I like Warren Zevon, Wilco, Weezer and death metal. 

Our guitarist John is a Neil Young devotee. Adam is the biggest ELO fan you'll ever meet and likes Hum and 90s guitar bands.

Steve likes Randy Newman, Fiona Apple and a lot of other singer-songwriters. I can only think of a few bands Taylor likes.

I know he turned me on to Kylesa and I'm for that I'm grateful. 

The band has changed membership so many times that it's hard to keep up with how the sound has changed. My brother David leaving the band this year has caused a big shift.

There aren't two songwriters any more. John's guitar playing is very different from David's.

Steve joining on keyboards has expanded our palette quite a bit. Taylor and Adam, who have been playing together for years, are one of the best rhythm sections in Chicago.

I'd say in general we've become a better live band and I've learned to put the songs together with lots of input from the guys as opposed to simply writing all the parts and having the band play them, like I did in the past.  

When I started writing and recording music, it was just me playing all the instruments and recording myself. It's taken some time for me to learn how to write for and trust a band.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see Mooner fitting into it? Does the band have any favorite venues to play? 

Growing up, "Chicago music" was always synonymous with Wilco. They are probably our biggest influence, so I guess we fit that highly subjective, narrow definition of the Chicago scene.

As for venues, I love playing Schubas, where we'll be playing on January 4th.
They have great sound and an amazing history. Cole's is one of my favorite stages. It's one of the few bars in town with a built in audience -- people come whether they've heard of the band or not.

I may be biased, because a drunk dude once came up to me after a show there and said, "You guys sound just like "Summerteeth!" 

We finally got to play the Hideout a few months ago. I've seen some of my favorite artists there, so it felt really cool to be on stage.

They also have excellent sound. We released our last EP at the Empty Bottle around this time last year and that was one of the best shows we've played.   

Q - What's next for the band? What are the band's short-term and long-term goals? 

We want to record our first ever LP!  Come to a show and buy a T-shirt so we can afford to, please.

I wrote out a list of goals in a notebook at the start of the year with things like "play WGN Morning Show," but that list has changed many times since then. When opportunities come up, you take them and then re-evaluate afterwards.

When nobody cares who you are, you can do whatever you want!